Ignite Hope

Every day, I drive by a snowman on my way to work, and every day, it appears a bit more despondent than it did the day before. Its slouch increases; its scarf hangs lower; and at some point early in the week, its nose slipped out of place and landed in the snow.

Every day, as I drive by this snowman, I see it as an image for our current situation. Every day, we may grow a little more despondent. And every day, the spark of hope is just a bit more challenging to ignite. There is a fatigue that permeates even the air we breathe, and we just can’t escape.

And yet, if we can tap into even the slightest hope and know that things are going to change… eventually, we can pull ourselves up, day by day, and keep going. One step at a time. This, friends, is part of our journey. We may not like it, but there are some things that we don’t get to control.

However, we do get to choose how we approach every day of year two of pandemic life. (Who would’ve thought we would ever put those words together in the same sentence? And yet, here we are….) What if—upon waking—you lie in bed and take an inventory of all the things for which you are grateful? What if you take five minutes each morning to focus on the things that are going well in your life, no matter how insignificant they may feel?

I am pretty sure this simple and brief exercise will help you frame your day. If you begin with a focus on the positive, you may see the positive more often. It is a simple shift in the way you approach the day. At first, the positivity may last for only the five minutes of your reflection. But little by little, the five minutes will expand—6, then 10, then an hour—until the shift is lasting and significant.

You get to decide how you will face the continuation of this crazy journey we are on. You get to decide if you will tap into the positive and drag it—perhaps kicking and screaming—into everything you do in an absurd attempt to spark hope in your life (and possibly in that of others). Or you could choose to face the day with the growing despondence seen in this snowman.

If despondence is your choice, I would caution that this snowman is about to lose his head. One warm day and it could drop into the snow and roll down the hill, coming to rest in the middle of the road where it will be squished by car after car after car.

Don’t get me wrong. I would never say bringing the positive is easy or always the best choice. But if you can bring the positive more often than not, if you can see the good in your life, and if you can be grateful for the little things, you might be able to change your outlook on our current situation. And you might just spark a tiny seed of hope in the people around you.

{Photo of the despondent snowman taken while safely stopped on the side of the road}

Comfort Zone

It has been cold here in New England recently. Earlier this week, it was bone-chilling, teeth-crackling cold. So cold, in fact, that even the thought of going for a walk made me shiver. But after a week in quarantine, working from home, and barely going out, I was stir-crazy, and I forced myself to go for a walk.

I bundled up and stepped out the door and into the cold. The air was still and no one else was out as I walked down the path past the pond. The bare trees of mid-winter reveal the landscape in new ways, and I could see the stream through the twigs and branches that line the path. In warmer months, these twigs would be dense underbrush. I could see where the stream split in two then rejoined as one before emptying into the pond. Far above me, the trees whined and groaned in the slight breeze.

The normal acoustics of the outside world seemed muffled by the cold, the snow on the ground, and my hat on my ears. An airplane flew low overhead preparing to land, and the sound was much quieter than at other times of year when the volume can be deafening.

When you are willing to step outside and brave the elements, you are often rewarded with peace and fresh air and sights not seen indoors. As I walked up the hill, I spotted a sundog gracing the clouds up ahead—a wink from my dad, the spotter of rainbows and shooting stars, letting me know he’s here even though I cannot see him. And at the end of my walk, as I approached home, the wispy strokes of an angel-like cloud danced in the sky, beckoning me forward.

Here’s what I know. When you are willing to step out of the warm comfort of your home and pay attention to the world around you, it feeds your soul. When I stepped outside, I opened myself up to the sights and sounds that awaited me. The smell of snow, the clouds against the blue sky, the shape of a snow heart set off by the dark pavement.

But here’s what I want to know. If these are the possibilities with a simple walk outside, what are the possibilities if you step out of your comfort zone? What kind of growth is possible if you take the step you’ve been putting off? How will you change if you take the risks that you know you want to take, but you can’t quite muster the courage?

True growth happens when we make ourselves vulnerable. When we do the thing we have been putting off. It might be to leave a comfortable job for a new opportunity. It might be to reach across the void of years to reconnect with an old friend. Or to leave a relationship that isn’t healthy. It might be venturing out on your own to create the life you desire and deserve.

Yes, it may be scary. Yes, you will be able to come up with a million and one excuses for not doing the thing. But what do you have to lose if you take the risk? More importantly, what regrets will you have if you don’t take the risk and do whatever it is that is calling your heart?

No doubt, the first few steps will be cold and uncomfortable. No doubt the journey will be bumpy and at times unsettling or even downright discouraging. But when you find your footing, when you take a look around, you will notice the beauty. You will realize your strength. And you will begin to find your confidence.

Take the step, whatever that may be for you. Venture beyond your comfort zone and discover the joy and wonder that lie just beyond your current reach. You just might be surprised by what life has in store for you!

2021 – Bring Your Thunder

Recently, I saw this new message circulating on Facebook. It was clearly a post directed to the turning of the calendar, and it said something like, “What is one thing you want to tell me?” And so, here are my thoughts as inspired by that question.

What are the things I want to tell you? I want to tell you that no matter what anyone says, you are special and unique. You have your own individual gifts and talents that make you perfectly you. These gifts and talents, when fully realized, will help you to be the best version of yourself. Don’t minimize your talents because someone doesn’t like who you are. Don’t let someone else’s expectations of you influence your essence.

I want to tell you to embrace your passions because doing so will help you and the world around you. If you are passionate about helping others, get out there and do it. If you love to build things and work with your hands, go find a place where you can build. If you know you need to create beautiful things or generate ideas, find a way to feed that passion so you can nurture your soul. Don’t give up what you want to do because you feel constrained. Look for ways to engage your passions.

I want to tell you to shed unhealthy influences so you can truly live your best life. I am not denying there are things we all have to do that we might not enjoy. However, if you are losing who you are for others or for unhealthy habits, rethink your relationship to that person or thing. Unless the person is a child or elder who depends on you for their very existence, you might consider limiting their influence on you and your activities for your own wellbeing. Work to combat unhealthy addictions so you can move forward unencumbered. Recognize toxic influences for what they are and take steps to let them go.

I want to tell you to set boundaries that work for you. If you are working too much, step back and reconsider your schedule. Are you taking on extra work? Are you constantly going above and beyond expectations? Do you feel you are picking up slack for others in your work environment? Critically evaluate your schedule. Cut back where you can and let someone else pick up the slack every now and then. Time is our most valuable resource. Use it wisely.

I want to tell you to take care of yourself. Time and again, we hear that we will only be our best for others if we are our best for ourselves. I truly believe this is the case. We are given one body just as we are giving limited time. If we do our best to take care of it—in sickness and in health—we will feel our best and perform our best. When we eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep, we have the energy necessary to get through the day and to push through the tough times. Improved physical health can contribute to better mental health and overall attitude. Make a positive investment in yourself.

I want to remind you to be realistic. If you have not exercised in years, you won’t be running a marathon next week. If your living space is full of clutter, tackle it one room at a time (or one shelf at a time, if necessary) rather than all at once. Small improvements will give you satisfaction that will encourage continued effort until the job is done. Being realistic is not telling yourself all the reasons you can’t do something but taking the steps to move toward success.

I want to tell you that a spirit of gratefulness goes a long way to fostering a positive attitude. Create a habit of thankfulness for all that you have and all that you’ve gone through. Each day, each journey—good or bad—contributes to who you are and who you are becoming. Your identity—your self—is made up of every experience, every lesson, and a small bit of every individual you have come across. Be grateful for the richness of your life and experience—past, present, and future—as these things weave together to create the best you possible.

I want to encourage you to move into 2021 with intention. I want to encourage you to focus on all the ways you can bring your best self to all that you do. Despite whatever may happen this year, find a way to look for the positive. Be fully you. Make some noise. As you move into 2021, bring your thunder.

{Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash}

Distraction

I’ve been distracted lately. It’s apparent in the fact that I haven’t been writing and posting as often as I would like. Ideas have not been flowing as readily as they sometimes do… as I wish they would. I’ve been caught up in the drama of society, and my distraction has inhibited my creativity and landed me in a stuck place.

I’ve been distracted lately. We all have. It’s evident in the way we treat each other. It’s obvious on social media where we choose sides and call each other undeserved names and spew hate. It’s clear that when we can’t see each other—from the other side of the computer screen, for example—our distraction encourages behavior we might consider unacceptable in a face-to-face interaction.

We’ve been distracted lately. We have allowed the messages of society to push us apart, to convince us that humanity only exists in select groups of people. The messages we’ve been paying attention to paint a picture of fear, devastation, despair, and disaster. And urgency. Apparently, the world is falling apart before our very eyes. The slant of the media manipulates audiences into believing the worst. These messages have convinced us that we have nothing in common with our fellow citizens, our neighbors, and even our family members. They want us to believe that humanity doesn’t exist in everyone. But it does.

We have been so distracted that we have forgotten how much we have in common. We want what is best for our families and our friends. We want to be able to make a living and support ourselves and our loved ones. We want dignity and respect. But these commonalities are things we have to look for. To see them requires that we step away from our divisive devices. In order to make true connections with others, we have to do the work to see the humanity in each person in order to recognize and respect our similarities.

I want to teach my students about distraction since they are in the thick of device dependence. I want them to understand how constant phone use can affect their brains and their ability to think—not only about the material they are learning in class, but about each other and the world around them.

I want them to know that distraction prevents them from focusing on their studies, from being creative, from generating ideas, from recognizing their own strengths and talents, and from connecting with others. I want them to know that distraction can be good and necessary in small doses as a break, but too much distraction will take away from who they are. It will diminish their ability to know themselves and will separate them from a very important reality—the reality that in most cases, people are good.

I want young people to learn about themselves and others—up close and personal rather than through the filters of screens and devices. Knowing oneself and being willing to connect with others—face-to-face and moment by moment—will provide the essential building blocks to bring us back together as a united society based in humanity.

Because we are all one humanity.

If you look around, there is beauty, and it is everywhere. People are engaged in serving their community and performing acts of kindness and good deeds. People are helping people. Look carefully and see what is going on. It is amazing.

Think about your own distractions. Do what you can to minimize them. Engage with those around you and watch what happens. Your relationships will grow, positivity will bloom, and your perspective may just change for the better.

{Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash}

Clearing Out

Throughout my life, I have spent a good deal of time quieting the voices of others that ring through my head. These are the voices that have attempted to direct my life, to make me someone other than who I am, to make me listen and behave.

These are voices that, at one point or another, I have taken on and considered part of me, and yet, these voices are not me and do not reflect my reality. These voices reflect who I am or was in the reality of the speaker. But these voices—these words—were designed to make the speaker of the words feel better in his or her own life.

Over the years, the messages have been many:

You are not good enough.
You are not strong enough.
You are too negative
You are not smart enough.
You are selfish.
You are too sassy.
You are not pretty enough.
You are weak.
You are not feminine enough.
You are not…. You are not…. You are not….

But I am not these things that others have projected on me. Admittedly, I am broken. We are all broken.  And the only way I’m able to address my brokenness is to grab hold of the fact that life is short (and it feels even shorter while a pandemic is raging). The time to be fully me is now. The time to work on becoming whole is now. Time is running out.

If not now, when?

My life is shifting. I am shedding the me others think I should be. I am clearing out their voices from my head. My thoughts are mine, and that is enough. I will respect who I am and who I want to be, and that is enough. I will shed the ideas of others, letting them slip to the floor before sweeping them up and tossing them away.

I am making a shift in my life, respecting my thoughts, my ideas, and my wishes. I will not entertain others’ perceptions of who or what I should be as my own reality. I will be me—more me than I have ever been. And every day, I will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am enough.

{Photo by David Clarke on Unsplash}

Lessons from Lockdown: Logic, Life, and Laughter

This period of lockdown has offered us a unique opportunity to shift our focus and reevaluate who we are and what is important. It has offered us a unique perspective on the things we hold dear. As many people sort, declutter, and simplify their homes, they might begin to sense that what’s important lies in the little things, the intangible things, the spiritual-rather-than-material things.

Logic: Today, I almost started an email, “I hope you and your family are doing well in lockdown.” Now, no matter how true and relevant that is, I couldn’t help but think it sounded like the family was in jail. So I rewrote my opening sentence. The person who received the email will never know of my near faux pas, but I definitely appreciate the thought that I have to put into writing a normal statement after working from home for nearly two months.

Life: Yesterday, I helped my son move out of his college dorm for the final time. This was not the way it was supposed to be—returning to a room that was a time-capsule, untouched since the mid-March day he came home for a week of spring break; moving out with almost no one else on campus; not having the much-anticipated celebrations of scholarship, graduation, and ending ceremonies. It was a two-hour time slot of “pack up your stuff and get out.” When I drove away, he stayed behind, saying good-bye to a senior-year-interrupted in the way that was appropriate for him. As I drove home, I shed a few tears for him—for the proper end of college he wouldn’t have; for the memories he wouldn’t make in favor of others that would define him and his entire cohort of age-peers. And as I drove, a bald eagle flew overhead as an illustration of the way he will soar once the tethers have been released. It will be a different world by then, but these young adults are in the perfect position to take it on and run with it.

Laughter: Our house is regularly filled with laughter, even in the tough times. These days, we could easily abandon laughter altogether in favor of the dark and dreary, but where would that lead us? Nowhere good, no doubt. So we laugh. On a recent afternoon, I was cutting the hair of my younger son, exercising the clippers that I bought when the boys were young to save money on haircuts. I hadn’t cut anyone’s hair in ten years, at least. But this kid likes his hair short, so he asked me cut it. At one point, in a move that was far from professional, I realized the cord was hanging in his face. “Sorry about the cord,” I told him to let him know my technique was far from polished.

“That’s okay,” he told me. “I’ll mention it in your Yelp review though.” Ha! If I open my own pop-up barber shop, that would not be the worst thing my Yelp reviews would say.

We do our best to hold on to the lessons we are learning. And we keep laughing because the laughter keeps us positive and the positive keeps us moving forward. And forward is the best way to get through this.

{Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash}

Isolation and Introspection

I always considered myself an introvert. I spent most of my childhood with my nose stuck in a book, and I carried books with me everywhere I went. Looking back, I recognize there were there were three reasons for this. One, I loved to read and to escape into worlds much different than my own. Two, I have a very active inner monologue that tends to venture into alarmism when I least expect/want it to, and reading was a way for me to keep it busy. Three, by reading, I could avoid interacting with the people around me.

It was not until my first year out of college that I realized I am not completely an introvert. In fact, I realized that I would not be able to do a job that didn’t involve dynamic interaction with people, leading me to believe I possess some qualities of an extrovert, as well.

Isolation may be easier for introverts. Let’s face it, we are used to being alone. Something as simple as sifting through the contents of a drawer can keep us occupied for hours. Going out once a week on my grocery run is more human contact than I currently prefer—especially since so many people don’t seem to understand the common courtesies of social distancing.

I am thrilled that lately, I’ve had a valid excuse to sit down with a book. Nowadays, reading and introspection allow me to avoid the constant influx of information coming through the myriad news sources—none of which presents unbiased facts that soothe the voices in my head. Each day, the news mimics and mocks the alarmist inner monologue that follows me wherever I go. Some days, I intentionally choose ignorance.

My ignorance does not mean that I am an idealist. I am well aware of the realities that lurk outside my door—the invisible enemy that we are all fighting by sequestering ourselves apart from our families, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Rather, my choice to be uninformed by the constant barrage of nearly identical newscasts insulates me from the stresses that I would otherwise internalize in a manner that would likely lead to insomnia.

Isolation may be lonely (and lengthy), but it is the most effective weapon we have in the war we wage. Think of the loneliness as an opportunity for introspection. Spend some time with yourself. Get to know who you really are and what makes you tick. No matter where you go and how fast or how far you run, you will never be able to run away from your innermost self.

And who knows? Once you get to know yourself a bit better, you might just discover that you actually like you!

Goodness as a Gift

This morning, as the sun came up bright on the new day, I realized that even in these trying times—through any trials we face—goodness is all around us. Right now, despite the difficulties we are facing in our global society, goodness shines through like a gift just waiting to be discovered. Just outside my window, flowers are blooming in my garden, and the plants my kids and I put in at the end of last season are beginning to poke through the dirt, reminding me of the weekend we spent cleaning up the garden.

Today was a quiet Easter day. We could not go to church. We could not have people over to share in some rowdy dinner conversation. Regardless, the weather was gorgeous. I ventured out for a walk with only a sweater rather than the jacket I have been wearing until now. Several small children, out on walks in the neighborhood with their families, stopped in front of my house to look for my cat and play with him. My cat has been dubbed a “neighborhood celebrity” because he is overly friendly and just confident enough to appear more human than feline in his interactions with passersby.

Out further in the world, where I prefer not to venture these days, our essential workers are fighting the battles we cannot fight. They are stocking the ever-emptying food shelves while sanitizing between customers, hauling our garbage away and cleaning even at the town dump, filling prescriptions for medications to keep people healthy, caring for the sick, and comforting the dying. They are tending to the emotional needs of those who are struggling in this strange new world, and they are keeping our utilities up and running. Our teachers have not only transitioned their entire jobs online, but they are digging deep to make it look easy so they can smooth the same transition for their entire student population.

The goodness is always there—not just now, but always. If we take the time to look for the it and recognize its presence in our lives as a gift, the goodness will grow. Our attitudes will shift. We will more readily see the goodness, have a positive attitude, and be the goodness for someone else. We will begin to influence others, and soon, goodness will displace negativity. We will begin to see that we all want the same things, and we will begin to work together for the good of us all. Positivity begets positivity. Take the time to look for the goodness and highlight the goodness because goodness will grow. And once it starts, there’s no telling what could happen.

See the goodness. Be the goodness. You are a gift.

{Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash}

The View from Here

The view from here is very different than it was a couple weeks ago. We have now been in social distance mode for just under two weeks—far less time than most of the world. We knew it was coming—we watched it sweep slowly across the globe on its way.

That doesn’t make the view from here any brighter. We are broken people in a society that is also severely broken. In our attempts to deal with this global pandemic, we need to come together—work together and protect one another. But we can’t.

Because the view from here looks out over a broad chasm that has been growing and deepening and pushing us farther apart. We have forgotten that we are one humanity in a global environment, and we are stronger when we band together and create a united front. We will always be stronger together.

We have forgotten that life is not about all the things we want in this life and how we will get them, no matter the cost. We have forgotten that most of the “things” we possess don’t matter, especially when weighed against human health and life itself. Even in our isolation, we continue to buy and buy and buy to the point of hoarding because “enough” is a concept our society ignores as it pushes spending and materialism and greed as a way to promote a “healthy” economy.

We have filled our lives with material things. We have been so conditioned to look outward for happiness and acceptance and validation that we have lost sight of the most important element—what we are feeling on the inside. Who we are. The very traits that make us special and unique and individual—these have been cast aside for too long. They have been stomped down and buried deep inside ourselves as we live a life that is filled to the brim with a busy-ness dictated by society. Most of us—we aren’t even truly happy anymore.

The view from here is not in touch with the things that matter. It is weighed down by all the lies society has been telling us for decades. The expectations we are supposed to live up to. We are tired and weary. The burden weighs on us, and we are struggling to break free.

But the view from here—it is quiet and lonely. We are in a period of grieving all that we have lost or perceive we have lost. We are grieving what we may lose. And we are grieving all the changes our society will face—changes that we just can’t fathom from this particular vantage point. But if we take the time to really look and examine our lives, the view from here may be (dare I say) just a little peaceful.

While we may be feeling overwhelmingly burdened by our current situation, the view from here may shift, giving us a glimpse of elements of peace, simplicity, and kindness. It is quite possible that with a bit of time and a new perspective, the view from here might just be the soil in which we begin to change and blossom.

Hitchhikers

On my way home from Parents’ Weekend at my daughter’s school, I passed three hitchhikers. Now, when I was younger, people used to hitchhike all the time. But in recent years, this ride-hailing method seemed to be a thing of the past. Honestly, I believe I’ve run across maybe two hitchhikers in the past 15 years. Until Sunday.

It was drizzly on Sunday and not ideal weather to venture out onto the road to hail a ride. Aside from the guy hitchhiking in the other direction, the first hitchhiker I passed was wearing a green hoodie and carrying what looked like a sleeping bag in a red stuff sack. Just a sleeping bag. Nothing else. It had just started to rain at this point, and he didn’t look happy. In fact, he looked downright grumpy. He was young—early twenties maybe. He stood on the side of the road, looking down, waiting for a ride. He pulled at the heartstrings of the mother in me, but I didn’t stop because… well, strangers, you know. We’ve all heard the warnings.

The other hitchhiker piqued my curiosity. She had positioned herself on the entrance ramp to the highway with a small cardboard sign just large enough to hold the name of a town farther north. She was looking to travel about 70 miles up the highway, but I was only going to the very next exit—3 miles at best. The hitchhiker looked to be a bit older than me, with a sassy mop of short grey hair. She was energetic and working excitedly to get a ride. Her face was expressive and smiling as she appealed to the passing motorists—she looked like the kind of person who would entertain the driver with animated stories of her life experience for the entire 70 miles. Up the road a few feet, she had placed her name-brand suitcase with an additional bag on top—as if she had just stepped off a flight at the airport. She intrigued me.

I experienced a momentary urge to stop and pick her up. I wished I was traveling farther in her direction so I might give her a ride and get to know her. From my brief glimpse of her as I passed, I envisioned her as the “Thelma” to my “Louise,” the partner-in-mischief I have been searching for. I could just imagine the conversation we might have as we drove—so engrossing that we would miss the exit. From our brief moment of eye contact, I wanted to know this woman. She was that intriguing.

And from my brief encounter with this intriguing stranger, I learned something. Everyone we come across on our journey—whether for five seconds or five years—has a lesson to teach. From this woman (and the contrast between these two hitchhikers), I learned that one’s approach to life can have a huge impact on how people see us. The first hitchhiker—he was definitely a stranger, and he would remain so. The second, however, was a potential friend.

Two strangers, one activity, two very different approaches. Whenever you have the chance, be the engaging “friend.”

{Photo by Atlas Green on Unsplash}