purpose

Help Me To Embrace This Vulnerable Season

*Background info: In the past 8 months, there have been many changes in my life. I became an empty-nester. My husband got a new job. Actually, he got one job, then was promoted to another. I sold our home where we had lived for 13 years. I moved away from the Pacific NW, where I have lived all of my life, to Louisville, Kentucky, 2300 miles away. I quit my job as a hospice nurse. I became unemployed (by choice, but still, unemployed). We moved to a new part of the country, a new city, a new house, a new church. 

I’m so absent-minded lately, my husband is afraid I have early on-set Alzheimer’s. I lose my way when I drive to the health club. I leave for an errand and come back without the item I was supposed to get. I ask my husband repeatedly about the dates he is going out-of-town. I leave eggs boiling on the stove until they almost blow up (it’s not as cool as it sounds). I remember once my kids were convinced that I had early dementia. I was so scattered, I was almost convinced, too. So I made and appointment with a doctor friend of mine who is an expert in the area, and after some testing, she assured me that what I was dealing with was just stress. She told me that if you are stressed or sleep deprived, you can exhibit similar symptoms. However, this was the best test – If you forget where you put your keys, that is normal. If you forget what your keys are used for, that is not normal.

And on top of that, I have become a wishy-washy mass of insecurity. I have little to no sense of self or where I belong, and I have lost my sense of purpose. An acquaintance recently asked me, “What do you do?” I am currently not working, so she asked me “Well, what do you like to do? Do you have any hobbies?” I started blankly at her.

“Well, I like to write.” I seriously couldn’t think of anything else to say. I write, but I have a little blog and it’s probably not what you would be interested. I longed to say something interesting, to have a fabulous answer as to what I am doing with all of my free time. I stammered and stuttered and finally looked at my husband and said, “What do I like to do?”

WHAT? WHO is this person? What made me become this shaky leaf of insecurity?

THIS IS NOT ME.

And I miss the old me. I miss being able to have dinner with my kids. I miss the woman who worked hard as a hospice nurse liaison to make sure her patients were well-informed and well cared for. I miss supporting my colleagues, working shoulder to shoulder to advocate for our patients. I miss being an expert in my field. I miss my tribe of women, whom I purposely gathered over the years – women with whom I could share my heart, who would pray for me, cook with me, or just come sit and talk to me while I did my dishes. I miss feeling like what I was doing on a daily basis was purposeful. I miss the structure. I miss familiarity.

I don’t like feeling so uncertain all of the time. I don’t like having all of this time to fill, but I also don’t want it to be filled. I’m tired and feeling lost and out-of-place all of the time. I’m tired of feeling lonely. I’m tired of having one small incident – like getting looked over for a job, or having someone not return a text – shape my whole day.

And honestly, I tire of hearing myself whine about it. (You are probably tired of hearing about it, too). As a matter of fact, I hate even writing about this, but it was one of those times I just have to vent or go crazy. So I’m not going to post this blog on social media. I am just writing for me. So if you have somehow stumbled upon this, you were meant to be here. This is one of the few times I will leave open the comment section, so if you’re reading this, I’d love for you to leave a comment. 

It’s coming up on one year in just a few months. I thought things would be settled by now, figured out. I thought I would have a sense of community, a structure, a sense of purpose. I just want everything to feel okay. Some days it does, but honestly, most days it just doesn’t.

And to be really honest, not all of this has to do with the changes that have happened in my life. I could just as easily be feeling this way back in the Northwest. I would just have work and friends to distract me. In any setting, I am a seasonal person. And I know this is simply a season.

As always, the thing that helps me get centered is to get back to the basics:

Mindful breathing when I first wake up.

Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising.

Looking at what I am feeling, discerning what is a lie and what is the truth, and being thankful for what I have.

And I am finding what I am lacking the most, and what I am in deepest need of – time with God and remembering who I am in Him. Being okay with where I am because he has brought me here for a reason.

I find that I am often drifting down the stream and entering into a spinning whirlpool before I remember that I have had a lifeline all along. 

Lord, I need help. I know that as I look back on my life, I’ve learned the most from times of struggle, when I am pushed out of my comfort zone and am learning to rely on you, to love you in a new way, and to let you love me. Those times are what has made me life so much richer. Be with me, give me peace and strength and joy. Help me to reach out and be your loving touch to those around me. Help me to embrace this vulnerable season.

“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that  are right with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity, to name a few.”  Brene Brown

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When You’re Just Not Feeling the Joy

This morning I woke up with a pit in my stomach. It’s one of those mornings when things just feel off, and my heart is unsettled. Often I can pinpoint the cause, but sometimes it eludes me. I will try to distract myself or medicate it away with sleep, sugar, caffeine, mindless tv, or more sleep. I think this feeling is not uncommon, particularly as we get close to the holidays.

It’s supposed to be a joyous time of year, but sometimes we just don’t feel like rejoicing. Is there something wrong with us?

Let’s look at the messages we are taking in. We are bombarded with commercials that tell us that we are unhappy and that our lives are less than perfect unless we buy a certain product. On social media, people are posting holiday pictures and discussing family, but for many, it is not a happy time of year, and it can be magnified when we feel like everyone else around us is happy and festive. And to be honest, the state of the world and the amount of social and political unrest is unsettling, particularly as things become more and more divisive.

We can feel uneasy or unsettled at any time, not just during the holiday season. So this morning I am going through my mental checklist, because if there is something significant and I don’t deal with it, it will show its ugly head later, so it’s best to just deal with things now, if I can. Perhaps this checklist will be helpful for you as well. Here are some things to think about when you’re feeling unsettled and you don’t know why:

  1. Do I have unrealistic expectations for the holidays? Am I looking for THIS holiday season to make up for any unpleasant or unsatisfactory experiences I had growing up or in the past? Or is it something more basic, not necessarily connected to the holidays?
  2. Is it a gnawing conscience? Sometimes when there is this uneasiness in my heart, it’s because I’ve said or done something hurtful or insensitive, and I need to make amends. Have I been hurtful, unkind, or insensitive? Do I have unfinished business with someone, and my heart isn’t letting me ignore it?
  3. Is it shame? Did I say something out of turn, or behave in a way that I wish I hadn’t? Is it legitimate shame (where I have truly done something that I shouldn’t have) or is it misplaced shame, put on by myself or others, to make me feel ‘less than’? Is this a sign that I am looking for significance in the wrong place, or letting outside forces determine my worth?
  4. Is it undiscipline? Am I putting off a duty or responsibility that I need to be working on? Am I distracting myself from some things that must be done with things that are unnecessary? Am I spending time on things that I call ‘time sucks’ – like social media, Pinterest, mindless tv, binge-watching Netflix, etc – rather than prioritizing the important things that I should be doing?
  5. Am I not setting good boundaries? Have I said  “yes” to something because I felt obligated rather than called to do something? Have I said “No” to something or made excuses when my heart knows I really should have said yes? Have I let someone have more power in my life than they should? Am I allowing another’s actions or words to affect my sense of self?
  6. Am I placing my sense of personal significance in the wrong place? Am I basing how I feel about my own worth on the opinions of others? On whether or not I have convinced them how awesome I am? On how many likes or comments or views I get? On whether or not someone agrees and supports my opinion? Am I comparing myself or my experience with others online (whose real lives are likely completely different from what they portray online)?
  7. Am I connected and in community? Do I have people with whom I can share my heart? Am I lonely and missing loved ones? Is there unresolved grief? Is there loss that might feel particularly strong at this time of year?
  8. Am I living my purpose? Am I just going through the motions, or am I living a meaningful purpose, fulfilling what only I can do in this life? Do I know what makes my life meaningful? (okay, getting a little too deep, time to move on to the basics)
  9. If you still cannot pinpoint what’s causing you to feel unsettled, look at the basics: Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthy foods? Are you eating too much sugar (studies show sugar withdrawal mimics depression)? Are you getting outside and getting some exercise? Are you spending time in the sun? (or if it’s dark where you live, are you getting enough vitamin D?) Are you drinking enough water? Are you spending time with those you love? Are you working too much? Are you practicing good self-care? Are you spending time each day having fun? When was the last time you laughed? If you’re a spiritual person, are you staying connected spiritually by praying, reading, meditating?

Often just thinking about and labeling the cause will help to put things in perspective. It also helps me to talk to a friend – sometimes just processing things out loud helps you see things in a different light. I’ve found that sometimes the answer is as simple as taking a break from social media. I don’t think people realize the amount of angst it can create until you step away for a time.

Sometimes the feeling of being unsettled can signal anxiety or depression. This can be temporary, but if the feeling doesn’t dissipate, you may need to look at outside help and get some counseling and see a medical doctor. If you need to seek help, do it. You’re worth it.

Wishing you a holiday filled with love. And joy.

 

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.

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

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.