Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's reflections

Today is New Year's Eve. It's often a time of reflection and review. What did we learn in the past year? What lessons do we carry into the new year? What will we do differently? For what are we thankful? What was the most challenging? From whom did we get help? To what are we looking forward in the new year? If you were to put a word on 2019 (perhaps what you long for in the new year or what you'll work on), what might it be?

My fiancé, two friends and I do this together each New Year's Eve. We reflect on the year past and look ahead to what might be coming or what we hope will be coming in the new year. We each select a word for the new year, writing it on a stone so we'll remember all year long. It's interesting how having that stone in sight increases intention throughout the year.

While I won't be writing blogs in this new year (I need the time I spend writing them to do other writing and sorting projects), I encourage you to sample the archive of my past blogs going back to 2012. I also encourage you to sign up for my monthly ezine if you haven't already. You may sign up to the right of this blog. All you will receive are the initial three free gifts that come in your email inbox and an ezine once a month to your inbox. That's it. Nothing more.

I encourage you to stay hopeful and grounded in this new year. To that end, I leave you with this blessing for now:

The path before me: May I walk it in peace.
The path behind me: May I leave it in peace.
The path within me: O God, may it be peace indeed.

Friday, December 28, 2018

'Learned helplessness'

As we approach the end of another year and reflect on all that's happened in our lives and in the life of our country and our globe, it's easy to become discouraged. I know so many people this year who are feeling depressed and overwhelmed with it all. It's easy to feel that way, especially if you listen to any news broadcasts at all.

However, let's all resist the temptation to descend into hopelessness and to feel that "We're only one person and what can we do anyway?" It's vital to remain hopeful and to do whatever things we can to contribute to the common good and to help ourselves with whatever we face, too.

I just learned that there's a name for the attitude of "I'm just one person"—psychologists call it "learned helplessness." It's toxic and can hold us back from taking any action. We believe there's no hope, and we quit trying to change things. It's so easy to grow weary. In fact, many of us are completely exhausted with our own challenges and with hearing about all the hatred and violence that surrounds us. Let's resist the hopelessness and helplessness.

Structures are built one stone, one brick, one board at a time. That's how we deal with life, too: one small step at a time. Change happens just that way as well. Let's help ourselves and each other to avoid "learned helplessness" and to stay in the game. It definitely takes a village to get through.

Although I will write only one more blog (Monday, New Year's Eve) for a while (I need to take a break to tend to other things on my to-do list), I will still send out my monthly ezine. If you haven't signed up, please do so to the right of this blog post. All you will receive is the initial three free gifts and thereafter, one ezine each month to inspire you. I don't sell my list, and I don't send you anything else.

For now, I want to encourage you to stay in the game and keep hope alive!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Children's top fears

Christmas Day is past, but the season is still here—if you believe in the Twelve Days of Christmas. And a brand new year is approaching.

What changes would you like to see in our country in 2019? In our world? And what will you do to bring about such changes?

If you want to do something for children, here are some thoughts. The Children's Defense Fund recently released a survey to tell us children's top three fears:

• Being bullied,
• That a shooting will happen at their school, and
• Feeling pressured to do things they don't want to do.

Or perhaps you have other things on your list. That's great. Always remember the power each of us has to effect change, one small move at a time.

A reminder: I will post blogs in this space for the remainder of 2018. But in 2019 I will not be doing so, so I can give myself more time to do other things. I will continue to send out my monthly Way2Grow ezine, however. If you don't yet receive it, simply sign up with your email to the right of this blog post. I won't sell your information. I won't send you anything other than the initial three free email gifts and thereafter, the once-a-month ezine to inspire you.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Every stone counts!

Today is Christmas Eve. We have heard much throughout this season about peace on earth. And yet, we hear stories of war and violence across the globe. We hear fights over immigration. We see the huge refugee problem. We are stunned by the amount of gun violence and the mass shootings in our country. We are constantly aware of the awful cycle of poverty, homelessness and hunger all around us and globally.

These issues seem insurmountable. We often think, "But I'm only one insignificant person. What can I possibly do?"

Confucius once said, "The person who moves a mountain begins by carrying small stones." At Christmastime and all through the year, let's remember the power we really do have. Let's start by carrying small stones. Pick even one of the country's or world's problems and do one small thing to begin. One small stone. Then another. Join hands with others. See what a difference we really can make! Change happens one person at a time.

Think of the possibilities!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Give your time

The countdown to Christmas is shrinking. Only a few days left.

Just yesterday I read some interesting "justice" gift ideas: Volunteer. Even one hour is helpful. Wrap gifts for children in shelters. Write holiday letters to our troops. Escort an older person to do some Christmas shopping. Serve a hot meal at a soup kitchen. I'm sure you can come up with ideas of your own.

It may be too late for this year. But there's always next year.

And speaking of next year, I have decided to give myself the gift of time to do some things on my to-do wish list that simply aren't getting done. To do that, I am discontinuing these weekly blogs—at least for now. I will finish out December. Who knows? I may resume again at some point.

However, if you sign up to the right of this blog post, you can receive my monthly ezine—if you aren't already signed up to receive it. All you will receive when you sign up are the three free gifts that come initially into your email inbox, and after that my ezine once a month. Nothing else. I don't sell your name or email address. I don't send anything additional. Just a monthly ezine to inspire you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Freeing up time

Only one week until Christmas. I'm trying to keep a lid on the busyness this year. While I enjoy buying gifts for those I love, wrapping them, baking some of my traditional cookies, singing the beloved carols and spending time with those I love, I'm not crazy about the high stress of rushing around. So I'm trying to do a little less and enjoy this time even more.

Those efforts are part of an over-all effort on my part to cut back on busyness and high stress. There are things I want to do in whatever remains of my life that simply aren't getting done.

So, to assist in that whole move toward what the Danish call hygge (a term that means well-being, simplicity, coziness, being with those you love and more all wrapped up in one—something that perhaps seems unAmerican!), I'm going to stop doing blogs every week beginning in the new year.

I will continue to send out my monthly ezine. If you haven't yet signed up for that, notice the opportunity to the right of this blog to "Subscribe to our mailing list." If you do so, you will receive the three free gifts initially and then receive an ezine once a month only. I don't sell your name to anyone. I don't send you anything additional. Only the monthly ezine, which is similar to a blog and only slightly longer in format.

I will use the time that I've been spending on blogs doing some of the things that have long been on my to-do wish list. Who knows? Someday I may resume blogs. But after another week, they'll disappear for a while. My blog archive still remains on this site, however. So feel free to help yourself to any of them going way back to 2012.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Fears are real and normal

Why do we always think we need to deny our fears and act tough, as though they aren't bringing us down? Both men and women can be hard on themselves when it comes to fears. Fears are normal—and actually, it's healthy to feel fear. Some things ought to be feared: fire, floods, violence, a stampeding elephant or bull. Oh, yes, it's quite silly to stand in the face of any of those things and dare them to harm you! But there are other things in life that are feared, too, and this can differ for each of us.

Admit to fear. Then see what your best course of action might be. Do you need to simply face the fear and do what's needed anyway? Do you need to call on outside resources to help you? If so, please do so. There's no shame in that. Or do you need to just give yourself some self-care and self-compassion until you feel stronger and better able to move on? What do you need right now?

The clichés "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "God doesn't give us more than we can handle" aren't really helpful at all. In fact, many people are brought to their knees by some events in their lives and never do recover. They don't gain strength at all. And sometimes we do have much more than we can handle.

This is a season that can be extremely difficult for some people. If you're one of those, I invite you to reach out to others. And please feel free to contact me if you just need to talk about it. Do whatever will help you through this season.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Kindness rocks!

So many people talk these days about having a "Super Power" of one type or another. It might be Invisibility. Or Superhuman Strength. Healing. Superhuman Endurance. There are so many. But we often forget that each one of us has an amazing Super Power that is so simple to employ.

Think of the power you have at your disposal by just uttering a few words—knowing that ONE KIND WORD CAN CHANGE SOMEONE'S ENTIRE DAY.

Isn't that absolutely incredible? That's a lot of power.

I'm sure you've experienced that from both sides of the coin—when someone has said something kind to you at a time when you really needed to hear it and the times when you said something to another person and noticed how they lit up and stood taller!

Look around you right now. Who could use a kind word today? Perhaps it's someone at a distance whose face you won't see light up but whom you know really needs to hear he or she is heard, accepted and loved. Or perhaps it's someone who resides in your house. Or sits at a desk near yours.

It's so easy, really. And it seems like the best Super Power of all!

Go ahead. What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Be still and be ready

Last week in my women's Bible study group, we talked about the role of the manger in the Christmas story. I had included a short poem in my December ezine, which had just been distributed the day before my group met. So we read that poem (by poet Barbara S. Germiat) in class. Here it is:

How to be a Manger

Be empty.
Be sturdy.
Be soft on the inside.
Be still.
Be ready.

After we read it, someone suggested that, in the week until our next class, we find ways to "be a manger." What a fascinating assignment.

Already, I have found opportunities to listen to others as they share a painful story, a source of ongoing frustration, or a story of loss. I practiced being empty—just listening and being present as witness to someone else's life. It's been a reminder to me that most times when people share, they don't want or need advice. They need to be heard and validated. They need to be accepted and loved. They need us to "be a manger." Empty, still and ready.

Is this something you'd like to take on this season, too?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Traditions to keep

Do you have some seasonal traditions that are on your A-list for the holidays? Several people I know are cutting back on the activities during the holidays because life can become so stressful at this time of year.

Some things bring so much joy and pleasure that you wouldn't possibly consider cutting them from your calendar, however. For me, one of those activities is a women's night out sponsored by a local megachurch. This isn't a church I would consider attending regularly. But I have to say they put on the most wonderful evening of food, Christmas music and inspiration for women. The evening begins with serving tables scattered throughout the large space laden with cheeses, crackers, Christmas cookies and a huge variety of goodies. In addition the men of the church wander through the crowd bearing trays of goodies from which we can select. All while we enjoy the lovely food options, live Christmas music is being played. So we wander through the building, stopping at food stations or selecting from trays carried by the male church members, talking, enjoying music and also shopping in their gift shop.

In addition there are a few opportunities to have photos taken in Christmasey settings. So we have photo memories to keep. Then later in the evening, the nearly 2,000 women who attend find seats in the huge worship space and after singing a few carols, hear an inspirational speaker. What a powerful evening!

A dear friend and I have attended this event for the past seven years and both agree that this is a fantastic way to launch Advent and the Christmas season. When I think of the things I might cut from my to-do list, this is never one of them!

What traditions are keepers for you?

Friday, December 7, 2018

Live a life of gratitude

A Vietnamese proverb goes like this: "When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree. When drinking water, remember who dug the well."

That tells me that a life of gratitude is one of being awake and aware. I don't want to sleepwalk through my life, taking for granted all the good things that come my way. Someone is responsible for even the most ordinary things that we use and enjoy daily. Someone planted the tree or dug the well. Someone set in motion the machinery that brought this or that into your life.

It might be interesting to be more intentional and watchful for at least one day: Give thought throughout the day to as many things as possible. What or who made it possible for you to enjoy this? Just for an example, at one of your mealtimes, think of all the people it took for that food to be on your plate: the grower, the harvester, the trucker, the grocer, the cook and so many more. Take time to be grateful.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

'This too shall pass'

Best-selling author Joey Green once said, "When you experience joy, remembering that 'This too shall pass' helps you savor the here and now. When you experience pain and sorrow, remembering that 'This too shall pass' reminds you that grief, like joy, is only temporary."

This makes so much sense and is good to remember. But when we're knee-deep in grief, it's tough to keep in mind the temporary nature of things. Even when we're up to our eyeballs in joy, we may not take the time to truly savor the feeling. It's easy to forget that it won't last forever.

At this time of year, when many people feel the joy and wonder of the season, others are feeling the pain of it all. They feel alone, depressed, afraid—and the joy of others only makes them more depressed.

What's really important for us all is to be aware of what those around us are feeling. We ought not assume that everyone shares the emotions we feel. Once we notice, we can respond appropriately. This is a good time to be gentle with ourselves and others. It's a good time to practice compassion and self-compassion.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Deep breaths!

Following on Friday's post about the Danish concept of "hygge," let's talk about how to pull back from the edge when you get all wound up in busyness this season. Or when that crazy driver beside you pulls in front of you with inches to spare. Or the shopper cuts in front of you and a long line of others at the checkout. Because this can be such a busy and frantic time of year for so many, our tempers can fray and we can be on edge.

You can choose to get angry and all worked up at any of these things. Or you can take several deep breaths—and take a longer view, deciding whether the adrenaline rush is going to be worth it. In the case of the shopper cutting in, you might decide to quietly point out where the line is forming (giving the shopper the benefit of the doubt). The whole point is: You have choices.

Do whatever will make your heart feel good. And whatever will add to your peace and the peace of others this season. It's all about choices and well-being.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Try some quiet & cozy time

Have you ever heard of the Danish/Norwegian term "hygge"? Pronounced "hue-gah," it's a concept that can't be directly translated into English but embraces such things as feelings of cozy contentment and well-being through simplicity. Reading a book on a rainy day. A cup of hot cocoa or a coffee latte on a snowy day. Nights in front of the fireplace listening to music or reading a book. Think simple. Think serenity.

You may have noticed through the years that Denmark always is at the top of the list of "happiest countries," and this may well be the reason for that. The word itself is derived from a Norwegian word that means "well-being."

The concept is beginning to trend in other places around the world. Perhaps we Americans, who seem to glorify the word "busy," might benefit from some hygge in our lives?!

One of my YaYa friends introduced the concept to us recently and invited us to reflect on it, and sometime in the new year we'll discuss what we think about it and how we're embracing the idea in our lives. Since I've been feeling completely stressed and on the edge for a while now, I decided already a couple nights ago to start. I decorated my Christmas tree and then spent the evening just quietly looking at the lights, listening to some of my favorite Christmas carols while sipping a glass of Bailey's Irish Cream. It was just perfect, and I slept better that night than I have for a while!

I invite you, in this crazy-busy season, to add a little hygge to your life too. Perhaps you'll want to build it in permanently. That's what I'm hoping to do!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Goodwill toward all

Already I see more smiles on people's faces when I shop. Or is it my imagination? What is it about Christmas and the entire holiday season? Granted, there are still surly customers that salespeople and cashiers need to service. But it seems as though more people exhibit extra patience, tolerance and goodwill already.

For so long, Americans collectively have seemed to be on the edge. Ready to snap at the least little thing. Calling each other names and yelling across a great divide. Some families were unable to be together at the Thanksgiving table because of differing views on politics and what's happening in our country. That's sad. Extremely sad.

So let's hope and pray that this season can connect us all with our better angels and that we might be able to carry forward into the new year this compassion, kindness and patience with and for one another.

It will take each of us doing our part. Are you ready? (And don't forget to show that same compassion and kindness to yourself!)

Monday, November 26, 2018

Gifts that keep on giving

In this frenzied season of "shop until you drop" for holiday gift-buying, remember that it's not all about the things we buy in stores or online.

I remember when our children were young, our family gave several gifts of time. We didn't have a lot of money at the time, so we gave the gift of time along with some things purchased in local stores. For example, my sons might give their father certificates good for a number of shoe-polishings or I might give the boys certificates they could turn in for a pie or cookies of their choice. You get the idea. We would each make a little book of tickets or certificates with a variety of items and give to each other.

Perhaps it's time for me to revive some of those ideas. I also know some grandparents who buy tickets to a play, one for themselves and one for the grandchild. Time spent together is such a beautiful gift and one that will give lasting memories as well—the gift that keeps on giving!

What's on your gift-giving list this year?

Friday, November 23, 2018

Love, not hate

On social media and in societal and social interactions, I see two competing forces at work. I see attempts and real efforts to access our better angels. For example, I heard about a girls' volleyball team from a fire-ravaged Paradise, California, school that decided to go ahead and play its game with a team in Auburn, California, despite not having its equipment and uniforms. When the girls arrived in Auburn, they were met with brand new uniforms, knee pads and socks for every player in addition to truckloads of donated clothes, a $300 gift card for each player and a dinner for the players and their families. What a beautiful story of support!

Then on the other hand, we see far too many news stories and social media posts displaying hate and anger. And as communications and public affairs strategist Steve Schmidt (who worked on Republican political campaigns such as for George W. Bush and Arizona Senator John McCain but who just this year renounced that party as "fully the party of Trump") said recently, "We have a billion-dollar anger industry in this country." He was speaking of the incitement to violence and "the assault on objective truth" that has been stoked lately.

All of this is a reminder to each of us to take a chill pill and not get hooked by all the hatred and anger we see all around us. Let's follow the example of the Auburn, California, girls' volleyball team and that community—and access our better angels! Let's be inspired by them and live in our integrity.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Give thanks

So tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the U.S. For some, that means huge gatherings of family and friends around a table loaded down with platters and bowls of rich and fabulous foods. For others, it may mean a small gathering or it might even be a day to go out to eat with a small cadre of family or friends. For still others, it could be a day all alone, perhaps feeling depressed because "everyone else is with someone they love." And for far too many, it's just one more day of homelessness and wondering where their next meal will come from. All of this in our one land of plenty!

If you have what you need tomorrow, please don't forget what the day is all about: giving thanks. Most of us have so much for which to be grateful. I am certainly not wealthy, but I could fill pages and pages with all the blessings I do enjoy. I'm sure you could as well. Take time to reflect on at least a small portion of those blessings. Don't let Thanksgiving Day be only about all the food!

Monday, November 19, 2018

So much to learn about anger

My last several blogs have dealt with some of the issues facing us in our country today, some of the issues that were and still are subjects of debate in the U.S. As we saw during the election process, these issues can heighten our emotions, most particularly the level of our anger.

This is why I was especially struck by an article on anger that I recently read by Russ Hudson, one of the authors of a book on the Enneagram that I especially like (The Wisdom of the Enneagram). In the article Hudson talks about the gifts in anger, saying it can give us courage to do things we've been afraid to do and that it can connect us with a sense of righteousness (as in our concern for justice). Further, Hudson says, "Most people are also quite surprised to discover that, when we are present with anger, it lasts only a few seconds—perhaps the duration of two or three breaths. It is our denial and suppression of anger that causes it to stay in us for much longer periods of time—ricocheting around in our nervous system until we are ready to finally feel it."

Isn't that interesting? He also adds, "For some of us, it remains as a simmering resentment and negativity; for others, it leaves us with a quick temper; for still others, it is so suppressed that it lives in our tissues, slowly poisoning our bodies with repressed, unresolved energies." And to that he adds, "The long-term effects of avoiding anger are every bit as corrosive as acting it out."

That said, he cautions us on how we express our anger. "There is a world of difference between being present with the energy of anger in our body and letting that anger provoke us to destructive behaviors," he says.

Are you surprised by his words? There is so much to learn about anger—how we can be present to it and how we express it. Perhaps another time we can talk about the gifts in anger, since most of us don't think of anything positive about our anger.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Shed that pain

My November ezine put forward the thought that when we don't work through our painful experiences to transform that pain, we end up transmitting that pain to others. When our hurts and pain are buried deeply inside us, they still manage to seep out and affect our words and behavior toward others. Sometimes the pain does more than seep—it can explode.

Poet and author Mark Nepo puts it in a different way, but it's essentially the same thing. Here's what he says in his book Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness:

"As we struggle with all we carry, we discover that what is not ex-pressed is de-pressed. It seems the more we express, that is bring out what is in, the more alive we are. The more we give voice to our pain in living, the less buildup we have and so, our inner life fits our outer life more fully."

Nepo says, too, that expressing our pain isn't limited to verbal expressions but can also be done through movement, singing, drumming, dancing or even praying silently. It's simply getting out what is inside!

So shed that pain. Let go. Express it. Let it be transformed. But above all, don't hang onto it and don't shove it down—it won't stay down. Let it out and feel the huge weight fall off your shoulders. Fly free like the beautiful butterfly!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Try self-care

I know many women who have experienced sexual assault. I also know many who were "triggered" (memories of abuse surfaced and women felt re-traumatized) by the Brent Kavanaugh hearings when he was nominated and then placed on the U.S. Supreme Court.

It was extremely painful to hear Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's quiet testimony about her experience of assault and then to watch as she was dismissed by lawmakers and others. It was just another reminder of how much work we women and all men of good will have yet to do on the subject of sexual assault. If we want to rid this country of its rape culture, we must pay attention to how we treat those who dare to come forward with their stories.

Just recently, I read a good piece on the subject of being triggered that listed 4 ways to care for yourself if that happened to you during the Kavanaugh hearings:

1) Stop, breathe and be. The article recommended turning the TV or computer off, taking deep breaths and being still.

2) Share your feelings and step away from the internet.  This recommendation is for both women and men who have been assaulted and encourages talking with people you trust and doing things that are relaxing and make you happy. Stay away from the news for a while.

3) Connect with the present. Ground yourself by noticing things you can touch, see, hear, smell and feel.

4) Don't try to numb your pain. Instead, healthy remedies are suggested, things such as yoga, exercise or sleep.

As always, self-care is so essential—whether you were triggered or whether the whole process last month upset you and offended your sense of justice.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Who's the stranger?

Lately, I've been talking about justice and about some of the issues that garnered our attention during the recent election cycle.

I'm a Christian and as such, I have concerns for how we approach immigration issues in our country. I am aware that people of other faiths have concerns for "the stranger" as well; Christians aren't alone in that desire. So who are the strangers in our world? Our lives? And what are we to do?

In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the stranger:

"...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'"

I certainly don't advocate a policy of letting anyone and everyone into our country with no rules and regulations governing such entry. Somewhere between that and completely closed borders, there must exist a space where we can stake our claim as Americans. With the exception of Native Americans, of course, we have all gotten here because someone in our family line entered the country through an immigration process. At one point, someone in our family was a "stranger" in this land. What's your family story?

What does that mean to you? What ideas do you have for bringing justice to this situation? 

Friday, November 9, 2018

A passion for justice

For nearly all of my life, I've been passionate about justice. This continues to be a strong drive within me, and it means I pay attention to what's going on in our society and in the world. I believe that as a citizen, I am called to be engaged—to stay informed, to speak out, to vote and whatever else seems important and necessary to assure that, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "the arc of history ... bends toward justice."

That said, I have decided to take the opportunity now following the election to use some of my blog space to talk about issues that are important in our life together. One of those issues is the increasing gun violence in our country.

Two of my sons and several of my grandchildren love hunting. They have all taken safety courses and follow gun safety rules judiciously. I am not against hunting and careful use of guns.

However, I am extremely concerned about the increasing rate of mass killings in our country. Clearly, it didn't bother us when our littlest ones were killed at Sandy Hook. It hasn't moved us to action when our high schoolers were killed in Columbine and in Parkland, Florida. And now we've just had another one in California. We are upset by killings in our churches, synagogues and mosques; but our concern seems to pass quickly as the news cycle moves on to other events in our national life.

I don't have answers for all of this—just deep, deep concerns. How can we protect all our citizens—and most especially the children we bring into this world? Surely it is our job to protect them and be sure they are as safe as is humanly possible. Do we have the will?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Digging under the words

National elections were held just yesterday. It's been an especially contentious election season. So many important issues have been the focus of national debate. Debate might seem like an extremely tepid or overly polite way to describe what's been occurring. Some days, it's more like food fights in a high school cafeteria!

Some of the issues that have been tackled are health care, immigration (except for Native Americans, we all got her through the process of immigration), voter suppression and gerrymandering, the #MeToo movement and all the broad strokes that surround issues related to women, reproductive rights and so much more.

I've been listening to the rhetoric and trying to pay attention to what's underneath the strong feelings and the words that are used—words that often are hurled at each other across an ever-increasing divide. Let's just take one of the issues: reproductive rights. Many feel the terminology typically used can be misleading: pro-life and pro-choice; and those people say that nearly everyone is for life and that it's a matter of who makes the decisions. So I've been thinking a good deal about what exactly the term pro-life means to people. I suspect if I asked 10 people, I might get 10 different answers.

I'm curious: What does it mean to you? For me, pro-life covers such a broad range of things—for example, attention to such issues as hunger, poverty, homelessness, child abuse and domestic violence, education, health care, gun laws and gun violence, just to name a very few. I see what happens throughout the life of that child who's born as a matter of concern. For me, it's more than simply having a child born; it's about making sure that child is safe, loved, cared for and has the best chance at quality of life that's possible. And in this wealthy nation of ours, I believe high quality of life IS possible if we have the will to see to it.

I would love to hear what you think about this and other issues. It's so easy to repeat rhetoric—words and phrases—that we hear politicians or others say. And sometimes we don't really examine those words to see what is underneath them. It's important to do so and to be sure the words we use really are authentic to us.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Embrace your changes

We know that change is a normal part of life. Without change, we'd never grow up. Change, evolution, transformation—call it what you will. It's essential. I love to think of the butterfly, which started life as a lowly caterpillar and wound itself into a dark cocoon, where it seemed to die. And then suddenly, all those same parts that formed that caterpillar changed into a beautiful butterfly. I love that image of transformation, which is why I've chosen it as the symbol of my Way2Grow Coaching practice.

French author Arnaud Desjardins, who wrote the book The Jump Into Life: Moving Beyond Fear, once said:

"Life is expressed in a perpetual sequence of changes. The birth of the child is the death of the baby, just as the birth of the adolescent is the death of the child."

On and on it goes. Perpetual change. Why then do we so fear change? It's a normal, yes a valued and essential, part of our lives. So let's embrace it and be grateful for new life and transformation. Be grateful we learn and grow. And let yourself soar like the beautiful butterfly that emerges from the cocoon!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Deep breaths. Time to de-stress.

How are you handling your stress these days? Do you have some tried-and-true methods of either keeping it at low levels or letting it go once you feel it?

Whatever tools you have to deal with stress, now is probably the time to dig them out of your toolbox. This month is Thanksgiving, and we all know Christmas and the busy holiday season come right on the heels of that. Even when you try to limit your activities and your to-do list at this time of year, it still can easily get out of hand.

So take some deep breaths. Get back to exercising, meditation, yoga, quiet reading time or time with friends—whatever it is that helps you keep your equilibrium when life gets crazy. Try to get out ahead of all the stress. And perhaps even make a vow this year to limit some of the activities or some of the expectations you put on yourself. Take time to enjoy this special time of year. Be grateful for these special times and don't let the stress get you down!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Let pain go

Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known simply as Osho, said, "When you become good at the art of letting sufferings go, then you'll come to realize what you were dragging around with you. And for that, no one else other than you was responsible."

My monthly ezine today talks about the fact that pain that's not transformed is transmitted. Osho's quote reminds us of the heaviness of dragging around our pain and suffering. If we can simply be with our pain and woundings, letting them flow through us and out of us, we can move on. We can then be transformed rather than letting those wounds affect our words and behavior, thus transmitting them on to those around us.

When I say "simply" be with our pain, I don't mean to imply that this is simple. It is not. It does take intention. And hard work. And only we are responsible for that. We may try to lay blame on others for our pain and suffering. And it may be true that someone did something to us that caused great pain. However, we are responsible for hanging onto it rather than letting it flow through and then letting it go. We are responsible to find ways to heal that pain so it doesn't affect our relationships and behavior.

What pain do you need to let go in your life? Are you transmitting any of your suffering to others? Today is a good day to let pain be transformed, to be healed, to turn pain into peace.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Self-love allows us to love others

We've often heard it said, "If you can't love yourself, you can't love others either." It's true. That can be a tall order, but it's worth working on love of self.

The same is true of compassion. If we can develop compassion toward ourselves, it's far easier to extend it to others. As religion scholar and writer Karen Armstrong says, "We have seen that compassion is essential to humanity. We have a biological need to be cared for and to care for others. Yet it is not easy to love ourselves. In our target-driven, capitalist Western societies, we are more inclined to castigate ourselves for our shortcomings and become inordinately cast down by any failure to achieve our objectives and potential."

Armstrong also reminds us that "If we treat ourselves harshly, this is the way we are likely to treat other people. So we need to acquire a healthier and more balanced knowledge of our strengths as well as our weaknesses."

She is right. If you have a tough time with self-compassion and self-love, take steps today to develop them. And if you would like to discuss this, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary coaching session around the topic.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Develop our compassion muscles

In the past year or more, I read the entirety and have returned to reread portions of a wonderful book by widely respected religion scholar Karen Armstrong entitled Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. It's a good read, and I highly recommend it. It is especially timely given the divisions within our country and throughout the globe right now—and given the amount of human misery that exists.

Armstrong mentioned our "compassion fatigue" too, something it's easy to feel when we see so many images of misery daily on TV and online. She says, "We are probably deluged with more images of pain than any previous generation; they are beamed into our homes nightly on the evening news. It is easy to get compassion fatigue and tempting to dismiss these spectacles from our minds, telling ourselves that there is nothing we personally can do and that this misery has nothing to do with us."

However, instead of fatigue and dismissal, she urges, "Instead of steeling ourselves against the intrusion of other people's pain, we should regard our exposure to global suffering as a spiritual opportunity. Make a conscious effort to allow these television images to enter your consciousness and take up residence there. Extend your hospitality to them, and 'make place for the other' in your life. It is a powerful way of developing 'concern for everybody.'"

In that way, we can learn to develop compassion, a badly needed component of human life in these times.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Gratitude for a privilege

I've never wanted my coaching business or my website to be political. And this blog most definitely is not a partisan one. But I do want to take this platform and this time to urge you to please go out and VOTE if you have not already done so. Be grateful that you are able to do so.

We are blessed in this country to have a democracy rather than an authoritarian regime. We are blessed to have the privilege—and the responsibility—to vote for those who will govern and lead us. People in many other countries of the world would be thrilled to have this right and responsibility.

And for those of us who are women, it's especially important to remember that it was only in 1920 that we won the right to vote. That privilege was hard-won and came after decades of a women's suffrage movement that saw women arrested, imprisoned, beaten, spit upon as they marched and protested, kicked out of their homes and families by husbands who were violently opposed to women getting the vote, force-fed in prison during hunger strikes (because the optics wouldn't be good for male leaders of the country who feared deaths could lead to sympathy for the suffragettes and their cause), losing jobs and more.

In one case in 1862 the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court denied a divorce to a woman whose husband had horsewhipped her. The justice said, "The law gives the husband power to use such a degree of force necessary to make the wife behave and know her place."

We may take our rights for granted. But we shouldn't. We stand on the shoulders of those courageous women who fought for our rights. We have been empowered by their bravery! So let's be grateful—and let's exercise our rights!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Love is expansive

I have long been inspired by writings of Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. So when I read this quote just now, it stopped me in my tracks:

"A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it's not a love letter. A true love letter can produce a transformation in the other person, and therefore in the world. But before it produces a transformation in the other person, it has to produce a transformation within us. Some letters may take the whole of our lifetime to write."

Wow, that's a lot to digest. I want to spend more time reflecting on this idea.

Love is so much more than a warm, fuzzy feeling of the type we see on our TV screens or the big screen. Yes, it does include insight, understanding and compassion. It can lead to our transformation and that of the other person. Think of how someone's love and care for you can give you strength and courage to face life's challenges.

Love is so expansive. Unlike a pie that's confined in scope, love grows the more people we draw into its circle. Sometime, make a list of all the people who fall into that circle for you. Perhaps you have two or three people to whom you'd like to write a message telling how much they mean to you? Why wait? Do it now.

Friday, October 19, 2018

How does your courage look?

Courage and bravery take many forms. I just watched a video of my oldest granddaughter jumping from a plane high above the gorgeous countryside of Switzerland. I don't think I could skydive like that. I know Gretchen absolutely loved it, though. She is the type of person who will try new things, so it didn't surprise me that she did this during her college semester abroad in Prague.

My courage through the years led me to live five years in Papua New Guinea with my husband and family. And it took me to Liberia, West Africa, during its violent civil war. It also helped me survive divorce and create a new life for myself.

What does your courage look like? It need not take you to a war-torn country or high above a beautiful countryside.

Courage can mean showing up even when you are afraid of doing so. It can mean tackling a difficult task. Sometimes it means speaking up even though you might be shunned or ridiculed. It can mean defending the rights of others—or speaking truth to power. It may mean risking something important to you for a greater good.

Bravery and courage mean going through cancer treatments and facing each new day with hope, joy and gratitude. They can mean aging gracefully, despite the many losses and signs of decline you see in yourself. There are a million different ways to show courage.

Think of all the ways you have shown courage through the years—and celebrate yourself for doing so!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Reclaiming hope

Just a couple nights ago I watched a Netflix film entitled City of Joy (not to be confused with a 1992 movie by the same name). This film is a documentary chronicling stories of hope and restoration from The Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been devastated by 20 years of war and violence.

The film explains how rape is used as a tool of war (no big surprise to those of us who follow women's issues around the globe!)—but even more, how the women affected by this can find their voices and reclaim their life's purpose and strength and in the process, find joy. The film shows the first class of women to graduate from a leadership center in eastern Congo. It's called the City of Joy—a safe place founded by Dr. Denis Mukwege, 2016 Nobel Peace Prize nominee; women's rights activist Christine Schuler-Deschryver and radical feminist Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues". These three people did amazing work with women who suffered unimaginable violence to the point where these women went on to work for change in their country.

It is absolutely beautiful to watch the women grow and become stronger—and joyful again—as the film (and their training) progresses! Above all, this is a story about resilience. It's a story about joy. It's about finding our voices, even in the face of incredible pain and sadness.

For those of us who have not experienced the ravages of war or of sexual violence, there still are lessons to learn: the importance of not remaining a victim, no matter what our experience; the value in speaking up and telling our stories and our truths; the power of reclaiming hope and joy—and so much more.

Have you found your voice? Are you using it? Are you telling your story, whatever it is? I encourage us all to do so! It's so powerful. It's also powerful to stand together with our sisters around the globe—and those brothers who support us!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Joy & contentment

Sometimes I only need to let another voice speak, and there's nothing more to be said. So once again, I give you the words of Episcopal bishop and member of the Choctaw Nation Steven Charleston in his book Cloud Walking:

"Give me the simple joys and I will be content. The peaceful evenings with those I love, watching the sun slip away to its rest. The laughter around the table, when all our cares seem to have lost their way and failed to appear. The long talks with old friends who know what I am saying before I say it. The magic of children's play, delighting only in delight. The devotion passed between me and a beloved pet when we cross that line of difference, bonded for life. The quiet hour of prayer when I not only know God is listening, but sitting right beside me."

Ah, doesn't that just slow your heart rate and bring images that calm you? Joy and contentment are near at hand. We need not work so hard to find them.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Bring the light of love

Unless you live in a cave and never listen to any news, you likely are painfully aware that this world is filled with darkness. So much murder and mayhem abounds. Some days, it can drag us way down, nearly drowning out our hope. Sometimes, I simply have to take a breather from news coverage. It's simply too depressing. I don't want to just focus on all the bad things that happen in the world.

The world has always been that way. However, there are always the helpers, too! We always have good people doing kind things. Those stories don't often make the news, however.

We need to remember, too, that darkness can be good. Nighttime and darkness means our bodies can enjoy much-needed rest. Dark, nutrient-rich soil enables a seed to sprout and grow. The darkness of a nourishing womb provides an environment for the embryo to grow into a viable baby.

But when darkness shows up in ways that harm others, it needs light to transform it to goodness. Each of us has the capability to be light-bearers. How can you bring light into the dark places of the world? What are the gifts you've been given that enable you to shine light into the darkness?

Let's think of ways we can bring the light of love into the dark places. Let's bring the light that allows hope to replace despair. Let's let the light shine through us so fears and anxieties don't overwhelm us and others. Let's bring light that will enable visions of peace for all humankind—light that will dispel misogyny and bigotry, replacing them with respect for all creatures. Let's bring the light of love that reminds us to live a life of gratitude and service to others.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Focusing on hope

Hope. It's such an essential part of life. And think of what happens when we lose it. Hopelessness. What a grim prospect!

I really like what Episcopal bishop and citizen of the Choctaw Nation Steven Charleston wrote in his book Cloud Walking:

"Hope is the match, prayer is the fire. If you know someone who needs a little help in getting a prayer life going, ask them if they ever hope for something. It's a safe bet that they do. And all the time. Humans are hopeful creatures. We are in an almost daily state of hope. We hope it won't rain. We hope we get better. We hope we win. Hope is a constant for us in our emotional matrix. Prayer is simply hope captured. Rather than a fleeting wish, through prayer hope becomes a focused intention. Prayer matures hope by allowing God to light a fire."

What an image: "Hope is the match, prayer is the fire." I don't know what shape your spirituality or religion takes, but prayer comes alive in many forms. Whatever works for you, I hope these thoughts and images help you find a way for the fire to be lit!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Say 'yes' to authenticity

I cannot say enough in praise of authenticity. It is so important to be who we were created to be, to be truly ourselves. It's important to not sell out just because we want to be accepted or loved. We want to find our own voice, speak our own truth and act in ways that reflect the values we hold dear. To do any less chips away at our core. If caving to the pressure of selling out is how we have gained the friends we have, eventually it will catch up with us and we'll feel that loss of integrity. Once lost, how will it be reclaimed?

And as poet and cancer survivor Mark Nepo says in The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be, "...anyone, no matter how dear, that wants us to be other than who we are does not truly love us or doesn't know how to love."

Strong words. But so true. If your loved ones and friends encourage and support you in being who you truly are, be grateful. Very grateful. If not, perhaps it's time to begin saying "No" to anyone who asks you to be other than who you are. Perhaps it's time to say "Yes" to yourself—and to who you were designed to be.

Friday, October 5, 2018

All in the family

As my beloved sister and I help our brother deal with dementia, I am reminded once again of the importance of family. Family: The people who love you, who are there for you in the good times and the bad, the people who knew you when, the ones who know your flaws and failings and love you anyway, the ones who are your best supporters.

Except—this is not always the case. I have many friends whose families don't do that. They cannot go to family members and expect love, affirmation and support. Some have no families to which they can go at all. Others have families who simply are unable to provide love and support. Still others have experienced a rupture somewhere along the way.

But here's the good news. What I call "chosen families" also fill the bill! Often, dear friends are as close or closer to you than any family member might be. They will be there for you in good times and bad. And when your friendship goes back a long ways, you do know a lot about each other's stories and lives. This definitely can fill the bill!

Sadly, not all families of origin are what we would wish them to be. If that's the case for you, don't despair. Remember that families don't have to be connected by blood. They can be connected by love!

Do you have any "chosen family" members? (Even when you have a loving family, you might still have some "chosen family" too.) Be grateful if you do! Thank them for being in your life.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

How does your garden grow?

During a conversation with a dear friend the other day, she mentioned that pulling weeds was on her to-do list. Somehow her comment made me think of the weeds in our lives. And that thought led me back to our pastor's sermon last Sunday when he urged us to start each day in thankfulness and gratitude for all our blessings.

Just a few years ago, I kept a Gratitude Journal in which I recorded at least four to six items each morning for which I was grateful. Sometimes I filled most of the journal page. Other times, I might have had only four items. But the net effect always was positive. When my day began by focusing on the gifts I have in my life—and feeling grateful for them—I was far more focused on seeing the blessings than the negatives or the weeds. I was happier and more content. It wasn't so easy to look at the negatives and get dragged down by all that's wrong with the world! It was easier to be forgiving and loving. I could overlook the foibles of others more easily.

For some reason, I got away from using that journal, though. But thanks to our pastor's encouragement, I'm reviving the practice.

And that brings me back to the weeds. Whatever in our lives crowds out the blessings and the good things, might those not be considered weeds? In a flower garden, it matters not if a weed also has flowers—if it crowds out and kills the flowers you planted there, you consider it a weed and pull it out, right? So what about the weeds in your life? What things are crowding out the good in your life? What thoughts or events are pulling you away from the positive and kind things you want to be doing? It's far too easy to latch on to the "shiny thing on the path," often the worst news of the day, and see the glass half empty or the world going to hell in a hand basket. However, if we keep the weeds under control and notice all the beautiful flowers in life's garden, how much happier we will be. How much easier it will be to be kind, loving and forgiving to those whose paths cross ours in any given day.

Be attentive to removing the weeds in your beautiful garden of life. Start—and end—your days in gratitude and notice all the beautiful bouquets of blessings that are there instead.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The center of the storm

In these days of so much conflict and anxiety, I keep looking for ways to stay with positivity and keep hope alive. So once again, I turn to one of my favorite inspirational poets and authors, Mark Nepo. He came extremely close to death with his cancer, so he speaks out of some deep experience.

In his book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, he reminds us that "...the only true place of calm in a storm is the very center." 

He goes on to say, "Somehow, in the face of adversity and suffering, we are asked to appreciate life and endear ourselves to it. Not by replacing adversity with joy and not by turning from the difficulties and injustices of living, but by facing them with truth and gratitude for being here anyway. Even after cancer, and in the midst of this journey now, I don't know how to do this but know I must. We must."

As I struggle to find out how to do this myself, I'm encouraged to know that he isn't sure either but that he knows we all must find our way to this place of calm and equanimity. I don't know why but that spurs me forward to find ways myself.

He quotes former president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel on the subject of hope: "Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out." Ah, yes, there is a difference. And now I still have to think of what that means in our context in this country.

How do you see this?

Friday, September 28, 2018

Here's to solitude

On Wednesday I referenced an inspiration book on which I occasionally draw, entitled Painted Prayers by Jody Uttal. The book contains her original art along with selected poems and prayers by other writers.

Today I want to leave you with a short one by the Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke:

"What is necessary, after all,
is only this: solitude,
vast inner solitude.
To walk inside yourself
and meet no one for hours—
that is what you must be able to attain."

What I've noticed, particularly in our society, is something approaching fear of solitude. Many people seem uncomfortable being alone or being in silence—alone with their thoughts. And yet, how else can we know ourselves? And knowing ourselves, don't we also begin to know and understand others?

I like the way he phrases it: "to walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours."

If you aren't used to solitude, try it just a little at a time until you develop a comfort level with yourself and your own thoughts. It's amazing what you can learn that way. For Rilke, solitude was a necessary prelude to creativity. See if you don't find it so.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

So many life lessons

Some years ago a friend gave me a lovely inspirational book that combines original art with the selected prayers of several writers and poets. The book, Painted Prayers by Jody Uttal, inspires me and always makes me think.

Here's a selection I read yesterday that was written by Rumi, the 13th century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, theologian and Sufi mystic. It speaks to our being open to whatever enters our lives hour by hour or day by day—because everything can be a teacher. This is called "The Guest House":

"This being human is a guest house.
Every morning, a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond."

There really is nothing more I need to say. Re-read it if you wish and simply reflect on Rumi's rich words. Then stay open to each emotion and experience to see what life lessons emerge.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Who has provided light to you?

Albert Schweitzer once said, "At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."

No doubt each one of us can think of several people who have rekindled the flame in our life at one time or another. As I look back through the years, I can think of several people. Can you? Whether our light actually goes out or whether it simply flickers and becomes dim, we need the help of others to light our way and rekindle our light.  We don't do this all on our own. It really does take a village!

As you think of people who have lit your path, why not tell them so and thank them? I remember thinking about this several weeks ago and telling a friend how much of a shining light she was in my life. I could tell my words really meant a lot to her. It made me think I should do more of this—tell people the effect they have on me! I need to tell them how I appreciate them!

It's wonderful to be aware of what others do for us. It's another to feel deep gratitude for this. And it's yet another to tell them so!

What are you waiting for?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Pity vs. care

It's no secret that I am a fan of poet Mark Nepo's writings. His bouts with cancer and other life situations have given him a depth of character that make his words really speak to me.

Last week I read this in his book Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness as he spoke about lessons learned from coming so close to death:

"It's taught me that if we share pain, which is a lot to ask, there is no room for pity. For sharing the struggle requires an investment, a real life-changing investment by those who care, an involvement that will instigate their own tandem suffering. Pity is a bleacher activity. It is the substitute for front-line caring."

Wow, there is a difference, isn't there? "Pity is a bleacher activity." Yes, just so. It is far different from true sharing of pain. Most people don't want pity when they suffer. They want someone to care—whatever shape that may take.

Who might need your care today?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Speaking up feels authentic

I believe in authenticity. The older I become, the more important it is to me to be authentic and true to who I am and what I value. Sometimes that deep calling comes into conflict with my desire to maintain serenity and equanimity. That's been happening for me this week.

Ever since a woman came forward with accusations against the current Supreme Court nominee, her life has been scrutinized. She's been ridiculed and accused of vengeful behavior and worse; several lies have been circulated about her. She has even received death threats! She's being what we now call slut-shamed because she dared come forward and accuse a man who has risen to a high level.

I remember vividly in 1991 when Anita Hill went through this same thing, and I wonder why women are still being re-victimized simply for coming forward with their stories of abuse or rape. As a woman, I have strong feelings about this; and I have been so pleased to see the "Me, Too" movement take hold. It's been long overdue. But the behavior persists.

Here's the thing. I don't want to be upset about everything that I hear on the news (although there's plenty about which to be upset these days). I don't want to always see the glass half empty. I want to live in hope. I want to remain positive. However, I also want to be true to my beliefs and my values. And to tell the truth, I am way beyond sick and tired of the way women have been treated for centuries—the way we're devalued even yet in this country. So I simply have to speak out about it. I cannot sit by and watch the slut-shaming circus without saying something. That may make me a trouble-maker. But history shows that much change has come because of "trouble-makers."

So I'm going on record here (and on social media and my friendship circles) to call people out when they do this to women. Enough already. This needs to stop! Women are human and deserve respect just as do men. Let's not keep silent when our sisters name abuse.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Are you a worry-wart?

Author and entrepreneur E. Joseph Cossman, creator of the ant farm, had a subtle reminder for those of us who are prone to worry. He said, "If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today."

Chances are pretty good that you cannot recall what you worried about on this day a year ago—unless, of course, something traumatic and dramatic was occurring on that day that makes it stand out for you.

Typically, those of us who are worriers spend far too much time worrying about things that never come to pass, preparing outcomes for problems that don't even develop and therefore, wasting perfectly good time that could be better spent!

I tell myself that worry is a monumental waste of time. But it doesn't really stop me. I would like to at least cut back on the time I spend worrying. How about you? I would far prefer to spend my time living in gratitude and letting life unfold rather than worrying about things and thus, trying to control them (a useless pursuit anyway).  Starting the day thinking of 3-5 things for which I'm grateful does help. And calling myself back to gratitude helps, too, whenever I find myself stressing over some possible future event. Can I refocus? Or even reframe?

Do you have some tried-and-true ways to decrease worry?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Control as illusion

Have you ever tried making a list of the things in your life that you actually control? If you haven't ever tried this, do so now, just for fun.

How long is the list? In retrospect, are there even some things you want to cross off that list as you give it more thought? Did it just get far shorter yet?

It is true that we like to think we're in control of a good deal in our lives. But think about it honestly—are you really able to control much of what happens?

When we get really honest with ourselves, we realize that about the only thing really in our control is how we respond to what happens to us. Try as we might to keep things under control, "stuff" still happens and we have to resort to Plan B, C, D or even X and Z! And for that matter, even how we respond isn't always something we control. Some of that is knee-jerk and may have been programmed into us at a very young age.

It's humbling and necessary to get past the idea that we're in control. It can also prevent a good deal of frustration, anger and resentment. Again, it's a matter of letting go of some illusions. We can learn to be more flexible and to acknowledge that we're really not in charge. We can go with the flow more often; and through it all, we can learn to be more grace-filled and accepting of others as we recognize that we're all just trying to do our best to get by.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

'I am loved'

I recently saw a journal exercise that would be fun to try. First, you are asked to list the ways you think someone you love would describe you. Second, you then go to them and ask them to list their favorite elements of who you are. Then compare their list to yours. In the exercise instructions, you are invited to not be shy, because "it will make them so happy to tell you why they love you!"

Are you willing to try this? Often, we think others would let us down if we tried such an exercise. We think others see us as we see ourselves—and who is harder on us than our very self?! In truth, such an exercise might make the other person happy. But it surely would make us happy, too—that is, if we can suspend our disbelief and self-doubt long enough to really believe the other person is sincere.

Sometimes we do a real number on ourselves and think of someone who compliments us, "Oh, they have to say that" or "They're just saying that; they really don't mean it." We don't think we're worthy of love.

Make it a point today to let go of that kind of thinking. Shed those old tapes that tell you that you aren't worth loving. Believe people when they say they love you. Believe in your own lovability!! Remind yourself every day that you are lovable. Repeat to yourself, "I am loved, and I am worthy of love." For letting go of the old negative messages is only half the equation; the other half is to fill your head space with new, positive tapes!

Monday, September 10, 2018

More grace

I just read the most fascinating quote by American author and playwright Robert Anton Wilson: "Under the present brutal and primitive conditions on this planet, every person you meet should be regarded as one of the walking wounded. We have never seen a man or woman not slightly deranged by either anxiety or grief."

Wow! It really made me stop and think. Such a quote has a way of grabbing our attention, right? I admit that I don't know the context of that quote, although I did do a quick search that didn't yield anything.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how everyone I meet is dealing with something or other—many facing painful, frightening and heavy issues. And I have absolutely no idea when I see someone in a store, at church, in a meeting or on the street what's going on in that person's life. The term "walking wounded" really seems apt. Yes, we are all wounded in some way, aren't we? And we are all dealing with anxiety or grief.

For me, that means that I need to pay special attention to how I treat everyone. I need to remember to approach people with kindness and a full measure of grace, acceptance and forgiveness. More grace. Less attitude.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Anger's good side

It's clear to me that there's a large amount of anger in our country right now. And no wonder, really. We are experiencing many changes—in our economy, in what we consider "civil discourse," in norms that we'd come to expect (for example, that it was safe to go to the mall or a theater), in some of our institutions and so much more. And many people still struggle to replace lost jobs and income, to get by on less and to hang onto what they consider "the American dream." Add to that all our personal struggles with illness, career, relationships and more—and it's no surprise we experience anger.

Anger in and of itself is not bad. Anger is a necessary emotion, in fact. It can remind us that we've just witnessed or experienced injustice, and so it can serve as a call to action. It can protect us, reminding us of danger and the need to create safety and boundaries. Anger often has messages for us. It may flag to us that we have some unresolved grief and loss issues, things we've not acknowledged or grieved yet. For example, I just read about a woman who had completely buried her grief and pain about being raped 50 years ago (at a time when she knew she'd likely be re-victimized if she talked about it to anyone).

What we do with anger is what's important. Notice it. Acknowledge it. See what lessons might be learned from the anger. Do you have grief you've not faced yet, for example? Is it telling you that you need better boundaries with someone in your life? Once you have gleaned the lessons, let go, let go, let go of the anger. You definitely do not need it anymore. It'll be a ball-and-chain if you hang onto it.

It's essential that we learn to deal openly and healthily with our anger—not that we suppress it but also not that we use it to lash out at others. It needs to be processed. And then, shed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The real you

Who is the real you? We all wear masks. It's something we learned to do when we were quite young. We develop masks to protect ourselves. We fear that if people saw who we really were, we wouldn't be loved. Or perhaps we would be harmed if someone saw how weak or afraid we were—in which case, we may develop a stance of toughness that tells the world, "I dare you." So many reasons, so many masks.

By the time we reach middle age and beyond, we may have several masks, depending on whom we are around at any given time and what the situation is in which we find ourselves. Typically, however, by that stage of life, we're also beginning to realize that the masks meant to protect us are suffocating us, too. They are keeping us from being who we truly are. They keep us from being authentic. And authenticity becomes more important to us as we age.

What Muhammad Ali once said is true: "If you're the same person at fifty that you were at twenty, you've wasted thirty years."

Yes! The idea is to grow, to evolve, to let ourselves be transformed by life and its experiences. When we reach a more mature stage of life, we want to be as true to ourselves as we can be. Having said that, we will always hide behind some masks for safety. The hope is that those become fewer and lighter as we become stronger and more sure of ourselves.

What masks are you still wearing? Do you need them? Have you shed some of your masks? Do you feel that you're as authentic as you can be?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Look for the light

As I observe my own behavior and that of others, I often wonder why it is that we're so drawn toward the negative—toward the chaos and drama—rather than toward the positive and inspirational. It's as though the worst behaviors are the shiny objects in the middle of the road. On any given day, we collect as many of those as we can and cluck-cluck about it all. "The world's going to heck." "Whatever happened to civility?" "There are too many nuts out there."

I keep remembering what the late Mr. Rogers said his mother told him about "looking for the helpers" when any tragedy occurs. Rather than focus solely on the tragedy itself, he was taught to look for those who rush in to help. And there are lots of them out there, once we refocus!

I like what poet and inspirational writer Mark Nepo says in The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be:

"So, in a world where tragedy is broadcast every half hour; where situation comedies are rerun nightly; where confusions and betrayals replay themselves; where dark histories repeat themselves, help me put my stinger down and I'll help you take the deep chance to come to your senses. We can take the time to move toward whatever we sense is precious."

Yes, that's it. We can help each other in this regard. It's so easy to focus on the bad behavior, the tragedy, the negative—but we can help one another refocus. Go toward the light. Find what is precious. Look for the helpers.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Gifts & gratitude

Do you have someone who's a real light in your life? Someone whose life and words shine brightly and inspire you? Have you told this person how their light brightens your path?

It's so easy to take for granted friends and family—or even a coffee barrista or service professional—who provide positive examples for us and who inspire us. But we shouldn't.

With so much negative energy and incivility rampant all around us, it's really important to express our gratitude daily for the gifts we receive. It's good for us, and our hearts, to do so. And it's so important to tell others the ways in which they matter to us—to say "Thank you" for the light they shine on our path. You can make someone's day or week just by doing so!

I love sending cards via snail mail. It always surprises people to get mail that isn't a bill or a donation request. But there are many ways to express your gratitude these days: a phone call, a text, email, snail mail, flowers or even a box of fruit accompanied by a note.

Who would you like to say "Thank you" to today? How will you do so?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Less talking, more listening

We've talked before in these blogs about all the shouting across an ever-widening chasm that's occurring in our country and our world. Who's listening? Where will it all end? Is it possible to reintroduce civility and respect to our culture again?

So it was with interest that I read the following in Karen Armstrong's wonderful book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life:

"There is much talk of the need for dialogue as a way of improving international relations. But will it be Socratic [where listening rather than winning a debate is important] or an aggressive dialogue that seeks to humiliate, manipulate, or defeat? Are we prepared to 'make place for the other,' or are we determined simply to impose our own will? An essential part of this dialogue must be the effort to listen. We have to make a more serious effort to hear one another's narratives."

Can we hear one another's stories? And do so without judgment, knowing that the emotional component of someone's story can hold deep pain and meaning that impacts behavior in ways we can't always understand. As Armstrong said, "We need to listen to the undercurrent of pain in our enemy's story. And we should be aware as well that our version of the same event is also likely to be a reflection upon our own situation and suffering rather than a dispassionate and wholly factual account." Cut others some slack. Be gentle with one another since we don't know all that's going on for the other. And listen. Really listen—whether you see this person as enemy or friend.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Wake up to wonder

Sometimes I wonder whether we have to face crisis or illness before we wake up to the wonder of all that life offers. Can we not live fully without the threat of losing our life, our health or loved ones?

Mark Nepo, in his book Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness, speaks about his cancer and says:

"Each significant death to this point has made me reassess who I am and what I'm doing. The shock of life's fragility has made me change so as not to waste the thread of time I have. But after my own illness, I am living fully, not wasting a moment, not squandering a chance, not racing toward tomorrow or burrowing in the past."

In this same book he says:

"There is no question that the experience of great breaking brings with it a terrible knowledge that is life altering. And whether that breaking comes about by accident, injustice, abuse, or disease, suddenly and irrevocably we become forever aware that out of nowhere a force can come at any time without warning to remove or damage whatever it is that we hold dear."

Yes, for sure these things are true. And despite that—or perhaps because of it—we can and must open to the wonder and beauty of life. Live each moment. Gratefully.

Friday, August 24, 2018

What have you learned about life and yourself?

I'm intrigued with a question that I just saw raised earlier this week: What is the most important thing you've learned about life and about yourself in the last 10 years?

Do you need time to think about that one? Or do you know right off the top of your head what your response would be?

My response might seem like a "duh" response to you—but I would have to say that my answer would be that I really have no control over much of anything! I can control how I respond to life events. But try as I might, I cannot control my environment and the things that happen. I don't wish to control others, but I realize how much I try to manage things in my life so that I know what will happen and when. And it really doesn't work. So what I need to learn is to be comfortable with letting life and events unfold as they will. I can't know what's coming. It just doesn't work that way. I want to learn how to ride the waves more easily, trusting that somehow things will all work out.

It sounds utterly ridiculous when I write this down. But it's true, so I may as well admit it and work on being more flexible and open to process and unfolding!

Have you thought about your answer(s) yet?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

'Argue to learn'

Recently I heard some interesting thoughts on the concept of arguments. The speaker urged us to not avoid arguing. Rather, he said that we need to model for children and others that there are, in fact, many valid viewpoints. Arguing or debating them is healthy and normal. Having said that, there is a difference between healthy debate and angry, argumentative discussions!

The speaker gave some good advice that touched on this point, though. He said: Don't argue to win. Argue to learn!

Think about that. What a difference that makes to a discussion or a debate, doesn't it? If we approach such arguments with an open mind to learn a) how the other person views the subject, and b) what new information we may learn about the topic, how much better our relationships would be and how much more we would gain from debates. This is a whole new perspective on arguing.

It's definitely advice I'm going to remember ... and try to employ more often than not.

What do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2018

Life lessons & laughter

Recently a friend sent me a list of witticisms that make so much sense. Today all we need are a handful of these to ponder—and send us on our way into a new week! I hope they make you laugh, too—or at least smile.

—Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.
—Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time because then you won't have a leg to stand on.
—Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance!
—Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live!
—A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.
—Accept the fact that some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue!
—Never buy a car you can't push.
—Drive carefully. It's not only cars that can be recalled by their Maker!

And, for a chocoholic like me, this one is really important:
—Save the earth. It's the only planet with chocolate!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Grief in all its forms

Two of my close friends died during the month of July, one older than me and one younger. So I have entered the world of grief again. I know that if I don't tend to the grieving process now, the grief will simply stay buried inside me until some new grief comes into my life—and then I'll have to deal with the whole lot of it at once. And that can really pack a punch.

There are so many causes for grief and so many types. I've long said that each loss contains multiple losses embedded within it. For example, if you have lost your job, you also have loss of income, loss of identity, loss of colleagues and perhaps even friendships, loss of meaning, loss of focus—and so much more.

Recently, in a retreat center's catalog of offerings, I saw a seminar listed that would take a look at how to find one's way through loss. It had a name for all these smaller losses within the big loss: It called them "secondary losses" or even "loss of the assumptive world." I'd never heard those terms before but they really fit.

Years ago I wrote a resource on grief for the women's organization of my church body, and I talked about these other losses. I didn't have a name for them then. If you are interested in this resource, click on this link.

And if you face any type of loss right now, I encourage you to face it and grieve. Remember, death isn't the only loss in life. We lose friends, jobs, homes, physical and mental abilities and so much more. All of it requires a grief process.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

How do you want to live? And die?

I'm reading a book titled Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, and it's definitely resonating with me. Why am I reading it? Over the past couple years, it's been recommended to me two or three times by people whose judgment I trust. When that happens, I generally take notice. I'm really glad I did. Last week, when it was recommended to me again, I went straight to my local library.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, opens up the world of end-of-life issues and in the process, talks about how to improve life itself. He looks at the type of decisions that need to be made when one faces cancer, for example. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, he argues that people want quality of life and that will differ for each individual. So he says we should consider questions such as: What are my fears? My hopes? What do I want my last days, weeks, months and years to look like? What are my goals as I age? What's most important? What am I willing to give up to have what I want?

If we can answer questions such as those, we can work together with medical staff to come up with treatments that are right for us. And, if we can answer those, we can improve quality of life right now!

I have a dear friend facing breast cancer, and I also have several other friends in various stages of cancer treatment. Some choose experimental drugs. Some go the traditional route. Yet others want to try alternative therapies. If I were facing some form of cancer today, I honestly don't know what I would decide to do. But I think these questions are excellent ones to consider. In fact, I would argue that we shouldn't wait until we have some medical issue or emergency to ask (and answer) such questions. We should give it some thought now, record it and keep it in an accessible place—and we should let our loved ones know. It's never too early for such conversations with family and/or friends. And it's never too early to change our lifestyle and make choices that improve our quality of life right here, right now.

Monday, August 13, 2018

'A life well loved'

I may have mentioned before that I like the Magnolia Manifesto that's printed in The Magnolia Journal: Inspiration for Life and Home magazine I receive. This is done by Joanna and Chip Gaines of HGTV fame. Forgive me if I've already quoted from it before. I don't recall. Even if I have, some things bear repeating!

The Manifesto says, in part:

"We believe:
—that failure needn't be a negative thing; rather, we learn from our mistakes and fail smarter next time.
—in courage, in cartwheeling past our comfort zones and trying something a little bit scary every day.
—in subtle beauty, the kind that doesn't deteriorate with age or wear.
...and of all heroic pursuits large or small, we believe there may be none greater than a life well loved."

What more can I even add? Learning from mistakes? Definitely! Beauty that goes much further than skin deep? Oh, yes! And a life well loved? Indeed. Love wins!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Making our time count

I just read a beautiful poem by Brazilian poet, novelist, essayist and musicologist Mario de Andrade, and I want to share a couple of lines. They are worth hearing and pondering, in my humble opinion.

Andrade says, "I counted my years and realized that I have less time to live by than I have lived so far. ...I have no time for endless meetings where the statutes, rules, procedures and internal regulations are discussed, knowing that nothing will be done. ... I want to surround myself with people who know how to touch the hearts of those whom hard strokes of life have learned to grow with sweet touches of the soul."

There are many good lines in between those two. If you want the entire poem, do a Google search for "My Soul Has a Hat." It definitely is worth a read.

This is about making whatever days remain to us quality days, not just filling them up with fluff. What a great reminder!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Control & fears

As I watch a beloved family member struggle with dementia, I am getting in touch with my own fears about just how I will age. Will I, too, have to face what he and millions in our country deal with in the last quarter of life?

Try as we might to keep our minds sharp, eat well, exercise our bodies, get sufficient sleep and do all the other things we're encouraged to do to stay healthy for as long as possible, we know that there are no guarantees. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do those things. It does mean, however, that even as we do, we should be realistic about the fact that we aren't really in control. Sadly, we don't get to check boxes of what we'd prefer to have or not have as we age!

I'm an Enneagram Type 8, and the basic fear of this type is of being controlled or harmed by others. So control is a key issue for my personality type. The basic desire for an 8 is "to determine their own course in life," and the superego message is, "You are good or okay if you are strong and in control of your situation," according to Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson in their (wonderful) book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

But, of course, that's unrealistic, isn't it? I'll never be completely "in control of [my] situation." And that's where letting go comes in. Control is an illusion and I need to let go. At the same time, I need to directly face my fear about whether I will face dementia at some point in my life. There's really nothing I can do about it—at least not beyond the usual efforts to stay sharp and healthy.

Do you have something you fear? Are you able to confront it head-on? And does it conflict with any desires or fears that are basic to your personality? These are all questions worth pondering. If you wish to discuss them further, I invite you to contact me for a no-obligation, complimentary coaching session.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Begin with a thankful heart

How do you begin your day? Do you wake up and think (or say), "Oh, darn, I have so much to do today! How will I ever get it all done? I wish I could just skip to the end of this day."

Or do you awaken, grateful that you made it through the night and now have a brand new day ahead of you? Are you thankful for the ability to do the things you need to do?

Do you face the day with grumbling—or with gratitude?

You may think it doesn't make a difference. Why should it matter? But just experiment a little. Try it both ways and just see how your day goes.

Personally, I find my days much better when I start them with an attitude of gratitude. It doesn't necessarily change what happens in a day. I still have the same to-do list. I still have the same list of events on the calendar. But what it changes is me. A spirit of thankfulness changes how I see the events of the day. It changes how I view my tasks.

Rather than grumble because I have to clean the house today (a job I really don't enjoy), I try to switch my attitude to one of gratitude that I have a house in which to live and that I'm physically able to clean it. I'm human; so, of course, I still grumble more than I should. But I really am trying to live more in an attitude of thankfulness.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Values & time

Last month two of my dear friends died unexpectedly. It's a poignant reminder to me that each day is gift—and that those who grace my life are also gifts. It reminds me that I should say "I love you" whenever I have the opportunity and that I should savor my moments and days.

I already miss Carol and Sandra and know that as time passes, I will miss them even more. The grief is fresh now so it doesn't yet seem quite real that I'll never see them again. Yet at the same time, I'm extremely grateful for the legacy each of these women leaves behind. I'm so thankful they were part of my life. I have learned much from both of them, and I have wonderful memories of times spent in their company.

Whose legacy makes a difference in your life today? For whom are you grateful in your life right now? Have you told them that?

It's easy to get caught up in to-do lists and the "shoulds" of life and neglect time with the people in our lives, whether that be family or friends. In the end, it really won't matter that all our tasks got checked off some to-do list and our house was kept spotlessly clean. What will matter is how we tended the relationships with which we were blessed. I've always said that I seriously doubt on my deathbed that I'll regret that I didn't do more work. I'm pretty sure any regrets I do have at that point (and I hope to limit those as much as possible!) will be more about not giving enough time and attention to those people I love and treasure.

I want to be present to those who grace my life and to those whose path crosses mine. I want to savor my days and make the most of whatever time yet remains to me. I don't want to spend my time on those things that really don't reflect my true values—and what I value so deeply are my connections with others.

What about you? Are you living your values? Are you savoring your moments?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Thank you's are so important

It's a beautiful thing to live with gratitude in your heart. It makes each day more pleasurable—for you and for all those around you.

Here's a question, though: Do you ever feel gratitude about something someone has done for you and
think it would be a good idea to write a thank-you note expressing that? And then you don't follow through?

Yes, I've done that, too. I'm trying to be far better about that lately. I am aware that when we're extremely unhappy about something, we'll tell others—and most likely, even that person who caused the unhappiness. So how much more should we follow through when we're grateful for what someone else did?

People love to get mail—so a thank-you card or letter is even better than a thank-you email. Still, a thank-you phone call or email can go a long way to making someone's day even better, too!

Who do you need to thank today? Don't put it off. Sit down right now and take care of it. If that's impossible, be sure to add it to your to-do list. And don't forget!