I recently heard from my 20 something self and what she had to say was quite interesting…
When I was in my 20’s, I taught high school at a wonderful Catholic school. Marist changed my life, and perhaps on another day I will go into all the details of exactly what I mean by that statement. But to put it succinctly, I loved my time at Marist… I loved teaching there, I loved the students, and I loved the community. One of the wonderful things about the Marist experience is that students have the opportunity to go on spiritual retreats each year of high school. Juniors and Seniors go on a particularly moving retreat that is led by students and one of the school’s priests. The retreat is filled with opportunities for spiritual growth and reflection and some endearing traditions. One of those traditions is that the student leaders ask teachers to write letters that are then read to the group over the course of the weekend. Ten years ago I was asked to write one of those letters. It was this letter that I discovered a few weeks ago.
I forgot I had even written the letter. The letter was comprised of a list of 15 things I had learned up to that point in my life that I thought would be beneficial to share with this group of individuals who were only a short time away from leaving the nest and entering into the next chapter of their lives. Re-reading the list was both interesting and amusing. It’s interesting to recall what your 20-something-self thought was important or humorous or worth passing on. Here’s the list:
- On the first really beautiful day of spring, go eat somewhere with a porch. My suggestion would be a Mexican restaurant with a porch.
- At least once in your life, go on a completely random and pointless road trip. Don’t plan it – just get some friends and go.
- Develop a weird, yet interesting, talent. Mine: gargling the theme to Jeopardy.
- The people you meet within the first three weeks of college will most likely be your closest friends for the remainder of your four years. Example: I met three of my bridesmaids during my first four days at college.
- This one is for the ladies: Treat yourself and buy at least one bottle of Chanel nail polish. You will feel so special when you wear it!
- Although TV is apparently corrupting society, I have found that watching Friends usually makes me feel better and, contrary to popular belief, Beverly Hills 90210 can answer some of life’s most puzzling questions. If you are unfamiliar with Beverly Hills 90210 you can catch reruns on Saturdays and Sundays at 9 AM on FX.
- Stay up all night with your friends the first time it snows when you’re in college. It sounds cheesy, but in a cheesy way it is truly magical. If you don’t go to a college in which there is snow, this life lesson will be hard to follow.
- It is more important to have a few CLOSE friends than many acquaintances.
- Life is not fun. It will kick you in the gut and when you fall it may continue to kick you, but you WILL make it through. YOU WILL. It is those gut-kicking moments that make and mold you.
- Don’t date someone because you think you can change or help him or her. Chances are you won’t be able to permanently help them, and you may do real damage to yourself in the process.
- Always bring extra money to the Waffle House for the jukebox. Their jukeboxes are the best!
- Memorize your social security number. It is the only piece of information you will need to know for the rest of your life.
- No matter how much you change once you leave Marist, stay in touch with at least one person from Marist. It will help you remember where you came from.
- Memorize a quote or scripture verse or song that you can recite in your mind that will give you strength and encouragement when you are down.
- Nothing you can ever do will separate you from God’s love. You may not feel His presence, you may fail at everything you do, and you may consider yourself a complete disappointment, but God will NEVER give up on you. All you have to do is reach out to Him.
Yes, it is fascinating to hear from your younger self. It is fascinating to notice the things that have stayed the same and the things that are different. For instance, I’d completely forgotten I could gargle the theme song to Jeopardy. I don’t know how one forgets such a factoid, but I guess that little talent has gotten buried over the years. I can’t remember the last time I splurged on a bottle of Chanel nail polish, and I haven’t been to a Waffle House in ages. (That being said, those two points are still true- you really do feel fancy wearing Chanel and the Waffle House does have an awesome juke box. Some things never change.)
The item that really stumped me was #2- go on a pointless and random road trip. I stared at that sentence for a while racking my brain trying to remember why I would put something on there which seemed totally out of character for me. And then I remembered… oh I was young then! I did spontaneous, non-purposed filled things! Alas, my current self is anything but spontaneous. The most spontaneous thing I have done recently is deciding to go to Target by myself for two hours last Friday night. Oh dear, we are a far cry away from road trips these days.
Nowadays, my list would probably include such practical items as it’s okay to leave a job and it’s more than okay to change careers. Deciding that you want to do something else or making a change because something is not a good fit is a sign of courage, not failure. Don’t give into the pressure of “timeline living.” Meaning, if your adult life does not unfold according to the socially acceptable timeline, it’s okay. You are not behind.
There were certain items, though, I was pleasantly pleased to see are as much a part of my life as they were a decade ago.
Episodes of FRIENDS really do make you feel better.
Yes, a few close friends are better than many acquaintances. They know you better. This can be both a comforting and scary reality.
Life is NOT always fun and sometimes you may be shocked at how low it can spiral before it starts looking up. The trick is letting life mold and make you, not damage and defeat you.
Scriptures, quotes, songs, mantras- these are the walking sticks that help you keep climbing the mountain. They are the tools we lean on when we feel like falling to the ground. Your attitude and motivation are determined by what you tell yourself. Since that is the case, you better make it good.
And lastly, I believe more than ever we are not alone and nothing can separate us from God’s love. You are never beyond the reach of God’s redeeming love and grace.
Have you ever had the experience of “hearing” from your younger self? What did she have to say? Did it surprise you? We collect life lessons and little nuggets of advice along every step of the way. It is interesting to see the ones that stick and the ones that fall by the way side.
If you created a list of the things you have learned to this point in life, what would be on it? How would today’s list be different from a list penned ten, twenty years ago? Are there elements of your younger self that you might benefit from bringing into the present? (A little true spontaneity never hurt anyone, right? J ) What beliefs have remained and grown throughout the ups and downs of adulthood? I would love to hear your words of wisdom!
We’ve eaten turkey, we’ve said our thanks, and now we are headed full force into the Christmas season. November seemed to come and go in the blink of an eye, and it’s hard to believe Christmas is less than a month away. Although Thanksgiving struggles not to be engulfed by the ever extending Christmas season, I like that both of these holidays mark a period of intentional gratitude.
Gratitude. Great thinkers, philosophers, researchers, and spiritual leaders alike will tell you that the key to peace and joy in your life is a practice of gratitude. It makes sense… if we spend time pondering what we are grateful for, it cultivates contentment rather than discontentment, and we are less likely to ruminate over life’s shortcomings. It is an obvious and practical life lesson. Recently, I started keeping a gratitude journal, and I am sincerely amazed at the difference in my spirit after I sit and write for a few minutes. This gratitude stuff is no joke.
But let’s be honest. Sometimes- often times- we aren’t that successful in maintaining a practice of gratitude. The annual holiday marker of intentional thankfulness comes and goes. We make resolutions about how we are going to practice more gratitude and concentrate on all we do have rather than focusing on what we we don’t have. We know having a thankful spirit is good for the soul, and what is good for the soul is good for the body. We know this. But let’s be honest… sometimes our ingratitude swallows any sliver of gratitude.
Are you ungrateful?
What are you not grateful for?
What are the memories in your life that you wish you could squeeze your eyes shut and make go away? Who are the people in your life that you wish you could snap your fingers and they would vanish? What are the experiences in your life that make you want to shake your fist and cry out in sadness and despair, “Why, God? Why?”
Sometimes it’s hard to feel grateful, and I don’t think that is necessarily a shortcoming on our part. I think it’s because sometimes life is unfair and difficult.
A few years ago, my little family was going through a particularly difficult season with no end in sight. I remember feeling as if there was a battle going on inside my mind as I tried to practice gratitude for all we did have while at the same time wanting to scream, “Someone take this cup from me! I do not want it and I did not ask for it!” I became exhausted by the clash of voices. Then a third voice entered the frey which told me that life wasn’t so bad and a lot of people have it worse and what was wrong with me that I couldn’t just be grateful. Why couldn’t I just be grateful? The guilt I felt over my seeming ingratitude felt more oppressive than the trying circumstances I was facing. I felt painfully stuck.
Gratitude is the pathway to joy, indeed. But comparative suffering and self shaming are not the pathways to gratitude. Shaming yourself into gratitude is not healing. Using gratitude to silence and bypass your sincere grief and pain is not helpful. Sometimes- often times– the healthiest thing we can do is to admit I’m unthankful for this. I don’t want this.
Yes, we are called to be grateful, and, yes, gratitude fosters contentment and joy. But we cannot use gratitude as a tool to silence our despair. That is not the purpose of gratitude. Admitting you are not thankful for the diagnosis, the unemployment, the loss, the failed relationship is the first step in surrendering those burdens you were never intended to solely bear. You cannot surrender something you insist upon denying exists. It is important to acknowledge and speak your sadness and anger because it is only then that you can let go of them. It is only then that you can be free of them. It is only then you can cultivate true and honest gratitude. We can feel grateful for the healing and still not feel grateful for the hurt.
During this holiday season you may have so much to be grateful for, but you also may have some true heartache that occupies every thought and moment. What are you ungrateful for today? What life event are you unthankful for? Silenced hurt metastasizes; shared hurt heals. Speak the heartache. Surrendering your hurt by admitting and sharing it with someone begins the healing process and opens the door to freedom and thanksgiving.
Having trouble feeling grateful? Ask yourself, “What do I need to surrender?” What do you need to acknowledge today so that healing can begin?
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking on the power of embracing our story. What does it mean to embrace our story? What are the obstacles we face in trying to embrace our story?
Embracing your story means that you understand how the twists and turns, the expected and unexpected, the good and the bad work together to create your unique purpose and life direction. To embrace your story, you have to face your story. Facing your story means dealing with the tough parts rather than trying to deny or ignore them.
But what if you don’t want to deal with the past? What if you don’t know how to deal with the past? How do you make sense of the past when there have been so many ups and downs?
How do we wrap our minds around this thing called life that can be so breathtakingly beautiful and heart wrenchingly painful?
I think this dilemma is one of the biggest obstacles we face in embracing our story. We run from the past because we don’t know how to reconcile the good and bad. We don’t know how to hold onto the good and still call out and address the bad.
Maybe most of your story is really good- good friends, good life experiences, good memories- but there are a couple of chapters, or maybe even some characters, that have been really difficult. These chapters or characters have created some true hurt in your life. You don’t know how to include them in your story because you feel if you spend time talking about those painful scenes then you are discounting, or aren’t grateful for, all the good in your life. And so you ignore or deny the impact of the chaotic home life, the addicted loved one, or the neglectful parent because you simply do not know how to reconcile the good and the bad.
Or maybe you are on the other end of the spectrum. Life has been very hard. From start to present, life has been one challenge after another. And because life has beaten you up so, it is hard to hold on to the good. It is hard to let yourself feel excitement and joy. It is hard to believe that joy and good things really do, and will, happen to you. So you live ever protective of your battered heart, constantly preparing for the worst and never letting yourself rest in joy. It’s the same problem. You don’t know how to reconcile the good and the bad. You don’t know how to hold them both.
The challenge in life is learning to accept the good and bad and give them each the credit they are due and the healing they deserve. We must learn to hold the prickly and the smooth parts of life. We must learn that sometimes life is like holding two gumballs.
This gumball is smooth, full of color, and if you bit into it, it would be sweet.
This gumball is prickly and lackluster in color.
Both are round. Both are gumballs. But they are very different experiences. The sweetness of the one gumball does not cancel out the prickliness of the other.
Life is colorful and smooth and sometimes very sweet. Life is also prickly and dark and a pain to deal with.
Sometimes, out of self-protection, we want our lives to be either all good or all bad because the back and forth, up and down can feel exhausting. We want to know what we can count on because we want to feel in control of our fate. So we decide that life is going to be all good, and we force a smile to hide any bad. Or we decided that life is going to be all bad, and we lash out or reject anything that tries to convince us otherwise.
We struggle to embrace our stories when we want them to always make sense, follow a pattern, and not have any unexpected plot developments. We struggle to embrace our story when we only want to hold onto one gumball.
The challenge is to learn to hold them both.
The painful and difficult and negative events of your life do not cancel out all the good in your life. Equally, the good in your life does not wash over and erase the hurts, abuse, or loss you have experienced. Just because you’ve tasted the sweetness of life, does not mean you can’t still call out the bad. Just because you know the prickliness of life, does not mean that is all there is to life.
It takes courage to have joy and hope, and it takes courage to grieve. It takes courage to hold both gumballs. Embracing your story means you accept the hard, prickly incidences just as you accept the sweet, colorful ones. You accept that both experiences contribute to your unique story and life calling. You learn to hold them both.
Do you struggle to reconcile the good and bad in your story? Does it ever feel like the bad overshadows the good in your life? Do you stay quiet about the dark moments because you are afraid they will tarnish the bright ones? Take the courageous step and start giving voice to all the parts of your unique and powerful story.
As I have shared in earlier posts, over the past several months I have been studying and thinking a great deal about the power of personal stories. What can you learn from your story? How do the ups and downs and twists and turns create a greater theme for your life? Why is it important we embrace our stories?
We each were given a story to live, and there are parts we love and parts we try to ignore. Embracing our story means accepting the beautiful and painful parts. It means we choose to show up and be seen in our lives rather than hide and stay quiet. How do you discover your unique purpose for this life? It’s in your story! Your purpose, your calling is woven into the fabric of your unique story. You need only learn the story, and as you learn your story, you will see that nothing is wasted. The pain that plagues you, the disappointment that troubles you, the regret that haunts… none of it is a waste. The pain heals, the disappointment subsides , the regret is redeemed, and it all comes together to create direction and purpose for your life.
Over the coming weeks, I will share more about the power of owning and sharing our stories. If you are in the Atlanta area, I invite you to join us at Coffee Talk hosted by Peachtree Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, November 12th at 7:30 PM in The Lodge. I will be speaking on embracing your story and living a life filled with courage and purpose. Would love to see you there! Have a great weekend!
In honor of my earlier post, What’s Your Theme Song, I thought our Thoughts for Thursday post should be a song rather than a quote. Yesterday a friend of mine, knowing how much I love the song “Brave” right now, sent me a link to this amazing video created by the patients and staff at University of Minnesota’s Amplatz Children’s Hospital.
Do me a favor- stop reading and watch the video. It is truly a must see. You won’t regret it. (Click on the picture below for the video.)
Pretty incredible, right?
There are so many things you could say about what makes this video moving, but what stands out to me is how truly BRAVE those children, nurses, and doctors are. We are never more courageous than when we choose to have hope and joy in the midst of pain and fear.
Joy and happiness are two different things, and I think we often confuse the two. Happiness is temporary, momentary, fleeting. It is like hunger- it’s going to come and go. I can be happy when I buy a new pair of pants, but by the time I get home I can be completely angry about something. But joy… joy is deeper. It is more foundational. Joy has to do with our spirit. Happiness has to do with our circumstances. Joy has to do with how we view the world and ourselves.
Joy is an interesting emotion. Most would say they want to experience joy; they want to feel it. But in truth, I think letting ourselves really experience joy and hope is actually a very scary prospect. What if? What if it doesn’t work out? What if it is taken away from me? What if it doesn’t happen? What if she don’t get better? What if… Joy leaves us feeling exposed, and whenever we feel exposed, our instinct is to protect. We “protect” ourselves from the uncertainty of joy by throwing it away with worst case scenarios and cynicism. We give it away before it can be taken away. We think we’re protecting ourselves, but really we are depriving ourselves.
But what if you let yourself have hope? What if you let yourself get excited about that thing on the horizon? What if you danced in the midst of your fear and anxiety? We are our bravest when we give ourselves permission to have hope and joy when all signs in our life point in a different direction. We’re not talking about a “smile and never let ’em see you sweat” philosophy. That is denial. That is self-protection run amuck. That is dangerous. We’re talking about acknowledging your fear and your pain- not denying it- and giving yourself permission to feel joy. We’re talking about letting yourself exhale.
What we see in the video is that in the midst of real fear and pain and uncertainty, those patients gave themselves permission to dance, to laugh, and to be silly. That is courageous. And what we can readily assume is that when the camera stopped rolling those same patients gave themselves permission to cry and rage and pound their fists when they needed to. That is brave. It’s the type of brave that takes your breath away.
Whenever you allow yourself to have hope when you know the possible reality, you are being brave. Whenever you allow yourself to feel joy when your instinct is to throw it away out of protection, you are being courageous.
Are you brave enough to hope? Are you courageous enough to feel joy?