I live on what most people jokingly refer to as. "the compound." It's 65 acres in the rolling hills of the Middle TN countryside and is divided up between my family members and a close friend. My son is growing up next door to half of his cousins and in the same home as his grandparents. When people find this out about us, they generally have one of two reactions. Either they gush about how great that would be, or they recoil in horror and tell me they could never ever, ever, EVER live that close to their family.
There's rarely any middle ground.
Being close can exacerbate any issues in relationships. The holidays tend to bring out those issues as well for much the same reasons. Depending how your family relationships are, you'll might be dreading the time spent in close quarters over the holidays. Even if your relationships are healthy, extended time together can strain anyone's patience.
Let's talk about three ways to ease some of the relational stress and bring peace into your relationships this season.
Basically these all fall under the category of. "Yes, it's possible to be an adult and choose your actions and attitudes intentionally."
Choose your own peace. You can't control anyone else. I can't make your crazy relative say any fewer hurtful things. And neither can you.
The only thing you can control is your own response.
Choose peace. Choose to ignore the subtle manipulating, the not so subtle jabs and the outright hostility. Choose to respond in gentle, quiet peace. Choose to give the benefit of the doubt. Choose to walk away if necessary.
Give yourself (and others) an extra measure of grace. I made a remark the other day in a chat conversation about needing to be more organized about getting my giveaway prints shipped, because I'm crazy far behind. And the gal I was talking to made a sympathetic remark about single working mothers always needing more organization.
It stopped me in my tracks.
I'm a single mom. Running a business full time. And running a second one on the side. And producing a weekly podcast and artwork. And coaching my son's Destination Imagination team, running him to piano, art class and scouts and a thousand other things. I tend to forget that. No wonder I don't have time to keep up with all the details, like getting the laundry from the basket into the dresser drawers. And I was able to give myself some grace about those details. In this season especially, there's added stress in everyone's life. Toss grace around like confetti. And remember to let it fall on yourself as well as others.
The people you'll be seeing...focus on enjoying their company now instead of reliving past encounters, old hurts, previous conversations or your own need for something. What if you simply looked past that this season and enjoyed what you can of the present moments.
Be aware, I'm not suggesting you be a doormat, that you suffer abuse or that you ignore your own needs. If you're in that kind of situation, you need more assistance than this article can provide and I strongly suggest getting it.
I'm talking about putting peace in the midst of garden variety problems and those caused by the stresses of the season. And letting that peace simmer between you and all of your relationships.
This week's artwork is a Christmas star. It stands in the center between a background of green on one side and blue on the other. The green and blue represent you and the people you're in relationship with. The star is the peace we need to place in the midst of those relationships. The star is imperfect, it's uneven, it's messy. And it's flawed. Relationships are like that too. But, when lit with the glow of peace, they can shine with beauty despite their imperfections. They're unique and special because of those imperfections.
What if there was peace in your relationships this season?
I wish that for you in the coming days.
Coffee Talk Worksheet & iPhone Lock Screen
I love giving gifts. And I love giving unexpected gifts. Not just the kind tied up with a bow at Christmastime, but small and large generosities of time, talent or money throughout the year. This is one reason why I give away prints of my podcast art each week. Generosity is life-giving to the soul. But, it can also feel stressful and full of pressure.
Gifting can be stressful for a whole bunch of reasons. There are an awful lot of you out there in the very midst of a frenzy of gift-getting in order to create the magic of Christmas morning. If you've ever agonized for weeks over the perfect gift to give someone, ever worried how someone will receive a gift, ever blown your budget or bought gifts you couldn't afford you've dealt with gift-giving stress. Most of us have been there at some point. And right now across our country, it's rampant. So, let's talk about a healthy gifting strategy, one that brings you peace.
Instead of talking about things you already know, like "Choose a budget you can afford and then stick to it." I want to talk about two things that I rarely hear discussed. Your motivations and responsibilities when giving and receiving a gift and alternative gifting.
We give gifts to show love, affection and appreciation. Well, that's why we're supposed to be giving gifts. But, we can let an awful lot of other motivations sneak into that action. We can get competitive about it. We can get selfish about it. And we can get prideful about it. Have you ever been concerned with your gift being the best, the most expensive, the favorite or the most impressive? If so, then you've turned that giving into something about yourself. There's pride, self-centeredness and ego all wrapped up inside that gift. Have you ever bought a gift to impress someone? To manipulate someone? For example, "If I buy her skiing lessons, she'll let us take that skiing trip to Vail I've been trying to talk her into for years." You can see how manipulation could creep into gift giving?
When we give a gift, we need to be really careful that our motivations are simple and uncomplicated. And we need to keep the gifting responsibilities in the right corners. Your responsibility as a gifter is to choose a gift to show your appreciation or love. A thoughtful gift. A gift appropriate in the context in which it's given. So, a gift to a spouse should be more personal and intimate than a gift exchange at the office.
Keep your ego, pride and self-centeredness out of it. Your job is to give a gift. This is the part you can control. You can't control whether the recipient will like it, love it, treasure it...or hate it or be indifferent about it. As the giver, your responsibility ends with the giving. If you've given with thought and appreciation and appropriate context, your role has been fulfilled. Of course, having someone be delighted with your gift is fabulous and you should obviously choose something you think they will like (that's the thoughtful part), but your responsibility is in the giving.
If you're receiving a gift, it's your responsibility to accept it with graciousness and appreciation of the thought and the act on the part of the giver. Seriously, they went to some degree of effort, you need to acknowledge that even if you aren't fond of the gift. So, let's talk about that for a moment. A gift should be given with no strings attached. It's a gift. It's not a contract. If I give a gift and it's not right for the recipient. they have every right to do with it what they want. When I give a gift, I release it to them freely. It's now theirs to do with as they will. So, if you've received a gift that you can't use, don't like or doesn't fit you...you do not have to keep that jacket in the wrong color and style in your closet for the rest of your days.
Quick rules of thumb? Remember: You're only responsible for your own actions and attitudes on either side of the gift giving equation. And kindness, thoughtfulness and appreciation go a long way.
True in gifting and in life.
Holiday gifts don't always have to be under the tree. They don't always have to be given to people you know and they don't always need to be traditional. Buying experiences instead of things for family and friends is one way to experience alternative gifting, but that's not what I want to talk about today. Here are two projects we do each year that help our family focus on giving rather than receiving.
First, we do a project that we call the Giving Jar in honor of the woman who originated the idea - at least the one who started us down this path years ago [Find Jamie Schultz's blog here and search for "giving jar" posts] . It's an advent project that involves a daily giving task. Sometimes we give money, sometimes it's time, sometimes it's attention. We've sent Christmas cards to servicemen and women, cleaned up trash at local parks, held doors for people, left money for strangers to find, done chores for family members, delivered cookies to school staff members, made phone calls to distant loved ones, provided Kiva loans and donated spare change. Countless random acts of kindness and generosity later and our holidays have been transformed from getting to giving. It's a beautiful process.
This year, we're getting a late start. Usually, we do it for the whole month of December. This year, we'll get in two weeks. But, it's the process and not the perfection that counts! It's how it affects my heart and that of my son. It's how the season is given meaning in small moments in each day. Next year I need to put it on my calendar to organize it in October, because it does take some work.
On the practical end, I've done it several different ways. Rolled paper in a jar with the daily task. Simple stacked, numbered cards with the tasks written on them. And my current favorite that probably won't get used this year: sewn paper mittens strung on a string with daily tasks in each mitten.
My other favorite alternative gifts are the ones we choose from Heifer International. If you aren't familiar with Heifer, they're an organization that has projects around the world with the purpose of ending hunger and poverty. They provide training, economic change and income in areas of need by providing livestock and farming practices. They also require recipients of their gifts to pass along offspring to others, furthering the reach of your gift. Here's what we do: we choose an animal or portion of an animal to gift each year. This is normal for people donating to Heifer.
But, then, we also purchase a stuffed version of that animal to live under our tree with our own gifts each year as a visible reminder to us of how fortunate we are and how our own gifts are not the point of Christmas. We started when my son was born and have 10 animals of various sizes and types that make their home under my tree each year. Actually, the bag where the animals are stored has come up missing this year and I'm trying not to panic since it's one of my favorite Christmas traditions.
The art this week is a gift. Not a lot of interpretation needed here, but know that giving should be a beautiful thing both for the giver and the receiver, regardless of what the gift actually is. I wish you many blessings of giving this season and hope that you think through your gifting in new ways after listening today.
What if your gift-giving was full of peace?
If you'd like to see our two week schedule of Giving Jar tasks this year, I'll attach that to this week's coffee talk emails in a printable form, so hop on the Coffee Talk email list to receive that. You'll also receive a few questions each morning about the podcast topic and a version of the week's art in a phone lock screen.
It's the holidays! Welcome to a beautiful season of peace! A merry, joyful season of silent, holy nights! Is that what yours looks like? Or is yours more like refereeing fighting kids while decking the halls, frantic rushing, stressful family gatherings and the stress of compulsive gifting? What if we could change all of that?
What if you are the change?
Last week I talked about the first step in a peaceful season - being at peace with myself. This week I want to talk about the next step. Sharing that peace around me. The quote from Ghandi, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." has been running around inside my head and heart ever since the election. I want peace in my holiday season. So, I'm going to be that peace.
As much as I can, I'm going to be a light of peace for the world around me. But, how do I do that? How can I (or you) be the light of peace when I'm in the midst of family emergencies, a busy schedule, Christmas chaos and a more persistent than usual round of depression?
First, we need to understand that peace is possible in all circumstances. A few years ago I read a description of an art show. The theme was "peace" and the show was full of beautiful images of tranquil scenes. Except for one painting. It showed a pair of birds building their nest in the branches of a tree overhanging the raging rapids of a river below. It was a windy, stormy scene. But, the birds were going about building their nest despite what was going on around them. I'm not going to comment about the wisdom in their choice of real estate. But, you get the point. Your circumstances don't control your sense of peace. You do.
3 Steps To Peace
Here's my plan to brighten the world around me with peace this season. There are three steps. The first is internal. I can't extend peace from a heart and mind in turmoil. Second, extending peace to my family and third to my community.
My internal step: I've started a 30 day yoga and meditation challenge. With myself. And if I can recruit my son, I'll include him as well. The first quarter of the year, I was consistent in a 30 - 45 minute yoga practice every night (yay, me, that was a big deal!). When I started back at the gym in April, that fell by the wayside and it's the missing piece of my exercise routine. In December, I'm planning on doing 20 minutes of combined yoga and meditation daily. If you're not aware of all the benefits of meditation, check out the following articles:
As a sneak peek, if it goes the way I think it will, I'm going to do the 30 days again publicly after the first of the year and would love for you to join me! If you think you might be interested, go to my website and get on the list to be notified when it's ready to go.
Peace At Home
Second, My family. I'm going to institute a Christmas hour each night with my son. We'll cuddle up in front of the Christmas tree with no devices and hang out together. We'll do a devotional. We'll drink cocoa. We'll talk about life and the holidays. We'll make ornaments. We'll do our giving jar project (I'll talk about that next week). Now, my son doesn't know about this plan yet and there's a good chance he's going to have a fit given the "no devices" portion of the scenario. But, we've already decided that a regular time together would go really far in making our season meaningful. So, he'll get over it eventually. If I'm not back with an episode next week, you can assume mutiny.
Peace in Community
I commit to being a messenger of peace in the world in some pretty specific ways. The one I want to mention here is a conscious effort to bring intentionality and kindness to each interaction I have this month. This means slowing down. Smiling. Caring. Noticing. Treating each person I interact with as worthy of careful handling and attention. Don't you wish every UPS and FedEx driver handled every package shipped this season with extra care? They don't though do they? When we're overloaded, busy or distracted, it's easy to treat each other like objects or hurdles to get through to reach our goal. As means to an end. Not me this season. I want to be present and life-giving. My goal is to handle every interaction like I'm being paid to take extra special care.
I knew I wanted to do a candle piece similar to the one I did a few weeks ago. It represents being a light in my world. It's a reminder to me to light my way with peace. And a reminder that even a small light can shine brightly and light the way for others.
What do you want to see more of in the world this month? What if you are that change?
I've said in the last few weeks that I want this holiday season to be one of peace. And to make that happen, I need to start with myself. I have a birthday this week, and it's a big one. I'm not entirely sure making my thoughts about turning 50 public will be valuable to anyone but me. But, it's something I've been thinking a lot about, so I may as well talk it over with you.
I generally ignore age. But, the realities of it creep around the edge of my awareness like a dog who's just gotten in trouble for mucking through the trash. It slinks around at arm's length, just close enough to make its presence known. It says, "I am inevitable. I am tick-tocking away. And while you can ignore me, you cannot avoid me."
If I live to be 100 (which I have every intention of doing), then turning 50 is smack dab in the middle. This is the place in the life of a project that I hate. I love the beginning when it's shiny and new and interesting and love the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction at the end. But, in the middle, things are generally messy and complicated. This is where all the growth happens. When you learn where your thoughts about it were wrong. When you adjust course. When you have to apply newly learned skills that aren't quite up to the task yet. It's where the path is less defined. It's where the adrenaline of the start is gone and grit, determination and perseverance are required.
My 20's and 30's were fairly easy in many ways. At least in hindsight. And when I compare them to my 40's. My 40's was a decade of trauma. Childbirth. I moved 4 or 5 times. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Several radical shifts in my business and income level. That's a crazy lot of change. Not all the changes were bad. Actually good and bad were mostly wrapped up in the same packages. I should say, though traumatic, it's also been a decade of great joy and satisfaction.
As I think about the reality of a new decade and I watch my son grow up at what feels like warp speed, I find myself more and more often wanting to strip the masks off and really see. Both myself and others. I want to see myself for real...and I want to see you. The real you. I have even less patience than previously with all of our masks. I'm aware that time is not the never ending stretch of highway into the distance that it once felt like. I'm sure that's a cliche experience. But, there's a reason things become cliches, right?
If we're going to talk about masks, I want to look more carefully at my own and I'll talk about two today: physical and emotional.
If I stand in front of a mirror. And take off every shred of makeup. And truly look. In some ways I see a stranger look back at me. My mental and emotional self image hasn't caught up with my physical self. Have you ever done that? Really looked at yourself lately? Your face? Your body? With non-judgmental eyes? There are stories we tell ourselves about the way we look. Mostly untrue. Some partially true. And some outright lies. Very little is actual truth. Do you realize that? Very little of the stories you tell about yourself in your head are true of you right now. Many are interpretations of a past or about expectations unrelated to reality.
Some of those stories I've let go in the last year. Like: I should look like I did as a teen aged athlete. Ridiculous. Or, my worth depends on what I look like, what I wear and how that compares to everyone around me. Or, how it compares to the photoshopped cover model. Or, to the I-get-paid-to-work-out athlete. Both shallow and ridiculous. Or, I should have a rounder face, smaller chest and thinner body. Why? Or, I should be botoxing, Retinol-Aing and whatever else-ing it takes to prolong youthfulness as long as possible. Because I need to look younger, prettier and fitter than I am. No. Wrong.
This is who I am right now. I'm turning 50 years old and I have colorful hair, because I like it. Because it's quirky and fun and makes me smile. I have some wrinkles and age spots. I wear leggings, miniskirts and boots because they make me feel like myself. Other days I wear jeans and a t-shirt because that feels like me too. I wear them whether I'm staying in or going out. Because I dress for myself.
And as for my body. I'm as healthy and fit as I have been since high school. It looks different than high school. But, it should, right? I've had a baby and 30 years since then. But, it is strong. Capable. Responsive. It's just the shell of who I am. But, I've recognized the truth that it's the only shell I have. And I am the only one responsible for it. It affects how I live my life. There is so much that I want to do. And so I take good care of it so that I can hike, walk on the beach, play with children. I eat really well. And I sleep. And I exercise. Not obsessively and not for anyone else. It truly has become very little to do with what anyone else thinks I should look like...and all about how I feel inside.
I feel good. I'm turning 50 years old and I feel good. And I've come to the conclusion that it's ok for me to feel that way and to say that in the world because it's not a statement about anyone else but me. I see the imperfections, certainly. But, for the most part they no longer define or limit who I am. And I'm no longer driven to look like anyone else's expectations. I look like me. And this is what 50 looks like...for me.
Emotionally, I've not made as many strides behind the mask. I still have work to do around feeling and expressing emotions. I think my next big life lesson may be on the amount of control I keep myself under. I don't even know what language to use to explain that one yet. I'm guessing I'll figure that out soon. But I have made progress this decade. I now don't allow conflict to live in relationships. That's a pretty big step actually and I should take a moment to celebrate that. I have a history of allowing the fear of rejection and abandonment to keep me from voicing feelings and opinions. I would pull them inward, holding them tightly where they fill up an emotional well with hazardous material. I'm slowly gaining courage on that front. Gaining the belief that I can be both heard and loved. That a relationship is stronger for expressing and working through anger, disappointment or conflict.
I'm also less likely to be completely sidelined by recurring depression that coats my insides like the oil in an oilcan at times. Thankfully, it's less often and less deep at the moment, but I've also learned to give myself more grace when I'm there.
I think I'm less sure of myself these days. One holdover from the trauma of my 40's is that I believe less in my own voice than I did in my 30's. Less in my own power. And yet I know that voice better now. I think this next decade will bring a mellower, more powerful version of that confidence and trust back. At least I hope so.
Altogether, turning 50 I am more whole, more available to others, more true out in the world than ever before. I'm healthier inside and out. I'm certainly not perfect, far, far from it. But, I'm willing to own who I am right this moment. And be at peace with it. The good and the bad. The me I actually am at 50.
I can write the script of my future from where I am right now. Not from where I think I should be or from who others think I should be.
As I look forward to the next decade, I commit to walking through the middle with curiosity, with grit and perseverance. I commit to being courageous. To showing up. To living without a mask. To pouring into my son and into other people. To loving lavishly, unselfishly, generously and with abandon. If I can do that. One day at a time. If I can do that, if I can write my story with the ink of love...no matter what the circumstances of my life in 10 years, my 50's will be a resounding success.
In the artwork this week, you see an eye that contains a heart in the iris. "To be at peace with" is defined as having friendliness toward something. Can you look at yourself and others with eyes laced with love? When people look into my eyes, I want them to see love shining back. I want to see it when I look at myself as well.
Whatever age you are. Whatever your circumstances. What if you were at peace with yourself?
What if your son asks you to record an episode about "The Little Drummer Boy," a very overtly Christian Christmas song, and you don't have a faith-based podcast? Well. That's the situation I'm in this week.
Let me give you a little back story. Two years ago, I did an art series based on four of my favorite childhood Christmas tree ornaments and then actually turned those art pieces into ornaments. We've loved them and this year I decided to do it again, but I thought I'd base the series on a song this time.
Do you see where this is going yet? I let my son choose the song and he picked "The Little Drummer Boy."
Now, I never liked that song much. But, the same year I did the ornaments, my son played it for his Christmas piano recital. And watching my own little boy offer up his music as a gift forever changed my relationship with it.
I just couldn't tell him no.
I've struggled with it for several weeks. I sit down to write and I can't focus. I can't articulate ideas clearly. And my mind feels muddled.
I do know that as I processed through it and immersed myself in a thousand or so versions of the song, that it did have lessons for me. Particularly around the first few lines.
Come. Draw near.
But as I started to write about what I took from it for you and figure out how to share it with the mixed audience I have--both Christian and non-Christian. It just wouldn't come. It wasn't right and it refused to be written.
A Lesson From The Little Drummer Boy
And then I realized it. I realized what the drummer boy wanted to share with all of you today.
So, Here it is:
The boy. He was young. He wasn't powerful. He was poor. He had a simple skill.
But, he was enough.
He gave of himself. And he pleased his audience.
My friends, you don't need to be older. Or younger. You are enough. Right now.
You don't need to be wealthier or more powerful or influential. You are enough. Right now.
You don't need to be more skilled. More complicated. More marketable. You are enough. Right now.
What we need. What I need. Is more of you. More of exactly who you are out in the world.
We need what the little drummer boy did. He played anyway.
I know it's fiction, but I'm sure as that child looked around him and saw the other fine gifts given to the young king by people with more resources, more wealth, more stature, more influence and more experience, he had reason to feel inadequate. Unworthy. Unsuitable. Circumstances told him he was unimportant.
But, he played anyway. He gave of himself. The lyrics say he played his best.
You can too.
Every day you have the option of showing up in your life or not. Of being seen. Of sharing yourself and your gifts out in the world. Of engaging. or not.
I know it's not easy. Most people spend their lives hiding. Comparing. Condemning themselves. Bowing out. It's much safer. It's easier. Less painful.
But it's not what you were meant for.
You were meant to play your drum, whatever means for you today, right now. It might be as small as wearing something unusual, something that might let others see who you are. It might mean being emotionally vulnerable in a relationship. It might mean starting something new. It might mean setting an example. Or, going first.
It certainly means showing up. Being brave. Playing anyway. But, like the little drummer boy, you are enough.
So, play your drum, darlin'. Get on out there and play your drum.
Episode Download and Links
Spotify playlist of my favorite version of the song
(aka How To Make Your Son Sorry He Asked For It)
I'm one of those people who gets really irritated at Christmas taking over the stores in late October. I'm in the middle of a month long Season of Thanks project with my son, so I'm totally paying my dues to November (if you didn't catch last week's episode yet, I talk all about it there, you can always check that out here). But...there are things that are really helpful to consider before December, so let's talk about a few of them.
There's a lot of advice available about how to simplify your holiday, and while simple is a worthy thing to aim for, I think it misses the mark. What's really important is that you have a meaningful holiday.
The first step to having a meaningful holiday is to realize that your holiday experience is totally within your control. It's easy to feel like a runaway train when December days start rolling past. Add crazy busy schedules, buying habits, family expectations and the season can get completely out of control very quickly. But, slow down for a moment and breathe deeply. Realize. YOU are in charge of your holiday. YOU decide what it will and won't be.
While you can't make it snow and perhaps can't control all family obligations, you're responsible for everything else. And you probably have more control over those family obligations than you think. Like so much of life, if you don't intentionally create the holiday you most desire, others will create it for you. From retailers to well-meaning relatives, there are plenty of people ready to write your story for you. Realizing this...that I have the power over my own experience of the season, that I can choose to orchestrate what's best for me and my family...has forever changed my holidays.
Before you start thinking about what your holiday should be about, here are three things I want you to consider.
Separate meaning from people.
You can control your holiday and your experience, but you cannot control other people. If you place your holiday's meaning on the shoulders of someone else, you're going to be terribly disappointed eventually. People come and go for various reasons. Kids grow up and get married, families are split and reform, loved ones are lost. Don't hang the responsibility for your holiday experience on someone else. For example, I know too many friends who cannot experience joy in the holiday season because they don't have their small children underfoot. Cherish those times, when your kids are underfoot. But kids aren't little very long. Don't let your own joy become dependent on that (or any other) circumstance.
You're also not responsible for others' joy. You're only responsible for yourself. I'm not suggesting you selfishly ignore other family members needs, but I am saying that in the end, you make decisions that are right for you and your family.
Separate meaning from history.
I love traditions. Traditions provide comfort, continuity, and special significance to holidays, They become favorite moments year after year. But because something has always been, doesn't insulate it from the ravages of time. Circumstances change. If your holiday fulfillment requires the completion of traditions, when the traditions are disrupted, your meaning will be as well. And if the tradition can't be reproduced, you'll forever feel unfulfilled with your holiday.
Separate meaning from your schedule.
There are a million good and fun things to do each December, but doing them all wins you no prizes beyond exhaustion. Doing all the things does not mean you'll automatically have a meaningful season.
Meaning comes from the inside, not the outside. If the meaning of your holiday is drawn from an internal well, you can have a rich, meaningful season, no matter what your circumstances.
So, now is the time to ask yourself, what creates a meaningful holiday...for you? I spent some time in the last two years making changes to my holiday experience, but I'll be walking through really distilling what that means in my life right along with you this week.
After defining what drives meaning for you, the next step is to design the holiday that will create and enhance that meaning. What can you do to create experiences for you and your family centered around your meaning? Then comes the tricky part. Set limitations on everything else. There are things that you might just love to do that aren't really about your meaning, and that's fine. But, limit them. Be sure that what you're mostly doing is meaning-driven.
This week's art takes less explanation than usual because it's not an abstract. The candle represents the warmth, hope and guidance that a meaning-driven holiday can bring you. It's both a beacon and a centering.
For me, the holiday is about the birth of the Christ child. A white candle is used in traditional advent wreaths to symbolize Jesus. So, the candle in this piece is both the symbol of the meaning in my season and a reminder to create a season centered around Christ.
As you approach the upcoming holidays, and frankly any holiday throughout the year, realize that you can choose your experience. I encourage you to choose a meaning-driven one.
What if this year, you had your most meaningful holiday ever?
It certainly doesn't feel like November here! In Middle Tennessee, it's been almost 90 degrees every day for the last two weeks! That's not a complaint, mind you; I'm fine with a long warm Fall. But, the "not feeling like November" outside matches my "not feeling like November" inside as well.
Actually, as I'm working on this episode, it's not quite November. By the time you hear it, it will be though. It's actually Halloween. The last day of October. And the month decided to go out with a bang. My son woke up with a fever, canceling all of our plans for the evening. We get together with a group of friends every Halloween and this is the second year in a row we'll miss it because he woke up sick. Plus, I just got word that I lost a large order that I've been repeatedly doing for a client for about 10 years. One that I had jumped through hoops and put a lot of effort in over the last few months.
I feel tired, defeated and disappointed.
But what I want to feel is thankful.
This November, my family will be focused on cultivating a heart posture of gratitude and we'll make thankfulness part of our routine in a couple different ways. It's convenient that it coincides with the traditional Thanksgiving holiday, yes?
Three Ways We're Practicing Gratitude
Benefits of Gratitude
Studies show that a heart that chooses a regular posture of gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect on the things they're thankful for will result in a person who is more compassionate and kind, has a stronger immune system, is happier, experiences more positive emotions, feels more alive and sleeps better. And I need all the help I can get sleeping better at this stage of my life.
I know that in order for the hearts of my family to be at peace in December amidst the chaos and clamor of a culture obsessed with more, bigger, running and getting, we need to be saturated in contentment and I know of no better route to that heart place than a season of thanks.
I don't expect this to always to be easy. A few weeks ago in episode 3 I talked about ways to approach life when when it's hard. Along with the things I mentioned then, thankfulness is another tool, There are always things to be thankful for and I hope that as I strengthen my thankful muscle, it becomes a natural response to notice and be grateful for those things.
The artwork this week is about what happens in your life and your soul when you filter living through a heart of gratitude. At the bottom is how my soul feels right now. Like sludge. Dull. Weighted down. When sifted through a filter of thankfulness (shown as the ribbons of light yellow and gold) our mood, our emotions, our experiences and our physiology even is transformed into something lighter and brighter.
That's what I want for this November. A season of thanks. Will you join me?
What if you live saturated in gratitude?
What if you had more free time? What if instead of life feeling like hurtling down a freeway at 75 miles per hour there was space and time for long walks, unhurried conversation and rest. Do you remember what rest feels like? What if the pace of life felt more like an easy Sunday afternoon drive through the countryside. With space to breathe deeply and love richly?
Most of our lives are lived at freeway speed rather than the meandering exploration of ice cream shops and tree-lined back roads. Most of our lives are too busy to take the long way just for fun. Too busy for the kind of moments that rise from delight and curiosity. And too busy to enjoy any of those moments that happen to sneak their way into our schedules. We're too busy for depth in thought and relationships.
We're too busy to live.
In our culture, busy offers itself up as proof positive of a life of importance. Of productivity and meaning. But, we have it all wrong. That's not what busy really means.
Busy means that stress hormones constantly flood your system - I'm talking about a physical thing. And it never stops, so your body is in constant fight or flight mode. It was never intended to stay in that place and it's damaging.
Busy means that the urgent outranks the important.
Busy means that your schedule and commitments control your life rather than you controlling your life.
Here are three things busy is not.
Busy is not a badge of honor.
We parade busy around and display it for others like it's something to be proud of. but it's not. Its not healthy for our emotional life, for our physical well being or for our relationships.
Busy is not inevitable.
Busy is under your control. You can say yes or no to the activities, opportunities and events that come across your plate. You choose the level of busy for your family.
Busy is not an excuse.
Not only is busy as an excuse usually true-ish, but its socially acceptable. Admired even. So, we tend to throw it around a lot, But, it's really not. it's really not true I mean. That thing you're not doing because your busy? It's really not getting done because it's not a priority. The things you really want to get done - your priorities. You'll find a way to do those things. It's not that you're too busy. It's not a priority.
You're not that busy?
If your external world is not that busy, how about your inner landscape? It's easy to chase after addictions, noise and activity to escape from dealing with a soul that's not at ease. A soul that's too busy. It's very easy to create mental and emotional busy-ness to keep from sitting still with who you are.
This Week's Episode Art
The art this week is about all the things we allow to get in the way of living. The basis of this piece, the very first layer is made up of maps. Think of them as the path you should be on. The physical, mental and emotional places you should be present in. But all the bright colorful lines and shapes tend to cover that up. Don't let that happen in your life. Or, if it has, let's untangle that.
I want you to live your life as an expression of who you are. Not as a reaction to every single thing flying by on the highway of our culture and it's expectations. Don't be too busy to live.
If you weren't so busy...who would you be?
Life can be hard. I can't even begin to know or understand your pain. It would be silly of me to try, actually. Our pain can't be compared. though I do tend to believe that mine is less than many of yours. But, a large part of that's just because I know mine so well. Intimately. I live with it. It's familiar, like a broken in pair of running shoes that I wear every day to the gym. A daily companion. Your pain would seem big to me. Scary and new. More like a pair of stiletto pumps that's a size too small. I don't do heels very often any more. It would be painful and I'd have to learn how to walk in them again.
As I was prepping this episode to go live (there are a thousand little details between blog posts, downloads, art and audio!), we had a family emergency. I was working on the files when mom came downstairs and said she thought she had a detached retina and was heading to the emergency room. It wasn't a detached retina and we didn't know what it was for about 24 hours. It turned out to be a stroke of the optic nerve and by last night, her sight in that eye had started to return.
We don't know how much sight she'll regain, but we're so grateful that's what the problem was. It could have been so much worse. Brain tumor, cancer, what you think of when you normally hear the word stroke...it was none of these. But, that 24 hours of not knowing was hard. And since I had already been immersed in thinking about responding to hard stuff, not only was it easier for me to deal with, but I had this odd outside of myself perspective for how I was reacting to it. Had I slept more than an hour or so that night, it would have been easier - hint, sleep when you're going through hard stuff. Sleep when you can.
We all have pain points in our lives and we choose to walk through them with grace or...not. Part of our response to our own difficulties has something to do with our background and our personalities, I'm sure. And a huge factor in how we deal with them is whether or not we have a faith-based perspective, a belief in something larger than ourselves. But, aside from those things, here are three actions you can take to make life easier to deal with when it gets difficult.
Accept it for what it is.
It may not be fair, it may not be within your control and by definition, it won't be easy or pleasant. Sit with that for a moment. Let yourself feel it. Running away from the painful emotions doesn't eliminate them, it just bottles them up in a place that will eventually overflow. Allow yourself to feel the unfairness or disappointment or anger. Recognize those emotions and write or talk about how they feel in a safe place. In a healthy way. As many times as you need. Realize that there's a difference between whining and processing emotion. A difference between healthy expression and experience and unhealthy wallowing.
At the same time, accept that these are the cards life is dealing you right now and choose to channel the energy you might easily spend in unhealthy emotional reactions like whining, fighting or running into something more productive. Accept that life can be hard and it just happens to be hard for you at the moment.
Second, Learn from it.
There's not a difficult experience that I've been through that I haven't received good from in some way. No matter how painful, I've always been able to point to something I've learned or gained through the experience. I can't always find it or recognize it right away, but it's there. There has always been a gift of some kind wrapped within the pain.
Humility, patience and perseverance have been born in adversity in my life. Love, joy and empathy have grown much faster in hard times than in easy ones. When you're in a hard time, watch for the gifts. They may be small, quiet and easy to miss. Sometimes our experiences don't shout out their lessons for us. Set yourself to watching for them. Expecting them.
Being human can be hard. Being human in community makes the hard parts so much more do-able. We're made for community and hard times are a primary reason. In community we can care for and support each other. We can gain from the wisdom of those who've been through the trials we're dealing with. We can be reminded that we're not in control of all the things we think we are (Oh, how we like to imagine we're in control!).
Yes, community requires vulnerability, but that's cheap payment for what you receive in return. Our culture here in the United States is not particularly community oriented. We're taught to be strong, independent and that needing help is a sign of weakness. But no. Needing community is not weak, it is wise. Love is both expressed and perfected in community.
In the last few days of my mom's health scare, I'm reminded again how precious life and family are. I'm reminded to live the way you want to live NOW. There is no guarantee of tomorrow. I'm reminded to love your family NOW. There is no guarantee of tomorrow.
Also, she was able to have an X-ray of an old ankle injury that's been bothering her and had a brain scan that revealed a remarkably healthy brain for her age. I know that Alzheimer's and dementia are a fear of hers and this may set her (healthy) mind at ease.
So, there is the good, wrapped up in a hard few days.
What if you weren't so busy? What if Experience podcast
In this art piece you see both the darkness and the vibrancy and color of life. Even in the darkness, however there is color, pattern and beauty. And the bright vibrant colors are present in spite of the darkness. Is your eye drawn to the darkness? No, it's drawn to the vibrancy. The life in the midst of dark. It steals our attention and reminds us that it's possible to focus on the good in the midst of pain.
A friend of a friend was recently robbed at gunpoint in an intersection in Haiti. Multiple shots were fired into his car. Luckily, he and his driver only suffered minor injuries from broken glass. They were robbed by strangers and they were also tremendously cared for by strangers afterwards. What captured my attention was not the details of the incident. Instead, near the end of his recap, he says:
We, along with our kids exchanged tight, life-giving hugs. Tears and sobs as we embraced one another and life's paradox... A world filled with so much pain and suffering. And, the incredible love, joy, meaning and beauty that can and should be part being human.
Pain and suffering, love and joy. Life's paradox. Humanity.
Yes, it's hard. But at the same time, it's a miraculous, beautiful thing.
Treasure the hard times for the gifts they offer. And treasure the hard times for they make the good times that much more beautiful.
Before we can chat about what happens when you're not doing what you say is essential, we probably out to take a few minutes to talk about essentials. If you haven't read the book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, you should. Greg defines Essentialism as the disciplined pursuit of less...but better. So, it's not about being more productive or just doing less. It's really about deciding what's important to you and creating a life that makes that possible.
As I recorded this episode a few weeks ago, I was at the tail end of a really busy six month season. In the last few weeks I finished up developing an online course (by the time this is published, it will be available and if you struggle with being overwhelmed, you can check it out at Cure Overwhelm), I'm getting this podcast to launch and my business has dramatically and unexpectedly picked up this month. It will get better, but in the short term, I'm too busy. Too rushed. Spread too thin.
It's easy to pay lip service to what's really important to us. Our essentials often include our family, friends, career, queso dip. Yeah, that was cheesy. But, I tossed that on top to remind you that everyone has different essentials. However you define your essentials, it's very easy to let other stuff get in the way and crowd them out. I've realized some of the things that I say are essential could easily be pushed aside right now and I made a conscious choice to not let that happen.
I've made two commitments to keep my attention where I want it.
First, my workouts are a priority. I decided in advance that I'm not going to try to find more time by cheating on my workouts. My health is not only one of my essentials, but one of the things that makes it possible to do everything else. It would be really easy to take one day a week off. Or a week. Or just skip a workout here and there when I need to finish extra work. But I won't. Workouts are non-negotiable me time.
Second. The real essential in life is my 11 year old son. It's easy to be so busy hustling at work or at goals that we let the people around us drift off to the outskirts of our attention. Rather than arbitrarily deciding what would keep that from happening this month I decided to ask him to help find a solution.
I said, "I'm in a super busy season right now, and it should be improving in about a month, but until then, I don't want you to feel like you're any less important to me than my work. Because you're infinitely more important. What can we do in the next 30 days that will make sure that we stay connected and you feel valued?" He thought for a few moments and said, "Mom, I'm a fact guy. I love random facts. How about we each find an interesting fact each day and share it and talk about it for a little while each night?"
Child. That's brilliant.
I would never in a million years have thought up that idea. But, it's perfect. And we've been doing it (mostly) consistently and I think it's working. He's feeling valued and I'm feeling less guilty, because I'm able to give him exactly the kind of time he requested. Fact time isn't the only time I spend with him, but he knows I'm making that particular time for him because he's a priority.
Episode Artwork: Connect To Your Essentials
Lots of colorful, urgent, attractive, good, interesting, and worthwhile things have a tendency to get between us and what we say is essential. In this piece the essentials are represented by the bright yellow area in the top part of the piece. And all those things that get in the way are shown by most of the other colors.
While you certainly can do a full on overhaul and clear everything non-essential away (and, this is a great thing to do), sometimes that's just not possible for a season. What can you do then?
Make intentional choices that help keep your focus on the essentials intact while you work through life until you reach a place you have more margin. These decisions are the red rings throughout the image that lead to and connect to the essentials.
What can you do to connect to your essentials today?
What's that thing that you think of when I ask you that question? Something you've always wanted to do? Something you're procrastinating?
What keeps us from starting? Sometimes it's not realizing we actually can. Not knowing that we can step into our own potential and possibility. Sometimes it's not taking initiative. Sometimes we simply like the idea of doing something and not the actual doing.
But, quite often it's fear.
Fear screams at us about big things, but also about small things in our life. Fear tells us before we try that we're going to fail, that it's not an important idea, that there's no point in starting, that we're not good enough. It tells us anything it can to keep us from starting.
When I have a day that I really really don't want to run, I tell myself, "just go for 5 minutes and you can quit then if you want to." Just start. Because I know that if I start, I'll most likely get into it and keep going and I'll most likely finish. I can't promise you'll finish everything you start. After all, I'm the queen of not finishing. But, if you don't start...you CERTAINLY won't finish. You've closed the door on that opportunity before it even has a chance to breathe.
It seemed appropriate to ask a question about starting in my very first episode (not counting the "about me" episode 000...which, if you haven't listened to, you should do that next, you can find it here).
It seemed appropriate because this seems like the start to you. But, in reality, our "big" starts often have smaller starts along the way.
Fear screams, whispers and throws tantrums all along the way - at every one of those small starts. And I could have given in to it's taunts at any one of those small starts and let that be the end of the idea. The dream. If fear can stop you before you even get to the starting gate, it doesn't have to work as hard. And if it trains you into a habit of quitting before you begin, it can even be lazier.
Fear has a few antidotes, though, and one of them is action. In this episode I talk about one of my experiences with fear and how as I (literally) walked through it, it evaporated.
I was originally planning on talking about our path this week, but as I worked on this piece, I realized I'd been really thinking about the start. You can see a hint of the yellow path in this piece, but it's not the focus.
What would you have done if you woke up and you were suddenly deposited in a strange landscape with unusual people? The only familiar thing you had with you was your home and your dog. Sometimes our life circumstances deposit us in exactly that place, in a new circumstance with very little of the familiar to grasp.
Dorothy could easily have shut herself up in her home with Toto on her lap and tried to think through ways to get home. Safe, not-scary ways. When she was feeling especially brave, she could look out the window and make observations about her new surroundings.
But, She didn't do that. Because if she had, there would have been no adventure, no friendships along the way, no memories made and no story for us to read. She could have stayed inside and experienced a life of fear and isolation. But, instead she stepped outside, left her comfort zone and started a journey that gave her everything she wanted and more.
I'm glad she started. And, while I'm wading through the uncomfortable parts of this podcast start right now...the everything-is-new-and-so-harder-and-takes-forever part, the I'm-not-as-good-as-I-will-be part, the I-should-have-done-it-that-way part and the why-am-I-doing-this-again part...I'm glad I'm starting. I'm already richer for the experience.
And you? What if you started?
So many influences pull us away from our own path. Sometimes it seems like everyone around us and society at large has an opinion about what our lives should look like. And even if we set out to make our own path, it's easy for outside influences to creep in and nudge us off course. It doesn't take very many nudges to change our trajectory completely.
I don't want to live society's version of my life. Or, my co-workers. Or, my friends, parents or sibling's version of my life. I want to live my version. The life I'm made for. The one that my personality and experiences have perfectly shaped me for. The one written, edited and produced by me.
This podcast is about asking myself - and you - weekly "What if" questions that help move me step by step toward that best life. The podcast episodes will be available on Sundays and each weekday morning, I'll send a short actionable email that relates to the episode. If you'd like to participate in those, you can sign up here and then meet me over coffee each morning to apply the week's question to your own life.
Since this pre-episode is sort of like a podcaster's version of an about me page, I told a few stories that give you an idea of where my heart is and ways I'm moving in toward that life.
One of the ways I'm going to process the questions each week is in a piece of artwork or illustration. You'll see that image as the episode artwork each week.
Episode Artwork: Unwritten
In this week's image, the dragonfly represents my struggle to become who I'm designed to be and how denying who we are is futile. When we work with our nature, however, we soar.
The blank notebook page represents my conviction that we can choose to live a better story, no matter what has come before. The lyrics of Natasha Bedingfield's song (yes, I think I butchered her name in the episode, eek, sorry Natasha!), "Unwritten" expresses how I feel about potential and possibility. She wrote the song for her brother's 14th birthday, but I believe it applies at any age.
If you want a fun way to remind yourself of the weekly question, feel free to download the episode artwork to use as a lock screen for an iPhone. You'll find it here.
It's not nearly as fun to take road trips alone, so I'd love you to join me on this journey. Let's write ourselves better stories...together!