“How Did I Get Here?”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve collapsed into the sofa after a crazy day, and thought with a tired sigh, “How did I get here?”

That question is certainly a great lead-in to some introspection isn’t it? It creates a perfect opportunity to silently count the days blessings, but…that’s not usually what I do. Instead, I stare at the ceiling and think back on that crazy, unexpected curveball that started my day, mentally watching it whack into the first domino of my carefully stacked, neatly planned next 12 hours. One after the other, my efforts fell into mindless oblivion as I worked to put out fires and juggle appointments.

Looking back, I know I was working hard, but I just can’t remember specifics.

Memory fog was especially strong when I was raising my two children. I quit work when they were about four and two years old, so I had the great fun of being present to them and for them for many years. But the same syndrome I experienced while working would happen at home too.

The kids loved to wake up early, and seemed to have limitless supplies of energy. (What four and two-year-olds don’t?) PreSchool, gymnastics, swim lessons, trips to the park, laundry, cooking, art projects, books – it was a busy time. My husband would come home from work and ask “How was your day?.  I’d turn to answer and freeze. Um, I don’t know. What did I do all day? It seemed like all I did was keep up. I struggled many days to answer that question, often just settling with “Fine. How was yours?”

Honestly, I’d love to tell him everything we did and how wonderful it all was. But that would mean taking a little break to quietly look back at the passing hours, so I could see, really see, all the joy, sorrow, love and challenge that swirled around us. But who has time for that?

This week, we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, a day that gently draws us all into self-reflection. No matter how busy or brain-fogged we are by daily responsibilities, we gather together with family and friends to celebrate all the ways we have been blessed. And make a conscious effort to answer the question, “How did I get here?”

The gifts and blessings of each hour, in each day of this past year have shaped and directed us to where we are right now. What a great thing it is to take time this week to look back at all the miracles, seen and unseen, that have allowed us to be…here. Right here. Here in this blessed space with our families, friends and those we serve.

What if “How did I get here?” became the focus of every evening prayer?  I mean, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day of the week. Instead of sitting on the sofa feeling confused, we’d silently review the day instead, giving thanks for each grace that carried us through.

That way, every day would be Thanksgiving Day.

 

Surrounded by the Spirit on Facebook

 

The Sad Truth About Being Too Busy

It’s hard to keep up with life sometimes. Commitments to our families, communities, schools, not to mention volunteer activities; pile up on calendars and spin car odometers. The morning alarm ring starts to resemble the flag drop at the Indianapolis 500.

“And their off!”

At first, having a full plate is exciting. Getting so much accomplished is like winning the premiere race of the day…every day. But after a while, it all just gets overwhelming. And there’s a reason for that: In all the work and movement that’s been scheduled, something got left behind.

In the midst of all the planning, protecting yourself through having strong personal boundaries, somehow didn’t make the list. So on the day goes. There’s so much to do, the day never seems to end. From flag to finish line, there’s simply no time to just take a deep breath. Or be silent. Or meet with a friend. The sad truth is: being too busy, which used to be exciting, now becomes a burden.

But there is a way back. The best way to fight against an energy sapping, over-busy life, is to define some personal boundaries.

Physically, boundaries are easy to see, easy to set up. Things like fences and hedges are all built to do the same thing. They announce “This is where my property begins. This is mine.” Personally and spiritually, it’s a little harder to identify boundaries because you can’t physically see them, or erect them. But they’re just as important as any fence in your backyard.

When you set up personal boundaries, deciding what to do and what to avoid, you are protecting both your time and your heart. When you have healthy limits, your daily burden lightens.

Keeping boundaries in place does take constant vigilance. People will always ask for something, hoping for your time, talent, or advice. It’s so tempting to say yes to everyone, because saying ‘no’ sounds so…unhelpful. But if you say yes every time, the resulting responsibilities will drain your energy. Soon your happy attitude will disappear too, as you begin resenting the work you do, even it’s for a good cause, because you’re tired and over-scheduled. That’s no way to go through life.

The ability to confidently define your boundaries, to decide how much time you have to give, and how much you have to keep, is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Being at peace with your day and with yourself is is a great grace, and it is also a great desire of our hearts.

Boundaries aren’t just a sign of a healthy and balanced way of life, they are also a sign that you respect yourself, and honor your hearts desire.

You have the power to make balanced, life-giving choices in the course of your day. Use that power to lead you to a well-rested, healthy lifestyle, serving your family and community in the best way you can.

And don’t forget that serving the ‘community’ includes you too.

 

Surrounded by the Spirit on Facebook

 

 

 

 

Diving Lessons

Five children, ages seven to ten, were lined up side-by-side on the cement pool deck, my sister and I among them. Our diving coach stood about ten feet in front of us, clapping out the same rhythm, “Step: 1 -2- 3, JUMP!”

Five new divers took three steps forward as counted, and then jumped as high as we could. After jumping, we’d scramble back to the starting point on the deck to do it again. And again. And again. After a while, we added throwing our arms up in the air, while kicking up our left knee before jumping. Step by repetitive step, we learned a dive approach.

I remember practicing that darn three-step approach for days. Finally, we were allowed to move to the diving board. Step: 1 – 2 – 3, knee and arms up, pushing down on the flexible board, bouncing up high, sailing up into the air and landing in the water.

Now, as an adult, diving is one of my favorite sports to watch. The movements in the air are amazing, as are the perfect entries. But those dives start on the board. Fancy dives just don’t happen without a strong approach and a high bounce.

We’ve all had the experience of crawling before walking, and babbling before we speak. These are necessary beginning steps to a new skill. We don’t usually question why these steps are needed, because it makes sense that it’s ‘practice, practice, practice’ that shapes and prepares us for growth.

Not that it’s easy. Diving into a new skill, or branching out into a new job or volunteer position can be very daunting. How am I supposed to know if I can do it? If God called me here, shouldn’t I see success quickly?

I often struggle with these questions. I have hope that I’ll be successful, but doubt comes in with expectations. I want mastery of new skills to come fast and easy. But if I’d just look back on my diving experience, I’d certainly be comforted.

Not everything comes quickly, and really, it rarely happens that way. Having to work hard to make the most of our opportunities is truly a universal truth.

 

If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.

~Mark Spitz, Winner of 7 Gold Medals at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games

 

Luck has nothing to do with it, because I have spent many, many hours, countless hours, on the court working for my one moment in time, not knowing when it would come.  ~Serena Williams, Winner of 2 Gold Medals at 2000 and 2008 Olympic Games

 

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.

~Malcolm Gladwell

 

If you’re feeling called to something new, don’t decide that it’s not for you if you’re not immediately successful. Just take a deep breath and try to enjoy the season of learning. It can be as much fun as finally mastering the new skill.

Be kind and gentle with yourself, knowing that good things eventually come with open eyes, open ears and a willingness to practice.

Step: 1 – 2 – 3. You begin at the beginning. But with work and practice, who knows how high you’ll soar?

 

Surrounded by the Spirit on Facebook

What Do You Have Faith In?

When you sit down in a chair, do you sit there holding on for dear life, praying that the chair won’t break? Or do you have faith that it won’t crumble under your weight and drop you to the floor?

Well. That’s silly. Of course you believe the chair will hold you. The faith we have in furniture is so great that we never even think about it really. Our trust is complete.

When my son got his driver’s license, we had faith in him. We trusted that he would not be harmed, and that he would drive defensively. Then he had an accident. His fault. The car had to have thousands of dollars of work, while we became a one-car family.

After the car was repaired, we had faith that this wouldn’t happen again. We handed over the keys, and told him that we trusted that he would be safe. Then he had another accident. His fault. The car had thousands of dollars of work, while we became a one-car family once again. Oh, and just to top it all off, our insurance company dropped us. Sigh. Who could blame them really.

Now you would think that after two expensive accidents, this child’s driving career would be toast, but you’d be wrong. We had faith, and we handed those keys over once again.

It’s fascinating how we have so much faith in furniture, isn’t it? And how we have rock-solid faith in our children, and in people in general, even though they will eventually fail us. That’s just how people are, we’re all well-meaning mistake machines, and that’s just how it is. But still, we have faith.

Faith is a gift, we all have it. But like all gifts that we’ve been given, it’s up to us to decide how and where to activate it. We almost universally apply it to things like cars starting, doors opening and chairs not collapsing, but almost universally struggle when applying it to God.

The boy with two accidents? “Here’s the keys!” The God who made me and supports my life? “Um…I don’t know…”

Jesus said if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we’ll be calling mountains to move, but I’ve never seen that happen, have you? So faith truly is a difficult gift to activate when it comes to God, and Jesus surely knew it.

But he also knew it wasn’t impossible. If we already know how to trust created things, then certainly there’s hope in placing our trust in the Creator. Maybe our faith starts small, but it can grow if we’ll only hang in there and practice it.

We make it a habit to exercise and build up our muscle strength so we’ll be ready to face the day. If we don’t, our muscles will be weak and useless. If we don’t continually practice faith and trust in our Creator, it won’t be there when we need it most either.

It’s okay to start small, even smaller than a mustard seed. I’m not really interested in moving a mountain anyway. Trusting God like I trust my desk chair? That’ll be a great start.

 

Surrounded by the Spirit on Facebook

Called? Yes! Gifted? Not So Sure…

Have you ever felt called to do something that you’ve never done? Somehow you know in the stillness of your heart it’s the right thing to do, but have no idea where to start?

I think it happens all the time. I also think that it results in so much confusion that many dismiss the call or even quit before reaching the starting line.

When my dad retired, he and my mom began spending their winters in Florida. Over time, the stay in Florida got longer, so they decided to become Florida residents.

They had an easy transition to the new state, new home, new everything really. They were full of life and loved to socialize, so it didn’t take long before they had a wide circle of friends.

One of the activities my dad got involved in, much to my surprise, was Habitat for Humanity. A new friend of his worked with the charity, building houses for underprivileged families. My dad loved that idea.

Diving right in, he started up on the roofs, pounding nails into roofing shingles in the Florida sun. It couldn’t have been very comfortable or very stimulating work, but he really enjoyed it. When he hit his 70’s, the crew boss invited him to come down from the roof and never return. My dad saw the wisdom in that, so it was goodbye to roofs, and hello to drywall. He didn’t care, he just wanted to be a part of something good.

I mentioned that I was surprised. It’s not that I doubted his desire, or the worthiness of the charity. I just thought it was an odd choice. He never was the “handyman type.” He told me once that his dad (who could fix anything) didn’t want children around when he made repairs, so he never learned how to work with plumbing, electricity, or redecorating.

So I asked him why he thought he was able to help with constructing a house, because It sure didn’t sound like a perfect match of skill and purpose to me.

Let me tell you, his answer was priceless. “You can do anything if a professional shows you how.”

I love that. It’s such a great mantra for anyone who doubts their call in life.

His reasoning was so clear, simple and true. Never laid a roof? Have a roofer show you, and you’re on your way. Never hung drywall? Take the time to show up, listen and practice. You’ll get it done.

You may have heard that God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. That means you don’t have to begin your new adventure unprepared and alone. Instead, like my dad, seek out others with experience in the field. Take classes, read books, find out how the professionals did it.

My dad never thought he’d be a tradesman. He just wanted to do his best. Isn’t that all that we can hope for too?

The key is to show up. Listen. Practice. With a little help, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll accomplish.

 

 

Surrounded by the Spirit on Facebook

 

Photo credits:

Photo by Ray Hennessy, Lance Asper, Janko Ferlic

A Silent Retreat Experience

On October 2nd, I drove four and a half hours west to St. Louis, Missouri to attend my first silent retreat. Although I had read the outline of daily activities, mailed to me months ago, I was still a little nervous. This was going to be an adventure.

When I arrived, I checked in and picked up my name tag and room assignment. I found out there were 81 women attending, and I was one of the 25 ‘first timers’. Each retreat participant got their own room with a private bathroom with shower. The room was about as big as a decent sized walk-in closet. If I put my suitcase on the available floor space, I wouldn’t be able to get past to the bathroom. First lesson in simplicity. How big does a room need to be? And the first of many gifts…I was on the ‘river side’ of the dorm, giving me beautiful views of the Mississippi River (and sunrises), and right next to a little alcove sitting area. I spent many hours there.

I had some free time until lunch, so I walked the grounds. Even though silence didn’t begin until after the first meal, my fellow retreatants were already sinking into the quiet. Adirondack chairs, arranged to view of the river, were filling up fast. And everywhere you looked were reminders of the gift of silence. From wall signs to floor mats.

The White House Retreat Center is run by the Jesuit order of Catholic priests. Although it is Catholic in spirit, all men and women of Christian faith are welcome. Each day begins with Morning Prayer, followed by breakfast and the first of three to four Conferences a day.

The Conferences are meetings of all the participants, to hear a talk given by the retreat director. This retreat was built around the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which I had heard of, but never studied.

After each session, we were given work sheets with a review of the main points of the talk, and questions to meditate and pray over. In the free time after each conference, you could choose to study the sheets, pray independently, take a walk, or even take a nap. We were told there is no ‘right way’ to proceed in the retreat. Wherever you felt call to go, that’s where God wanted you to be.

Spiritual directors were available by appointment, and a small library was open for our use. I found a book I really liked, called The Examen. The examen is a five step process of reviewing your day, compiled by St. Ignatius of Loyola. I only had time to read the first step “Gratitude”, so after I got home, I ordered the book from Amazon, along with the Autobiography of St. Ignatius.

I had a wonderful experience on retreat. I really connected with the themes of the talks, and the grounds were just gorgeous. So many flowers. So many monarch butterflies!

Keeping silence was easy for me. I think I could have stayed an additional day, but not more. I say that because of the study material given. For me, it was very challenging, with new ideas and questions to ponder several times a day.

At the last lunch before leaving, my table mates and I could talk, and it was fun to introduce ourselves, even though we’d seen each other for three days. (There was time to speak and visit after dinner until the 8 pm conference, but it was optional. I decided to keep silence.) We all agreed that somehow we all felt like family, even though we didn’t speak until the last day.

I definitely think I’d attend this kind of retreat again someday. It’s a unique opportunity to come away from the everyday and sink into silence and the presence of the Lord. It’s such a great renewal of spirit and relationship with God.

Who wouldn’t want that?

 

Surrounded By The Spirit on Facebook

 

Thank you for all the wonderful comments on my last post, and the entries for the Chicken Soup for the Soul giveaway. The winner of the My Kind (of) America is: Estelle Soger! Congratulations Estelle, and I’ll be sure and get a copy of the book to you 🙂

 

 

Yay! A Book Give-Away!

I am so proud to be one of the 101 contributing writers to the recently published Chicken Soup for the Soul book: My Kind (of) America. A call had gone out for stories about kindness, demonstrating that our country is filled with people helping people.

~

This is a book about hope and the true American spirit. It reminds us that a kind America is everyone’s kind of America.            ~Amazon.com

 

This is a book about Americans doing what we do best: being kind, compassionate, generous, and welcoming. That’s my kind of America.”    ~Amy Newmark

~

The book happened to be published on the same day I attended a luncheon given by Chicken Soup for the Soul’s publisher, Amy Newmark. She was in town for a conference, and so invited contributors living in the area to come together for a meal, to learn more about the Chicken Soup company, and to meet each other too.

A smiling group of Chicken Soup Writers!

Amy Newmark and Me

We all learned a lot about the company, and I met fellow writers that came from all sorts of backgrounds. A few were hoping to write their own book someday, but most just had a story to tell, and were excited to have a platform to share it.

I really appreciated the generosity of Chicken Soup Publishing, as well as the warm welcome from Ms. Newmark. She really made us all feel valued and special. And this is such a great moment for a book like this to come out. National News organizations are really good at telling us about the hard and tragic, but not so good about helping us to realize that people like you and me can make a big difference in the world. One act a time.

I would love to give away a copy of this spirit-lifting book. (I wish I had enough for everyone.) I really think you’ll love it. All you have to do to enter is make a comment on this post. That’s your entry form. This coming weekend, I’ll choose the winner.

So go ahead and make a comment, and we’ll see who ends up with a free copy of the book!

 

Surrounded by the Spirit on Facebook

A Time To Be Silent

I am going on retreat this week, and I have to say that I’m both excited and nervous. I’ve never attended a silent retreat, so this will be a new experience for me. There will be talks to attend, and time for all to come together for prayer, so I’m thankful for a little structure in the quiet days ahead.

Participants are not allowed to have computers or iPADS or internet, so I will be silent on the web and social media too. Please know that I will keep you in my heart when I pray, and I’ll look forward to sharing the experience with you when I get back.

In the meantime, I saw this quote on Twitter, and really liked it, so I thought I’d share.

See you in a week, with a Chicken Soup for the Soul book give-away, okay? It’s a date!

 

Surrounded by the Spirit on Facebook

Why Don’t You Fly?

Have you noticed that some birds would rather walk than fly?

Well, maybe I should say ‘hop’. Driving down the street, I notice a robin staring me down from the pavement ten yards ahead. As I quickly approach, the bird starts hopping to the curb. I can’t help thinking, “Why don’t you fly?”

Later that day, out for a post-dinner stroll, a bird stands in the middle of the sidewalk in front of me. Suddenly, he turns and starts hopping like crazy, thinking he can outrun me or something? “Dude!”, I think, “Why don’t you fly?”

I’m sure there must be a biological reason for the hopping thing. Soaring through the air looks easy, but it must take a lot of energy and effort…maybe that robin in the road was just plain tired. Or hurt. Or conserving energy.

Ok. I get that. Sometimes, I don’t have the energy to fly either.

Have you ever turned down a Friday night invitation to go out with friends, because what you really wanted was a PB&J and a nap? A week of work, mixed with evening projects and volunteering, has snatched away your last ounce of energy. Maybe your friends won’t understand why you can’t blast yourself off the couch, but you know. It’s what you need to recover your strength.

And it’s not only physical exhaustion that can slow us down to a crawl (or hop…). Being emotionally hurt also vaporizes strength. People around us hurt feelings and slam hearts with even the smallest of criticisms or slights. Ugh. It’s awfully hard to fly when life keeps weighting down our wings.

There’s a time and a place for everything; there’s a time to fly and a time to walk. And ‘walk time’ doesn’t mean it’s impossible to fly anymore. It just means that for now, we need some rest. Our bodies and souls sing quietly in harmony: “Not now. Rest. Be at peace.”

If I try to take off now, I might not have the stamina. Rest might feel indulgent or selfish, but believe me, it isn’t. Sometimes, being grounded is the most important place to be.

Maybe you’re at a place in life where flying seems impossible. Whether you’re tired, hurt or waiting for the next great thing to come along, you know for now, the ground is going to be your primary mode of transportation. People might ask you, “Why don’t you fly?” Just be patient with them, and don’t let those words push you to do anything before you’re ready.

Just tell them that you’re officially grounded for the day. Maybe they’d like to join you? You might invite them to slow down too. Why not grab a coffee at the outdoor cafe, or sit on a park bench together and enjoy the breeze?

No flying today. But who knows? Maybe tomorrow you’ll be soaring again among the clouds. That sounds so good.

But you know, for today…grounded sounds perfect too.

 

Surrounded by the Spirit on Facebook

Photo credit: Turdus-migration, Slava-Bowman, Ben-Etienne, Frankie

 

Resistance Vs. Courage

How often do you get an up-close look at the rewards of courage and the futility of resistance?

My husband and I like to watch a television show called ‘The Profit’. Marcus Lemonis, a very successful businessman, meets with small business owners who are facing bankruptcy or failure. He offers the owners his own money and expertise to save the companies. The deal always includes a clause that states he is in complete control. Of everything.

 

Basically he teaches the business owners how to run more efficiently, market their ideas on a wider stage, and even change product packaging. Everything about the company is fair game. He knows how to make a promising product take off and become very successful.

In the beginning, all the businesses are excited and hopeful about Mr. Lemonis, his money, and his ideas. But as the new process rolls out, some stand stunned as warehouses are cleaned out, formulas change and balance sheets are scrutinized. It’s a life changing moment. Will they see the project through to success? Or will they push back, angry that the beloved brand is morphing into something they don’t recognize anymore?

I recognize that ‘change is hard’. I understand how new ideas become overwhelming.

But it always surprises Mr. Lemonis. He’s convinced that his new ways will succeed, so he’s just baffled by owners who fight him on basic business decisions that make 100% sense in the marketplace.

Resistance. Why do some entrepreneurs make all the changes easily, while the others balk at even the smallest suggestions? From what I’ve seen, the ones who can adapt to change and new leadership, are the people who are humble and courageous.

Humble people realize they don’t know everything, and are open to new ideas. If there’s a expert ready to teach, they’re ready to learn. It’s not that they value themselves less, they just understand that we can learn a lot from each other. The business owners who lack humility see any suggestion as a personal insult. Instead of studying a new idea and looking for the value in it, they feel ‘ganged up on’ and devalued. Pride tells them to resist any change and reject whoever suggests it.

Humility lives hand-in-hand with courage. It’s a good thing to listen to correction, but it’s an even greater thing to adopt the new direction and implement it. It takes a brave and determined person to step out into something unfamiliar, trusting in something that’s never been done before.

Resistance vs. Courage. Resistance wants to live in the same place, doing the same thing. The hope of success is never enough to take the leap because it’s too comfortable to stay planted.

I never thought much about why we enjoy watching The Profit. But now I think it’s because we have a ringside seat every week to the epic battle between Courage and Resistance. Humility vs. Pride.

It demonstrates that if a small businessman can succeed in life being humble and brave…well…maybe we can too.

 

 

Surrounded by the Spirit on Facebook