Dream a Little Bigger, Darling

 

I had a dream the other night that I was dancing with someone.  I don’t know who the mystery man was, but I could tell he was an expert dancer.  I took a few ballroom dance lessons back in the day, before kids made it hard to do those sorts of things.  I could probably remember the basics, but I am definitely no expert.  In my dream, I remember thinking that I wanted to impress my dance partner with my dance skills, but I quickly realized that he outranked me by a long shot.  So I closed my eyes.  I closed my eyes and just let him lead me.  I gave up control of the situation, took a firm grip and just held on for the ride.  It was a very vivid dream, and I remember feeling a little scared and a little vulnerable to be just blinding following along as my partner expertly led me through a series of complicated steps.  But I also felt a huge sense of confidence in this unknown partner.  I somehow knew that he would not lead me astray.  He would not run me into a wall or another couple.  He dipped me and I knew that he wouldn’t drop me.  It was an amazing feeling to utterly surrender and totally trust; to totally give up control and still know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would be o.k.  And the thing is, even though I didn’t know the steps, I stayed right with him.  I didn’t fumble or step on his toes.  Once I relinquished control, it was as if I were an expert dancer too.  That dream has really stuck with me.  I don’t like the unknown.  I don’t like not knowing what’s going to happen next week or a year from now.  But I have this amazing dance partner in God.  He is an expert dancer and He’s directing every step.  All I have to do is close my eyes, take a firm grip on His hand and trust.  I will be open to the possibilities that He will put before me, and I will push past the fear that wants to keep me rooted to the spot.  I still feel scared and vulnerable at the prospect of continuously giving up control, but I also feel this confidence and trust that God will not lead me astray.  I have the freedom to dream a little bigger and embrace the future knowing that God Has me.  Today, next week, a year from now.  He has me.

Dancing in the light of the setting sun.

Am I Still Daring Greatly?

I started this blog with the intention of living my life out in the arena.  I wanted to live my life daring greatly, no matter what the outer critics or my internal critic said.  It’s been a long time since I have written anything.  Almost a year!  In my heart I like to think that I am continuing to dare greatly in my life, but the truth is that I have been letting fear run the show lately.  I’ve been cowering in the wings, watching with admiration as others put themselves out there.  Fear has infiltrated many areas of my life.  As I look at the broad world, I have lost sleep over the racial tension that is going on in our nation.  Black against white; police against civilian.  People being gunned down in the streets and clubs.  I am raising two mixed race little boys in this world, and I am scared for them. I don’t want them to live in fear, but I want them to be aware that we live in a world wear evil prevails and they need to be aware.  How do I maintain that balance?  It’s a heavy load to bear as their mother.

In my own immediate little world, I find myself stuck with this fear of writing. When did I turn into such a scaredy cat?  It’s like all of a sudden the thought of putting myself out there is this monumental thing that I can’t get passed.  Even the thought of finishing this post and pushing the Publish key is making me squirm.  I find that I will find anything and everything to do instead of writing.  Work? Sure I’ll work more hours!  Gilmore Girls…gotta finish the series before the new episodes come out!  I really have to keep up on the mindless games that I play on my phone too.  These are all my forms of numbing out so I don’t have to write and face the things that are going on in my head and heart.  Even though these things seem harmless, the consequence of numbing out is that the things that are going on in my head and heart stay in there.  It turns into a poison if it doesn’t get out.  For me, the poison has taken the form of depression, which is not something I gave dealt a lot with in my life.  I don’t like the feel of it.  It robs me of my joy.

My boys and I recently visited my brother out East.  It was a great trip.  The boys loved seeing his chickens and seeing all of his Amish neighbors.  I loved smelling the fresh country air.  While we were there, he told us the story of a professor he had who encouraged his class to ask questions.  If someone says, “That was the best pie I’ve ever had”, the response should be, “Compared to what?”  The boys got a huge kick out of this, and ever since, they are constantly asking me “compared to what?”  We laugh about it, but I find myself asking this question for real.  I face the fear of being lonely.  I think that there has to be more to life than this season that I am in.  I have found myself lamenting that I don’t have a stronger connection with my husband.  Those old questions start popping up.  Maybe I married the wrong guy.  Maybe we would be better off as friends than married.  Maybe I just have unrealistic expectations?  Compared to what?  Compared to all the posts on Facebook of course.  People are all so happy.  They all married their best friends.  They all look forward to the next 20 years with joy and happiness.  Am I the only only one who feels a twinge of sadness when I think that the next 15 years might be the same as the last 15?  And fear plays a huge role as I fight the need to speak my truth with this; the need to dare greatly in my own life.

So, I guess this blog post it me putting my foot back in the arena.  Fear be damned.  I will embrace it and lean into it.  It’s always going to be there, but it doesn’t have to have the upper hand.

Happy New Year!

It’s a new year!  Time to say goodbye to 2015 and hello to 2016.  Out with the old, in with the new.  I’ve never been big on New Years Resolutions.  They seem to set people up for failure and disappointment.  As Brené Brown so eloquently puts it:

January 1This resolution is going to be awesome!

January 5I’m awesome.

January 10This sucks.

January 20I suck.

I know I have fallen into this trap many times, and not just as it relates to New Years Resolutions.  I find myself working throughout the year to be a better person.  I strive to be a better mother.  I say to myself, “I’m not gonna yell at my kids today.  I am the adult and they are my precious children. I have this awesome job of raising them to be responsible, respectful adults.  What a great thing it is to be a mother. I am awesome!”  Then I get out of bed.  In the hour it takes me to get them up and out the door to school, I hear myself slowly losing my cool.  By the fourth time of me asking them to brush their teeth, my patience is slipping away.  My voice gets increasingly louder, and before I know it I’m having an out of body experience as I hear myself yelling, “HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU TO BRUSH YOUR TEETH?!?  GET YOUR BUTT MOVING!”  This sucks!  I suck.

I find myself striving to be a better wife.  What an awesome thing to be someones help mate.  I have these moments when it comes easy, and I say to myself, “Look at this  opportunity to clean up the dishes that this man of mine has left in the sink.  I can show him how much I love him by cleaning up after him.  I am awesome!”  Until I’m not so patient and loving anymore.  I have this tendency of making it quite obvious by the way I slam the pots and pans as I put them away that I want him to KNOW that I’m cleaning up his mess and that I’m doing him a huge favor.  There may or may not be muttering under my breath going on as well.  I’m not the maid after all.  It sucks!  I suck.

When I set resolutions for myself,  I tend to get stuck in the trap of basing my self worth on how well I perform said resolutions.  If I fail, then by default, I must be a failure.  When I yell at my kids, it means I have not succeeded in my quest to be a better mother.  I may say to myself, “Tomorrow I will do better!”  But I’m not perfect, and chances are, if I succeed in not yelling at my kids, I will fail in another area.  This can easily lead to me throwing my hands up in defeat and saying, “Why even bother?”  I have decided that my solution to breaking this cycle is simply Grace.  I will start by giving myself Grace in those moments when I am not being the person that I would like to be.  Circumstances may suck, but I don’t suck.   I may fail at the task at hand, but that does not make me a failure.  I am human and I am imperfect.  I will refrain from beating myself up.  I will be gentle and compassionate with myself.  I will still set goals and strive to be the best that I can be with the realization that I will fail.  I will fall.  But I will pick myself up and continue to Dare Greatly every day.  I won’t throw in the towel in self defeat, because how good I am at fulfilling my resolutions does not define my self worth.   I will accept God’s Grace and the Grace of others as well because I am worthy of Grace even if I don’t always deserve it.  I will turn my Grace outward as well to those around me.  I will give my children Grace, especially on the days when I have to tell them to brush their teeth 5 times.  They are little humans, and they are not perfect.  They are learning and growing and I want them to know Grace on an intimate level.  I want to teach them by example that they can mess up and it’s alright.  Their mistakes don’t have to define them.  They will fail, but the failures aren’t as important as what they do after.  I want them to learn to look at their failures as a chance to grow.  Their circumstances in life may suck sometimes, but they don’t.  I will show this man of mine Grace as well.  He is the person I have chosen to spend my life with.   Sometimes he leaves dishes in the sink.  Sometimes I feel like I’m not as high on his list of priorities as I think I should be.  But he is human and he is not perfect.  He has helped me to grow as a person and I want him to see Grace in my eyes, especially on the days when I would rather throw the dishes away instead of clean them.

I know that there will be times when I will fail even at this. I will fall back on feeling like a failure, or resort to being too tough on myself and those around me. But as I continue to offer and recieve Grace even in those moments, it will become more than a resolution or an attempt at self-improvement. It will become a new way of living. 

Grace be with you as we venture into this new year!

2016

The Great and Powerful Oz

I can’t take credit for the idea behind this blog post. It came directly from my counselor.  We were talking about this tendency of mine to build things up in my head.  I will play a scenario over and over in my head in anticipation of what may happen.  This, coupled with my belief that I can in fact, predict the future, does not bode well for me. Yep, you heard me.  I believe I can predict the future.  If I know that I have to have a conversation with someone, or if there is a hard situation that I have to face, I  play the whole thing out in my head, including how the other person will react, and what the final outcome will be.  The anticipation and fear that I allow to build up prior to the conversation is usually much worse than the actually encounter.  Which brings me to The Great and Powerful Oz.  My counselor used the Wizard of Oz as as a great analogy for how we build certain people or situations in our life into much greater things than they really are.  I’ve watched The Wizard of Oz more times than I can count.  What a great movie.  The flying monkeys are slightly terrifying, but who doesn’t love the Lollipop Guild?  Throughout the whole movie, Dorothy and her friends are on a quest to fulfill the mission that the Wizard sent them on.  They believe that if they can only kill the Wicked Witch, that the Wizard will then grant their greatest desires.  Dorothy wants to go home.  The Tin Man wants a heart.  The Scarecrow wants a brain. The Cowardly Lion wants some courage.  They have noble desires and their belief that the Wizard holds the key to getting these things motivates them on their quest.  In the end though, they discover that the Wizard doesn’t hold the key at all.  This Wizard, who everyone has feared and built up in their minds to be great and powerful, turns out to be nothing more than a frail man behind a curtain.  He did his best with his smoke and mirrors to portray himself as larger than life, but was really nothing more than a flawed human being, just like the rest of us.  When Dorothy and her friends discover the man behind the curtain, Dorothy tells him, “You’re a very bad man”, to which he replies “Oh no my dear, I’m a very good man. I’m just a very bad wizard.” (You can watch the scene here if you haven’t seen it in awhile.)

How many times in my life have I placed my misguided hope in someone, giving them a God-like status,  hoping that they have the ability to fulfill my desires, only to be disappointed when they turn out  to be a flawed human just like me.  How many times have I built a person or a situation up so much in my mind, until all I can see is this great and powerful floating head surrounded by fire and smoke.  It’s a lot of power to give someone.

As it turns out, I suck at being  a fortune teller.  People surprise me all the time, and the outcome is usually nothing like I saw it in my head.  I have foreseen outcomes full of compassion and understanding, and I have gotten guilt and shame, and I was devastated. I have foreseen outcomes full of condemnation and anger, and I have gotten grace and empathy instead, and I was amazed.   But  I am learning that it doesn’t really matter what the outcome is.  What matters is that I am willing to bravely face the encounter regardless of the outcome.  I will be OK, because I am worthy in my own right.  In the end, Dorothy discovers that she had the power to get home withing herself the whole time, although she still had to go on the journey to discover her own strength.  I have been on my own journey to discover my strength, and along the way I am discovering that the people who I have given so much power to  along the way are good people even though they are not able to live up to the God-like status I have given them.  They are good people.  They just make very bad wizards.

Behind_curtain

 

My Inner Child

Inside this adult body of mine lives a little girl.  She’s about 8 years old and cute as a button.  She has a gap tooth smile and pig tales.  She’s spunky, spontaneous and stubborn.  She loves to laugh and live free.  She’s a brave girl, but sometimes she comes up against things in life that are scary.  Sometimes Little Joy encounters a situation or a person that makes her want to run and hide under the covers.  She doesn’t want to have to face those things by herself.  After all, she’s just little.  She doesn’t always know the right things to say or do, and she’s afraid that if she says the wrong thing or acts the wrong way, that she might get in trouble or get sent away.  For a long time, I neglected this little girl living inside of me.  Sometimes I said terrible things to her.  Things like, “How could you be so stupid? When are you gonna get it right?  Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”  Sometimes I just outright ignored her.  I mean,  I was a grown woman.  I didn’t need that little girl hanging around anymore.  I thought I had moved on from the past hurts that she still carried around with her.  Sometimes I just couldn’t be bothered with her.

One day I stopped and started to really pay attention to Little Joy.  I sat down on the couch and invited her to come and sit next to me.  I gave her my undivided attention and I listened to her as she told me about our childhood from her perspective.  I sat with her and held her hand as she told me what frightened her and what made her happy.  She shared with me her good memories and her scary ones.  I laughed and cried with her and held her close.  I apologized for ignoring her and for the harsh words that I had spoken to her.  I reassured her that she wasn’t alone anymore, and that when she came upon a scary situation, that I would be there to hold her hand and help her face it.

Sometimes, in the face of one of those scary moments,  our conversation sounds like this:

Little Joy: “Do we have to do this?”

Me:  “Yes, Little One.  But you don’t have to do it alone.  I will be right here with you.  I’m not going anywhere”

Little Joy: “But I don’t want to.  I’m scared.  I don’t want to get in trouble or have people be angry with me.”

Me: “I know you’re scared.  I’m scared too.  But we are in this together, and I will be here to hold your hand no matter what happens.  No matter the outcome, we will be alright.”

Inside this adult body of mine is a precious little girl.  She is brave, strong  and daring.  I am learning to give Little Joy grace and compassion instead of anger and condemnation.  And she is learning to trust that I am here for her no matter what.  I look at that beautiful girl and I am so thankful that she is still with me.  I will not abandon her or make her face the world alone.  There is nothing she has ever done that would make me love her less.  She’s not perfect, but she is worthy of love.  I will not leave her cowering under the covers.  I am and will be her biggest ally.

Holding Hands

I Will Be There

by Odessa

If you ever need someone to cry to
If you ever need someone to hold you

I will be there
Standing by your side
I will be there
Standing by your side

If you ever need someone
To just love you
If you ever need someone
To simply adore you

I will be there
Standing by your side
I will be there
Standing by your side

And From the mountains to the sea
In the city
From the valleys to the moon
In every country

I will be there
Standing beside you
I will be there
Standing by your side

I will be there

Secure Your Own Mask First

I love to fly on airplanes.  Mainly because I love to travel.  The actually plane ride tends to make me a little sick.  The take off and landing are rough for me, and if there is any turbulence at all, my stomach does not appreciate it.  But I still love to fly on airplanes, because it is a means to an end; a passageway to adventure.  It’s always the same routine when I fly.  I  check my  bags; go through security; buy some water, gum and a trashy magazine, and I’m on my way.

The last time I flew, the flight attendant was giving the speech that they always give right before take off.  (You know, this one.)  She pointed out the exits, and gave us instructions on how to fasten our seat belts.  She came to the part about the oxygen masks and explained how to put the masks on and how to get the oxygen flowing.  Then she came to the part that always gives me pause.  She said, “Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others.”  I always want to raise my hand at this part and say, “Wait, but if I’m traveling with my children, of course I’m going to put their masks on first!  What kind of mother would I be if I put my own mask on first?”  It makes me feel like a terribly selfish person to think of taking care of myself first in this scenario.  It occurred to me that if, heaven forbid,  we ever had to use those oxygen masks, if I put the masks on my kids first, I could potentially pass out from lack of oxygen, and then I wouldn’t be of any help to anybody.

I came to the realization that this concept has applied to my real life for a very long time, only instead of trying to help those around me before I helped myself, I was trying to fix them.  This was mainly true for this man of mine that I am married to.   I had spent years and years trying to fix him and mold him into the husband that I wanted him to be.  I thought that if only I could fix him first, then I would be happy.  The harder I tried to fix him, the more resentful I became that he didn’t appear to be listening or paying attention to me.  I couldn’t understand why he would choose to discard all my wisdom.  They say that you can’t change other people, you can only change yourself.  I really bristled against this idea for a long time, and frankly, I thought it was bullshit.  Maybe it all boiled down to my pride, but I didn’t want to work on myself.  The only reason I wasn’t happy was because the people around me just wouldn’t get their shit together.  I was doing just fine.  Until I wasn’t.  All of a sudden, we encountered turbulence.  The kind of turbulence that makes you wonder if the plane is going down, and the oxygen masks were deployed. I was faced with a choice.  Would I keep trying to fix those around me in the hopes that they would change and make me happy, or would I put my own mask on and work on myself first?  I decided to try the latter even though it felt very counter-intuitive.  What I found was this: putting the mask on myself first mean that I got the life saving oxygen that I needed.  For the first time I was able to honestly look at myself and what I was bringing to the table.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  Life lessons that I had known in my head for years began to really sink in and become true heart knowledge.  Here are two really important things I learned when I put my mask on first:

  • Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies. I had heard this little quote years ago, and it always resonated with me.  It wasn’t until I got really honest with myself that I realized I had been poisoning my soul with resentment for years.  Resentment was my twisted version of hope.  I thought it would bring about the change I wanted in those around me, but all it was doing was slowly killing my spirit.
  • Forgiveness is the antidote for resentment.
    Oh Forgiveness!  How I fought you.  I thought forgiveness meant I was giving up.  How would I ever get what I wanted if I forgave someone for what they weren’t able or willing to give me?  When I finally gave in and truly forgave, freedom was there for the taking.  I experienced freedom from resentment for the first time in years. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

The most amazing thing began to happen.  As I began to learn about myself and discover how I got to where I was, I began to change how I did things and how I viewed my life and the world around me.  As I forgave and let go of resentment, this man of mine and others around me began to take notice of my change, and they in turn began to change how they interacted with me.  The change that I had been so desperately trying to bring about in others was beginning to happen naturally as a result of me putting  my mask on first.   For the first time I was indeed able to then help those around me in a constructive, affirming way that I was never able to accomplish before.  Turns out it’s not selfish at all to put my mask on first, and they tell you to do it that way for good reason!  mary-kay-oxygen-mask

Hi, my name is Joy

I recently went to the movies with my mom in the afternoon while my boys were at school.  Watching the previews is one of my favorite parts of going to a movie.  A good trailer fills me with anticipation and excitement.  On this particular day, we saw a trailer for an upcoming Jennifer Lawrence movie.  The movie looked interesting, but as I watched I didn’t get the tingles, or think that it was a “must see”.  What caught my attention was the end of the preview.  In the last frame, Jennifer proclaims, “My name’s Joy, by the way”.  Turns out the name of the movie is also Joy.  (Check out the trailer here.) Well, now I have to see the movie, right?  After we left our movie, I went a different way home than I usually go.  As I drove, I was watching street signs, and I realized that I was driving on a street called Joy.  Not long after I noticed the name of the street, I passed by this wonderful park and at the entrance was a big sign that said Joy Park.  What a coincidence to get all these reminders of joy on the same day.

I have never taken my name for granted.  I was adopted, and my mother named me Joy because when the social worker called to tell her that they had a baby girl for her, she was overwhelmed with joy.  What a great way to be named.  For most of my life, I felt like my name truly fit me.  I was a happy person, and it wasn’t an act.  My nickname in high school and college was Joyful, for Pete’s sake.  I came to believe that it was just in my nature to be a happy, upbeat, optimistic person.  It’s who I was.  I encountered some bumps in the road along the way, and I would have moments of Grief or Anger, but they were just blips on the radar, and I would always return to Joy as quickly as possible.  So it came as quite a shock to me when I had a period in my adult life when I came to a bump in the road that was more like a mountain, and I couldn’t shake off feelings of sadness and depression.  It was like a foreign entity had come in and kidnapped my Joy and left me with an emptiness that I didn’t know what to do with. Grief and Anger had been mere acquaintances before this.  They had come knocking on my door in the past, and I would opened the door and let them into the entryway, but that’s as far as they had been allowed to come in.  We would speak for a moment and then I would quickly usher them out before they had a chance to get too comfortable.  Joy was my roommate and it was a two bedroom house.  No room for anybody else to stay any longer than necessary.  This time when they knocked on the door, I answered it, and they  pushed right past me and set up camp in my living room.  I didn’t know what to do with these unwelcome house guests.  It was somewhat of an identity crisis for me, because for the first time in my life, being joyful felt like an act.  I felt like a fraud because I was still smiling on the outside, but I felt sad and empty on the inside.

The biggest thing I learned while Grief and Anger were living with me is that they aren’t the enemy.  I don’t need to fear them.  They have a place in my life just as much as Joy does.  I can say that for a time, my name was Grief, and that’s o.k.  Anger reared its head to get my attention, and I listened instead of running and hiding under the bed.  They didn’t diminish who I was; they added another dimension as I learned to lean into them and learn what they needed to teach me.  Grief; Anger; Fear…these are all God given emotions that He gave us for a reason.  Turns out Joy was still there all along as well.  She hadn’t been kidnapped, she had simply moved to the other side of the house for awhile so that these new guests could get the attention that they needed.  It was scary getting to know these new parts of myself, and I couldn’t have done it without close friends and a good counselor.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to know them though, because having a genuine relationship with them opens me up to an even deeper relationship with Joy as well.  I dug and scratched my way over the mountain with Grief and Anger as my companions, only to come out stronger on the other side.  My name’s still Joy by the way, but now when I need to, I make room in my house for Grief or Anger. Throw in a dash of Compassion and a lot of Grace, and I’m starting to see my whole authentic self.  It’s nice to meet me!

name