Categories
Growing

3 priorities a panda taught me

There’s a lot to be said about the lessons we adults can learn (or be reminded of) when reading children’s books. And why not? Children’s books teach about kindness and friendships, sharing, caring, exploring, learning. They engage imaginations and open minds to possibilities and wonder.

When we become adults with responsibilities and pressures, we think we have to let go of childish ways in order to survive the real world. Truth be told, so much of those childhood lessons are exactly what we need to live by, but somehow they get lost in yesteryear.

Young girl reading a book
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The children’s book that taught me how to act like an adult

When my kids were in daycare, they’d bring home book catalogs. I ordered books for them every single time. I kept the books that I hope to read again to my grandkids one day. But in the meantime, there’s one particular book that I keep at the ready for me.

It’s called Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth (published by Scholastic in 2005). It’s about three siblings who befriend a large panda named Stillwater. While the friends are spending time together, Stillwater tells them stories that relate to everyday life. The stories he’s telling them are actual centuries-old Chinese parables.

Reading the book to my kids, they connected with the children and the large, peaceful bear. I, on the other hand, soaked in the parables. To this day, I still rely on them to help me adjust my perspective when holding too tightly to stress.

Stuffed panda toy with the handwritten words "love yourself."
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The package of panda parables

Here are Stillwater’s three stories and how they continue to help me:

  • Uncle Ry and the Moon – Uncle Ry is based on a Sōtō Zen Buddhist monk named Ryōkan Taigu. In the story, Uncle Ry places no value on his material possessions. He values selflessness — putting others’ needs above his own. When a robber comes into his home, Uncle Ry gives him his last possession — his robe. Feeling bad that the robber is in need of things he doesn’t have, Uncle Ry wishes he had something more beautiful to give the robber, like the moon.

Recalling this story helps me when I want to remember that the people in my life are more important to me than the things around me. I rely on Uncle Ry to remind me that people come first and, although we don’t have to literally give people the shirt off our back, helping people who are in need is a basic human kindness.

  • The Farmer’s Luck – this Taoist story is probably the most well-known of the three that Stillwater shares. The gist of it is that you can’t tell if luck is good or bad until you see the result of whatever happens next.

A farmer’s horse runs away. Bad luck? It returns with two more horses. Good luck? The farmer’s son breaks one of his legs while trying to tame one of the horses. Bad luck? The army rejects the son as a draftee because of his injury. Good luck?

This story reminds me that you can’t always control what life sends your way, but you can always control how you react to it. You can understand that bad luck doesn’t have to devastate you. You can choose to make the best of it instead. You may end up learning a great lesson because of it, which might mean it was good luck all along.

  • A Heavy Load – this is my favorite of Stillwater’s stories. It’s about a young monk who is silently agitated for hours that a woman does not thank his companion, an older monk, for carrying her across a large puddle. In the end, the old monk says to the young one, “I set the woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”

I often say to myself (sometimes even out loud), “Put the woman down!” This is when I realize I’ve been stressing over something needlessly — someone or something that’s not worth the time and energy I’m wasting thinking about it. Or something that’s out of my control to change. It’s time to focus on something more meaningful that is within my control.

Stacked stones in a pink sunset
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In (Zen) short…

Those are the three perspectives that have changed my life. Somehow, in this one simple children’s book, I found the remedy to almost any challenge. In short, my options are to:

  • Decide how this challenge impacts my relationship with the people I love. Do what I must to preserve them. Other than that, nothing else matters.
  • Accept it for what it is and gauge my response in proportion to its relevance in the grand scheme of my life. Over reacting gets me nowhere and is a waste of time and energy.
  • When it’s all said and done, leave it behind and move on.

Thanks to this panda and his groovy Zen shorts, I’m able to enjoy life most days with the peace of mind to keep my priorities and perspectives in check. I hope you are able to find this kind of peace within yourself as well.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Growing Learning Loving

5 reasons why my brand is LOVE

I guess we can consider this an all-in-one Brand Positioning Statement, “About Me” bonus track, and a “Hero’s Journey” tale.

In my journey, I’ve had to overcome obstacles — just like you in your life and everyone else in their lives. It’s up to each one of us to decide how to make use of our experiences — whether they will hold us down or lift us up, and whether we’ll bring the people we encounter each day up or down with us.

I’ve decided that love is my purpose, and I want to bring others to a place of love as well. Here are five reasons why love is my reason for being.

5. Life is tough

I grew up just another kid of an alcoholic dad. At the time, if there were kids around me that had dads that were just as bad as or worse than mine, I didn’t know about it. I thought all of my friends’ dads were great. Therefore I didn’t just feel like the winner of the “worst dad” contest — I felt like I was the only one competing. (I realize now that was not the case, but that’s what it felt like when I was a kid.)

Dealing with the shame and low self-esteem brought on by my father’s alcoholism was a daily struggle. As such, the nicknames I earned from boyfriends included “Princess of Gloom and Doom,” “Grumpy Dumpy,” and simply “Baby.” And they were guys who actually cared for me quite a bit.

I was already carrying a bunch of mental baggage, to say the least. Then along came the stalker. He was convicted and my dad died within eight months of each other.

I’m the one that found my dad dead after all the alcohol finally rotted completely through one or more of his major organs. I was 25 years old.

One would hope with both of those situations at a close that life would simply go on from there with all the pain left in the past. But that’s not how humans work.

Over the next couple of years, I was trying to make sense of the world. I had lots of ups and downs — a lot of asking “why me?”

But then I decided I was ready for the pain, fear, and self-doubt to be over. I actually stood out in the middle of a field and made a commitment to the universe to do my best to grow stronger and become kind, honest, brave, and wise.

The Celts saw the oak tree as a symbol of truth, bravery and kindness.
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But healing from all those years of trauma takes time. Imagine that my psyche was an hourglass. One bulb was reserved for hope and inspiration. Following the stalker and my dad’s death, that bulb was empty. The other bulb was reserved for pain and anger, and it held all the sand.

The day I made that commitment in the field to change my attitude, the hour glass was turned upside down. Each grain of sand fell one at a time through the narrow neck.

Even though the sand was slowly accumulating in the positivity and optimism bulb, there was still sand in the pain and anger bulb for a long while.

Over time, I was able to forgive my dad first, the stalker later. That took, no lie, around 25 years — almost the same amount of time for the trauma to accumulate in the first place.

When we’re willing to accept that life is tough but that we don’t have to allow the worst parts to be the biggest part of us, we are able to lift ourselves up from rock bottom to new heights of love and patience.

4. Life is short

Around the time I turned 30, I began counting up all the times throughout my life I had come out of some pretty dangerous situations completely unscathed. Not even counting my encounters with my dad or the stalker, there was a bad fall from some monkey bars; a runaway horse; an out-of-control carnival ride; a high-speed, head-on car crash; three one-on-one run-ins with demented men, and two near asphyxiations from carbon monoxide.

Don’t misinterpret this to think I was reckless and looking for trouble or attention. These all started out as everyday events that simply took a turn for the worse.

Beating the odds that many times felt like I was still here for a reason. I wanted to show my gratitude for having been given so many second chances. I wasn’t sure how many more near misses I had left in me, and I wanted to make a difference in the world somehow before my time here was through.

A dead tree contrasted with the infinite of space. We only have a short time on Earth to make a difference.
Photo by Matej Čurlík on Pexels.com

Then when I was in my early 40s my mom died suddenly from health complications. I was devastated. Completely unprepared for life without my biggest cheerleader.

Seven years later my niece suffered an accidental death. All the opportunities I wasted to tell her things I wish I had said. Or to do the things with her I wish we could have done together.

When we value life and accept that it is a temporary condition for each of us, we cherish time more meaningfully. We understand that we can’t take people for granted. We need to make the most of our relationships with people while we still have the time together. Embracing this makes it easier for us to forgive and give unconditional love.

3. It opens you up to possibilities

Two years after my mom passed, when I was still feeling abandoned, my desired career path came to an end. I was shocked that I was not successful in convincing everyone I was the right person for the job that I believed I was destined for.

But I couldn’t see myself the way others were seeing me. And I learned that’s not always a bad thing.

Although I didn’t love the decision my leaders had made for me (at first), I still loved them unconditionally, and I was willing to try things their way — to see where they thought my talents could take me.

Some say daisies are a symbol of new beginnings.
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They placed me in a role where my primary job was writing. Then they asked me to mentor others as writers.

I enjoyed this role so much, I began writing for personal fulfillment. I began putting into words all the thoughts that I had been cataloging in my head for so many years. I wrote about my experiences and what I felt. I continued to write and think, and write and learn, and write and grow. That was the start of me becoming a storyteller.

Being a loving person means you are willing to be vulnerable. You risk getting hurt, but when you put yourself in the hands of people who you love and trust, you open yourself to possibilities that you might not have chosen yourself. You may find yourself journeying to a whole new place of learning and growing.

2. It gives you new purpose

When I was given the blessing of writing for a living, which turned out to be something I love to do, I had found purpose in my life. My talents, interests, and path were aligned.

I found a way that I could reflect on my experiences and write openly about how I got from there to here. I thought that maybe in telling my story, I could offer hope for someone who is in the place where I was — someone who wants to feel like they’re not in a “worst ever” contest all by their self.

Having a desire to help others through my storytelling gave new meaning to everything I had experienced. My bad times no longer felt like heavy baggage when I saw them as opportunities to maybe help someone else see their way through their own tangled mess of emotions.

Some feel the sunflower is a symbol of hope, happiness and renewal.
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I decided to make it a real thing — me sharing my thoughts and experiences to help others learn, grow and love from their pain, fear and regrets. I wrote two books (one still unpublished), and I started this blog. I’m creating a silver lining not just for myself, but hopefully for others too.

Each one of us has innate gifts and circumstances through which we can manifest love and happiness. We’re not meant to hold these for ourselves or use the rewards for our own happiness. We are meant to share our lives with others — to experience the scary, crazy, and awesomeness of being human with others, to make life better for others.

1. It lets you change the world

I believe we each have the responsibility to contribute positively to the world around us. Not just going through our daily routines on auto pilot and complaining when something doesn’t meet our expectations. I mean making a conscience effort every day to put someone else’s needs first and to make a difference in someone else’s life.

I also believe that each one of us can make the world a better place. We don’t need to have a big voice or a vast platform. We just need to do what we can within our means, using our unique talents and opportunities, to make life better for those around us.

This hybrid tea rose is named "Peace." I bought and planted it in my yard during the riots following the death of George Floyd.

And that’s why my brand is LOVE.

I write for anyone who may have trouble seeing that everyday occurrences hold meaning about the purpose of our lives. I value optimism, and I prioritize continuous improvement. I believe that when we are able to let go of our pain and fear, we are able to turn our struggles into inspiration for others. Therefore, I hope to encourage you to keep learning and growing to become a more loving person. And in doing that, we’re all spreading seeds of love.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Growing

Remember the time I humiliated myself at the casino?

This weekend I faced my biggest fear since starting my blog. It’s the sole obstacle that kept me from blogging sooner.

What if I can’t think of anything to write?

Writer’s block. When it happens, I don’t try to strong-arm myself past it; I just let it go, confident that an idea will come to me when the timing and mood is right. But when I still didn’t have an idea a few hours before my self-imposed deadline for this week’s blog, I started getting nervous.

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Then for some strange reason, I remembered a really embarrassing story about something that happened to me all the way back in high school. It’s a story I hadn’t thought about in decades.

That’s when I asked myself, “Am I so bothered by the thought of not publishing a blog each week that I’d rather tell an awkward story about myself than not post anything at all?” You betcha!

Have a nice trip…

I don’t remember what year it was in high school when one of my teachers decided to take our class to a casino-hotel in Atlantic City for a career day field trip. We went to learn about the hospitality industry and the kinds of job opportunities that were available.

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This was back in the day when there was a dress code for being in the casino-hotels. People got spiffed up to go out, and since this was a career day trip, I dressed for the occasion. I wore a suit that was first worn by my big sister.

I’ve always idolized my sister. I tell everyone she is the smarter, prettier, and nicer one. As a kid, I loved wearing her hand-me-down clothes. That suit of hers that I wore was a wool burgundy tweed skirt and jacket. My sister was a homecoming candidate her senior year, and this was the suit she worn to the homecoming football game.

When I reached high school and was able to fit into my sister’s homecoming suit, I felt like I could almost fill her shoes. Only, her shoes were a lot less slippery than mine.

…see you next fall!

The day of the trip, my classmates and I had ridden the one-hour bus drive from our school to the casino-hotel. We had sat through the presentation on hospitality careers and taken a brief tour of the main floors of the hotel. As we were heading back to the school bus, we needed to go down one more floor to the transportation entrance.

To get there was a long, grand stairway with ornate red and gold rugs. Meticulously polished brass railings lined the stairs from top to bottom. Overhead, beautiful crystal chandeliers sparkled like diamonds. And alongside the stairs ran two really long escalators.

At the Atlantic City casino-hotels, about 25 percent of the patrons are senior citizens, and on that day, it seemed like all 25 percent were in that stairway heading back to their buses the same time as us.

My classmates slowed and gathered in line to ride the escalator down. I thought to myself, “Why is everyone waiting for the escalator when there’s this amazing stairway that we can stroll down?”

I thought to myself, “Why is everyone waiting for the escalator where there’s this amazing stairway that we can stroll down?”

Hardly anyone was taking the stairs, so I thought I’d be slick by rushing down and being at the bottom to greet my classmates as they got off the escalator. I began scampering down the stairs in the brand-new burgundy flats that I had bought to match my sister’s suit.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware how slippery the unworn soles were. All of a sudden both of my feet flew out from under me, and I began sliding down the stairs swiftly on my butt.

After bump, bump, bumping down a few steps, one of my shoes flew off and crashed into a brass railing. It struck such a loud and vibrating “bong” that everyone turned to see what was happening.

An old man in front of me spun around in time to see me sledding on my butt straight toward him. His face lit up like he was suddenly remembering his glory days as a baseball catcher, and I was trying to steal home to win the championship.

He uttered a few “Oh! Ohs!” put up his hands and said, “I’ve gotcha, honey!”

Thank God I skidded to a stop before I had a chance to bowl over the sweet old man. Someone else came over to hand me my shoe, and I walked down the rest of the stairs holding tightly to the railing.

All’s well that ends well

You can imagine the jokes I had to listen to from my friends who watched my not-so poised and graceful decent. But I’m pretty sure everyone had forgotten about it by the next day.

So, yes, there is a seed for thought even in this story. It relates to keeping a clear perspective on things in order to overcome fear or stress. The classic “what if” approach can work if you allow yourself to consider, “what if… a week goes by and I don’t have a topic to write about?” Am I more worried that others will see me as a disappointment or that I’ll see me that way? The truth is that either way life will go on.

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Writing my blog is supposed to be fun, but worrying about make-believe deadlines negates the point. So much of what we worry about and put pressure on ourselves for is not life-or-death situations. Yet we get lost sometimes in our perspective and treat them that way anyway. In doing so, we miss out on the joy, beauty, and laughter of life around us.

It’s more important to enjoy life and to laugh at ourselves–at the imperfections of ourselves–than to try being flawless all the time. For example, on that career day field trip, I wanted to appear sophisticated and all grown up, like how I saw my sister in that suit. But I ended up falling down the stairs and having my friends laugh at me.

But what if… I change my perspective just a little bit. I can see it’s possible that both things happened. What if… I achieved the most sophisticated-looking fall of anyone who’s ever gone down a flight of stairs on their butt. And when I stopped, turned and curtsied to the crowd once I was standing solidly at the bottom of the stairs, what if… my ability to laugh at myself was the most grown-up thing I did that day.

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When we put too much pressure on ourselves — especially around things that are supposed to be fun, we’re not enjoying life to its fullest. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff. Give yourself a break. Also, use sandpaper or a nail file to scuff the bottoms of new shoes. They’re less slippery that way.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Growing

Confidence part 2 – What’s wrong with this picture?

A few months ago I got the chance at my 9 to 5 job to have my portrait taken. The last time I had a portrait done was for my college graduation. It would be nice to have a professional profile picture, and since I was planning to launch my blog, the timing was perfect.

Right away I began planning what I’d wear. A classic blue blouse would be professional. Not wearing a jacket would make it more casual. And the color would bring out my eyes. That was easy.

Next was jewelry. The pieces needed to be subtle. I picked a simple solitaire necklace and pearl earrings. For a bit of hidden character, you’ll have to look again at the earrings to see the pearls are being held by talons.

Picture day came, and I waited my turn with a few colleagues. Finally I was next. The photographer and his assistant went through the usual routine of trying lighting variances, adjusting the tilt of my head, the lean of my body, smile/don’t smile, look here/look away, and so forth.

At the end, when the photographer typically compliments you to give you confidence about how the shoot went, I was really, really hoping he’d say I had looked beautiful, but instead he said, “You did great. Your pictures will look very… sincere.”

Sincere? What’s up with that? Did he just give me the photographer’s equivalent of someone setting you up on a blind date — “she’s got a great personality?”

OK, I’ll be honest. Remember the old joke about the guy who breaks both of his hands and asks the doctor if he’ll be able to play the piano after the operation? The doctor says, “Of course!” and the guy says, “That’s great because I wasn’t able to play the piano before!”

That’s pretty much me hoping the photographer would say I was beautiful. I may have had a pretty good, long run of being cute, but I know I’ve never been beautiful. If the photographer had said that, he’d be seriously exaggerating. But sincere? Really?

Settling for meh

I’ll admit I was anxious waiting for the proofs to be ready. When the email arrived with a link to the collection, I scrolled past a few of my colleagues – all of whom looked absolutely amazing – and stopped dead when I got to me. “That’s me?” I thought, “That’s what I look like?”

The person who I was seeing in the proofs is not the person who I see in the mirror at home. Somehow I’m confident when I look at myself in the comfort of my own home, but now looking at me in these photos, I felt like I don’t know who I am any longer. Inside my head I feel like I’m still 26 years old and a size six. Where the heck did the last 25 years go… and where did those last 25 pounds come from?

No exaggeration — there were 75 shots of me, and I meticulously examined each one. Teeth look like a chipmunk. Head tilt looks like a terrier. Not smiling enough. Smiling too much. Right eye too droopy, too watery. Finding a shot that I didn’t shake my head at was difficult.

After a really long time, I narrowed it down from 75 photos to six — then to just two. I spent a whole lot of time deliberating over this decision. I was acting as if the lives of my unborn grandchildren rest on it. Finally I gave notice of which photo I picked along with four touch-ups to be made.

When I received the final portrait, the changes had been made with such skill that you’d never know the difference, but I was still not happy with it. My attitude was, “It is what it is…,” as pitiful as that is to say. Slowly I began to accept the “old lady” in this photo and started uploading her to all of my online profiles.

Seeing myself for who I really am

Then a few nights ago, I was binge watching Little Fires Everywhere. Kerry Washington’s character is a photographic artist. Reese Witherspoon’s character suggested to her that she could earn steady income by being a portrait photographer. Here’s how Kerry’s character responded in the book version: “…the thing about portraits is, you need to show people the way they want to be seen. And I prefer to show people as I see them.”

Thankfully, that brief statement brought me back to where I ought to be. I may have been a lot cuter when I was 26, but I was also a whole lot less wise. Back then, I gave more consideration to my looks than my character, and that perspective was leaving a bigger impression on people than I could have ever imagined.

Once again I heard the photographer’s last words to me: “You look sincere.”

I remembered that being sincere is way more important to me these days than being seen as beautiful or cute. External beauty fades, but internal beauty is a thing of character. When my mom died nine years ago, so many people told me how much my mom had inspired them. Not one person mentioned what they thought of my mom’s looks.

That’s when I had decided to honor my mom by working a whole lot harder on being beautiful on the inside. I’m still nowhere near the end of that journey, but I’m loving every step of it. And now I have renewed confidence to keep moving in that direction – in the direction of true sincerity.

So to undo all the pressure I put on myself believing my portrait had to be perfect, here’s what the untouched photo looks like, and below are the things that were changed:

  1. Removed the hood ornament from the car that I was leaning on. It was pointing up out of my left shoulder like a misplaced rhino horn.
  2. Removed the clasp from my necklace. It had slipped around the right side of my neck.
  3. Removed the two bumps near my left brow. Sun damage.
  4. Whitened my teeth a bit. Too many Cokes and other sodas consumed.

If it is your intention to continuously learn and grow, then you need to be reminded once in a while who you once were and how far you’ve come. That backward glance could be to see how much your appearance has changed over the years, or it could be about something actually important, like how much you’ve focused on and contributed to others, to make others happy and to help them have a better life. You shouldn’t continuously focus on the past, but taking a look back once in a while is a great way to see how much further you want to go, and to strengthen your confidence to get you there.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Growing

A closer look at speed bumps (and why it matters)

Such an intriguing title, I know. I’m not saying that everything that happens has meaning. But if you’re looking for meaning in life, you can find it anywhere — in happy, muddy dogs; in blue suede boots; and yes, even in speed bumps. Not every revelation needs to be accompanied by fireworks and symphonies. Allow yourself to be inspired by simple, mundane things. Lessons learned quietly matter just as much as those with drama and hoopla.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been driving my oldest son to school on cold or rainy mornings. When we’re early, I can cruise unobstructed through the driveway and over to the drop-off point at the main sidewalk. But if we pull up minutes before the school bell is about to ring, the carpool traffic is pretty backed up.

Along the way are two speed bumps. One is in the driveway. The other is in the exit lane that cuts through the parking lot heading back to the driveway.

One morning when bumper-to-bumper traffic was crawling through the entire route, I began paying attention to how drivers were navigating the speed bumps. Quietly, it all became a metaphor to me for how people approach life’s challenges.

Literally speaking

In the driveway, I watched one driver pull their truck as far right as they could go without scraping the curb. The driver’s goal was to keep the two passenger-side tires on flat ground while only the two driver-side tires experienced the bump’s mild climb and decent. Over at the speed bump in the parking lot area, I saw a driver come incredibly close to hitting a parked car just so they could drive completely around the speed bump. Not to mention the drivers who hurried all four wheels up and over either of the speed bumps without hesitating.

I have my own technique for approaching speed bumps. I’m a by-the-book kind of person, so most often I face a speed bump head on. As I approach, I take my foot off the accelerator and wait patiently for the wheels to meet the bump. I calmly anticipate the moment when the vehicle’s inertia lifts me up and over the bump. When I’m squarely past the bump, I press down on the gas gradually as I leave the bump behind.

Once in a while I’m in the mood to drive oh-so cautiously around the side of a speed bump. A long time ago I was in a serious accident while driving across parking spaces, and I try to not make that same mistake. Besides, I’m too practical. I’m not convinced that going around the speed bump is worth the effort. I would be thrilled if one of those TV shows that try to dispel myths would test my theory:

  • Is it faster to go the extra distance by swinging out and around a speed bump rather than slowing down and maintaining a straight path?
  • If it is a few seconds faster to go around, is the amount of time gained adding value to our lives?

I’ll even admit there have been times when I’ve overlooked all the signs or misjudged my approached and a speed bump has tossed me up, out of my seat. Fortunately that doesn’t happen too often.

The figurative approach

Think about it. When you’re in your vehicle, you see a sign on the side of the road that says “Speed Bump” and sometimes the actual speed bump is painted with huge amber caution lines. Wouldn’t it be incredible if, in life, we got fair warning that we are about to approach a challenge and we’d been trained on how to deal with it?

Wouldn’t it be incredible if, in life, we got fair warning that we are about to approach a challenge and we’d been trained on how to deal with it?

But life isn’t that easy. We each face small and big challenges every day. Sometimes we see the signs that a challenge is approaching, and we can prepare ourselves to address it. It could be we deal with the challenge by committing as little as we can — by keeping two tires on the ground, and sparing ourselves from whatever pain or struggle is in our control. We might go all in, pacing ourselves and taking it one calculated step at a time. Or we could take one of the extreme approaches — either barreling through the challenge or taking measures to avoid it completely. And then sometimes we might not be paying full attention and the challenge catches us completely off guard.

Actual speed bumps aren’t scary, but some of life’s challenges can be. Scary or not, there are a few good things about speed bumps (the literal and the figurative ones):

  • They remind you to slow down once in a while, to take in the scenery, and appreciate both the ups and downs in life, because they are all part of your journey.
  • If “timing is everything,” then speed bumps help to ensure you’re in the exact right place at the exact right time.
  • Whether you’re facing a speed bump or a mountain, how you decide to get past it will help you learn more about yourself and develop personally.

Sometimes you see life’s speed bumps approaching and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you’re prepared to deal with them, and sometimes you’re not. There are a lot of ways to head into a challenge; depending on the circumstances, you hope to always pick the right approach. When you’ve picked the wrong path, you try not to repeat your mistakes, but there are no guarantees that you won’t. In any case, life’s speed bumps are chances for you to learn from both your successes and your blunders. Accepting the bad outcomes with the good ones can help you become more humble, and in that, you can become more loving.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Growing

Turning fear into gratitude

In my mid-20s, I began dating a man who it turned out had been stalking me already. He was disturbed, abusive and manipulative. It took me six months and a team of family, friends and law enforcement to get separation from him. Then it took half my lifetime to let go of my fear.

As I began to wake up on the morning of my 50th birthday, my dog Rosie jumped up from her bed on the floor to cuddle beside me. Rubbing her ears, eyes and belly help both of us start the day in a warm, peaceful mood. After a few minutes, I rolled out of bed and wandered to the bathroom in the dark and got dressed. Then Rosie and I headed downstairs to spend a few more minutes cuddling on the couch—in the dark. This was our normal routine.

Again I started thinking about it being my 50th birthday. I had begun anticipating it a few months back. Now that the big day was here, it felt like any other. Then a cold draft blew over us, which I assumed was from the heater going through its normal routine. But for an odd second I wondered if the interior door to the garage was open a bit and if that was where the draft came from. Nah, not likely. My husband locks that door every night before going to bed. Unless someone had opened it since then? That’s when I remembered the death threats.

It had been exactly half of my lifetime ago when my brother-in-law called me on my 25th birthday. To this day, his greeting is still the most memorable: “Happy birthday! I’m glad you’re still alive!” This was in response to my physically- and mentally-abusive ex-boyfriend/stalker calling in three death threats the day before. The last call was to my mom–can you imagine! Weird how such a memory is a regular part of my birthday.

I’ve come to expect that recollection to pop up each year, so it is no longer destructive. But even 25 years after the stalking was over, I was still getting triggered once in a while. I was doing my best to keep the trauma center in my brain well-guarded against the standard, predictable stuff. Unfortunately, an occasional something out of the ordinary would slip past my defenses and set off my internal alarm system.

Unfortunately, an occasional something out of the ordinary would slip past my defenses and set off my internal alarm system.

First contact

Take for instance New Year’s Eve 2016–three years prior to my 50th birthday. A half hour before midnight, something prompted me to check my email. Scrolling through more than a day’s worth of unread messages, I saw the former stalker had sent a Facebook friend request to me the night before. After all those years with no contact—what the heck was he thinking?

Quickly I logged into Facebook, but he had already retracted the request. Regardless, it took nine days and a lot of rationalizing with my sister and my best friend for me to calm down. One thing that helped me move on was that I saw on his Facebook profile where he was living. I didn’t lock in my brain any details about the region, only that the town was two hours away.

Too close for comfort

Following that, I had no big trigger incidents for a while. But then three weeks before my 50th birthday, I had a rare night of bad dreams about him. My stirring woke my husband a few times. Likewise, he tried to wake me to stop the cycle, but the bad dreams kept spiraling. So much so that they stuck with me into the next day. Eventually I decided to remind myself how far away from me he was living.

I Googled the name of his town—seeking reassurance—but instead my jaw dropped in disbelief. On the map, about two and a half miles from his town center, I saw the name of the hospital where I had been treated just one month prior. My husband, youngest son and I were away for my son’s travel hockey tournament when I had an unexpected health issue. I had been practically on his doorstep! Why do our lives continue to orbit each other this way?

Why do our lives continue to orbit each other this way?

I kept repeating this thought in my head. Here’s what I decided to settle on. Something happened during that traumatic experience in my mid-twenties that was so absolutely necessary in order for me to become the person who I am today, that I must continue to be reminded of it. And for that, at least, I’m grateful.

My son’s hockey team returned to the same tournament this past year. Knowing that there was even the slightest possibility that I could cross paths with him was unsettling. But I didn’t change anything I would have done if I had not known he could be there.

Closing the door

Finally, a few months ago and after all these years of soul searching, I found closure. At last I was able to put into perspective that he had not done anything to harm me for more than 25 years. Nothing had come out of the Facebook incident, and I was in his town twice since then without running in to him. My fear is finally gone.

Looking all the way back to when it first happened, I foolishly tried to handle him myself for a while. Then once I was willing to admit I was in over my head, I got my family, friends and the police involved. I let the justice system do its job, and he received fair punishment. Afterward, I sought professional counseling a few times over the years when I was feeling more challenged than usual to cope.

I feel it’s important to emphasize here that I brought the stalking situation to a close and persevered to heal myself using all the resources available to me. I did not try to get through this journey on my own, and recovering was a lot of work.

I do feel bad about the pain and fear that my family and friends had to experience because of this. However, I don’t feel bad about any of the incidents when I became triggered. I’m not embarrassed for overreacting. I have no regrets about telling people my feelings during those times. Those were all experiences I had to get through in order to heal. And the length of time it took for me was the exact right time for my healing.

Also, all the work that my family and friends put into helping me was also helping them on their journeys. Helping others to overcome pain and fear allows each one of us the chance to learn more about ourselves and grow to be more loving.

As for him, I’ve forgiven him. I don’t know what led him to behave that way, but it must have been something really bad that he had no control over. And I don’t know if he ever behaved that way toward anyone else. I do hope that he has been able to find peace and meaningful love in his life. I also hope he has somehow found opportunities to support others in a way that makes up for his damaging behavior.

It is unavoidable that you will experience trouble, pain, fear and perhaps even trauma in your life. What’s important is that as you heal, you appreciate the learning that you find in your experiences. Be grateful that through it you can grow to become a more loving person. Accept that some healing and learning will happen faster than others. Be patient and kind to yourself as you figure it all out. Then share your lessons with others, to help them in their journeys too.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

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Growing

Make your dreams a reality

One night a few years ago I had a dream. Actually, it was more like a vision. I was in that quiet, sleepy void of a place and then suddenly there was just simply a pair of western style boots. Blue suede boots to be exact and I understood that it was intended for me to have these boots. As the vision began to slip away, I heard a voice from a distance say, “…and don’t forget the fringe.”

The next morning I told my husband about the dream. He’s usually not surprised when I tell him strange stories like this, but in this case he may have mentioned something about me being a little crazy.

I did the best I could to get at least half way through the morning before I could no longer keep myself from the internet. I opened a browser and searched for “blue suede boots fringe.” As it turned out, there was only one style of boots on the entire internet that matched my vision. There was only one pair left. And they were my size.

This was my real life Field of Dreams moment. “I think I know what ‘If you build it, he will come’ means.”

I bought them–how could I not. They aren’t like anything else in my wardrobe. I’m not always confident that what I wear them with looks good. But I trust my instincts that they were meant for me, and every time I wear them, I think about my dream.

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Maybe I would do something significant that day while wearing them. Or maybe someone else would see me wearing them and that would mean something significant to them.

Regardless, I wear them as intermittently as all the other shoes I have. And I’ve never tried to make something significant happen on days that I wear them. I just wear them because I like the style, I like the fit, and they are special to me.

From boots to blogs

On a separate note, for the longest time I’ve dreamt of having my own blog. I didn’t have the urge to rush into it, but I knew one day it would happen. I must have needed to experience more, to learn and grow some more before the time was right.

Maybe this is what the dream about the boots was meant to teach me: that it was up to me to follow my instincts and make my dreams a reality — from the boots to my blog. So now here it is — my blog, and my biggest hope is that it becomes special to you too.

Thank you for coming to see what Seeds of Love is all about. I hope you find something meaningful here that will help you grow and love a little more each day.

You can wish on a falling star. You can throw a coin into a fountain. You can blow away an eyelash. Those are all sweet, heartwarming gestures, but they’re not going to make your greatest desire materialize out of thin air. It’s up to you to put in the time and effort to make your dreams come true.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…