meaningful life

Unsettled. And It’s a Good Thing

Please excuse this stream of consciousness – it’s the middle of the night and I am processing.

I am unsettled.

It’s 2:30 am and I am lying in bed in a hotel in Chicago. Having worked Tuesday night, I went home and slept two and a half hours, then hopped in my car and drove the long and boring five-hour drive from Louisville to Chicago. I was able to get to bed early in preparation for the conference tomorrow, but I woke up at 2am. My sleep is off, my brain won’t shut down, and my heart is unsettled. I am living another part of my dream – when we sold our house and moved to Louisville, I told my husband one of my dreams was to attend the Storyline conference again, this time from the perspective of a writer. So I signed up for the whole works – dinner with Don Miller, the full conference experience, and an extra day with a workshop on how to tell a better story.

Since the first time I attend this conference (almost two years ago), so much has changed. I’ve seen old dreams die, and new dreams come true. I started two blogs, I have started writing again, and we have moved across the country, far from our friends and family, and are slowly building a new community. In preparing my heart for this conference, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the past years, particularly since the last conference.

Before that conference nineteen months ago, there were seeds planted in my heart. The speakers I heard and the things I learned watered and nurtured those seeds and I saw them sprout and start to grow.  My dream of retiring and becoming part of a close neighborhood community was reborn into a dream of buying an old house in downtown Vancouver where people could come, gather around the table, or sit with a cup of coffee and talk about life in a safe place. That dream died, or at least changed. We left our family and friends and moved 2300 miles away. We now have the house and the table is waiting for guests, but we are tasked with bravely building a new community from scratch in a city where we knew no one. Those seeds were planted, and it has been amazing to see them grow and change.

This year, I feel I am getting ready to harvest some of those dreams. As with the last conference, seeds were planted long before I got here.

And as I am typing this, I feel the tension of a new dream being born. And that scares me, but it’s also thrilling. And scary. And even more scary.

I feel big changes coming. Haven’t I had enough big changes this year?

In getting my heart ready for this conference, I looked again at the “Creating a Life Plan” curriculum from Storyline. I love this exercise – I would like to take the whole world through it! After writing my positive and negative turns and plotting them on a timeline, the theme was so evident. Through childhood, restless youth, and  a broken and restored marriage. Through miscarriages and infertility, the loss and restoration of a prodigal son, and through the season of empty nest. As a wounded member of the church and the Church, and now with this move and huge life change – it is evident.

He rescues and restores us from a hopeless place.

That is so evident as the theme of my life in this season. And I know God is going to use our story, as he has in the past, to bring hope to those who feel hopeless. To bring light in the darkness of despair. To help those who are so blinded with the inconsistencies of what they see in the Christians who are so engaged in political and moral self-righteousness that they have forgotten the core of Christianity – Love one another – I want to help shine the light. And I know this is part of my story. But here I am. Unsettled again. Feeling the labor pains of a new dream being born.

The next part of Creating a Life Plan involved looking at the roles in your life, and defining them, then setting a goal or ambition for each role. This, along with identifying a theme of your life, is meant to help provide a focus and a filter. Aside from my role as a spiritual being, the five roles I identified were: Wife, Family member (broad, I know, but it includes mom, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, and niece), Friend, Neighbor (includes my immediate physical neighborhood as well as work and extended family), and Creative (writer, etc). Narrowing these roles and identifying goals for each helped to confirm the message that has been poking at my heart.

I don’t remember when, but in the past year or so I read about the wife of a prominent worship leader and author who had been a popular Christian blogger and I believe a speaker as well. She had multitudes of followers on social media, but after some events in her life, decided to leave it all behind. She closed her popular blog and basically left social media to focus on her community. Not her community of followers, but her actual physical community – her family, her friends, her church. Something about this really appealed to me.

Then recently I was listening to author Shauna Niequist speak about something similar. She is a popular Christian author and speaker, but she felt that things had become unbalanced. She decided to reevaluate her time and energy, and to keep her family and her close community a priority, even if that meant disappointing her larger community (social media, and her agent). Basically she said – if I am not as loving and present with my people as I am on stage or with my social media community, what good is that? I am not explaining it clearly (thank you, sleep deprivation), but hearing her talk about her change in priorities only served to confirm what has been on my heart.

I want to love my people better.

And to do that, I am thinking I need to close my circle.

By that, I mean concentrating on my five roles, and my goals in each of those roles, and letting everything else go.

What will that look like? I don’t know, but I am getting some clues. I think it is going to mean a big change in social media. I love keeping in contact with friends, co-workers, and family from back home. But how much of my energy is going to maintaining a relationship with friends from high school or people I worked with ten years ago. I enjoy that, but in terms of a greater purpose, what does that mean. Not to mention the time I spend on social media. If I want to concentrate on my ‘small circle’ and really love them well, what will that mean? How will things change? Am I spending more time reading an ex-co-worker’s blog or being part of a Facebook group of 10,000 dreamers than I am loving my next door neighbor who had surgery yesterday, or practically loving my sons who are living in all corners or the world, or writing a card or letter to my brother on his anniversary, or finding time across the miles and time changes to talk to my best friend on the phone? Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying that my co-worker’s blog or Facebook group are not good things. But are they the BEST things at this time in my life? I do not want to sacrifice best things to good things.

With limited resources of time and energy, how can I best build and love my tribe, my people, my small circle?

And if I am looking to focus on my small circle, what does this mean for my dream to write?

I don’t know that answer. But I have a feeling I will get closer to the answer this weekend. Unsettled is a good thing.

 

 

Advertisements

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?

If You Don’t Change Anything, Where Will You Be One Year From Now? 

Are you satisfied with the way your life is going? Are you happy? Do you feel your life is meaningful?

Today’s post is a journaling exercise or mediation.

Imagine you were to continue to live exactly as you are now – same job, relationships, habits, projects, priorities – not making any changes.

Now look ahead to one year from now. How do you see your life? Would you look back on the last year and say that you were living a life with a greater purpose? Would you say that you have been living a meaningful story?

If not, what changes do you need to make now so that one year from now you will be living a better story?

*These questions are based on material from Donald Miller’s life-changing Storyline Conference