Dare to Dream #write31days

Three Ingredients for a Meaningful Life

“I wanted my life to count for more. I wanted deeper relationships. I wanted to touch the hearts of others. And so I began my search for a meaningful life. These three things are helping me find my dream and live a more meaningful life.”

*this post is part of my #write31days series Dare to Dream: Finding Your Dream Again

Many years ago we had moved to a new town and were getting settled with our two young boys, then ages 2 and 6 months, and I was lonesome. I was a young mom and we had finally found a home church, but I was so unsure of myself. I was 26-year-old stay at home mom, and I had no idea who I was or who I was supposed to be. It seemed that all the other moms had it all together – always dressed to the nines, hair perfectly in place, kids sitting quietly at the pew. In the meantime, I had one kid is screaming in the nursery, and the other one yelling “My penis itches!” in the middle of prayer. So much for having it together.

To be truthful, I really didn’t want to be friends with the women who had it all together (at least I thought they had it all together). People who smile too much make me suspicious (you know, those people who smile even when they’re angry? I don’t trust them). I knew I could never measure up, and it would be too much pressure. But my heart longed for a friend, for grown-up conversation, for someone to share my heart with in these early days of mommyhood.

 

During those early days, I attended a funeral for a woman from church. I didn’t know her, but I was helping serve the meal afterwards, so I came early and attended the funeral. As I listened to family and friends review her life, I was struck not by what she had done or even who she was, but how she loved. I heard story after story about how she had loved her friends, shown up in times of need, and given of herself for others. Not for a salary, not for recognition, but just because of who she was. I thought long and hard after that funeral – what kind of friend am I? What will people say about me after I’m gone? Am I making an impact on the lives I touch, or am I just existing and surviving? I knew that I was just surviving. That I was waiting for life to come to me, I was waiting for people to invite me into their lives, but I wasn’t making an effort to love others. I wasn’t reaching out. And that day, I determined that

I wanted my life to count for more. I wanted deeper relationships. I wanted to touch the hearts of others.

That was almost thirty years ago, and I’m still learning every day what it means to love others.

If you have read any of my essays, you know I am a fan of author Donald Miller, who wrote Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. And subsequently, I have fallen in love with Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. From his experiences living and observing others in Nazi concentration camps in WWII, Viktor Frankl developed many theories on man’s motivation to live a meaningful life. As he developed a framework of existential therapy called logotherapy, he theorizes that there are three “main avenues” which one must take to find meaning in life.

“The first is by creating a work or doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love  . . . Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life; even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by doing so change himself. He can turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, Postscript 1984, Viktor Frankl)

Donald Miller has utilized these lessons in his Storyline ministry, helping people live more meaningful lives, and more practically, developing a life plan. He applies Frankl’s work and explains it a little further, giving practical steps to finding your dream and living a meaningful life.

The three crucial ingredients in finding a meaningful life:

  1. Meaningful work or a project. Working towards something that is bigger than yourself that brings meaning not just to your life, but to your world. This is something that is unique to each individual. It may be what you do as a career, or it may be something apart from your regular job. Often this is something that only you can do, based on your unique life experience and your own special gifts and talents.
  2. A loving community. I am not talking about your 400 Facebook friends. These are friends that you live life with, who love you unconditionally. We were made to live in community. We need to surround ourselves with friends with whom we can share our heart on a regular basis. Friends who ‘get’ us. To live a meaningful life, we need to walk alongside friends who love us as we are but also encourage us to grow beyond who we are. These are the friends who will be gathered around your deathbed.
  3. Our suffering redeemed. Frankl states that we need a change in perspective on the suffering or tragedies that have occurred in our lives. Turning tragedies into triumphs is the key is survival and also learning from that pain, and using it for a greater purpose. To build a meaningful life, we can take those difficult times and not let them destroy us, but use them as a tool to build a better life.

Sometimes You Just Need to Unplug

“Experiences shared with those who share your heart are more important than any project or to- do list.” Kristin Meador

Sometimes finding your dream and living a meaningful life means you need to unplug from your to-do lists and your ‘shoulds’.

Experiences shared with those who share your heart are more important than any project or to- do list.

So today and tomorrow I’m unplugging to spend time with my husband and son in Orlando.

Because THIS is the stuff that makes up a meaningful life: good conversation, good food, lots of laughs and hugs.

 

THIS Can Stop Your Dream in Its Tracks

“Look for the signs that your life is out of balance. This can stop your dream in its tracks.”

Yesterday I had an “I hate everything” day. If you’re honest, you might admit that you have those days, too.

Feeling like that can be a signpost. It’s normal to feel down or discouraged once in a while. But these days can also mean that something is stopping us from living a meaningful story. It is sometimes a sign that life is out of balance, and that can stop our dream in its tracks. Especially if finding your dream and living a better story involves loving other people (and isn’t that the core of the best stories?). It’s hard to love others when we are not loving and caring for ourselves.

Life out of balance can look different for everyone, but here is what is looks like for me. I often see the negative results before I even realize that things have gotten out of balance.

  • I feel down
  • I sleep a lot
  • I swear in traffic
  • I have a short fuse and little patience
  • I feel that ‘something is not right’ in the pit of my stomach (could be anxiety, melancholy, guilt, loneliness)
  • I am not eating healthy, and I don’t care
  • I isolate myself from the world
  • I blame others
  • I eat a bunch of  crap (mostly sugar)
  • I snap at those closest to me

The signs that life is out of balance are different for everyone.

And not it’s time to take out that journal again.

Write down five signs that your observe when your life is out of balance.

The best thing I can do when I see these signs is STOP and PAY ATTENTION.

And then start with what I know. Am I practicing the habits that I know are healthy and beneficial and  bring balance to my life? Those habits can be different for everyone, but many are common to all. Here is my checklist:

  • Am I sleeping at least 7 hours each night?
  • Am I eating healthy foods, or am I eating a lot of sugar and carbs?
  • Am I exercising? Am I even getting out of the house?
  • Am I talking about my feelings, or am I ignoring them?
  • Am I practicing mindful breathing when I feel anxious?
  • If I am lonely, am I withdrawing or am I making a conscious effort to connect with my loved ones?
  • Is there something I feel I should be doing that I am avoiding?
  • Am I practicing self-care?
  • Am I spending time sharing my heart with my tribe, the people who ‘get’ me? (for me, this is one of the most crucial pieces)
  • And most importantly for me, am I journaling and/or spending time in prayer and meditation? Am I connecting with God or avoiding him?

Most of the time, just being aware can set our path straight again. Often looking at those healthy habits and being reminded that they are vital to living a meaningful life and moving toward any dream helps us get things in balance again.

However, sometimes we can do all those things and still feel out of balance. Or we are in such a dark place that we cannot do all of those things. In my life, that is a sign of greater imbalance – depression, chemical imbalance, physical imbalance such as an autoimmune flare or an illness. If that is the case, that is an important signpost on the road to a meaningful life that we might need some extra help to get things back on track. That may be a signal that we need to seek professional help from a doctor or a counselor. 

What are the signs that tell  you that your life is out of balance? What healthy habits are on your checklist?

Somedays I Hate Everything

I’m in one of those “I hate everything” moods.

(I know, hate is a strong word, and some people really dislike when I use it. Deal with it.)

It happens every so often. People are annoying, circumstances are unsatisfactory, hurt feelings are amplified, disappointments abound, and life is just not the story I want it to be.

I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’m a person who feels deeply. Maybe sometimes the pain of what’s happening in the world is overwhelming. Maybe it’s because I only got two hours of sleep last night.

Somtimes I just really want to be whiney and complainey. I want to say “I hate everyone” and just disappear from the world for a bit. I want to be bitter over the people who have let me down. I want to blame others for, well, everything that is wrong in my life. I want to see those who have hurt me fail and trip up. I want to blame my unsatisfactory situation on anyone other than myself.

Isnt this a lovely picture? Whiney and complainey make a boring story, don’t you think?

So when I’m in an “I hate everything” mood, I need to remind myself of these things:

  1. It’s a signpost that I could be heading into a depression if I don’t counter the negative self talk.
  2. It’s okay to feel hurt or disappointed. We live in a world with imperfect humans, and no one is perfect. We are going to be let down, and how we deal with that is part of what determines what kind of story we’re living.
  3. Acknowledge the desire to be whiney and complainey, but don’t set up camp there.
  4. Resist the urge to blame others. I want to look for a reason why my life sucks in this little minute. It can’t be me, so it must be you, right?
  5. Don’t beat up on myself. If it’s not you, it must be that I’m just a holy mess. Nope, don’t buy it. Deal with it for what it is – fleeting anxiety, boredom, loneliness, poor diet, lack of sleep, legitimate hurt feelings, whatever. I am not my feelings.
  6. What is the NEXT RIGHT THING? If I’m overwhelmed because I’m not living a better story, I don’t need to come up with a one year, five year, ten year plan. I just need to ask: what is the NEXT right thing?  What do I need to do in the next 10 minutes? And the next?


What’s Stopping You? Hitting the Wall

It’s halfway through the month, and I’m hitting the wall.

I worked 12-hour night shifts on Friday and Saturday night and, of course, slept on Sunday. I have thoughts and words swirling in my head but it’s just not coming together. Some days I want to just write from my heart, but then I think no, it needs to be perfect and shiny. This year has been better than the last #write31days challenge, but it’s still hard to write every day. Discipline is not my strong suit and I get bored easily, particularly with myself. I’m tired and I’m going to be traveling off and on for the rest of the month. It just feels like it would be easier to just let it go.

This is a common theme in my life, unfortunately. Start strong and finish poorly. The big picture seems overwhelming and I lack the confidence that I’m going to finish strongly, so it’s easier to just let it slowly slip away.

I’m tired of living my life like this. I have too many stories of starting and not finishing.

So here’s what’s on my heart: living a better story doesn’t always feel good. It’s not always perfect and shiny. Sometimes it means leaving friends and family behind. Sometimes it means starting over in an awkward new space. Sometimes it means writing because you’re supposed to write – you can’t get better if you’re not practicing consistently. Sometimes it means trying something new that you’re not very good at (yet). It means making yourself vulnerable in front of other people. It means keeping going even when you don’t feel like it. It means stop hitting the snooze button and get your ass out of bed. It means trudging your way through the boring parts to get to the other side.

It means remembering that you’re a seasonal person and this is just a season.

I can blame schedule, lack of sleep, too many responsibilities.

But the truth is that 99% of the time there is only one thing stopping me.

Myself.