Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Hold Expectations Lightly

Several years ago I was going through a period of discontent in a relationship that is important to me. Efforts for positive change felt minimally rewarded.

Thankfully, I have women in my life who are caring enough to walk alongside me when life gets sticky. Shared experience between women who are vulnerable enough to be real is comforting. Nothing is solved in the sharing, but perspective widens and personal problems diminish.

However, one visit with a friend during this period of discontent left me less than comforted. In fact, I left my friend’s home secretly in defiance. Words that she had spoken were still ringing in my ears:

“I have learned to not have expectations, then I am not crushed under disappointment.” 

These were words I did not agree with —words I did not want to agree with. They seemed to be the words of someone who did not believe people could change. They seemed to me to leave no room for hope. This I could not bear. I remember shouting into the empty car as I drove off.

“I will not give up on my hopes for change in this relationship!”

In the days that followed I unconsciously set out to prove my friend’s strategy false. I held tighter to my hopes for the changes I desired, but I didn’t stop there. I renewed the quest I’d already begun for those changes. In short, I got back to work in earnest.

Fortunately, I’d begun this work in the right place — within myself. I’d learned long ago that I am the only person I can change. While I did not agree with my friend’s strategy for avoiding disappointment and pain in her challenging relationship, I began to wonder. If I wanted to find contentment in my challenging relationship, and if expectations could be toxic, then shouldn’t I at least take an honest look inward? So I did.

This honest look inward opened my eyes to the truth. My expectations had put an undeserved yoke on my friend. Many of these expectations were idealizations of what I thought this relationship should be. They had nothing to do with what the relationship could be. I began to let go. I released my far distant idealizations. More importantly, I mustered up the courage to ask for realistic, tangible actions that met my needs in the here and now, and my friend began to respond.

I discovered that letting go of expectation was not the end of hope. Instead, it was the beginning of something truly hopeful. I found myself happier and more hopeful in this relationship than I had been in a very long time. 

I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I’m not a researcher who has evidence to prove my theory that life improves when one lets go of expectation. I‘m only a gal who set out to prove it was NOT a good relational move, and my experience has proven me somewhat wrong. I do not fully agree with my friend. I still believe that expectation in relationship and in life is important, but now I am more careful to hold my expectations loosely, to keep them more realistic for the situation, and to keep them goal driven rather than driven by an unrealistic vision of perfection.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit or There and Back Again” is a classic that has been read by children and adults the world over. I recently read the book for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. Tolkien used words in such fantastic ways. The words below seemed to me to be Tolkien’s take on expectations.

“You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” 

 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit or There and Back Again

I thought trashing expectation meant dashing all my hopes. In reality, trashing unrealistic expectations and holding loosely to them otherwise has opened me up to wider possibilities. I still press in to change and growth in my relationships and my life. I have not thrown expectation to the wind. However, these days, I’m more inclined to be thankful for the treasure I have in the present, set goals for small changes in areas of discontent, and look ahead with anticipation for surprises that may come.

Daring to Dream

Saugatuck, MI – the Kalamazoo River

a house on the water, the seemingly impossible dream . . .
. . . an afternoon sailboat excursion, the very doable dream!

Several months ago I made myself available as an unofficial life coach to a younger friend. I say unofficial because I am not a trained life coach. I am simply a woman on an exploratory journey, learning and perfecting skills that lead to a life well lived. My goal as an unofficial life coach is to share what I am learning with my friend. As she learns from me, I will learn from her, and we will grow together as women on the road of life — individually and corporately.

A month or so ago, prior to separation due to summer vacations, I dared my friend to dream a little. She took the challenged but encountered resistance to such a dare. As this resistance was communicated in an email. I crafted an email response and sent it off.

Several days ago, she responded with a thank you. She indicated that it was helpful. Not remembering what I’d written, I reread my communication. As I read, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to my blog readers. My friend’s name has been changed to protect her anonymity.

Carolyn,

This might seem like an odd place to start, but somewhere in all my reading about setting goals and following dreams, it was suggested to start by writing your eulogy. What is it that you want to be remembered for? What do you want your daughter to carry in her heart when you are no longer here with her? This plumb-line makes ones goals and dreams about the legacy you are creating and not about accomplishments or self-fulfillment. It also helps you to think in terms of the things you can control no matter what your life circumstances. For example, dreaming about living in a big home in the country may seem completely out of reach. Self preservation says, “I am happy with my little house and there is no action taken for a dream home. However, dreaming and working to guarantee one’s child a home filled with warmth and love opens immediate doors of possibility. The big house dream can walk alongside the legacy dream, but in the end, if the big house never materializes, the better dream has been acted upon and you are creating a legacy.

Does this make sense?

Also, just know that you are not alone. Dreaming and setting goals towards those dreams is scary for most of us because we’ve experienced a lot of disappointment in life. To not dream or set goals is an act of emotional self-preservation. I believe that approaching dreams and goal setting from the vantage point of the legacy you wish to leave helps one to keep goals realistic and counteracts the drive for self-preservation.

How about you? Are you struggling as my friend is to grab ahold of dreams? I cannot promise that this strategy will work for you, but I can promise that you will begin to uncover that which is truly important to you. I can also promise that you will find a “how to” somewhere out there in the blogosphere. I’ve checked!

Give it a try. You might be surprised what truly valuable dreams your self crafted eulogy unearths.

Have you ever read Sonora Carver’s autobiography, A Girl and Five Brave Horses? If you enjoy memoirs and you have a soft spot for horses, I am certain you would enjoy it. You might even be inspired as I have been.

In 1924, at the age of 19, Sonora joined W.F. Carver’s diving horse show. Her job was to mount a running horse as it reached the top of a forty foot tower. Together, horse and rider would plunge into an 11-foot pool of water directly below. It was challenging but exciting work. Sonora conditioned hard and practiced long hours prior to her first dive, but once she started diving the horses, it didn’t take long for her to become an expert and fall in love with the sport.

For seven years she dove with the horses, experiencing only minor mishaps. Then, one day she made a mistake that changed her life for ever.

Prior to this accident, Sonora had taught her sister Arnette to dive horses, but Arnette did not seem to have the knack for diving that her sister possessed. After numerous accidents, it was decided Arnette would no longer be permitted to dive the horses. However, when Sonora lay in the hospital and the show was desperate for a rider,  Arnette saw her opportunity. She begged Sonora to convince the show master to put her back in the show. 

This was a very difficult decision for Sonora. Arnette was her sister! On one hand, here she, Sonora, lay in a hospital bed blinded as a result of her own disastrous dive. Could she, in good conscience, recommend that her sister begin diving again? On the other hand, in spite of Arnette’s many minor injuries, she still loved diving. Was it right to deprive her of something that brought so much joy?

As Sonora wrestled with these questions, an answer came to her. Arnette was ambidextrous but favored her left hand. Sonora, who was right handed, had taught her sister to fold forward to the right of the horse’s withers when diving. The more Sonora thought about it, the more sure she was. If Arnette folded to the left, her dives would improve and there would be markedly fewer mishaps. Her confidence convinced the show master. He allowed Arnette to performed a trial dive with the left forward fold. The change worked like a charm. Arnette’s dive was perfect!

As a teacher, this little story within the larger story intrigued me. I scribbled this note in my journal:  

Arnette, Sonora’s sister, A Girl and Five Brave Horse: switched to a left forward fold when diving; teaching to gifts and strengths increases chances for success.

— my journal entry

I wonder. How many times has a child or even an adult been taught a task or a skill from the success perspective of someone whose natural skills and abilities do not match their own? How many times has someone given up, believing that they are stupid, dumb, or do not have what it takes to succeed because the teacher offered only one right way to perform the task or skill? How many times has someone been told they can not do something they long to or love to do because their initial attempts were unsuccessful?

My guess is the number, if it were possible to be counted, would be staggering. 

I have a dear friend who recently shared one such story with me. She’d taken a home economics class in high school. She was excited to sew and worked hard to do a good job on one of her assigned project. She even had fun doing it. Unfortunately she made a critical mistake. She was given a D on the project. She was not asked to quit sewing, but she might just as well have been.The grade communicated to her that she could not sew. Furthermore, it communicated that she should not even try. I am so proud of my friend. Recently, she was inspired to start sewing again. She realized that she had allowed one teacher’s evaluation to steal away the joy of creating with fabric and thread. She decided it was time to be true to herself. No more would she let that grade define her. 

How might my friend’s story have been changed had the teacher valued her efforts, seen her enthusiasm and desire, and leveraged the mistake as an opportunity to teach for my friend’s success? How many beautiful things might my friend have sewn during the stolen years, the years she believed the lie?

Sonora was a teacher who cared enough to problem solve. She valued Arnette’s enthusiasm and passion. Because she made the choice to trouble shoot, Arnette enjoyed 5 wonderful years of diving before she left the show to raise a family.  I wish my friend’s home-economics teacher had been so attuned to her enthusiasm and passion. 

One of the things I love most about other people’s stories is the life lessons hidden in the drama of their lives. Sonora and Arnette’s story is a challenge to teachers and parents everywhere, a challenge to us all really, to recognize that our way of doing something may not be the way to success for another. It is a challenge to look for the “forward fold to the left” that will spell success for our students and our children.

Their stories are a challenge to learners and dreamers as well. Is there something you have always wanted to do, but it was communicated to you that you couldn’t or shouldn’t do it? In Arnette’s case, the initial denial was a safety issue. In my friend’s case, the initial denial came as an evaluation that stole her confidence. In either case, change came when the women decided to push against the barriers. Arnette saw her opportunity and begged to be permitted to return to diving. My friend just decided to stop believing the lie that she could not sew. 

Sonora faced this challenge. She had to decide whether she would let her blindness box her in or whether she would choose with her heart. She chose the later, one challenge at a time. She learned to dress herself, feed herself, and walk with the help of a cane and her husband’s shoulder. She tackled the task of learning to read, and then she tackled the problem of what to do with the rest of her life. She began to wonder. Why can’t I dive blind? I know this work, I am good at it, and I love it. She dug down deep and pushed against her own internal resistance. She rallied the support of her husband, the show master. She found her own forward fold — the modifications that compensated for her blindness — and she learned to dive blind. She was victorious. She dove horses for another 11 wonderful years!

So, here they are, challenging you. Arnette, my friend, and Sonora — I dare you to follow their lead!

Media Resources

What do you do when you have offended or caused injury to someone? Do you pull away out of fear or embarrassment? Do you deny culpability? Do you rationalize? Do you hide? Do you avoid the issue in hopes that it will just all go away and be forgotten. Do you seek forgiveness and reconciliation? If you seek forgiveness and reconciliation, do you need time to process and deal with your reeling emotions, or do you want to move in quickly to repair relationship?

Among my closest family ties, reconciliation is a high value. As can be expected, there are those who require processing time. There is also at least one who desires immediate reassurance that all will be well, even if it isn’t well in the moment. I am that one. 

It took me a long time to recognize that time and space are modus operandi for others in my family. It took me even longer to accept it. in fact, I suppose I haven’t fully accepted it because I lean towards distress while I wait for the assurance I long for — the assurance that everything will be okay when relationship has been strained by offense.

Recently I was faced with this stark difference in how we approach offense or injury. I was the third participant in a family crisis, offended by association. As I watched the other two individuals disappear emotionally, I felt abandoned. I was hurting for the offended. I was also hurting for the offender. Two people I love were processing a betrayal, each folded inward. I wanted us to process together—not tomorrow or the next day, certainly not next week. I wanted to know that everything would be okay, and I wanted to know it now!

I also wanted answers. Why did this happened? How would the offender repair the damage? What could we all do to be overcomers in this situation? Even more, I just wanted hugs all around to assure me that we would get through this challenge and come out on top with the relationships not only in tact but stronger.

The day after the break in trust I texted the perpetrator. The text read, “I need to give and get a hug.” As I hit send, the thought occurred to me that the God I have come to know and trust probably feels much the same way when a beloved child like you or I goes silent after we’ve blown it. God may not be in the hurry that I am to get that hug, but the creator of the universe most definitely desires to reconcile with us when we mess up.

It used to be that when I messed up, I would try harder to get things right–to be a ‘good girl’ in order to deserve God’s love. But any more, when I mess up, I can’t get into God’s lap fast enough. Honest confession is good for my soul. God is not put off by my mistakes, and God doesn’t seem to need time to process. I may need to wait as consequences of my actions unfold, but I never have to wait for the reassuring hug that says, “I love you. I am here for you. We will figure this out together.”

George MacDonald spoke to this great love in his poem “Forgiveness”.

“Forgiveness” — George MacDonald

Interestingly, I have noticed that quick confession met by this great love that is strong enough to step back and allow me to experience the natural consequences while walking with me through them has morphed into a greater consciousness of poor choices I am about to make. When someone loves me so much as to welcome me back into loving arms over and over again, my desire to be in those arms in good standing rather than broken relationship is heightened. 

How about you, are you and God doing your assigned sum together?

By the way, just in case you are curious, we three in our family who found ourselves embroiled in the drama of offense have come to much the same place. We have cleaned the slate and are working the sum out together.

There Will Be Only Love

Last Friday I opened a letter addressed to my husband. Inside was a notice that led us down a path of investigation. At the end of the path came a shocking discovery. Someone we love made a series of very poor choices that have fallen forward on us.

One week later, we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. At present, our choices for resolving the situation quickly are limited and unfavorable.

There is a silver lining, however.

Today I understand just a little bit better the story that Christians tell: the story that has been told for more than 2,000 years, the story of mercy and grace, the story of God incarnate, the story of Jesus hanging on a cross to pay for the failures, the mistakes, the sins of the world. I understand it better because I have experienced, in a very small way, what it feels like from the God side of the story, the side where love pays the penalty and sets the captive free.

I’ve got to be honest. I have more questions than answers when it comes to this God story. But this I know. My loved one is not alone. I fail to be the best person I could be on a regular basis. Sometimes I hurt only myself. Sometimes others are hurt by my words and actions. Either way, I have ample reason to gratefully ascribe to the story of a God who loves so deeply as to provide a Savior.

As a thankful recipient of this mercy and grace, I’ve discovered that the real power in the story is only realized when it changes me, when it leads me to be merciful and offer grace. With each decision to choose the way of redemption, my little corner of the world becomes a better place.

This is the silver lining.

Our surprise letter opened a door — a door of opportunity to give back, to pay it forward on this great gift. It is another opportunity to be merciful and to extend grace.

Will this individual suffer consequences? You bet! s/he already has. However, s/he will not carry the weight of those consequences alone. There will be no shame. There will be only love and a new way forward.

So today, as I list my 3 morning gratitudes, the first will be: mercy and grace received, mercy and grace extended.

Nothing! Indeed!

“All this way for nothing!” I muttered to myself as I stood before bridge #5 on the Shelby Bottoms Greenway. The six foot barricades were clear — NO crossing. Don’t even try!

My destination had been the bridge that crossed over the Cumberland River. It had been five years since I’d last biked to the big bridge. I’d decided I would hike the five and a half mile round trip. I wanted to see if anything had changed at the river overlook. The prize for the effort would be the unimpeded view of the Cumberland.

As I turned my disappointed self around, a more grateful voice rose up and put in her two cents worth. “All for nothing? Seriously? The crystalline blue sky overhead is nothing? The burst of orange and purple flowers that caught your eye in the sea of green were nothing? The deliciously cool breeze on your sun soaked back was nothing? The scarlet cardinals that flew across your path were nothing? The entire two and a half miles has been a veritable feast for the senses. Nothing! Indeed!”

I’d been put in my place and I knew it. 

While I walked back towards the park entrance and my waiting car, I was more keenly aware of the wealth of sensory stimulation the greenway offered: the smell of newly replaced cedar boards on bridge #4, the happy chatter of a father and daughter as they biked past me, the sound of the riverboat paddles churning the river water, roosters crowing from far away across the Cumberland, bikers in brightly colored shirts and helmets, and young couples in love, holding hands, wrapped in the golden light of the afternoon. I feasted on it.

A Few of the Beauties Along the Way

The voice that called me into gratitude for the gifts along the way was the voice of wisdom. She understood that the destination was not the prize. It was the target. She understood that when we make the destination the prize, we are on a sure path to disappointment, disillusionment, or despair. The reality is we do not always hit the target.

We have great expectations for the love of our lives, the home of our dreams, the stellar career, the fame and/or the fortune–just to name a few. Yet, when we arrive, we are often met with a barrier as big as the chain link fence across bridge 5. The marriage has been hard work or the love has died. The dream home maintenance is never ending. The promotion turned into a lot more work for only a little more pay. The fame — it wasn’t enough. The fortune — it is never enough. 

What if we were to listen to the voice of wisdom and embrace each moment along the way as the prize. What if we were to stop chasing the impossible dream and start relishing the gifts that are present? What if we chose to find satisfaction in the journey, rather than expect the satisfaction to come as the finale?

Pedestrian Bridge Over the Cumberland

I went back to the greenway the next day. There is much to be said about gratitude along the way, but there are valuable destinations to travel toward in life, and though insignificant in the grand scope of things, for me, returning to the big bridge was a valuable destination. I was determined to use side streets as a detour for the big bridge. Six and six-tenths miles or 17,608 steps later I was back in my car, exhausted, and victorious. Had I been a bit more adventurous the day before, I would have found the detour the park had created. I’m sure there is a lesson on perseverance to be found in my return!

Earlier this year I enrolled in a Tai Chi class at Vanderbilt’s Osher Center of Integrated Medicine. I’d had no experience with Tai Chi. I had, however, seen the physical art portrayed on the silver screen. I thought it was beautiful. Each movement flowed into the next without pause, the bodies synchronized and in constant motion. I’d also read that Tai Chi is a gentle way to combat stress, improve mood, increase aerobic capacity, increase flexibility, balance, and muscle strength, and manage or improve joint pain.

Genetically, I have a high probability of developing arthritis as the years progress. I have the frame and the constitution of a great aunt who spent a good part of her later years confined to her rocking chair and bed. My mother’s activity is greatly limited due to the pain of arthritis. I would rather not follow in their footsteps.

When I discovered the Osher Center offered Tai Chi classes, I was definitely in. So, there I was in one of the early sessions, trying to follow the instructor’s lead when she suddenly stopped all movement for a teaching moment.  I cannot remember most of what she said because I got stuck on one sentence: “You don’t always have to be strong.” She continued to explain. When we refuse to recognize our limits, we invite injury. She emphasized that it is not just okay, it is preferable that we respect our physical limits. She then invited us to sit or make adjustments to the movements as needed.

I understood the intent of her words, but they traveled into my heart as something more pertinent to me. Unlike many of my classmates, I was not there based on a doctor’s recommendation. I self selected the class as preventative care. In the context of the class, I was not pushing my body beyond its capabilities. I had, however, recently been powering up against fragile emotions. When her simple statement of permission caused tears to well up unexpectedly, I knew it was time to “sit down” emotionally.

In her Mission.org post titled “What to Do When You are Feeling Fragile and Broken,” Jennifer Underwood describes this sitting down as “walking on eggshells around yourself” Quite simply put, it is choosing really good self care. How this is acted out will vary with each individual, but the goal is the same — to return to homeostasis emotionally.

Incidentally, it seems I was in the right place for sitting down emotionally. It is suggested that the “active relaxation and relaxed action of Tai Chi slowly dissolve and release emotional issues within.” If this is true, Tai Chi is giving me an unexpected gift, an extra tool in my tool belt for self care.

Tai Chi may not be for everyone, but everyone needs to sit down from time to time. We all need to pause and take a moment, an hour, a day. — we don’t always have to be strong.

Have you had your dose of self care today?

My husband and I are building a small house on a bit of acreage north of Nashville, TN. Ten years ago, this land was a jungle of oaks, pines, cedars, and lots of briars and kudzu. My dad came in with an eye for beauty and his tractor, a high end commercial lawn maintenance machine, and has tamed the jungle into patches of light filtered woods and open meadows. Dad is a true land artist.

With Dad’s increase in years and decrease in energy, his distance due to my parents’ permanent residence hundreds of miles away, and the transfer of half the land ownership into our possession, much of the job of maintaining his masterpiece has fallen on us. Fortunately for us, his tractor has been left in the shed for our use. Unfortunately for us, we know nothing about maintaining this tractor. In as much, when the mower deck belt broke last weekend after only three rounds with the tractor, we began a crash course in mower maintenance.

Because there are no dealers in the greater Nashville area, and it is a unique lawn maintenance product, we felt a bit like we were up a creek without a paddle. So started our journey, a journey that resulted in a day of trial and error, five days of waiting for the specialized belt that was sent from the company, a day of rain, and four hours of infuriating experimentation and guidance via phone from Dad.

There was one crucial moment when all possibility of installing that belt could have been lost. It was the moment when I got angry—not angry at Dad. I was angry at the machine and I was angry that the instructions made absolutely no sense to me; they seemed mechanically impossible. Then, I realized something very important. We needed to get our terminology right.

Dad was giving the correct guidance. I was interpreting the words correctly, but there was a problem. We were working from the tractor side of the deck and therefore had established left and right accordingly. We had that established, but we were mis-communicating on the terms front and back. When he said front, I understood it to be moving from front to back from the side we were working on, the way you would enter a front door and go out the back. However, his front and back were from the opposite side — the front of the mowing deck, not the tractor side. Once we discovered the breakdown in communication, it was a matter of minutes until the job was done.  

Now, the belt is on, the mower is cutting the tall grass, and the work of protecting Dad’s masterpiece from reverting back into jungle has just begun. I do not doubt for a minute that this is just a first in many lessons in regards to maintaining this tractor. Hopefully we learned a valuable lesson. Clearly establish each directional term as it is presented.

As I was thinking about this first lesson in mower maintenance, it occurred to me that our lives are a constant barrage of opportunities to get the communication right. Marriages disintegrate and fall apart because the partners are not speaking the same language. Young children are wounded in their formative years by parents whose greatest desire is to love and protect, but sometimes words and actions or misinterpreted. Teens/young adults and parents alike are wounded as the individualization process takes place and new worlds and old ways collide.

These are examples limited to the family. There are countless examples that could be cited — in work and worship, in communities and country, and in international affairs. Paying attention to our communication and getting it right is paramount to positive outcomes.

Proverbs, a book within the collection of books known as the Holy Bible, is full of wise one liners. One such nugget of wisdom is found in chapter 18, verse 13.

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

English Standard Version

A modern rewrite of the same is: “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” 

How much time would have been saved? How much frustration eliminated, if we had actively listened to Dad, and Dad had actively listened to us? In the case of our mower repair the cost was minimal — a few hours of time and a measure of frustration. When we do not listen to really hear in our marriages, our families, our work places, and beyond, the cost can be devastating. Whether the cost is minimal or great, it is truly a shame.

I wonder. What kind of world would we live in if we all learned to actively listen. I hope lesson one in mower maintenance is a lesson that has far reaching effects in my life. I hope that I will listen more carefully when listening really counts.

My Dad and Mom on his tractor.
They must be doing some active listening to still be together after 65 years.

I also hope my story sparks an interest in you to have your hearing checked. For a bit of help getting started, check out these best books lists.

Note: These are suggestions, not recommendations. I am definitely going to check out some of these titles, but I have no experience with any of them.

During a recent conversation with someone I care deeply for, I was confronted with my inability to make all things right in the world. I’d initiated the conversation because I was working on a project that required a bit of assistance from my friend. He was not late in getting his response to me. I was simply trying to push the project along, and I’d sent out a quick text in the hope of receiving his input sooner rather than later. 

The response was apologetic. The initial project request had come in at a bad time for him. In his vulnerably honest reply to my follow up text, he wrote, “I’m sorry. I was gonna do it. I’ve been feeling pretty ground down lately . . . in most every way one can be ground down.”

Almost immediately after that text came another — a photo of a break room refrigerator message. Below the photo, he added, “I didn’t write it, but it encapsulates my feelings right about now.”

All Work, No Play Equals Frustration

The photo above is a cropped version of the original photo. The original was an entire page of this one liner. Sometimes the words were misspelled, sometimes letters and words were scrambled, and at the end, the words were typed, over and over again, in all capitals. The words did not change, but the tone went from matter-of-fact to stress induced spelling errors, then frustration, and finally to anger. 

The back story is that this young man is caught in the injustice of extreme pay disparencies. A few at the very top in his industry are earning solid six figure incomes while he and his contemporaries are struggling to get by, picking up 2nd and 3rd jobs to make ends meet. These lower- middle of the totem pole workers embrace the why of their work — educating young minds for a better future — while they struggle with their own realities. They are over worked, underpaid, and losing hope for their own future. 

I lay in bed that evening thinking about my friend and longing to have the power to make all things right in his world. The truth was, I could do very little. I could remind him that there are others even lower on the totem pole of annual earnings. Little consolation that would be. I could send him a small cash gift (working in the same industry has not made my husband and I wealthy), but that would be a bandaid on a gaping wound. The best I could do was what I’d already begun to do — take his part of a project I’d initiated off his to-do list and hold on to hope for a better future at a time when his hope is wearing thin.

How do I hold on to hope for my friend?

I know that life has an ebb and flow. The picture may seem bleak now, but things do change. There is certainty in this.  Several weeks ago I wrote a piece titled “Lily’s Wedding Dress”. Lily and other survivors of the German concentration camps believed there would be an end to the war. They believed in the possibility of new lives beyond their losses. They found hope in the certainty of change. 

There is also hope in community. When we share the tough times with others the load seems lighter. We recognize that we are not alone. Community does not take the source of unhappiness away, but it does put it into a bearable context. Lily and Ludwig had been victim’s of pure hatred, but the unjust and cruel treatment they’d suffered and their resulting circumstance would not define their future. In the context of community, they created a wedding out of next to nothing. They determined to build a life together and raise a family. Their wedding set off a chain reaction of weddings. With each new marriage celebration, hope was ignited, and the hatred that had stolen so much lost its power over them.

There is one thing I could possibly do for my friend.

When the time is right, when I know I am not attemping to fix things for him as a salve for my feelings of helplessness, and if he asked for my help, I could remind him that he is living and working as an advocate for change—in his own life and in the world. He is bound to get tired and discouraged. A pay raise would make his life easier, but it wouldn’t erase all of the challenges world changers face. Then I would ask him to describe to me what he does to sustain energy and optimism. After his description, I would ask, “When was the last time you gave yourself permission to do these things?” In my experience, when I am succumbing physically, emotionally, and spiritually to the wear and tear of this complicated life, invariably, I have slacked off on self care — the activities and practices that heal and rejuvenate me.

I can not make all things right in my own little corner of the world. How could I possibly make all things right in my friend’s corner? I can’t, but I can believe for him that better days will come, I can walk beside him and hold him tight in community, and, if he asks for my help, I can encourage him to inventory his present level of self-care for the purpose of making necessary adjustments.

All work and no play does make Jack a dull, discouraged, defeated, depressed boy. Remembering that change is inevitable, recognizing that he is not alone, and being intentional about self-care can restore his shine.

It can restore your shine and mine as well when we are becoming work weary.

Lily’s Wedding Dress

I recently listened to the audio recording of Cokie and Steve Roberts’ book From This Day Forward. It is half memoir and half history lesson. The chapters alternate between their story and various stories of marriage in America — from Colonial times to present day. There are many interesting stories, both theirs and those of others, shared in the book; however, one story touched me more deeply than all the others.

The story was titled The White Wedding Dress. It is the story of a woman named Lily Friedman. At the time of the book’s printing, she was 75 years old and still working in her tiny jewelry shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Lily was born and raised in a small Czech village. It had been her families’ home village for many generations. Life had been good for this small Jewish village. However, the occupation of Germany’s Hungarian allies in 1939 changed everything. Lily was quoted by the Roberts’ as saying the occupation “made our lives miserable.” 

1n 1944, Lily and her family were put on a train for Auschwitz. At the camp, Lily’s father and brothers were separated and she never saw them again. She, her two younger sisters, and a cousin were put on work detail. Lily believes the girls survived for one reason — the Nazi’s needed workers. The girls were strong and healthy.

In January 1945, due to Russian advancement, the Germans retreated, taking their workers with them. It was a cold, hard winter walk to the new camp. Most of the survivors were half dead by the time they’d arrived at their destination. When relief came on April 15, in the form of British liberators, the girls were so sick they could not walk. After receiving emergency medical care and enough food to regain their strength, Lily and the other survivors were transported to a displaced person’s camp. It was here, among other survivors, that Lily fell in love.

She and her beau, Ludwig, wanted to get married, but pulling off a wedding in a displaced person’s camp with little to no resources seemed impossible to Lily. Ludwig was more optimistic. He said that Lily would have the wedding she wanted, and he kept his word, right down to a white wedding dress. Ludwig purchased a white German parachute from an English supply officer he’d befriended. Lily took the parachute to a friend who was an accomplished seamstress. The result was a gown that stood up to this young girl’s dreams.

Lily and Ludwig’s wedding became the catalyst for more weddings. The dress was first passed on to Lily’s sister, then it began to make the rounds. Lily stopped counting the brides for which the dress was altered after the 18th wedding. The Roberts’ quote Lily as saying, “Boys and girls started to date, to go out and get married and live again and not think about what happened to us. Because if you thought about it, you couldn’t go on with life.”

To Lily, the dress was symbolic of a new beginning for the survivors. Hitler didn’t beat them. They built Jewish homes, and they raised their families.
Four generations later, where is the white wedding dress? One of Lily’s nieces told a curator at the Holocaust museum in Washington about the dress. It is now a part of an exhibit detailing the history of the displaced persons camps in postwar Europe. Lily said, “This was our most important thing. To tell the story that happened, so that it shouldn’t happen again.”

Lily’s Wedding Dress; photo found at: https://collections.ushmm.org

The white wedding dress is a story of hope. It demonstrates that when we choose hope, even under difficult and unjust circumstances, there will be a ripple effect. A first wave is inspired to move forward in hope with us. This inspires a second wave of hope. One can never guess how many waves will ripple out from one act of hope? In the case of Lily’s wedding dress, four generations later, it is still inspiring others.

What act of hope can you choose today?

A Worst – Best Birthday

Sometime ago I was introduced to the Enneagram. The Enneagram Institute website describes the Enneagram as a personality profiling system “based on a modern synthesis of a number of ancient wisdom traditions.” The Narrative Enneagram website describes it as “a powerful tool for personal and collective transformation. Stemming from the Greek words ennea (nine) and grammos (a written symbol), the nine-pointed Enneagram symbol represents nine distinct strategies for relating to the self, others and the world.” 

There are 9 numbers (profiles); each is described as a range of healthy, average, and unhealthy ways of relating. Through The Road Back to You, a podcast I’ve been following, I have learned that we can fluctuate in this range on any given day and through out our lifetime.

On recommendation, I took the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI® — a tool for determining your number. The questionnaire indicated that I am a FOUR. Since then I have tried several other diagnostics with less clear results.

My intent in sharing the little I know about the Enneagram is not to whet your appetite for more, though I wouldn’t discourage it. I believe the more we understand about ourselves and others, the more compassionately we can live in this world. Rather, my goal is to target in on one particular bit of best advice I came across as a result of my journey into the Enneagram. I believe it is great advice for us all. The advice? Get a hold of your powerful emotions and you will live your best life.

Get ahold of your powerful emotions and you will live your best life. 

–unknown

Emotions can hijack anyone’s day, so I took the thirteen words to heart and fixed them firmly in my memory as a warning. Now, when my emotions are about to strong arm my sensibilities, I recite the advice as a mantra. Then I ask a question, “Do you really want this emotion to control your response to what is happening in the moment?”

Most of the time this little exercise is all I need to calm the storm. However, there are days I forget. There are days that I fall back into the trap of allowing my emotions to control me rather than me manage them.

My most recent birthday was one of those days. I woke up out of sorts — a highly stressful evening prior, several disconcerting dreams in the night, and a few life changes that have left me feeling disconnected came together into a perfect storm. I felt an immediate and powerful rush of loneliness. Unfortunately, I did not hear the warning bell.

“Birthdays are supposed to be happy,” I told myself, ” I cannot be lonely and sad.” I went to battle with the emotion. Do you know what happens when you battle with emotion? The emotion fights back. It gets physical. The body tenses up, blood pressure rises, the stomach churns. In my case, there are tears — lots of them.

All this was taking place when a text from our son, who always remembers my birthday, contained no birthday greeting. I felt forgotten. I went from low grade loneliness to total abandonment in 1 second flat!

“This will not do! I am stronger than this ridiculous spiral,” I reasoned. So, in an effort to fend off the emotion, I made an adjustment to my day. I planned an art day at the Frist Art Museum with my private homeschool student. We toured the galleries, ate lunch, and hung out at the Martin Artquest—a hands on art experience for the young and young at heart. We stamped, cut, pasted, drew, designed, made animations, and we enjoyed every minute of it. Yet, later, when I settled in at home, the unrest of the morning flooded back over me. A new wave of sadness threatened.

The intense emotion which I had tried to put behind lock and key was determined to break out. The more I fought it, the more it fought back. It was a knock down, drag out fight, and I was losing. To make matters worse, every wish for a happy birthday was like iodine in an open wound—the application stung. It was not turning out to be a happy day!

The thing was, my birthday had the makings of a wonderful day. I had the flexibility of schedule for the unplanned museum adventure. I received beautiful cards, loving texts, and wonderful greetings on social media. My husband brought home yellow roses in the late afternoon and was ready to whisk me off to the restaurant of my choice. Yet I was unable to revel in all the love. I’d developed a killer headache from the emotional battle. In the evening, I ignored my phone; I was too afraid I would burst into tears if I answered calls. As a result, I not only missed phone calls from our sons, I also robbed our granddaughter of FaceTime with Nana. My son told me the next day she had been very excited about wishing me a happy birthday.

This news was fuel for two subsequent emotions: embarrassment and shame. Fortunately hindsight is a great teacher. I’d been reminded of something valuable the day before. Fighting one’s emotion is not getting a hold of it. It is dishonoring and unkind.

Our emotions come from deep within. They are a God given gift, a thermometer of sorts. They deserve to be respected. When we listen to them, we are able to manage them, I knew the embarrassment and shame originated from the previous days’ failure, so I reminded myself that failure is also a wonderful teacher. I told myself that I am stronger than one bad birthday, strong enough, in fact, to make something good from it. This is the good — I offer my story to encourage and to teach.

A Better Way

A great first question when a strong emotion hits is, “What is this emotion trying to tell me?” There are many ways to invite answers. My favorites are:

  • journaling
  • going for a walk
  • listening to calming music
  • creativity / artistic expression

Sometimes I find that calling a trusted friend can be helpful. Verbalizing the emotion in a safe place erases much of its power. Additionally, a good friend may be able to hear negative self talk or thoughts that are attached to the emotion. They can provide valuable feedback and alter my perspective.

It is also important to remind oneself of the following.

  • We are not our emotions.
  • Our emotions are not our reality. They are simply a response to our reality — a response that can be altered if we dig below the surface and listen to their voice.

In hindsight, this worst birthday has become, in a strange sort of way, a best birthday. The day was not the happiest day of my life, but I can chalk it up as a victory. It is said that practice makes perfect. This worst-best birthday was valuable practice. I’m more prepared for the next time strong emotions threaten to steal a happy birthday — or any other happy day, for that matter. Additionally, I intend to approach every subsequent birthday prepared. I have already scheduled an emotional inventory on my calendar for the week before my next birthday. If there are signs of distress, I will plan accordingly.

How about you? How would this best advice benefit you? Consider printing the above photo or get creative. Make a graphic reminder of your own. Then, post it in a prominent place until you internalize it.

We can live our best lives!