Listen

A powerful idea recently presented itself to me, seemingly out of nowhere, yet from somewhere deep within:

Without God, there is misery.

With God, there is joy.

This truth is so simple and powerful, that I wonder why no one shared it with me sooner.

Except I can’t pretend that I didn’t know. We humans have great capacity to not listen, simply because we’re human. We convince ourselves that we have it under control, that we’re independent, that whatever personal demons possess us can also fulfill us. But it never works, and we’re left–by design I’ve come to believe–searching for what will.

When I was young, because I got good grades, I thought I was smart. As I’ve matured, I now appreciate the significant difference between wisdom and intelligence. I’m still a beginner at wisdom. But this new nugget is a big step in my learning. Now to make sure I really listen to it…

“You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself.” –Swami Vivekananda

Advertisements

Taking Stock

Having passed the halfway point in my life, I’ve been taking stock. Though every passing year seems to bring a deeper awareness of what I don’t yet understand, I am beginning to make out a few shapes in the fog. So far, I have found three patterns.

The first is that life has not been what I expected. Though my youthful naïveté now seems silly, I suppose it was as predictable as time. From the time we’re very young, we think we’re seeing what it’s all about, yet all we can see is the outer mechanics. We can’t see what struggle does to someone, both positive and negative. We can’t predict what loss–of people, of our innocence–will do to us. We can’t know, sometimes until too late, that all relationships require constant investment and deliberate choice to remain in them, even with those closest to us. We too easily fall for the myth that these bonds are a given.

I also hadn’t expected to be so changed at this point. While I still feel far from wise, or even good, I am living proof of God’s faith in human redemption. I am beyond grateful every single day that He won’t ever give up on me.

But the biggest surprise of all is my intense need to find a Purpose for my life. I do find occasional small purposes, but the big Purpose continues to elude me. Sometimes I think I glimpse it in the distance, but after letting me gain on it a bit, it moves ahead again out of view. I wonder if I won’t ever find it…maybe the small, daily acts of meaning are all I can hope for. If so, I must look harder for them and dedicate myself to doing them well.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” –Pablo Picasso


Love

She was our discount dog, the one we’d have never even gone to look at if I hadn’t misread the price on the ad. Luckily she was the last puppy and already getting a bit long in the tooth at ten weeks; we were able to strike a deal with the breeder. She turned out to be the single happiest accident ever in the history of our family. She was wonderful. And this week we lost her too young, at six, to cancer.

It happened so fast we didn’t see it coming. She got a couple of infections not long after removal of a benign cyst. Looking back, it’s easy to connect the dots, but at the time we were blissful and assumed we still had years with her. After all, we needed her. This creature was pure love, the only dog I’ve ever known to perfect hugs. She had an uncanny instinct for knowing when you needed one. She’d come smile at you with her shining face and then gently push into you. There was no way not to feel at least a little better afterward.

But now she’s suddenly gone, and there’s a void in our family, a void of pure love. That’s not a void that will be easily filled. We miss you Winnie. You were unforgettable.

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” –Josh Billings


Sleep

I just enjoyed my extra hour of sleep, doubling down on all of the sleep I got on last week’s three day weekend. I feel like I’m still catching up on three years of sleep since Megan became ill, turning our lives upside down while we lived for months in the hospital watching her suffer. I’ve not felt as resilient or fully rested since. I’ve even felt my age for the first time ever lately, with everything feeling creaky sore. It’s felt good to sleep.

A friend recently told me that she struggles to sleep well due to a medical condition she has; for her, sleep is not a refuge. I can’t imagine how that must feel, to not enjoy sleep. Sleep is such a relief when I’m tired that I look forward to it and generally don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. Of course, that could be partly because my alarm goes off weekdays at 5:00 so I can get on the treadmill before I start my day. But sleep is a refuge and, I’ve learned over the years, critical to managing my stress.

And so my extra sleep served the exact purpose days off are supposed to:  I feel rested and recharged and ready to go at it again tomorrow. It’s a good thing, there’s a lot to do on Monday.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.”  –Robert Frost


Writing

I love words, and I especially love quotes, because they articulate my thoughts and give me hope, connecting me to a common humanity. This quote by one of my heroes is a good example, explaining why I write even if no one else were to ever read it.

My first inspiration to write came when I found The Enchanted Loom by astronomer Robert Jastrow in my tiny, small town high school library. I devoured his explanation of how the brain works, a complex subject made simple in layman’s terms by Dr. Jastrow’s gift. I eagerly read the only other of his books in our little library, Red Giants and White Dwarves, on the origins of the solar system, in awe of his ability to effectively communicate complex concepts and planting a tiny seed that, though I didn’t act on it for thirty years, was vital to fertilizing the ground for when the time was right.

I’ve described writing both as my hobby and as my therapy, but I think the latter is more appropriate. Most of my posts center around a few common themes, themes of love and faith and struggle, the primary themes of being human. Having to put my thoughts and feelings to words means having to organize them and, most importantly, find meaning in the big questions of life. I think we all seek meaning; writing is simply my way of doing that.

A friend used to say “Words mean something.” He was right. They wield enormous power—to harm or heal, to incite or inspire. That’s why freedom of the press is the first right embedded in our Constitution and why dictatorships restrict it. But words also can lead to understanding and even acceptance of circumstances that are otherwise unbearable. This is why I’ll be writing until I lose the faculties to do so. I need it; it is life.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  —Ernest Hemingway


Stop


I published a book this week, but you’d barely know it. I got an email from my co-author saying “IT’S DONE!”. But I was too busy to deal with it. Only the next day, late at night, did I finally get our success posted on social media. I went to work the next day like normal and stayed super busy. No party, no celebration, not even dinner. Just a five minute pause to hammer out a post, then on to the next thing. Shame on me.

I first had the idea for the book more than six years ago. We drew up the outline 63 months ago. My co-author and I slaved over it that long. It contains all of our hard-fought leadership lessons over three decades. I sincerely hope it can help others who struggle with some of the things I’ve struggled mightily with. Yet when it was finally completed, I was “too busy” to stop and celebrate. I haven’t taken time to reflect on this hard-fought achievement. Shame on me.

I think the reason I couldn’t pause for a moment is actually directly related to writing the book in the first place. I’ve always been restless, always ready to move on to the next thing by the time the last thing is nearly done. Yup, I published a book this week, what’s next? Shame on me.

Let me try this again.

I PUBLISHED A BOOK THIS WEEK!!  YAY!  I’m so happy:  happy it’s done, happy to share our learnings with others! Thanks to all of you who have encouraged me and cheered me on through this amazing journey! It feels great! 

Now what’s next?

“The most beautiful things are not associated with money; they are memory and moments. If you don’t celebrate those, they can pass you by.”  —Alek Wek


Junior High

I hated junior high. Based on my unscientific survey, I believe that makes me part of approximately 99% of the American population. It’s such an awkward time…an in-between age, with none of the maturity or true independence that makes older ages more tolerable.

I have just two positive memories of junior high. We’d moved to a small Kansas farm town at the end of 4th grade. By the time I got to junior high two years later, my classmates, who’d been together since kindergarten, had decided this city girl didn’t fit in, and I’d gone from a confident leader in my old school to a withdrawn, fragile girl with only a couple of other social outcast friends. I did find my old self by the end of high school, even becoming class vice president that year, but that was still six long years away and a distant dream.

My two good memories were being in a play in 7th grade, a memory now badly tarnished by my adult perspective. The other was being in track in 8th grade. I have no idea why I joined the team (in a graduating class of 34, there are no tryouts). You see, I’m not athletic. At all. However, back then our league wonderfully had a C class for girls below 100 lbs, a criteria I met. Our coach put me in the maximum number of events each meet, each of which I was equally terrible at. I was a generalist, competing in any event which required no real skill (hurdles and pole vault were out of the question). My “specialties” were the long jump, shot put, and the mile. The last two were particularly ironic. I was literally the 98 lb weakling pitching the shot all of a few feet, and I was an asthmatic who usually had to walk the last third of the mile. I remember a classmate once asking me at the end of a race why I didn’t just run the rest of the way? I was too busy wheezing and gasping to answer her. Yet those were my glory days! You see, in our tiny 2A league, most teams put up few or no C class competitors. I took 1st or 2nd place in all of my events all year. We took first place in league that year, significantly helped by my performances (the league abruptly eliminated C class the next year). It was my first step back on my journey to finding myself.

But the bad memories vastly outnumber the good ones. Struggling to find someone to sit next to at lunch or on the bus. Being asked to exactly one dance at homecoming, by my best friend’s boyfriend—a pity dance. It didn’t go well. I tried to lead, not knowing that I was. And one day in English, taking a couple of minutes of kids laughing to realize they were laughing at me, and a couple of more minutes to figure out why:  someone had put a “kick me” sign on my back. I never learned who.

I’ve come out on the other side. Within a few years, I realized that my own self-absorption of that time, which made me agonize over every “stupid” thing I’d said or done, was matched by equal self-absorption of the others, who forgot anything I’d done within minutes. And I met the love of my life who helped rebuild my confidence by loving me for who I am. I long ago forgave whoever taped that sign on my back. More importantly, I’ve forgiven me.

“And if I asked you to name all the things that you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?”  —Unknown