Friday, October 30, 2015

Healthy choices—it's up to you

Lots of discussion has erupted since the World Health Organization announced its findings that bacon, sausage and other processed meats cause cancer—and that red meat likely does as well. The 22-member panel of experts wasn't in total agreement. And, of course, the U.S. beef industry is preparing a response. Consumers have been arguing both sides of the coin, too.

Do you immediately change your eating or lifestyle habits based on reports and survey results? Or are you a wait-and-see type of person? Or a moderation-in-all-things person? Or do you ignore such reports altogether?

It's always fascinating to see how different personalities react to such information. I don't know that there's any right or wrong. Each one of us has to decide what, if anything, we'll do with new research findings such as this.

For me, personally, I take a moderation-in-all-things approach. I enjoy certain foods and would rather cut back on them than to cut them out altogether. That's just me. When butter was "out," I simply used less of it. Now, butter is OK and margarine isn't. For a while, we were told to cut out caffeine. I just cut back on the coffee I drank. Now coffee is good. Same with wine. And chocolate. Perhaps that's why I go with moderation.

The whole point, however, really is that you and I have choices. Whether it's diet, exercise, lifestyle, vocation, hobbies, friendships, life partners—whatever it is. You do have choices!


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Let go, walk away for a while

Do you sometimes work on a problem or issue in your life non-stop and feel as though you get nowhere? You can worry and work something to death, it seems. I've surely done that. It's frustrating.

Sometimes the best thing to do is simply let go. Shelve the whole issue for a while. Mentally lock it away in a drawer in your mind. Go on to something else, preferably something that can lead to results and a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Just walk away from the issue. Take a break. Do something physical—dance, do some yoga positions, exercise, take a walk in nature. Or do some deep breathing. Whatever will calm you down and help you focus.

You and I simply cannot be creative and do our best problem-solving when we're stressed up to the hilt. But when we walk away a while or when we do something physical, it's funny how that clears the channels and opens up more possibilities that we didn't even see before.

Try it next time you're pushing too hard for a solution.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Attitude is everything

I read recently about a woman who had been blind since she was 3 years old due to some illness she developed at that age. Fortunately, her parents encouraged her to do all she could with her life. She did. She went on to become a concert pianist and was married with four children. When she was asked about being blind, she answered, "It is a major inconvenience."

Inconvenience! I guess so. But isn't that amazing? Attitude is everything. Her acceptance of what life had given her no doubt allowed her to take her talents and gifts as far as she could. One could easily imagine her spending her entire life dependent upon others, complaining that there was little she could do with her talents because of her blindness. That wasn't her choice, however.

What have you had to accept in your life that you would rather not have had? We all have limitations. Experiences we'd rather not have faced. Some have chronic pain and illness. Others have faced losses that nearly broke them. But attitudes can make such a difference. This is where the Serenity Prayer comes in: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

I should post that on my bathroom mirror. It's such a good reminder. Acceptance. Courage. Wisdom. Attitudes. Ah, yes, those things matter.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fire in the belly

"Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul."

Those words by humanitarian and poet Samuel Ullman graced our worship bulletin last Sunday in church. I'd not heard them before even though most of us have heard similar sentiments voiced in other quarters.

Enthusiasm is so catchy, isn't it? And when people stay true to their ideals and passions, it is infectious. Others want what they have!

About what are you passionate? What ideas put fire in your belly? Which ideals move you to action? And are they truly moving you to action? It's good to stop now and again to ask such questions—and see whether there are some new directions we need for our lives. Sometimes it's simply tweaking what we're already doing, whether that's in our careers and vocations or in our hobbies and avocations. It can be in our relationships as well. Sometimes it's an attitude adjustment so our enthusiasm can be revived. Living in gratitude helps with that attitude adjustment.

I don't mind wrinkles on my skin. But I really don't want wrinkles in my soul. I'd love to stay engaged and passionate right up to the end. What about you? If you answered in the affirmative, what are you doing about it?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Time as a precious resource

Ever think of your time as a checkbook with a specific balance from which you subtract time spent on this activity or that? For those who are totally over-spent and over-booked, it might be a useful way to see time. Time is precious and should be spent wisely. It's a resource—and you have choices on how to use it.

I have a dear friend who recently started a new job. She loves this new job, but it does have some long hours. So when she has her days off, she is extremely careful now about how she "spends" that time. She wants to conserve her energy. She wants to be restored on those days off. And she wants to prepare healthy meals that will be ready for her on those long workdays. She also wants to "spend" that precious time with people who are positive and life-giving.

Even for the retired set (and who really retires to simply lounge around eating bon-bons anyway?), time is precious. Perhaps you have lots of volunteer activities and several hobbies, in addition to family members and friends with whom you want to "spend" time. I don't see many retired people with lots of extra time on their hands.

It just makes sense that we all see our time as precious. It is. And we get to make choices about how we "spend" it. If we don't see that we have a choice, we can easily end up exhausted and resentful. That doesn't sound like a good option, does it?

How's your time checkbook balance today? If you're overdrawn, make some different choices. You'll be so much happier.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Simplifying isn't easy

How much is enough? How much is too much? Can I be happy with far less than I have?

Do you ever ask yourself those questions? Most of us have lots of stuff. And often when we get to a certain point in our lives, we think about getting rid of some of that stuff. It's called downsizing.

However, if you're like me, you can still easily get drawn into another purchase or two. Oh, that lovely purple jacket would look so great with my gray slacks. Those earrings are on sale—and, really, they're just the perfect touch. Why shouldn't I have this lovely Christmas centerpiece for my table? If I buy this book used, it really won't cost much; so why shouldn't I add it to my own library rather than borrow it from the public library? That way I can underline and mark it up. On and on it goes.

A friend just told me about a woman she knows who won't bring anything new into the house unless she takes something equivalent out of the house, giving it to Goodwill or some other organization that will sell it to someone else at a reduced rate.

I go through my closets on a fairly regular basis to clean out things I haven't worn in a long while. Others may as well have the use of them. But even if I didn't buy another piece of clothing in the next decade, I wouldn't be in trouble. I suspect that's true of most of us.

So what are we to do? How do you deal with this issue of too much stuff? Are you able to simplify? Can you resist the temptation to buy more? I'd love to know your secrets to simplifying and downsizing.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

You are a wonder

When you're ticking off all the things for which you're grateful, don't forget yourself. Remember to thank your body for all it's done for you through the years. And be grateful for the talents and gifts you've been given. Celebrate the wonder of you.

I have a Blue Mountain Arts book on gratitude, and today I read a reminder about this in a writing by Sydney Nealson. In part it said: "Acknowledge your talents and abilities. Realize what a beautiful soul you have. Understand the wonder within."

The wonder within. Yes, indeed. And the wonder without, too. When you stop to think of all the years your legs, knees and feet have gotten you around—up and down stairs, through miles of varied terrain, back and forth walking babies to sleep, getting to work, volunteering and more—it's quite amazing. Think, too, of all your arms and hands have done. And what about that brain of yours? Isn't it incredible how it has operated all these years to keep all your body systems running? And your heart? The list is endless.

You truly are a wonder. So am I. Let's stop and give thanks for that today. Living in gratitude will make today and every day extra special. And well it should. Each day is such a gift!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A courageous heroine

Yesterday I attended a program that centered around an impersonation of Eleanor Roosevelt. I've read a lot about this gifted and amazing woman, and I've seen the Ken Burns' TV series on the Roosevelts. So I already knew a fair bit about her life. But somehow yesterday's presentation—in which the impersonator dressed in clothes of that period and spoke as Eleanor about her experiences and what she felt as she lived through them—brought home to me in a deeper way the courage of this woman.

Eleanor grew up afraid of nearly everything. She grew up with no real affection or affirmation from her mother, who belittled her and made her feel plain and ugly. Although raised in a wealthy family, she experienced a lot of adversity and grief along the way. As we know, money doesn't protect anyone from pain and grief.

What stood out for me was what Eleanor said each time a new (and frightening, for her) situation or challenge arose: Yes, I'm afraid, she said, acknowledging her fear. Then she would do everything she could to rise above it. Her motto seemed to be: "Feel the fear and do it anyway," a saying we hear often today.

This was a good reminder to me. It's so easy to simply say, "I couldn't possibly do that." Instead, I want to remember to admit to the fear—and then find a way to overcome it, to go ahead and do that thing that seems so frightening. It's how we grow. It's how we expand on the gifts we've been given—and sometimes it's how we even discover gifts that have been latent inside us for years. So today I'm inspired by the courage of a woman who also had lots of fears but who made a real difference in the lives of others.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The lure of life questions

Ever notice that when your attention is brought to some life question or issue, you see that question or issue pop up often?

Not so long ago, I was asked by one of my pastors to give a short talk in worship services about my calling and how my particular gifts and talents are being used in my life. Since that day, I've noticed lots of writings and heard some conversations on callings and purpose. The subject just seems to pop up everywhere now.

Because I am seeing so much about that topic, it's making me look again at what I said in worship that day. I was fairly certain about my current calling when I spoke. Now I wonder if there might be more for me to discover.

Although life questions and the quest that follows them can raise my anxiety level, these things also intrigue me. There's always more to explore and discover. The lure is there. Yes, the fear and anxiety often are there, too. But I want to remain curious and open to new directions, too.

What are your experiences with life questions, with the idea of callings and purpose? This isn't necessarily about vocation or career. Our purpose may well relate to what we do in our family life, our volunteer time or in community activities. I'd love to have you share your experiences in the Comment box below. I need your wisdom to help me discover mine!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Celebrate aging

Some days my Mary Engelbreit calendar inspires. Some days it makes me smile. Other days, its message causes me to laugh out loud. Always it brings some pleasant response, and for that I'm grateful. It's a good start to my day. Last Friday it made me smile—and think back to when I thought 40 years of age was "over the hill." Now 40 seems almost like childhood!

The calendar spoke truth: "Being old doesn't seem so old now that we're old!"

I remember laughing when my father, at age 90 or 91, told me about delivering Meals on Wheels to people in the small Iowa town in which he and Mom spent their last decades. "I'm delivering meals to old folks," he told me one day. This was during a phone call, so I couldn't see his face. But I'm pretty certain his eyes were twinkling and he was wearing a broad smile when he said that. He might have been teasing, but his positive attitude did keep him young at heart, too.

I thank him for passing along that legacy. So I resonate with the calendar sentiment. The age I am now, which seemed so old a few decades ago, really isn't old at all. I really don't feel old. My age is only a number, after all. 

What about you? How do you feel about your age? Can you celebrate that you've gotten that far—and thank your body and mind for bringing you to this stage, too?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friendships—what joy!

The older I get, the more aware I am of what friendships add to my life—particularly my women's friendships. When I was younger and in the throes of child-raising, I didn't have a clue how much I would come to depend on and value these relationships I have with other women.

I have male friends, too, but somehow it's those women's friendships that I come to count on. We live in the same kind of bodies; and, although we are different from one another, we have so much in common—and that helps me face all sorts of things. It helps me to know that some of the things I experience and the emotions I feel are normal. That's no small thing. And the laughter we share—wow, that's healing and just plain fun.

My Mary Engelbreit calendar yesterday said it well: "Friends make the bad times good and the good times unforgettable." Yes, indeed. They do. We get by with a little help from our friends!

I'm going to start telling my friends more often how much I appreciate them. Honestly, I don't know where I'd be without them. And they need to know that!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Life amid death

Thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi once said, "Don't grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form."

I don't take that to mean that we shouldn't face our grief and walk through it. When a loved one dies, when we lose ability because of chronic illness, when tragedy strikes, it's important to be real about what's happened and how we feel about it. It's important to grieve. I believe that's necessary before we can let go and move on (and by that I don't mean forgetting what we've lost).

What I take from Rumi's quote is that death is part of life, joy and sadness are often wound together, and life's "fertilizer" is capable of producing beautiful blooms. Death and loss don't have to have the last word. Transformation and new life are possible.

Even now in fall, when most of us focus on things that are dying, seeds are falling to the earth and in spring, they'll bring forth new life.

When I lost my job in 2009, I didn't imagine that it would lead me to another satisfying career—one that really fits where I am now in life. Many people who have suffered through cancer and treatments have said that it deepened and enriched their lives—and that they actually are grateful for all of it. I wouldn't presume to say this is true for every loss and for every person. You are the only one who can make such judgments about your life experience. But I will say that this quote is worthy of deep reflection.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

React? Or respond?

Someone said something to me recently that was quite hurtful. I made a decision to not react immediately. It was one of those times when I took my own advice—and pulled away from the situation for a pause to give myself time to think of a response that moved beyond knee-jerk anger or tears.

After the pause, I calmly said how I felt about what was said and done. I didn't get the positive response I had hoped for. So again, I paused before proceeding. In time, we settled things between us. But it was a reminder to me—again!—of what hard work communication can be. And a reminder of how important it is for me to pause sometimes before reacting. I think of it as being able to respond rather than simply react.

We all have choices, don't we? It doesn't always seem that way. In the course of a busy day, it's all too easy to just react and go on our way. Even when we take time to think through a response, it doesn't necessarily work out as we'd hoped. Still, for my money, it's worth it to slow down the reaction time and choose a better response.

Choices. Let's remember we do have them—and try to be more intentional about what we choose next time. I know I need to remember this. Daily!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The quiet ones among us

My brother is a quiet sort of guy. Never makes a fuss and never calls attention to himself. Ever. He still writes letters to people, sends cards and buys things to give to people "just because." He's extremely unassuming and generous-hearted.

So when he won an award at the homecoming banquet last weekend of a college he, my sister and I all attended, I was just thrilled! The award was designed just for him and is the first-ever one of its type: It was called an Encouragement Award.

Owen has been such a loyal and faithful supporter of this college through the years, even when the college went through hard times that threatened to close it down. And he's been an encourager of students, faculty and staff alike. Even with his small income, he's provided scholarships to help students in need.

I'm sure you can think of several people you know who always do behind-the-scenes work, whether it's in your workplace, your church or place of worship, some organization to which you belong or even in your family. Such people don't seek attention—and they seldom get it, too.

So it's especially sweet when an institution takes notice and publicly thanks someone—even presenting that person with an award complete with citation, a medallion and a wooden display piece. This is a reminder to me to be aware of others who may be introverts or for one reason or another, work quietly behind the scenes. It's a reminder to me to thank them and encourage them, too! The squeaky wheels may get the grease. But we need to pay attention to the quiet ones, too—and appreciate and celebrate them.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Finding a good fit

So much is said and written these days about reimagining life after 50, or after retirement. We are living longer than those who came before us, so it doesn't always make sense to retire at the age they did. Even if you do retire early, however, you have lots of choices ahead as to how you will spend your time.

Do you want yet another career? Have you always wanted to volunteer at some charity that's held your heart for years? Do you simply want to explore possibilities?

Many of my coaching clients deal either with switching careers or that looming question about what to do post-retirement. These are very real issues. And it can be extremely exciting to explore options. Yes, scary, too. But that's why it's good to talk about it and open your mind to more possibilities.

I like what author David A. Shapiro says: "There are jobs, which pay the bills; careers, which help us progress financially and personally; and callings, which really give us a full sense of fulfillment, engagement and energy that we don't have in the other two."

Shapiro and Richard J. Leider wrote a wonderful book I've used for years called Whistle While You Work: Heeding Your Life's Calling. Now they've written a new one titled Work Reimagined: Uncover Your Calling. In this new book, they talk about ordinary people who are reflecting on what's possible so that they can do work that's a good fit for them.

I think it's as important to find a good fit for your volunteer activities post-retirement as it is to find that good career fit. Are you happy in your career choice? Or in your retirement activities? What's calling to you that you'd love to explore?

Friday, October 9, 2015

'The place just right'

The other morning I awoke to the sounds of my favorite classical radio station playing a delightful version of the Shaker tune "'Tis the Gift to Be Simple" with Yo-Yo Ma on cello and Alison Krauss singing. The tune is so beautiful, and this version was clear, pure and simple. It fit the title of the song perfectly. It so caught my attention that morning that I looked at the words anew that day. I've known that song for years.

Do you know it? Google the lyrics or check out YouTube where there will be several versions. It's definitely worth a look and a listen.

"'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
"'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
"And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
"'Twill be in the valley of love and delight."

And that's just the first verse! There's a lot upon which to reflect just in those words. Simplicity. Freedom. Being where you're meant to be—"the place just right." Love. Delight. Gifts.

Are you in "the place just right" in your life right now? Do you know what place that is, first of all? And what would it take for you to get there?

If you'd like some conversation around this topic, please contact me for a complimentary coaching session. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Your inner 4-year-old

It's Indian Summer where I live—and the days are so mellow and beautiful. As I thought about how much I always enjoy Indian Summer, I wondered where that term came from. I must have been channeling my 4-year-old grandson, who is so curious, asks lots of questions and is always checking things out. Somewhere along the way, we adults lose some of that curiosity.

Anyway, I Googled "Indian Summer" and learned that the term dates back to the 18th century in the U.S., although that reference indicated the term already was in use. However, it's not clear exactly why and how it originated. Some say it's because the early native Indians chose that time of year as hunting season (with winter coming on). Yet another theory is that ships plying the Indian Ocean loaded up their cargo most during Indian Summer (fair weather season). Some ships had an "I.S." on their hull at the load level that was thought to be safe for that time of year. So who knows? Anyway, it was fun researching that little tidbit.

My point here really isn't about Indian Summer so much as encouraging us to retain those marks of childhood such as curiosity, delight and wonder—those qualities that can add so much to life. What question or thought can you follow today down a path toward wonder, learning and delight?

It's good to stay in touch with that inner 4-year-old!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Passions at work

One of my pastors asked me to talk last Sunday about how God is using my passions. The time I spent reflecting on all my passions and how they've been used through the years was worthwhile. So the exercise was possibly far more helpful to me than to any of the listeners in the two worship services at which I spoke.

My passions have long been related to words, story, reading, writing and also to justice for the voiceless and the marginalized (and that includes women, who have been silenced for centuries). All of those loves came together in my journalism career—and they're still being used today in freelance writing, in my life coaching practice and in my part-time work as editor-at-large of Gather magazine.

The process of writing, whether it's for my daily coaching blogs or for a magazine article, is one of finding answers, gaining insights and real revelation. I like what priest and author Henri Nouwen said about it: "The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know. Thus, creative writing requires a real act of trust. We have to say to ourselves, 'I do not yet know what I carry in my heart, but I trust that it will emerge as I write.'"

Indeed, that is what happens. I learn so much in the process.

So what are your passions, your yearnings? How are they being used in your life? And what do you learn as you use them?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Wholeness & sharing stories

I am a word-lover, a book-lover and a lover of stories. And sharing our stories is one of the best ways to get to know, really know, one another. Absolutely every person has a story. Have you ever thought about what your story is? It's more than just a chronicle of each important thing that's happened to you in your life—it's really about how you have been shaped by some of the major events of your life. It's about how you see these events.

Another believer in the power of story, author Gail Kittleson, in her book Catching Up with Daylight: A Journey to Wholeness shares some of her own story even as she tells snippets from the stories of other women whose paths have crossed hers. In so doing, I'm sure she found even more wholeness for her journey of healing. And in the reading of this wonderful book, I felt the power of healing and wholeness in my life as well.

Stories are powerful. By sharing our stories, not only can we come to know one another more deeply. We can also move toward healing and wholeness.

Today might be a good day to think about your story—and to begin sharing it.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Seasonal changes & other life changes

It's definitely feeling like fall here in the Chicagoland area. I love fall and its amazing color, but I'm less enamored with the winter that I know will follow. Each change of season is a good time to see the value of change, whether the approaching season is one you like or not.

So many of us resist change; some even fight it. However, change is simply an inevitable part of life. Sometimes it brings positive things into our lives, and sometimes negative things result. No matter what each change we face brings us, however, it's nearly always easier on us if we can ride the waves of change rather than wear ourselves out fighting them. What if we could actually embrace change? Or at the very least, stop resisting so desperately?

So as the season changes, you might want to make this a time to think about what changes are happening in your life right now. How can you best meet this change? What blessings might this change reveal? What disappointments are embedded in this change, and what can you do to grieve those and then move on?

If you would like some conversation about this, please contact me for a complimentary strategy session around the topic.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Staying grounded

I've heard it said that if your purpose is only about you, it doesn't have branches. And if it's only about others, it doesn't have roots.

When I reflect on this, I am reminded of the importance of staying centered and grounded. As always, it's not an either/or situation. It's both/and. We need both roots and branches, not just one or the other. We need to tend to ourselves and to others, not just one or the other.

As women, that's sometimes a difficult thing to remember. We can often become the world's caregivers, reaching out to help others and completely ignoring our own needs. That can lead to deep resentments and anger (and to a martyr complex). One of the images I often think of when I see this happening is putting on an oxygen mask in an airplane. Before any flight begins, flight attendants will demonstrate putting oxygen masks on—always reminding us to put our own on first before assisting anyone else with theirs.

The point here really is the both/and piece, however. Be sure to engage in self-love and self-care and then you'll be able to come from that centered and grounded place that will allow you to reach out to others in compassion and love.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gathering wisdom

Sue Patton Thoele, an author whose meditation books for women I've read and loved for years, writes in The Woman's Book of Spirit about gathering wisdom at any age, not just when we're older. She urges us to imagine carrying a basket as we move through life's garden, filling it with blossoms of wisdom gained from each circumstance, experience and relationship. She says:

"Think about the wisdom that you have gathered thus far. Give yourself credit for the ways in which you have grown and blossomed and for the ways that you've helped others grow. Appreciating ourselves each day gives us the courage to gather the seeds and stomp through the fertilizer, both of which are necessary to keep our garden of wisdom growing."

That paragraph in her book is filled with so many threads we could follow—giving ourselves credit, gaining courage, gathering seeds, stomping through the "fertilizer" of our lives and so much more. I really don't need to elaborate; you can do that for yourself.

If you resonate with this as I do, spend some time with what Thoele says and see where it takes you. Then continue to fill your basket with blossoms of wisdom, stopping to give yourself credit and remembering to appreciate what you have in that basket!