The Next Step (in Attaching Meaning to Our Suffering)

What would the world be missing if you did not tell your beautiful story?

This is part two of exploring the importance attaching meaning to our suffering. In Attaching Meaning to Our Suffering – the Most Important Step, I described a process that I went through in leadership training in which we looked at the significant events and experiences in our lives, positive and negative, and then thought about the lessons which learned from these events. We shared our stories with one another, and learned there is power in sharing your story.

The last part of the exercise was the most important. We were asked to look again at the quilt that represented the story of our lives . We were then given more squares of all colors. Drawing from the story of our lives, we were asked to take the lessons we learned from each event and circumstance, whether we considered it positive or negative. We considered those lessons and what they might mean in the overall purpose for our lives. We took those last quilt squares and brainstormed what interests, projects, careers, or ministries might be born from the story of our lives so far. We were asked to fill up the last few rows of the quilt.

Some examples from my quilt:

  • I suffered multiple miscarriages early in our marriage. That gave me a heart for women who have had miscarriages and are dealing with infertility. In general, it also gave me a heart for people who are hurting. This translated into working with our support group for moms at church and eventually into my job as a hospice nurse.
  • We had some serious struggles early in our marriage and came very close to divorcing. As a result, we have shared our story numerous times in public and in private, so that couples going through difficult times would know they are not alone, and also to help them have hope that marriages can be healed even when it seems like things are hopeless.
  • My younger sister died in a car accident when I was newly married. She was 19 years old, four years younger than myself. As an adult, I missed having a sister to share my life with, to be an aunt to my children. I think that this made me much more purposeful in my friendships with other women, and I gathered a circle of women friends who were like sisters. Once again, this loss of life also prepared me for becoming a hospice nurse.
  • Maybe you experienced some sort of abuse as a child. That experience might move you to learn how to be a better parent and do things differently. Or you may be the person who can easily pick out hurting kids, and you make it a point come alongside them to provide encouragement and a safe place. You may choose a career such as nursing, counseling, or social work, to help others who have been abused to find hope and healing.

Those are just a few examples of how reframing those negative events helps to give those moments or seasons of suffering meaning and purpose. This does not mean denying the pain or hurt that resulted from negative events or circumstances. It simply involves searching out a reason for the suffering and gleaning any lessons that might be learned. Redeeming our suffering by attaching meaning to it is a crucial step in finding your dream (again).

It becomes increasingly clear that events and circumstances in our lives are connected, even though it might not be obvious at first. This exercise helps to put all of the pieces together to tell the story of our lives – where you have been and, more importantly, where you are going.

What would the world be missing if you did not tell your beautiful story?

Ali Eminov "Girls of Sudam" The Quilted Conscience Project

Ali Eminov “Girls of Sudam” The Quilted Conscience Project


Sometimes the Path to Your Dream is Lonely

This is a little departure from where this series was going, but it’s worth telling this part of the story.

Sometimes the path to your dream is just lonely.

When you start dreaming, it rocks other people’s boats. Maybe they don’t want you to change and grow. Maybe they wish they were chasing their own dream. And I hate to say it, but sometimes we just don’t like it when other people succeed.

When you start growing and realizing your dream and your passion, often other people just aren’t going to get it. You try and explain the spark that has caught your heart on fire, and they just look at you with a blank stare. Or worse yet, they roll their eyes.

You might think that as you are growing and finding your dream, your passion, your life’s meaning, that your friends and family would be your biggest supporters and cheerleaders. Sadly, that’s often the case. Maybe they just don’t get what you’re trying to do. Maybe they’ve seen you take on projects and not finish them. Maybe they’ve seen you jump in with both feet and fall on your face more than once. Sometimes they may even have a secret desire to see you fail. I really don’t think that most of our close circle are purposefully discouraging (and sometimes even shaming) when we are chasing our dreams. Or maybe some are that cruel. Or it might be that they are proud of you and are supportive, they just don’t verbalize it often.

Many of us find that our biggest supporters when we’re trying something new and finding our life’s meaning are acquaintances or even strangers. If our close circle can’t find it in themselves to be encouraging and supportive, then it benefits us to surround ourselves with people who will be our cheerleaders, or at the very least who are supportive and encouraging of our endeavors.

Lastly, sometimes chasing our dreams means moving out of our comfort zone. That might be a figurative move, such as changing our ways of relating to people or spending our time working towards our dream. Or it might actually be a physical move. Leaving your job. Starting a new job. Moving to another city, state, or even to another country.

So in the midst of the excitement and enthusiasm of finally following your dream and passion, you can have times where you feel very alone.

So what is the solution? No one wants to live a lonely life. I wish I could tell you I had an answer but I’m still figuring that out. Part of pursuing my dream has meant that I’ve moved thousands of miles away from my friends and family to a new city where I don’t know anyone other than my husband. As exciting as it is there are times when it’s really, really lonely. Here is what I know so far.

1. It’s OK to be lonely. I can’t deny that I’m feeling lonely, so I admit it. I can’t numb myself to it. I just have to admit, “Yes, I’m lonesome. I miss my friends and family.”
2. Stay connected to your support system as much as possible. Sometimes this may take more effort on your part because there is a natural tendency towards “out of sight, out of mind”. Continue to nurture the relationships that are important to you. Also take the initiative and text or call people – don’t just wait for them to contact you.
3. If people seem too busy or disinterested, don’t take it personally. If someone is not returning your emails or messages or texts it’s probably just because they have busy lives, too. Some people are just better at returning messages than others. You know how it is – in most relationships there’s usually one person who is more communicative than another. It doesn’t change when you’ve moved far away. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you or that they’re not a good friend. It just means their communication style is different, or their lives are busy.
4. Seeking out a supportive circle. Find people with similar interests or who are pursuing similar passions. They will understand where you’re coming from and are more likely to be supportive with your endeavors. If you’re trying to lose weight and get healthy, join exercise group or running team. If you’re a writer, take a class or join a writing group and connect with other people who are writing. If you’re starting a business, connect with other people who are a little further down the road from you so that you can learn from them. If you find it difficult to connect with these people in your city, the Internet is a great place to connect. My greatest support for starting to write again has come from other writers online.

That’s all I’ve got tonight.

Bless you, dreamers. We’re in this together.

This ONE Thing is the Secret of Life

I love this scene from the 1991 film, City Slickers. Billy Crystal plays Mitch, a man whose marriage is stale and his job is unfulfilling – he’s in the middle of a midlife crisis – so he goes on a cattle drive with his also dissatisfied friends and his wife tells him to “Go find your smile”. As he is contemplating life, he gets advice from a crusty old cowboy named Curly, played by Jack Palance.

Curly: You know what the secret of life is?

Mitch: No, what?

Curly: (holds up his leather gloved hand and points his index finger) This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing, just one thing.

Mitch: That’s great, but what’s the one thing?

Curly: That’s what you’ve got to figure out.


What gives our lives meaning is a going to be different for each individual. Each one of us has a different dream, a unique calling, an individual passion and set of gifts. We have our own set of life experiences and circumstances that have shaped who we are and who we might become. We must figure out for ourselves what gives our life deeper meaning.

In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl talks about the importance of finding the ‘why’ that gives our lives deeper meaning. His book recounts his experience during the WWII as a prisoner in a concentration camp. He states that as the men in the camp defined a deeper meaning for their lives, their suffering became purposeful. Those who had lost their faith in the future were doomed to mental and physical decay. He describes a difference in prisoners who felt that their life had some type of meaning, and a difference in their attitude and ultimately, their survival. As they looked at what life expected from them, rather than what they expected from life, their life took on a deeper meaning. For one man there was a child whom he deeply loved, and he knew would be waiting for him in another country. Another man was a scientist who had written works that could not be finished by anyone except him. Frankl explains

“We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—hourly and daily. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the task which it constantly sets for each individual.

These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. . .  No man and no destiny can be compared with any other may or any other destiny. (It) is unique and different for each individual.

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”. “

Figuring out the ‘why’ is another piece of the puzzle in finding your dream. But you must answer this for yourself. No one can tell you life’s meaning, or label you with a purpose or calling, or tell you what your dream is or should be. YOU are the one who must figure out THIS ONE THING, that which differs ‘from man to man, moment to moment’.

What is your ONE THING?

You can find 10 questions that might help by clicking here. If you haven’t read the rest of this series “Dare to Dream – Finding Your Dream (Again) a list of previous posts right here . And please follow this blog and our Facebook page so that you can get the rest of this #write31days series!


Digging Down Deep to Discover Your Dream

If you have forgotten how to dream, HOW do you start again?

We started this journey by asking ourselves “What would you do if money were no object?”

Then we went a step further, and looked at what gives our life meaning. We thought about our passions, and what sparks our heart to life, or ‘puts a fire in your belly’?

We talked about picturing your life as a story, and asked the question, “How can I live a better story?”

It’s easy to get stuck on those questions, especially if you haven’t thought about such things for a while. Next we looked at what might hinder us from finding our dream, or our passion.

Here are some questions that can help open your heart and mind and start you dreaming again. Once again, if you journal the answers to these questions, it might be easier to process through them. You also might not be able to answer the all of the questions right now – think about them for a while, and then come back. Once you start opening the door to dreaming again, you will be surprised at the thoughts that start to flow and the feelings that begin to bubble up to the surface.

  1. Write a list of things you LOVE. Not things you love, but things you LOVE, in all caps. Don’t think too much about it or analyze each item, just write things down as you think of them.
  2. When you were a child of about age 8-10, what did you love to do?  What did you spend most of your time doing? Before age 10, we usually aren’t distracted by hormones, and social and economic class didn’t mean that much to most of us. We were just carefree kids, our essence of self just forming, untainted by society and social norms.
  3. What energizes you? Is there an activity, project, ministry, artistic endeavor, type of relationship that really gets you jazzed? When do you feel most alive?
  4. What are your hobbies?
  5. What type of people are you drawn to?
  6. What times in your life were you most happy?
  7. What do you think about on your down time? (Like at night just before bed?                                                            *** Side note: if you are the type of person who is never without your phone or computer, you may not be allowing yourself any down time. If you have a habit of picking up your phone to check social media first thing in the morning and you are on social media until you fall asleep, you may not be giving yourself down time. TRY THIS: When you go to bed tonight, put your phone where it is not within arms reach. As you are falling asleep, give yourself time without any distractions – no phone, computer, television, earphones. Just you and the quiet. When you awake in the morning, give yourself at least 5 minutes of time without distractions. You can use this time to think, pray, meditate, or just be still. You might be surprised what happens after just a few days. Start with 5 minutes of quiet at night and 5 minutes before you get out of bed in the morning.
  8. What do you dream about? And this time I am talking about the kind of dreams that you have when you’re asleep at night. When we are asleep, our brain is still working, still processing in our subconscious. Write down your dreams for one month, and see if there is a common theme.
  9. What do you like to read about, or what kind of information are you drawn to? History? Fiction? Self-help?
  10. What do you like to do for artist expression or creativity? Write? Draw? Sing?

These questions may not give you a definite answer, but each is a piece of the puzzle.

photo cred Mats Hagwall flickr

photo cred Mats Hagwall flickr

Pleasant dreams . . .

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll share the ONE thing that is the secret of life.

Excuse Me, I Think I’ve Lost My Passion

It seems as if everyone around us is living their dream or pursuing their passion. It’s everywhere, and with the prevalence of social media, even more so. The pressure to live interesting lives, have thrilling adventures, and at the  ‘have it all together’ is tremendous. In just one our, I have seen the following on my Facebook and Instagram feeds:  many of my friends are writing for the #write31days challenge; three of my acquaintances just published their first magazine articles; two friends are writing their first book; one friend posted an amazing graphic that she designed herself; another friend is starting a health and fitness program for young kids; and yet another is photographing Yosemite. I could go on and on, but I don’t have to. You can see it yourself in your own corner of the world.


happy familymountain climbing


But what if our dream, our passion, is dead? Or numb? Or hidden away so deep, we can’t even figure out how to find it? One dear reader, responding to the questions “What gives your life meaning? What are you passionate about?” responded, “How weird is it that I have no earthly idea?”

Oh, dear reader.  It is not so weird. I think these questions can elude us at many times in our lives. Particularly if you have set aside your own dreams for a season. A student finishing school. A mom with three kids under age four. An executive working 60-80 hours a week to build a career. A caregiver who has spent years caring for a loved one. One who has gone through great loss due to death of a loved one or a divorce and has to find a new normal. A woman in her fifties whose children are in their twenties and have left home. A victim or verbal or physical abuse who was made to feel that they were nothing and their feelings or dreams didn’t matter.

Maybe we have become too busy to dream. Maybe we have set our passions aside for a time to tend to more urgent needs. Maybe we have damaged so much by life crisis or hurtful relationships that we have shut down, including that part of our hearts that feels passion and dreams big dreams. If we are numb to feeling passion, sometimes it might take a while for our hearts to wake up again.

It’s time to get out your notebook again and do some writing. If you haven’t been writing the answers to these questions, I challenge you to try it. There is something about not only thinking about each question, but actually writing down each answer. Seeing it in black and white, going through the physical motions of typing out the answers, or  better yet, taking pen to paper – it reaches a different part of our brain, and adds another dimension to our processing.

paper pen

Today’s journaling questions:

What prevents you from dreaming, or finding your passion?

What is your current life station, and does that help or hinder you in finding your dream?

What negative relationships or life experiences keep you from finding your passion or your dream?

What takes up most of your time – work, children, school?

What might be distractions from pursuing finding your dream or passion? work, television, internet?