Friday’s Focus—Smile! It’s All Good

It’s been said that the devil is in the details but, sometimes, the devil can be too many details. Yesterday morning, I made 9 phone calls in one hour to talk with 4 people to work out a situation that came up regarding selling our home. It’s still being worked on, but out of much confusion some great points were brought to light and so something potentially negative, turned into something good after all.

Trying to keep it all together and remember who needs to know what for when had been foremost in my mind but yesterday morning’s blip completely threw me into a hamster on a wheel mode until finally, I wore myself out and exhausted my email with so many “reply’s” and “forward’s”.

Lines are constantly being drawn in the sand, wiped away, and drawn again. Sometimes it seems the changes are only 1 inch forward and all too often, seem 3 feet back. But I see now, how I can’t take it too seriously or think I can manage it all.

There it is again. Surrender. And Humor. And Release. And a big ol’ bag of teenage “Yeah, whatever.” I’ve written about surrendering a few times now, but it’s not something you learn once and you’re done. Well, maybe for some guru’s but for the average us, it’s a daily lesson.

The stress of control is not worth the angst. Yes, there are certainly some pretty huge events that draw our attention and demand everything from us, but in the day to day average goings on, the desperation we feel and the agitation that rubs us is really from our own fear and insecurities and our sometimes desperation to command them blindly.

I’ve also learned that by relaxing the need to control, we allow situations to take a breath and a chance to work kinks out by themselves. There’s a fine line between being on top and informed about goings on versus controlling them and where that line is, is different for all of us. To find where our own lines are is the healthiest and best thing we can do for ourselves and the situation(s) we’re in.

It’s simply impossible to control the world, even if the world is just you and your living room, but if the next time you find yourself stressing over the detail of one thing or another, smile, laugh even, throw your hands to the air and say, “It’s all good!” And then do it again tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow…..

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Whispers and Shouts

This is something I wrote and posted two years ago and I was reminded of it again in our house hunting. The original piece is about how everyone and everything has a story, whether it’s vocalized or not and houses carry stories too. Each house, each home carries the energy of its occupants. There’s so much you can tell at a glance, but it’s the empty ones….ah, those are the ones whose stories fire up the imagination of what was…and what could be again.

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We all have them.

Even if you say you don’t have a story, that’s still a story.

So tell me a story. Not just a story. Your story. Not just your story. Your truth.

We tell stories to each other to makes each other feel less alone, to feel less afraid. Some of us tell stories because we are proud and we want to share. We are all storytellers on some level—if not with our words, then with our actions or in our being. We are even storytellers by our silence.

Our stories tell us by the way we hold our head high (or low), and the laugh lines and crows feet that map our joys and sorrows. If there is Botox there instead, then I can still see your story in your eyes. Do you meet mine or would you rather gaze to the distance or to the floor?

There is a story in your hair—the length, the color, and whether it covers your face to further conceal your mask or do you wear it swept back daring the world to gaze at your features as you stare back?

Your chin tells me a story. Is it jutted out in defiance and pride or does it tremble in fear or sadness?

Your shoulders tell me a story. Are they rounded as if you try to hide your existence or are they rolled back, your chest and heart open and wide?

The jewelry you wear tells me stories. Do you shine and glitter like a thousand lights in a chandelier, or do you carry bells on your fingers and toes to dance to as you walk into a room?

I’m interested in the stories of your hands and the babies and lovers they held in sickness, health, passion, and love.

Your scars and tattoos even share. They tell me one story while your piercings scream another.

I’m interested in the stories in between your stories; the pauses and the sighs in between your words because they speak just as loudly and sometimes louder. Come closer and whisper to me your secret, whisper to me your story and I’ll tell you mine and then we’ll whisper them into the wind. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl or a man or a woman.

The young have stories called dreams and the old have stories they call memories. Let’s use our imaginations and listen to the stories of the trees and birds and the lions and monkeys and then we’ll tell them to the stars and the moon and the sun until we are one big story with a thousand different voices, a thousand different names, a thousand different experiences and yet, somehow, some way, all one.

So take off your mask and let your shadow step forward, because I can already see your story whether you tell me or not but I want to hear it come from you.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Signs, Signs, Everywhere Are Signs

Signs, signs, everywhere are signs….the clocks moved ahead, the flowers are budding, Easter candy has been on sale since February….all signs indicating that Spring is around the corner (at least after the next predicted snowfall). There are always signs around us, guiding us, informing us, playing with us. How often do you notice them?

If you’re on the road, notice license plates and slogans on trucks. Listening to the radio, notice if a song or a chorus resonates with you. When you’re watching TV, talking to people, or reading a book, become aware of any word, phrase, or idea that keeps popping up (“That’s the third time I’ve heard that today!”).

Make it a game! Sometimes the Universe uses what’s around us to reveal answers to a particular question or something that may be on your mind, while other times, what we see is just a fascinating reveal of simple patterns. One of my favorite authors, Robert Moss, talks about this regularly and it is the focus of his book Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life. He calls these reveals, sidewalk tarot. Be aware of your thoughts and aware of your surroundings as you go about your day and see if the Universe doesn’t have a word or two to offer you.

Last September, I wrote a post called “Don’t Stop Believing,” about keeping the faith and hope alive even when you can’t clearly see the path in front of you. What inspired me to write that piece was my going through a difficult time where it seemed that every area of my life—from job to health to family was being squeezed. You name it, and there was an issue or at least a concern with it.

During that time, the song of the same name, by the group Journey, kept popping up during some of the deepest experiences I’ve ever had in playing sidewalk tarot. I started to notice that moments when I’d get lost in thought of “How am I…?” “Where are we…?” Journey’s song, “Don’t Stop Believing” would come on the radio—sometimes from the beginning, sometimes the middle, and sometimes the tail end, but just enough of the notes for me to recognize the song. I heard it so often during these times of personal questions, I couldn’t help but notice it had long crossed the line from coincidence to message.

One particular afternoon I’ll never forget, my husband and I were people-watching from a bench in the center of the town we’ve been talking about moving to. We dreamed and schemed about how we can arrange things and make this our new home. At that time, there was no clear way that we could see it happening, so we kept pleading our cause to the Universe.

As we continued to sit and talk about the house we would have and what we would do once we moved there, a blue pick-up truck came into the local traffic queue and in the most perfectly-timed sidewalk tarot orchestration I’ve ever seen, the truck drove past us, and through it’s open windows we heard the undeniable voice of Steve Perry belt out those three words “Don’t Stop Believing.” That was it for me. Not only was it the appearance of that song, but what stunned us was of all the lyrics, it was those specific three words that we heard as the truck passed directly in front of us as if in answer to our questions. I didn’t know how but I knew  from that day things would work. Six months later,  we’re now in the process of moving to the town we’ve always talked about.

There were other moments  when those three specific words showed up for me, and now looking back, I can see that it was always during the times I needed to hear them most. Because I had become aware of the message, each time I heard them or read them, I was able to take a moment and just close my eyes and say ok. I wasn’t alone.

Signs can come from anywhere and everywhere, from an image in the clouds to a phrase in a commercial. Sometimes you’ll see the signs when you least expect it and other times when you’ve specifically asked for them.  I hope you use today’s Focus to go out and play and see what the Universe has to say to you today—Is it an answer? Is it a new opportunity? Is it a new pattern? Whatever it is, just Don’t Stop Believing!

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Hyacinths in Bloom

The sounds of the neighborhood waking up with its barking dogs and chirping birds and the ticking of the living room clock keep me company on this rainy morning as I write this. I noticed yesterday that the Hyacinths are starting to come up. They always reminded me of Spring, Easter, and my mom. They were one of her favorite flowers and I always brought her some for Easter. Seeing them start to bloom is bittersweet. It reminds me that it’s been nearly 3 months since she passed away. I don’t know where the time has gone and though I’ve been making peace with her passing there are still some days that are harder than others and I’ve found that a stranger’s condolences and a momentary kindness can still bring me to tears.

The medical bills are arriving and with each one, I’ve needed to make a phone call to verify submission to insurance or to get some clarity on the services charged but not explained. Conversions begin business as usual: name, date of birth, account number, relationship to patient; rote questions coming over the phone from a faceless office worker probably counting the days to Friday like I do.

To help explain why I’m calling about a bill 2 months overdue and that it’s not a shirking of responsibility on our part, I explain that it’s just been forwarded to me from the facilities and that my mom had passed away in December. Suddenly, the numb drone becomes a human being and with a soft intake of breath comes, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Please accept my condolences.” It’s a kind sentiment that’s appreciated and something that still makes me twitch when I hear it, but it’s the personal stories that follow are what brings the feelings of loss fresh all over again.

I can’t begin to say how much it annoys me to have to make these calls to follow-up with doctor offices and agencies, but by the end of the calls, my attitude has completely changed. What starts as a business as usual call ends up with me tearing up listening to sage advice and deep personal experiences that the other person has gone through with the loss of their mother or other loved one.

One woman, now in her late fifties, lost her mother when she was 14. She told me about how she still misses her and the memories they never got a chance to make. She shared with me what she’s learned over time and ended the call with a blessing. I honestly felt that God takes moments and people like this to make direct connections to remind me, all of us, that we are not alone.  

None of us will ever know what can come out of our experiences and how it can help others. There are certain levelers in life that will happen regardless of age, sex, and status, and this is where the human heart comes in if we let it. Those people didn’t have to share their personal stories, but they did, and I was completely changed from each, small conversation. I cried because it was suddenly one grief acknowledging another but I also smiled at the sincerity of the connection. It’s so easy to feel alone because of a death or an illness in the family. 

It’s also easy to feel alone when sometimes the day or recent events have just been difficult, challenging, and going in directions you never imagined. Connecting with a stranger or a friend by one small conversation, one sliver of a share of memory, or genuine good wishes can make the world of difference. It won’t solve our problems or be a miracle cure but when you share your heart, that’s a healing in of itself and a moment you will never forget or regret.

I hope today’s Focus inspires you to keep your eyes open and your heart open wider. You never know what today’s conversations could bring. The birds are still chirping but the rain has stopped. I just looked out the back window and a ray of sun is shining directly on the Hyacinth buds. I think I’m going to go out back and spend some time with the flowers and remember how much she loved them.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—There’s One on Every Corner

My father-in-law used to say, “Opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got them.” And they do. Whether it’s good or bad depends on what side of the opinion you’re on. Sometimes it’s neither but there’s still a comment that didn’t have to be made. I’ve let people’s opinions knock me off my course and hurt me. I believed what they said because I thought they knew better, had more experience = knowledge and I’m sorry now. It’s hard to stay true to your own compass at any age but especially when you’re a teenager or young adult.

One such person was a professor I had in college. I was an art major and he was not only my professor but also Chair of the Department. I knew his reputation early on, but he taught many of the classes I had to take and so there was no way around escaping his classes or attention.  Soon enough, he showed himself the tyrant that I was warned of. One afternoon, he went around the room critiquing each student’s assignment from the previous week. He stopped in front of mine and completely tore it apart telling me I had no idea what art was and I had no talent. This was the latest in a series of derogatory and humiliating criticisms I heard from him.

His comments of my work and  my abilities was particularly harsh, and I decided I was done. That was my last art class and I changed my major the next day. Reading that, you may feel I was weak to have done so, or just not passionate enough to stay with my art. Trust me, I thought the same things about myself then.

And so do the kids who are told they are stupid and can’t learn anything; the young adults that are told they’ll never make anything of themselves if they don’t have a job; the girl who’s told she’s not pretty enough until she loses weight; the boy who won’t grow up to be a “real” man because he doesn’t like sports.

I didn’t believe in myself enough to stick with it. It’s not about pride—it’s about believing that you can do something and if not now, then one day. This can be taught to us only so far by our peers but there’s also something within each one of us that needs to recognize it and own it. Sometimes we do, but it’s not until much later in our lives.

It’s never too late or too early to believe in yourself and what you can do. I bet there is something each one of us was told we couldn’t do or be, which changed the directions in our lives.

Every day, every hour, every conversation, every argument, every person you meet, every relationship you’re in and every situation that presents itself is an opportunity and a chance. Take it, run with it and believe in yourself.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—It’s in the Mail

As far back as I could remember, I’ve had a fascination with the mail. I loved getting letters and looking through catalogs. Even when I was too young to get anything addressed to me, I’d eagerly sift through the daily delivery. I don’t know what it is I found so exciting about getting mail. I think, on some level, mail represented everything that was out there and a whole world of who knows what kind of adventures. There was no Internet or texting when I was growing up so any big event and news always came through the mail or the phone. I even got a kick out of advertisement fliers!  And then the day came I discovered catalogs. Oh, I was in heaven.

One of my earliest catalog memories is lying on my stomach on the living room floor, propped up on my elbows with my knees bent, and my feet kicking each other in rhythmic slaps as I leisurely flipped through the Sears catalog, imaginary window shopping on the things I would buy for my house when I grew up. Nothing could beat that catalog except maybe the Christmas edition.

Sears catalogs eventually gave way to Speigel and Fingerhut. To this day, I look forward to going to the mailbox. My husband kids me saying he’s never seen anyone so excited to get bills. Trust me, I’m not, but I get excited about what’s in between the bills—or what used to be. These days it’s all advertisements. No one writes letters anymore. Do pen pals even exist? When I was in grammar school, I was a pen pal with a girl named Irina who lived in Europe and we exchanged letters for many years, eventually meeting on a trip she took to the United States. Eventually we lost touch but it was fun while it lasted.

I can’t remember the last time I got a letter—a personal letter. Even cards such as birthday cards have been relegated to e-cards or just posts on FB with birthday cake emoticons and texts highlighted with party hat icons. I think the only two kinds of correspondence that still prevail through our mail system are wedding invitations and sympathy cards, but neither of them have completely escaped the keyboard either. I think weddings and death are too sacred to completely go the way of electronic communication.

With cursive soon to be a lost form of writing, I find it sad to think that translates into a decline of letter writing as communication. I recently came across a packet of autographs and letters I received from authors whom I’d written letters to, telling them how much I enjoyed reading their latest book and it reminded me of how  fun it was to receive a letter that was sometimes nothing more than just “Hi, how are you? What’s new? Good to hear from you.”

I see stationary sets still being sold in bookstores and card shops but how many people really buy them anymore? I’m always tempted to buy a set just because it’s been so long since I had any kind of official stationary, but somehow I never get around to it.

As much as I love getting letters and things in the mail, I’m just as guilty by not sending out as much as I would like either. Yes, it’s definitely easier to send a text rather than going out to buy a card and then “damn, I thought I had a stamp,” so out again to the post office, and then finally getting ready to mail that card (which by now is a few days late), you stand there in front of the mailbox thinking how late it is and wondering if you should forget this card and go buy another one that says happy belated, or sorry I missed…. and start over. At least you have that stamp now.

Letter writing is fast becoming a lost art and finding those handwritten notes from some of my favorite authors reminded me of something I don’t want to forget or to lose to time or to the Internet.

Putting pen to paper is cathartic and studies have confirmed it. I hope today’s focus on the lost art of mail and letter writing might inspire you to pick up a pen and even a notebook paper and go write a letter. There’s someone out there who would love to hear from you.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Morning Lotus

Throughout history, the question has dogged beggars and philosophers alike—why are we here? What are we here to learn? What is the greatest thing that we can learn while we are on this Earth? In this body?

The answers depend upon what corner of the church we face and what God we ask them of. I am no philosopher nor do I propose to know the answer to one of Life’s greatest questions, and I don’t propose to know more than I’ve learned. Even then, I really know nothing. Not truly.

But then there came this.

One morning, sitting in stillness, the questions, the thoughts, the “what if”’s fell away and for the first time were replaced by a knowing and a feeling of undeniable truth. Surreal and yet sacred in its delivery, the questions and answers came without hesitation. The moment had been waiting and I was ready to finally listen.

What is the most important thing we can learn in our lifetime?

Compassion.

Without compassion, the love we feel for another will still have attachments and conditions.

Without compassion, the forgiveness our lips speak does not match the anger, hurt, and resentment still in our heart.

Without compassion, the understanding we have for the other person will still depend on their skin color and faith.

Without compassion, the peace that we fight for is nothing but murder and an excuse.

So how do we find compassion? Through suffering. Without personal suffering, there is no compassion. Suffering is more than having “bad” things happen to you. Suffering is going through a situation that is negative or unpleasant but it’s also the opportunity to take the situation from cries of “Why me?” to something that will forever deepen our understanding of others and our own reactions.

No one can know how they’ll feel or react in a situation unless they’ve been in it. Anything outside of that is just an opinion. To have compassion for anyone else means walking through your own fires first.

The importance of compassion is one of the key teachings in Buddhism. It is also one of the key teachings in learning to be fully human. No one is above suffering but we don’t need to perpetuate the feelings of suffering from what we are suffering from.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Valentine’s Day 365

Over the course of the past week, I kept hearing about “the holiday weekend.” What holiday weekend? I thought to myself every time. Presidents day? Well, yes on Monday….Superbowl’s over….Then I’d think of the date and remember, oh yeah. Valentine’s Day.

I never thought of Valentines’s Day as an actual holiday. It’s not like a day the country celebrates with fireworks or the banks close or there are school plays about it. To me, it was always just a day that meant flowers, chocolates, and a stuffed animal professing its love to me with big plastic eyes.

I have nothing against the day and have enjoyed my share of its tokens. It’s fun, yeah. Who doesn’t like the extra attention, and from a woman’s perspective, yes, it can be exciting but I just don’t think of it as the kind of (holi)day that we need 6 weeks of plan-ahead shopping for our sweethearts and lovers. I remember seeing cellophane hearts lining store shelves as early as January. Really?

Unless there is a jewelery box with a “K” on it, or dinner reservations that offer more of a choice than a 4 p.m. or 10 p.m. seating (in other words, things that need a little bit of planning), for more of us than we would like to admit, our tokens of affection will usually end up from a last minute trip to Walgreens or CVS for that holy trinity of card, chocolates, and a stuffed animal.

Personally, I don’t want commercialism to dictate when or how I tell my husband I love him. We share that with each other all year long. Of course it’s nice to get flowers. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t, but if I had to choose between waking up to the coffee maker prepped and ready to go, with note taped on it and my husband’s handwritten “Good Morning! It’s almost ready” and a heart drawn underneath;or a clean kitchen after an attempt at playing Master Chef the night before; or getting a text in the middle of the day with a goofy emoticon and the message “Miss you, can’t wait to see you again” on any given day versus getting flowers and chocolates on that one day of the year, I don’t think it will take you too long to figure out which one I’d choose.

Valentines’s Day is nice and sweet but showing the love we share for each other—our sweethearts and spouses and significant others—shouldn’t be capped into that one day of the year. True love, really deep, passionate, throw you on the bed, make your heart sing, and add a bounce to your step kind of love is something you can’t help but share on more than just one calendar day and it would be because you want to, and not just because the commercials tell you to. It doesn’t take much to show how you feel, but boy, does it go a long way.

Enjoy whatever comes your way on February 14 and just keep in mind that showing someone you care for them and love them doesn’t begin or end on that date. Boxes of chocolates and flowers are available all year 🙂

#takingitdeeper

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