Gifts of Life

Watching a child open birthday presents is such a joy. They are “beside-themselves” excited. As they rip the bright wrapping paper away from the first gift, they quickly glance at the package inside. Just as quickly, they toss the revealed gift aside, reaching anxiously for the next present. “Wait,” you say. “Look what you were given. See how shiny it is? Hold it; isn’t it wonderful? Listen to the beautiful music it makes.” But your child is distracted by the better possibilities hidden within the other boxes wrapped in shiny, colorful paper.

Life is full of gifts that fall in continuous grace upon us. Our lives are lavished with blessings, yet we are just as children. Often as quickly as a gift is upon us, we are reaching anxiously for the next opportunity lest it pass us by and we miss out on something better. How many precious moments have slipped through our fingers because we did not take the time to relish them? How many gifts have rained down upon us, while we paid them no mind, busy stretching forward to what is next?

We can get caught up in the undertow of our experiences. Drifting along, our lives can become a fast-moving stream. For many of us, this is not merely a stream, but a white-water river churning and barreling over jagged rocks. You try to swim harder to keep your head afloat, not really steering your way, but merely being pulled along an uncontrollable, sometimes treacherous flow. You reassure yourself that at least you are moving forward. Others are in the river, too. They seem to be doing well, so this must be the way to keep moving ahead. As you keep working harder, you struggle and lose a little bit of footing. You take on more projects to be better than the next person; that should help gain more control. Your footing is now non-existent. The river feels foreign. You don’t feel in control, and you really don’t even know if you are succeeding at what you are trying to accomplish. But you are “accomplishing;” that is for sure. If achieving is success, then you should be happy and fulfilled. Are you? If you are, then you are deeply blessed. Keep swimming; you have found your purpose. If you are not, then perhaps you need to find a way to re-center yourself.

Getting swept up in the river of your life and career may lead to unhappiness if you don’t take time to enjoy the journey. What a travesty to be traveling along such a lovely landscape and not take the time to enjoy the gift of it all.  Would your life or career suffer if you took the time to occasionally swim to the shoreline for a moment? Sit on the bank and listen to the birds. Touch the prickly grass under your fingertips. Breathe in the smell of the cool air. Look above you at the tree canopy with the sunlight dancing through the leaves. How your heart would dance. Oh, how your soul would sing. Think of the memories you could make, fully enjoying the gifts of this life. What memories are you creating with those around you? Will their memories be of how hard you worked within the river of life, or of those abounding moments when you stopped and enjoyed the “gifts” along the way?

Contrary to what you might think, taking time to be still and present won’t cause you to miss anything important. The rushing river of your career is still there, waiting for your next twist and turn. The flow of life can wait for you to unwrap the moment and enjoy the blessings along the stream. Opportunities will not cease to come your way just because you take the time to enjoy the journey. Your purpose will be fulfilled. Trust in yourself. You have come this far. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you knew everything would work out well? The common quote is “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Well, if you couldn’t fail (and I know you, you won’t), you would be free to take time and swim to the shore occasionally. When you find stillness and presence in the current moment, you can look-see-touch-smell every aspect of the gifts around you. Often this will clear your mind and remind you of your “why” for this journey in the first place. When you take the time to enjoy the journey and focus on your “why,” you can make clearer decisions when you are in the throes of the river of life.

Stop and take time to be still and enjoy your gifts and blessings. You don’t always have to be working harder to get there first, to be the best, to do more, to reach anxiously for the next opportunity. Don’t get to the waterfall of your life and look back to see the beauty of the river bank that passed you by. Wouldn’t it be better to float away with a smile on your face remembering all of the deep, amazing blessings you fully enjoyed, and yell, “WOW, what a ride!”

Our Missteps Make for a Unique and Glorious Dance

“I’m supposed to be stronger than this. I should be able to move beyond this. I am such a failure at everything; this is another prime example.” Oh, that little voice in my head; how loud it can get. It seems like others are so much stronger than I am. It seems like things go so easily for others while I crawl through the muck and struggle to just keep my head up. What if someone sees just how hard I’m struggling? What if they see who I really am; what will they think? They will see that I am a failure and so very unworthy.

You may have heard this voice as well. We all have that voice; that “ego” that is constantly comparing ourselves with those around us. Comparing ourselves with who it conceives we “should” be, who we’re “supposed” to be. In the light of that comparison, we usually fail. Oh, there are times when we shine, but we generally do not hold onto those memories for very long. They don’t carry much weight. Those instances can easily be written off as a “fluke,” just a lucky break. They don’t seem to carry near as much weight as those hard, heavy, demeaning thoughts.

What would you say to a friend that voices these thoughts to you? Likely you would comfort them. You would try to lift them up and help them see how valuable they truly are. Why is it that we can so easily nurture others, but treat our fragile selves so poorly?

For years that negative, comparative ego has been my constant companion. Even in those moments of my proudest achievements, I felt that the glory shouldn’t be given to me. Not me; I am so unworthy. It could have been better. I berated myself at every turn. That was my mantra: I am less-than; I am “not enough.”

You know where this left me in life? Without joy. Without happiness. Without any self-worth or self-love. Feeling unsatisfied with myself, with my career, with my life. I felt empty when it came to loving others (I am not enough for them. They deserve better.). I was not accepting of myself. In self-judgement there cannot be acceptance.

If you haven’t read Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, you should add it to your reading list. In it she reveals this negative “ego” voice and smashes it with a hammer!! After reading that book, I now hesitate when I find myself being overly self-critical. Any thoughts of “I should” or “I’m supposed to…” are quickly snuffed out. We often self-define a box that we are supposed to fit in based on what we think society expects. And if we somehow slip out of that box, we shudder in fear of non-acceptance.

How boring. What a shame for the world. This limits the uniqueness that is “you.” This limits the experiences you can have that fulfill your passion and joy. In blocking your full expression of self, you diminish the world. Those around you suffer. You suffer. Once you live in sync with your true essence—your true self—life changes. If you can be brave enough to be your true self, life will begin to flow with you and to you. You will realize that there is no worthy and unworthy; there is only “you,” and you are perfect. Every silly mistake, even your failures, are merely an experience, a time to grow and learn. And your learning path is different from others. It doesn’t make your journey “less-than” or “more-than.” It just IS. It is YOUR glorious path.

So what if the clothes don’t get folded today? So what if you forget to brush the kids’ teeth? So what if you wear two different socks to work? Give yourself a break. And guess what, it doesn’t matter what others think. You can’t control them. It matters mostly what YOU think. In regards to that, you are in total control. Love yourself; in your great achievements and in your failures. Laugh at yourself. When you stumble, nurture yourself. You deserve it, and the world around you will benefit too. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You are doing your best, and your best is good enough. Try to appreciate and love yourself just as you are right now. You are doing a perfect job at being “you.” As a matter of fact, no one can be a better “you” than you can. And you are doing it perfectly.

Take a Break from “Doing” and Start “Being”

Our lives are so full. We set them up that way. We love it. The more we can achieve, the better we feel about ourselves. Our houses should be their cleanest. Our kids should be involved in activities (we don’t want them to be seen as lazy). And what about building a career? You should have high ambitions and drive hard every day to take steps forward to be the Best_____ (fill in the blank). If you are not seen as trying to climb the ladder then you are not trying hard enough. We kill ourselves to impress those around us by how much we accomplish. For some powerful reason, we are still trying to make someone proud of us; our parents, our friends, our spouses, our children.

Achievement is innate in all of us. From the time we are born, we are trying to gain our parents’ approval. When we enter school, it is our teachers and fellow classmates that we want to impress. Competition is real; on the playground, during those exams, trying to get into college. Life tends to train us to continually look for a way to gain an edge on those around us. Work harder. Do more. Stand out.

Staying busy, having more on your checklist than you can ever accomplish in one day, is empowering, right? Is that what makes you who you are? Is that what defines you; what you “do?” Your day-in and day-out rat race, running yourself ragged, is that what defines you? Perhaps. If so, then you don’t stand out at all. Anyone can make a list of the things that you do each day and do them. This doesn’t make you unique. This doesn’t truly define what lies deep within you; your “youness.”

Consider looking at your life through this lens; bear with me. If you died today, what would people say about you? Yep, we’re going there. What would people say about you in the neighborhood, at work, at your funeral? I’ll tell you what they would say about me before I changed my focus. If I had died a year ago, people would have said, “Wow, so sad to hear about Heather. She worked her butt off. She worked so hard every day from 7 am to almost 7 pm. And I think she was kind of nice.” I was so defined by the things I was “doing.” I thought that the more things I achieved, the more purposes I served, the more important and viable I would become. The result of all of this “achieving” would lead to more happiness, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong.

I was only impacting processes, not people. Not the way I wanted to have an impact. There was more in me than what I could “do.” There was more that defined me than what I could accomplish by being busy. And to be honest with you, I wasn’t happy, not truly happy. I was feeling spent. No matter how much I achieved, I still felt unsatisfied with my progress and empty inside.

I don’t want to be remembered by how busy I am. I want to be remembered for deeper reasons. I want my legacy to be centered around how deeply I cared for people, by how much I made them smile, by the fun crazy adventures that I journeyed through. I want to genuinely make a meaningful impact on people around me. I want to nurture my relationships, including my relationship with myself.

I decided to stop “Doing” so many things and started “Being” more.

Being more still

Being more thoughtful and unrushed

Being more aware of everything around me

Being more aware of my surroundings at this moment

Being more aware of the energy and needs of those around me

Being more aware of myself and my personal goals and desires

Soon I realized things I hadn’t before. I began to connect more deeply with those most important to me. I noticed more clearly the deep needs of those around me, and I took a long moment to sit with them (for more than one minute) and talk with them more about themselves. I took a break from my craziness to just breathe, look out the window, go for a walk, give myself time to contemplate who I really am and what I truly want for my life.

It was a challenge. The call of responsibility is strong. Society tells you that if you aren’t “Doing” than you are lazy. I tell you whole-heartedly, this is a myth. You deserve to take time to be still. You deserve to take time to think and be creative. Let your mind wander. It can’t wander if you are constantly tasking it with activity. Creativity, self-awareness, hearing the voice of your true calling can only occur if you stop engaging your mind in tasks. Give your mind and yourself some space to stretch. It is only then that you truly achieve what life has set for you. Hear that? What Life” has set for you. Not the world. The world is like a rushing river.  It will pull you along its own agenda unless you take control of your time and find the purpose that God has specifically designed for you. Do you feel like you are being carried along by the world? Do you feel like you want more control over where you are going? Do you feel that you aren’t where you think you need to be? Perhaps you are not yet living your special, unique purpose. God is constantly reminding you of your true calling. You can’t hear his purpose for you unless you get away from the drone of “Doing” and set yourself to more “Being.”

Of course, life will continue to have responsibilities you need to accomplish, but I challenge you to find a small smidgen of time every day to devote to stillness, to breathing in the moment, to relaxing your mind. Give yourself permission to just “Be;” you deserve it. During these special moments, don’t have expectations for yourself, no rules or boxes to stay in. What you find will be inspiring. You just might decide to nourish that hidden passion. Paint more, buy a kayak, start a Mom’s group, hit the gym and get those biceps you’ve always dreamed of, and spend more time with those who mean the most to you.

 

Wow, the memories you will make, and the joy you will find in your life. Your daily tasks will suddenly seem lighter because your cup will be full. Even though you will be taking valuable time away from your “Doing,” you will actually feel more accomplished. You will feel more fulfilled in your life, and thus every step will be lighter for you. Your days will have purpose; a purpose that is in line with your own personal journey and desires.

My hope for you: Give yourself time to experience your uniqueness. Give yourself permission to relax, to let your mind wander, to just “BE.” Creative and amazing things will happen. You just might find more happiness, more fulfillment in your life. And those around you will celebrate as you find your true passion. You can’t live your passion without a smile on your face, and a smile brightens so many of those around you. What will your legacy be?

You Are Enough!

We all strive to be our best. We try to eat right.  We try to be active. We try to take time for ourselves. All while also trying to be our best for those we serve; our work teams, our boyfriend/girlfriend, our spouse, our children, our parents, our friends, our pets. It can be overwhelming. We can often put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. We set expectations that are almost impossible to achieve.  We can begin to believe that we will never be able to earn our “halo.”

Listen to me: You don’t earn your halo.  You have always had one, and believe it or not, it is still there; bright and shiny.  You are perfect just as you are, just as God created you.  You are enough!  Let me say that again.  You are enough!!  Within you is all of the “specialness” that is YOU.  The world has been waiting for you to come along and share yourself with us.  And everything that you are IS ENOUGH! You were “fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful” (Psalm 139:14).

You may say to me, “but I don’t necessarily like who I am right now; I know I can be better.”  Awesome!!  You have goals; you want to be better than yesterday.  You may not be able to achieve all that you want at this moment, but you are trying, and that is what is most important.  The great news is that today is a new day, and with each day we get to try again.  And be honest with yourself; each day is full of successes.  Did you wake up today?  Did you smile at someone today? Did you pack your kids lunch? Did you let someone in front of you in traffic? Did you take the stairs today? How far did you walk from the car to the office?  Are there veggies in your lunch today? Do you have a bottle of water with you right now?  Look at that; you are doing great!  You should celebrate and take a few extra minutes to sit quietly and be thankful for all that you are and all that you were able to achieve today.  You ROCK! Tomorrow you are going to start there and achieve a little bit more.  You got this!

I implore you to start today with a deep breath and a smile; don’t just jump out of bed and hit the ground running.  Center yourself first.  Even a sprinter before a race, will breathe deeply, stretch a little, and mentally visualize running and winning the race.  You deserve the same as you start your journey today.  You are so very strong.  You are brilliantly smart in all things “you.”  No one completes all the wonderful things that you will today like you will.  Actually no one could be a better you, than “you.”  That is your stabilizing constant success; being you.

Life may seem like it is more than you can handle or want to handle.  It may seem overwhelming.  Most of us have more on our plate than we will be able to complete today.  Society seems to place great worth on how much you can achieve.  Society encourages us to believe that achieving more will make those around us happier with us or more accepted.  The bigger tragedy is that we may even internalize this concept over the years, and now believe within ourselves that we must achieve more in order to be proud of ourselves. I mean, look around you at all that everyone else is achieving; you don’t want to fall behind.  STOP IT!

You have lots of responsibilities today and guess what?  You will likely knock most of them out of the park.  Really, you will.  Think of all the things you will accomplish.  You are driven and motivated.  You will not let something slide.  You will do all you can to follow through on your commitments.  You may not be able to accomplish everything, but what you do, you will do to your best at the moment.  And like a small stone in a pond, your actions will slowly start to affect the world around you. The world needs you.  You have a purpose.  We all do.  Most of us are still trying to figure out what it is.  I believe that ultimately our purpose is to share ourselves with the world, our true selves.  Purpose is revealed in even the smallest act you make.  Maybe you don’t complete that project today.  Maybe you don’t finish that manuscript.  Maybe you lose that account that you have been working so hard to get.  But in the journey lies your purpose.

Don’t forget to reward yourself for the small things.  Merely waking up today, showing up today, being “you,” is exactly what the world needed.  And let me say for all of those that you touch today, THANK YOU!  We all appreciate what you do today.  We may not show it.  In fact, sometimes we are struggling in our own path and find it hard to show gratitude to others, but you know what?  Just you walking with us at that moment, helps us, even if we can’t find the energy to show you.

So take that breath, smile, stretch, visualize you running the race of today, and pat yourself on the back.  You will be able to walk your path today like only you can do.  You will rock this!