Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Don't Go Off Half-Cocked

For the first year that my sweet oldest child was away at school, I woke frequently in the middle of the night in a full blown panic. Is she okay? Where is she? What if something happened to her? Why didn't she text me? And so on until my breath came in quick gasps, and my heart was ready to pound out of my chest. This only happened a few times before I realized I had a choice: Trust God or lose my mind. I relinquished control, and now when I wake in the night, instead of worrying, I pray.

A few months ago, after reading Seven Sacred Pauses, I felt drawn to the idea of praying at specific times during the day and night and began trying to practice in a more organized way. Unfortunately, the more I tried to make it a part of my schedule, the more it evaded my control. Again with control.

Why?

Frequently, an idea comes to me, and I run full speed ahead and sometimes into a wall. Looking back I realize that God is still there, the idea is still there, and the only one who moved was me...ninety miles an hour into a wall. My dad used to say, "Now don't go off half-cocked," which I never understood. I just googled it. It means "to go into action too early or without thinking." Yes, that applies. Thanks, Dad :/

By trying to schedule praying into my day, I realized that I consistently pray at regular times of the day. In other words, when I stopped to think about it, I realized I was already doing the task I was trying to implement. This led to considering all the books I read, all the studying and journaling and introspection. Then, last week in meditation, I heard very clearly, "You know enough." Since I don't often hear guidance quite that clearly, it struck me. I knew immediately what it meant: Stop using self-improvement as an excuse to avoid moving forward.

Mark Batterson observes that most people "...are educated way beyond the level of their obedience. We don't need to KNOW MORE. We need to DO MORE with what we know." Kind of leaps off Maya Angelou's, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” Many of us already know our purpose, but we put it off waiting to be better equipped or holding out for a big opportunity instead of just doing the little things. Much of our life is lived in the meantime as we wait for our big break.

For me this means: Send a text or make a phone call (I. Hate. Making. Phone. Calls.) Write something ... anything. Send an encouraging Facebook message. Apologize. Forget perfectionist tendencies and handwrite a letter. Occasionally it means patiently listen to my tiny chatterbox when I want to tell her to hurry because we're going to be late. I'm called to express mercy and compassion, not just in big ways but in every way.

So a whole lot of quotes and clich├ęs and dead dad wisdom later, I think my point is: Don't get so caught up in finding your purpose that you miss it altogether. You might one day write the great American novel, but today you can send an email to a lonely friend. Perhaps you will run a marathon next year; today you can run around the block. Someday you might be the voice of your generation, but in this moment you can speak kindly to the cashier at Walmart.

It's okay to run ninety miles an hour in the direction of your dreams; just keep your eyes open so you don't miss all the opportunities along the way. It's great to want to save the world, but today it might be enough just to ignore the voices that say you can't ... even if those voices are only in your own head.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You're so...DELETE.

Every once in awhile, someone sends me a handwritten card. Out of the blue, my sweet Chloe will send a beautiful, touching, or sometimes silly card but inside are her words, handwritten, which seem ever-so-much-more personal than a text or email or facebook post. A few other friends also do this, and I treasure these little keepsakes. Yes, I love the ability to communicate instantly, but there is something about those cards ... like there is a little piece of the sender's heart in there.

Spurred by my own affinity for receiving them and my constant pursuit to find unique and different ways to encourage and love people, I bought some beautiful note cards and decided to handwrite notes to a few people in the hopes that they would feel as touched as I always do to receive one.

Here's what I didn't bargain for: I have become dependent on delete. When you are handwriting a letter, especially on an expensive note card, you're committed once you put that ink on the paper. Ughh...I tried saying sentences over in my head before writing them. Still, upon re-reading, I felt, "Oh no ... that sounds stupid. Did you misspell that word? Honestly? That looks like an m but it's really an r. Does that make sense? Is this legible? Jeeze, are you illiterate?"

I may have mentioned before that my inner voice is a nasty shrew.

I am by nature an editor, not a writer. I'm way more comfortable fiddling around with words that are already on the page than actually putting them there. I really like to edit and proofread. It makes me giddy to make writing sound clearer and more concise. It's like polishing silver. I like that as well. I'm an odd duck.

Anyway, when I do write, it's usually a lot of nonsense--kind of like having a conversation with me. If we have spoken in person, you may have considered me snobby or not very bright or even pondered if English was my native language. True. I promise I'm not snobby; I'm not a mensa member either, and I'm certainly not bilingual. I'm way more comfortable listening than talking. And since my tongue is usually tied, I'm going to spend the rest of my day--or week, depending on how significant the perceived flub--analyzing what I said and how stupid it sounded and perhaps if it was even offensive. Oh no, I hope not, but maybe?

My head is a dark and exhausting place to reside sometimes.

Anyway, my saving grace with typing is edit, delete, cut, paste, read, reread, does this make sense, reword that; it's already not all ready already. I usually spend twice as much time editing as I do writing, and even then sometimes something will slip through the cracks, and my brother will put me on blast.

So, handwriting is like jumping without a safety net. I've become so dependent on all Word's great tools to optimize my writing and only reveal it at its best that it's a bit unnerving sending anything out unpolished. (I wasn't showing off using its and it's there, but you're welcome if that particular grammatical conundrum has been vexing your mind.) This is also why I'm tiptoeing into the water with great trepidation trusting my raw writing only to people I am pretty confident aren't going to smash my heart with the hammer I've just given them.

All of this brought me back to something my young friend, who happens to be an amazing speaker and championship encourager, said last week at church, "When negative things come into your head, simply say, 'Delete.'" We don't have to own negative self-chatter or criticism from others any more than we need to let an extra letter or a rogue apostrophe go. Just ... Delete it.

Try it. It's more fun than polishing silver. I'll give you an example from my own inner shrew:

"You didn't even make it to the gym today. You're lazy and worthless" Delete
"You should have gotten more accomplished today. You're irresponsible." Delete
"You didn't even manage to do yoga. You're never going to be in better shape." Delete
"You should wash your hair..." DELETE!!! Sometimes, that b#$%h really hits below the belt.

While I have been using the delete button to make writing sound better for a long time, I'm just learning how to use it to make myself feel better about negativity from outside and from within. Now that I know this tool is at my disposal though I plan to wield it like my trusty red pen.

What nonsensical negative chatter do you need to delete?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Books, Blogs, Bibles, and Bullies

I try hard to be real. I share my past, my struggles, my flaws, my shortcomings ... some people think I share too much, but it is how I process experiences. Regardless of what I'm going through, I seek out books, articles, blogs by people who have been through a similar event.

For example, when my brother committed suicide, I read every book I could find about suicide. If you're interested, The Suicide Index and History of a Suicide were amazing. I found understanding and comfort reading about how others dealt with these experiences. Additionally, reading, unlike talking, allowed me to process it in my own time, in my own space. I could walk away if I wanted and carry the words around when necessary.

Speaking of carrying words around, last week, my sister-in-law sent me a blog that I have read and reread about 42 times. This line: "...my counselor tells me to try not to give people my heart and the hammer to smash it with all at the same time..." has been rolling around in my head all week. My dad used to say, "If you walk around with your feelings hanging out, someone is going to step on them." And in the wisdom of Proverbs 4, one of the lines we hear most is about guarding your heart. For me, it all points to this: Too often, in my efforts to be real and transparent, I give people ammunition.

One of my spiritual gifts is mercy, and I believe that part of my purpose in life is to listen--empathically and without judgment. People share stories with me. Deep, personal, often intimate stories. Mostly, I feel blessed to offer them a place to vent and unload. Sometimes, the level of personal information divulged is awkward and uncomfortable, but I seek to make the person feel heard and valued. Occasionally, I feel burdened and want to be left alone, but listening is what I do.

So...back to that article, my dad, and the Bible. Sometimes, I feel a false or inflated sense of camaraderie with people and divulge personal information of my own. You might think, "You say all kinds of reallllllly personal things here; what's the difference?" You're right. I try to share relevant relatable information so others can find validation and support. But sometimes, I can be even more vulnerable and transparent interpersonally. Historically it hasn't worked out very favorably.

Let's be real. In a moment of feeling it's a safe place to share or having had one too many glasses of chardonnay, you confess to a friend that you are feeling really insecure about your recent weight gain. A week or so later, at lunch with the same friend, you order cheesecake for dessert, and she comments with one eye-brow cocked heavenward, "Ohhhh, you're having dessert?" Whether or not she means anything by it, your feelings are hurt. You gave her your heart and the hammer, and she used them. Ouch.

I'll be even more real, since I can finally laugh about this. When my kids were little everyone used to say how much they looked like Brad. When Chloe was a baby, one person said, "It doesn't even look like YOU had anything to do with her." It hurt my feelings, and I shared that with a few people. One of my closest friends kindly pointed out, "Yeah, your kids really don't look anything like you." Heart. Hammer. Boom. 

Side note: Not all my friends suck. My dear sweet girlfriend made Peyton a t-shirt with my baby picture on it so it was very, very clear just where he got his curls.

The point of this is not that my friends suck or your friends suck. Sometimes we give people ammunition. When they use it? It is because of something that is flawed or broken or lacking in them, and it says nothing about us. I'm gonna just write that again. It is because of something that is flawed or broken or lacking in THEM. Not us.

Have you ever secretly celebrated a friend's misfortune--even a little? Ever felt a twinge of jealousy when something terrific happened for someone else when things weren't going so well for you? I have. More times than I care to admit. When I was trying to get pregnant, I almost had to go into isolation because it made me so sad every time I saw or heard about another pregnant woman. That had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me.

Recently, I have been dealt a couple low blows, and my initial reaction was to feel hurt and ask myself what could trigger such meanness. Fortunately, I remembered that it isn't my job to figure out what is going on in other people; that's why God directed me off the counseling path. However, it is my job to be kind, to be loving, to forgive and to show mercy and empathy.

If someone has hurt you with their words, actions, or inactions, you don't have to own that. It isn't about you. When people use our vulnerability as a weapon to hurt us, they are bullies. And bullies are often frightened, hurting, and making a lot of noise and commotion to distract people away from their own vulnerabilities.

Whew. Namaste.