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What About Me?

Everyone has a history. Nobody comes from a life free of struggle. Can we step back and listen?

As a nation, we look at the activity occurring at this time and get a very diabolical reaction. We hear many voices express a wide bandwidth of emotion – from joy and relief to panic and overwhelming sadness. There is a very clear line drawn in the sand in today’s environment attempting to divide us into distinct parties. You are with one and therefore against the other on many social platforms including religion, marriage, education, and socioeconomic status.

How did we get here? What has happened that we are now a nation that, on one hand, screams acceptance and liberty for all but, on the other, spits contemptuous words at someone who does not live their life on the same side of the invisible social fence?

The Generation Theory

We are a nation with four distinct generations making adult decisions. We should not be surprised that we have this melting pot of expectations for the ideal life. On one end of the spectrum, the Traditionalists are making decisions in the “golden years” of their life. On the other, the Millennials are beginning to impact the business atmosphere in the twilight of their adulthood. Mixed in the middle are the very different groups of Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers. This peculiar mix of standards has led to numerous workshops and studies on how to navigate the workplace environment.

Each generation has been and continues to be molded by the experiences and observations of the prior generation, creating a turn of events that have brought us here. As illustrated in this chart, no matter which generation you come from, you have a set of ideals on social acceptance and rules of engagement.

According to the Strauss-Howe generational theory,  history repeats itself about every 90 years in four, consecutive turnings known as “saeculums.” Each “turn” is associated with the generation that paves the way for the next and builds to a continuous turn of events. The four turnings look like this (with the suggested generation identified in each description):

  • High: An era in which both the availability of social order and the demand for social order are high. (Tradionalist)
  • Awakening: The availability of social order is high, but the demand for such order is low.  (Baby Boom)
  • Unraveling: The mood of this era is in many ways the opposite of a High. Institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing. (GenX)
  • Crisis: An era in which America’s institutional life is torn down and rebuilt from the ground up—always in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s very survival. Civic authority revives, cultural expression finds a community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group. (Millennial)

While this theory is highly argued and has received numerous reviews ranging from praise to criticism, we can probably agree with the words of David Kaiser that this is  “a provocative and immensely entertaining outline of American history.”

What’s Happening Today?

We are seeing the destruction of social relationships occur every day. Regardless of your generation, most can attest to having recently had some emotionally charged conversation about a current event, either globally, nationally, or locally.

We have become a society that has created personal identities for ourselves based on how we view everyone surrounding us. As a result, it seems we are continuously streaming our personal views of others’ private choices for the public to judge. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blog sites are just an example. In the midst of our global scrambling for validation, we may have created an environment that resonates in the words of Timothy Keller:

If we get our very identity, our sense of worth, from our political position, then politics is not really about politics, it is about us. Through our cause we are getting a self, our worth. That means we must despise and demonize the opposition. If we get our identity from our ethnicity or socioeconomic status, then we have to feel superior to those of other classes and races. If you are profoundly proud of being an open-minded, tolerant soul, you will be extremely indignant toward people you think are bigots. If you are a very moral person, you will feel very superior to people you think are licentious…

Somehow, the art of dialogue between two disagreeing parties has been lost. This brings to mind the Heineken commercial, labeled #openyourworld that so beautifully laid out this lost art-form and what happens when we find a way to restore it. The way Heineken brought two polar sets of beliefs together on common ground to have a conversation about who they are outside of the labels resulted in respectful friendships despite their differences.

If we are to survive this turbulent time in American history, perhaps the answer is to step back and observe how we got here to begin with. If we look at past generations and all that they fought for, we will see that each brought us to this moment. This moment is of realization that we are in fact a melting pot of choices in a country established on freedom and equality for all.

What About Me?

How can we walk out of our boxes of standards and come to understand that we are all screaming the same plea?

“What about me?” is the same message we all have to say.

From the forgotten senior lying in a nursing home to the Millennial hoping to find her true identity in her college dorm room.

From the Vietnam veteran who sacrificed for a confusing war to the single teenage mom hoping to make ends meet while finishing school.

From the young attorney working to make an impact to the groundskeeper providing care in the dairy barn.

We are all asking ourselves in this time, “What about me?”

Just Listen

If the Strauss-Howe theory is what we are experiencing in our nation today, then the theory suggests we may be in a crisis. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of the model, we can probably agree this is a time of unrest.

Can we survive a crisis? Would it change our destiny if we took off our labels and stopped screaming, “What about me?” to instead listen? What if we sit down with someone who defies our own political beliefs and ask the person to share who they are  beneath the label?

Everyone has a history. Nobody comes from a life free of struggle. If we can understand the language of each generation, can we respect the journey we are individually experiencing?

Perhaps we can walk out of our comfortable corners of life and pay attention to the gift of diversity as we are surrounded by people that all long for the same things: peace and joy.

Here’s the challenge: Let’s take off the labels. Let’s stop moving into the conversation with the need to justify yourself.

Let’s listen.

We may find you like your neighbor, despite his sign in the yard.

We may discover a friend, regardless of her marital status.

We may learn compassion for the heartaches experienced daily by the person who is “different.”

“Don’t judge me on the chapter you walked in on” ~ author unknown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hardest Forgiveness Lesson

“Be gentle with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.”

People say it’s hard to forgive someone who is not sorry. And they are correct in this notion if we live in the reality that one must first offer penance before forgiveness can occur. They are right to feel exhausted at carrying both the sting of a wrong and the burden of it’s consequences. They are justified in the humility they realize when they see  no justification for the bad things someone else brought on.

But let’s talk about a harder forgiveness.

What’s harder is to forgive yourself. You know. Those moments you don’t allow yourself to be happy with an accomplishment because it wasn’t large enough. The times you made a silly choice and you paid for it. The sour stomach you have over not paying attention then and silently living with “I told you so” inside your head now.

So, you work harder to reach an even higher aspiration. You get cold feet when you are about to make another big purchase. You back out of an opportunity because you can’t trust that you won’t get hurt again. You build a capsule of protection around your bruised ego with more expectations and new rules to live by. You know, because you expect yourself to be better.

Slowly you become a different person. The joy isn’t as joyous. The accomplishments aren’t as big of a deal. The new opportunities are not important enough. Because you can’t let go of those moments when you let yourself down.

You pray harder. You volunteer more. You do more. When you feel a nap coming on, you chastise yourself for being lazy. When you long for a weekend of leisure, you pull up the bootstraps and work until dusk on a project, because, you expect yourself to be better. You surround yourself with people who are now bearing the burden of telling you what you want to tell yourself, “You are a good person.” You call your best friend to admit, “I’ve done a terrible thing” because you know she will say those sweet words, “It’s going to be ok” you long to hear within yourself.

You think,

“No rest for the weary.”

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

“My children will have it better than me.”

One day, you wake up and realize, you are exhausted and you don’t even like where you ended up.

 

We grow up learning to be kind to others. We are taught to turn the other cheek.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Why do we learn this? Because we try to embrace the moral principle known as the ‘Golden Rule’, otherwise known as the ethic of reciprocity, which means we believe that people should aim to treat each other as they would like to be treated themselves – with tolerance, consideration and compassion.

Generally speaking, we believe if we do unto others kindly, they do unto us kindly, then the world will be a kinder place.

 

We learn to be kind to others. But who teaches us to be kind to ourselves? We learn to love one another, even our greatest enemy, but who teaches us to love ourselves? Shouldn’t we be learning how to be kind to ourselves so we can understand the impact of being kind to others?

If love is learned, how much better could we teach others to love just by being compassionate to ourselves? How will someone know how to love us if we can’t teach them by example?  If we all lived in this manner, then the Golden Rule would be so much more beautiful to live by because there would be an understanding of what to do unto others. In the words of Lama Yeshe, “Be gentle with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.”

 

Be kind to yourself. Be compassionate to you. Take the time and listen to you. If you only hear the voice inside your head listing all of the things you should be doing, the reminder of how much you need to do, then it’s not the voice referenced here. It’s the one that is quiet and small and almost snuffed out, but whispering, “You are beautiful. You are worth it. It’s going to be ok.” It’s the voice that is asking you to stop and smell the flowers because it makes you smile. It’s the reminder of how much you like baseball, but you don’t want to waste the money on a ticket this season, because you don’t deserve it. The one that says you love that shade of green you almost bought for the kitchen wall, but you didn’t, because it wasn’t practical.

It’s the moment you realize you haven’t given yourself the same compassion you spend endless hours giving to others. But the truth is, compassion comes from within. If you are to be beacons of human kindness, then you must first learn forgiveness in the hardest form: forgive yourself.

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~ Buddha

 

 

 

 

The Joy Of Letting Go

She has the call of the wild beautiful world in her soul.

 

The famous quote “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” never resonated with me until the time my daughter left the country for six months. Suddenly, the reality of my duties as her mom shifted. No longer was I the rescuer of my princess in distress. No longer could I pull a “mama bear” and rise to an occasion when the universe was dealing her a tough hand.

My new role was to hold on loosely. People asked if it was difficult to be so far away from her. After all, we had a tight bond that often resembled sisterhood or best friends by the time her departure occurred.

All of the years of preparation for independence had come to fruition. I knew from the beginning when I was holding this bundle of sweetness that my role in her life was merely to prepare her for greater things. Her heart was too wild and free to be content in a small world existence.

Once she was gone, the house was too empty to stay alone. Upon her declaration that our town was never going to be home again, it seemed natural that I find my own way into the big world. I announced to her on Skype that when she returned to the country our house would not be there to greet her. She seemed equally excited for my new adventure.

passportYears have passed since and she continues to string my heart across the miles. Now our daily conversations occur from any assortment of towns, airports, jogging paths, or coffee shops.

While to others the miles may appear to be a large canyon between us, we don’t feel the vastness of the distance. We see the tendrils of our heartstrings intertwined across space. We feel the buzz of joy in each other’s voices when we share our day’s successes. We feel the sync of our heartbeats when we seek an uplifting word of compassion from one another.

Today, she leaves after a brief visit orchestrated halfway between our homes. This place is full of echoes of our laughter. The walls are still sighing from the peaceful hours we were together doing much of nothing, sometimes simply napping in the same room.

I smile because in less than a week she leaves the country again. She has the call of the wild beautiful world in her soul. She will jet across the globe on a solo adventure she has planned for only her own hungry spirit in a country far away.

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I smile because I know this is how she feels most happy, amongst the strangers of another country where she roams cobble stone streets and soaks in all the smells and sights it has to offer.

I smile because I remember the day she returned to me. I saw it in her eyes. She will always yearn for the lack of walls, the absence of sameness, the delight of adventure. She has evolved to this beautiful creature that will roam the crevices of the globe as long as she is breathing.

I smile because I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“If you love someone, you must be prepared to set them free.” ~Paulo Coelho

 

Feature image located at etsystatic.com, photography provided by Ashley Davis

 

The Art Of Letting Go

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.”

It just didn’t seem natural, yet it was necessary. It was pushing against instinct, yet it was what I longed for, craved, even. My heart pounded in my chest as I kept asking myself, “Did I really purposely choose this?” The palms of my hands were sweaty as I silently gazed around at my surroundings.

This was not the most comfortable place to be sitting. I don’t remember exactly what triggered the cycle of events that led me here. But here I am. Sitting and waiting for the moment I signed up for.

I think I am ready. I have researched and analyzed all of the potential outcomes. I have wrestled with my own emotional reaction over this choice. One day I am exhilarated. The next day, I am doubtful.

airplanejumpReady or not, here I am looking out of this vessel down into wide-open nothingness. I take a deep breath, fold my arms over my chest, and I fall into the pivotal moment I had been planning for so long.

It was just like they said it would be, only more intense. I am falling so fast I can hardly move a muscle against the inertia of energy rushing through my body. I am overwhelmed at the feeling that my body will rip away from my soul, leaving it behind to hover over this action picture scene.

smilingskydiveI am screaming at the top of my lungs, pushing air through my vocal cords only to have it snuffed out by the force of the world rushing towards me at 120 mph. I recognize that I am not screaming, I am laughing. It’s all happening so fast, yet it feels like it’s never going to end.

I am given the sign. This is the time to pull the cord. Suddenly, the world stops rushing towards my face and I am floating in the most peaceful and beautiful time warp. I see the world below my feet. I feel a serene melancholy envelope me. I am moved by the thought that I could just hang here forever. I wish I could slow down the process of returning because this is where I feel the presence of peace.

But, alas, the floating is over and I bump across the rough grass on my return to reality. At once, noise and movement and excitement wash over me.

It takes days to register the experience. I can’t stop smiling. Because I made a choice to look over the lip of the door at the patches of earth and wonder, “Will I be able to let go of the threshold when the time comes?”

The one moment that resonates with my skydiving experience is when the instructor states before the jump, “It’s up to you as the jumper to let go and fall out of the plane. Nobody is going to push you or convince you. This ride is paid for. You either jump off at your stop, or you will never know what you were missing.”

Often, we are faced with major life decisions that we know we have to execute. We are in a vessel we willingly signed up to ride on, but with the tickling thought that it’s time to let go and step over the doorway into another reality. It may be a career change. Perhaps it’s the withering death of a romantic relationship. Maybe it’s the final chapter of raising your child, now an adult and moving on. But it happens to all of us. Whatever it is, do you have the strength to let go?

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.”~ Hermann Hesse

*photography for this experience were recorded by a videographer at Skydive Carolina in Chester SC, circa 2013

Creating Hope and Building Faith: A Labor of Love

What’s more powerful, hope or faith?

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HOPE
Have you ever stopped to think, “What is hope?” It’s a word we easily use when we are faced with challenges. Many goals and aspirations have been built on hope. The proper definition is: “feeling of want or desire that something can be had.”

Today, I looked a person in the eye who said, “I have no hope. I have lived my life to the best of my ability and now I have nothing left.” I didn’t know what to say. She’s right. She’s dying. Not because of anything she has done, but because fate has handed her the card of a shorter life. I saw hopelessness. Have you ever had someone plead with you for an answer and know that you do not have one? Have you ever had to hold the hand of another human being who had nothing to place hope in?

FAITH

Down the hall, there is a gentleman that desperately needs assistance to gain independence in order to return home. He will have nothing of it. When asked how he will perform his daily activities, his response is, “My family will take care of me.” Because he is absolutely sure that his family will commit to taking care of his needs, he sees no reason to perform any exercises that will increase his independence.

We often toss around the word faith when we are speaking of belief in a higher being. We think of “things unseen.” We automatically classify someone who has faith into a religious category. The proper definition of faith is: “confidence/trust/belief in something or someone. Observance of an obligation from loyalty.”

This man has complete faith in his supportive family and therefore does not feel obligated to perform any steps to create independence for himself. How do you properly motivate this person without dismantling his faith? How do you create strength without disrespecting his conviction?

WHAT’S MISSING?

These experiences have created an opportunity for me to ponder faith, hope, and love. I have wrestled with the question, “What’s more powerful, hope or faith?” I have dissected these two words and concluded there is a missing ingredient.

LOVE

The answer is love. The approach is love. The proper definition of love is: “profoundly tender passionate affection; affectionate concern for wellbeing.”

It sounds simple. But it’s not. When I am faced with the task of impacting a person’s life that is struggling with their hope, I step back and ask, “How can I lovingly assist this person without diluting the truth?” Because love must be cloaked in the truth.

When I face this gentleman who is determined that his family’s obligation of loyalty will float him through his days, I step back and ask, “How can I properly prepare this family to successfully meet this man’s belief in their ability to care for him?” And I lovingly uncover his strengths and teach them how to compensate for his weakness.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Faith can create a platform for strong convictions to be followed and expressed in so many aspects of life. For example, we have faith in leaders to make wise decisions. When we feel our faith is being challenged, we stand up for our beliefs and convictions and push for a change. How does that look when love is missing? What does it look like when it is full of love or compassion?

Hope is a powerful feeling. Like a drug, it can posses a person to do things they would not ordinarily have the strength to do. We can dig deep into our wellbeing and find the courage to step into or out of scenarios that would otherwise seem impossible. But, when love is missing, hope can be a gamble. We have heard the term “hopelessly in love” and have seen grown men and women make life choices that are bound to a buoy of hope with no evidence of love.

Faith and hope can be strong motivators to drive our daily activities, our relationships, and our purpose in life. But if love is missing from either of these, then what do we have left?

When I hear the words, “the greatest of these is love,” I used to think it meant that love was bigger and better than faith or hope. But what I am learning is that love is the quantitative sum of faith and hope and how we treat ourselves and others.

One of the most basic lessons of love in Buddhism is finding love for yourself. How much more powerful could we be if we were only acting and talking out of love for ourselves and others? How much stronger would our hope and faith grow if it was cloaked in love?

To the woman who feels she has no hope, I approach you with love; may you feel peace. Perhaps out of the fertile soil of love, you will find something to anchor on for hope.

To the man who is standing strongly on the conviction of his family’s duties, I bring to you and your family conversations of love; may you find strength within their loyalty.

In the sterile hours of being a healthcare provider, I will never grow weary of creating an atmosphere of love that will fuel one’s hope and faith, even if it’s all I have to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Don’t Love You Just The Way You Are

I know however long the universe decides we are together is no matter of mine to negotiate.

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To say I love you just the way you are would be an injustice to you. Because once I declare this, we would suddenly feel inclined to never change. I would never want to stop our journey in life by freeze-framing a beautiful chapter for my own selfish pleasure.

No, I will tell you I love you for where you came from. I love you for all the life experiences you had before I even knew you. I love you for the pain and hardship you muddled through. I love you for the love and devotion you have to the memory of a past with a woman who is now your friend, no longer your lover, and now my friend.

I love you for understanding I am not the same woman today I was three years ago when we first crossed paths. I love you for being the silent observer of my trials and tribulations while we zigzagged paths over those years, waiting for the sign that our paths should merge and our time starts now.

I love you for listening to my deepest and darkest fears and not attempting to assuage them away or protect me like a polished, precious piece of silver. I love you for having your own fears and being raw and honest enough to admit you don’t have it all together. I love you for not rescuing me like a prince in shining armor.

I love you for who you are and who you want to be. I love you for simply doing life with me. Because that is what we do: Life. It’s just that simple. We share the every day mundane tasks of making it, and yet, we somehow create adventure in it. We create joy when others would see empty space. We create security to go and unfold our individual wings, and come back to the nest to exchange tales of every savory detail of those hours separated.

I love you for accepting the constant ebb and flow of change but also for securely existing peacefully in the static constant of simply being.

I love you for all of who you were, who you are, and who you will be.

I do not grow faint at heart at the idea that one day we will be old and we won’t be young, lush and agile. No, we will grow slow and decrepit and suddenly we will realize that sitting together to read a good book in a ray of sunlight is our idea of a hot date.

I don’t regret having waited so long to meet you. We fumbled through our lives separately and finally came together like a beautiful song and verse. We did not have to re-write our song as our decades rolled away. We did it all separately yet we feel that we did it together. The way our storylines interweave with similar travails and triumphs and how we burst with “Me Too!” every time we paint a portrait of life before us is fascinating.

We have deep pools of still waters that we have slowly immersed in together over the course of our relationship. We have clutched each other’s hands during the fast rapids of change. We have had the experience of pulling our boat onto the shore and relishing in the dappled sunlight and whispering pines of paused time as we slowly trace the edges of our shimmering spirits with a tender hand.

Sometimes, my heart flutters and my eyes tear up at the idea it may not be forever. But, then I smile, and I know however long the universe decides we are together is no matter of mine to negotiate.

Because I don’t love you just the way you are, I love you now and forever.

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” ~ Buddha

From Today’s Woman to Yesterday’s Girl: A Love Letter

“She needed a hero so that’s what she became.”

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I remember when you were just barely into the twilight of your womanhood. The future was an open book of blank pages. There you were with the news of new life budding within your small frame. Sure, you had options; many of them. Who knew as you took on this arduous task of raising a child, while still a child yourself, what the terrain of your future would look like?

Some days you thought you had it all figured out. Other days, you were pretty sure that nothing short of a miracle fueled your tenacity to keep pushing forward.img_0190

Diapers, hair bows, and bandaids packed into the days with textbooks and flashcards, the two of you were quite the sight those first two years!

But you did it. You graduated college and all the while learning how to sing a sick baby to sleep and study for exams in the same night.

Fast forward to buying your house. Negotiating hundreds of dollars replaced counting nickels and pennies to split a happy meal at McDonald’s. Choosing wall color for a little girl’s bedroom dominated memories of nighttime lullabies in a shared double bed during the college days.

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Buying an older house meant learning how to re-wire the electric for lights, replacing the toilet, and realizing Home Depot really does sell that random piece you think is broken in the dishwasher. Cleaning the gutters and planting a garden were now being juggled with new responsibilities.

Rescuing your adventurous, but stranded, girl out of the top of a tree, teaching her how to handle the playground bully, and Saturday night wrestling matches over bath time with a curly haired muddy tomboy now became your parental focus.

But you did it. And the stories you have to tell! I know you want to smile at just the thought of those days.

Nothing prepares a parent for the feat of raising a teenager. No manual can bullet point right and wrong answers to the enigma of a girl in puberty. The love/hate relationships that change as quickly as an ocean tide, the joy of an outfit on Monday discarded in the back of the closet on Friday, and nights on the road traveling to soccer or basketball tournaments. Preparations for prom, applications to college, and that dreaded phone call after she has her first car accident made the days swirl by like a windstorm.

In the midst of her drama, somehow you juggled a thriving career, kept a yard, cared for two dogs and a fish while piecing your own heart together after a short lived marriage.

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But you did it. You stood proudly beside that girl, not quite woman, on graduation day. Your heart swelled at the idea that you were instrumental in the becoming of this beautiful human being.

College days led to this tiny human being now turning into a world traveler. She has left the nest and you are in the realization that it is very empty and hallow without her there. Why stay? Start over. Move on to find your own new adventures.

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You did it. You sold the house and most of the furniture in it and resigned from your job to move to a strange city working a new career. You overcame loneliness and illness and the travails of being lost in a new state. You made a whole new life again.

So here’s a love note to you sweet child, no longer a child. Consider how far you have traveled from the little girl holding a bundle of new life; clueless to the outcome of this lifetime commitment. Your favorite motto was always “That’s ok, I have a plan.” Even if you didn’t have a very good plan, it always seemed to work out. This is not by chance or luck of a draw. It’s because you are a warrior. You are an over-comer. You are a feisty adventuress who never let fear stare you down when you were faced with an obstacle.

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Go on. Keep walking down the path of life feeling good about yourself. There’s nothing wrong with looking in the mirror and saying, “Wow, look at you, beautiful woman. You got here and there is still more life to do!”

Because for every obstacle you overcame, every tear you brushed away while rolling up your sleeves, your daughter thanks you. She thanks you for teaching her how to do it. How to not be afraid to jump, how to grab opportunity by the horns, and how to stand on her own two feet and know she can be anything she wants to be.

Long ago you made a choice. That choice was to figure it out and do the best that you could.

Thank you for not letting yourself down.

“The woman I was yesterday, introduced me to the woman I am today; which makes me very excited about meeting the woman I will become tomorrow. ” ~ Poetic Evolution