Tag Archives: blessings

Embracing the Blessings

25 Aug

12049231_10206140076553761_743071400173545284_nSo last week I wrote about feeling inadequate because of my lack of first day school pictures. This past weekend, both my older boys headed back to college, and I have been on a roller coaster of emotions. My middle son moved back to school in stages which made the moving process easier. He’s close to home and we get to see him fairly often, so it isn’t as difficult leaving him. We will even be on campus this week for a local soccer club game and to watch his younger brother perform in a special football game being held at the college on Friday. We might get in a quick visit each night, especially if there is dinner involved, so, there will probably be dinner involved because this mom is not above a food bribe to get a quick visit. Sending the oldest off was a bit trickier because it was the last time. This is his last semester of college. He will probably be working out of town when he graduates. He will be getting married next year and there will be so many lasts. He laughs at me every time I cry and tells me it’s not like he won’t be back and asked me one time why I cry so much, especially over him. My answer is that every new thing that happens for him is an ending for me.

This week several friends and family members are sending their little ones off to preschool and kindergarten for the first time. There is so much nervousness, and I understand. My son was less than six months from starting full time school when Columbine happened. Up until then, we all thought that school was a safe place for our children; now we had doubts. My son was in first grade on 9/11 as I watched the twin towers fall and knew our lives would never be the same, and they aren’t. I thought about homeschooling my children because of those incidents, but I realized that was fear talking, my fear and my erroneous thoughts that I could somehow protect them from the world. Please understand that I know many people homeschool successfully, and I admire them greatly. This just means that my reasons would have been based in fear, and when I realized that, I knew it would be an unhealthy decision for us.

I remember dropping my oldest off for kindergarten like it was yesterday. He was so very excited, and I was so nervous. His classroom had a door directly to the outside, so the teacher met him at the door and told my son to say goodbye to us. He did and disappeared into the building. We had walked to school, and I made it all the way down the block before I burst into tears. My husband laughed at me and said, “You made it through the hard stuff. Why are you crying now?” I laughed and told him to shut up and give me my moment, and that was all it was, a moment. You see, I didn’t have the words for it back then and just saying that I was sad because my little guy was growing up seemed inadequate. I was excited for him because he was excited and ready for school. I was thrilled for him to blossom like I knew he would as he was challenged to learn more and more. I was amazed at how easily he seemed to manage, a trait I have admired in him over and over as he has grown into a very responsible young man. What I couldn’t grasp back then was how I could be so incredibly proud of him, how I could love him so much and how I could hurt so badly at the same time, but I believe now that it was the fear of change and more specifically the fear of the unknown.

When people move onto a new adventure, we can go along for the ride or we can resist what’s happening. When we can see the benefit for ourselves, it’s easier to let go. When seeing the benefit to us is clouded by what we think we are losing, we suffer. For me, the resistance seems to happen with firsts. I didn’t cry when my second and third children went to preschool or kindergarten for the first time because I knew from the first one that we would all be just fine. The same thing happened with my second book. I felt so much less fear because I knew that whatever happened, I would be fine, and I was. Now that I’m writing my third book, it feels like sending my third child off to school. We do the steps to get ready and we launch; easy peasy. So why did sending my oldest child off to college for the last time set me off? Like when he was in kindergarten, I have no idea what to expect next. He’ll be married by this time next year. He won’t be coming home for breaks and spending time with us like he has before. Our lives will change, and I don’t know if I’ll like the new arrangement. I’m afraid I’ll lose him, and there is the biggie. I’m afraid that the little boy who ran headlong into the preschool room and had to be begged for a hug goodbye, the boy who happily disappeared into the kindergarten classroom, and the boy who couldn’t wait to drive, travel to Europe and go away to college might not come back. I’m afraid that this piece of my heart will fly away and never return, and I have no idea how I would deal with that. It’s a feeling I don’t want to think about, but it’s one that I need to make peace with because when I do, the feeling will subside. Once, when this very brave young man was very small, he was afraid of thunderstorms. I asked him what the worst of the storm could be, and he replied that he could die. We practice a Christian faith, and I asked him what would happen if he died, and he said he would go to Heaven. I then reminded him that as Christians that is the ultimate thing we aspire to, so the worst thing that could happen to him was actually the best thing that could happen to him. He thought about that for a moment, and I could see the stress leaving his body and mind as he relaxed at the thought of going to Heaven. Then he looked at me and said very matter of factly, “but I still don’t want to die.” I laughed and told him I didn’t either but that when we make peace with the worst that can happen, we can move through the fear and he’s been doing that ever since.

Lately, that lesson seems to be coming back to me on a different level. You see, I am very blessed. If you read my blog regularly, you know I also have challenges, but I realized recently that I feel that I have to qualify my blessings with my challenges. It’s like I have this accounting system in my head that needs to balance the good with the bad, so others won’t feel bad about my good. I know I am privileged. I know I am lucky. I am also learning to stop being ashamed of any of that because someone else doesn’t have it. Instead, I intend to use my gifts and my privilege and my luck to make the world a better place in every way that I can because as lucky and privileged as I am, I work hard to make a good life better. I do my best to live with purpose and on purpose. Yes, I understand that not everyone has the ability to do that, but I also understand that many do and choose to blame others rather than take responsibility for their own lives and choices. I know children of World War II survivors whose parents came here with nothing. They taught their families to work hard and save well and now they are very well off financially and people call them lucky and privileged. I know immigrants from Asia that came here with nothing more than a skill to sew or cook and have made a very comfortable life. Many have sponsored others to come here, not expecting repayment, to allow others to live a better life. I know a family who lived in slavery in this country for years until they risked their lives to get free and now live a comfortable life and do what they can to help others. All of them know of others who were not as lucky as they were and are. None of them is ashamed of what they have, but they are grateful, and they inspire me constantly to be a better person. They also remind me that although I may shed a tear or two as my son goes off to college for his final semester, watching him drive away is a privilege, a blessing and a moment to savor. The difference isn’t that he is 22 rather than 3 or 5. The difference is how I choose to look at it, and that is a beautiful thing. I wish you all your very own beautiful things and as always, thanks for being you and have a great day.

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The Morning That Almost Wasn’t

22 Jan

Yesterday was what I would call a plot twisty day. One of my favorite quotes is that when something goes wrong in your day, you yell “Plot twist!” and move on. Yesterday was full of those moments. While I was running the Swiffer like I do every day to keep up with the dog hair, I found a packet my son was supposed to turn in. He is struggling in that particular class and I had to go to school at some point to pick up some volunteer work, so I left my home much earlier than planned. This rarely bodes well for me on the productivity front. On the way to school, I remembered I only had four eggs. My son has become interested in cooking lately, and the weather predicted here over the weekend is not conducive to leisurely grocery shopping. Eggs, bread and milk supplies are all in jeopardy with the approaching winter storm, although I guess it could be worse. We could be in the Washington, DC area that is predicting up to 30 inches of snow; those of you in the DC area have my sympathy. So, I decided to run to Costco to buy some eggs.

On the way to Costco, I saw a sale. It was one of those pop up sales we have in the US that you find in empty retail locations. Some have Halloween goodies. Some have clothing. Some have home furnishings, and since we need a new floor lamp, I decided to check it out. An hour later, I had purchased $100 worth of clothing for $35. This is a big deal in my world for two reasons. The first is because I rarely shop for clothes for myself, and the second is that I rarely shop for that long. I usually throw my hands in the air and just give up because the clothes don’t look right on my currently larger than I would like shape or they’re too expensive. These fit well and were from those more expensive stores I refuse to shop in, but all of the items I purchased had been marked down to a price range that made me deliriously happy. Now it was time to get the eggs.

If you’ve ever shopped in the US before a big snowstorm, you know that the store will be crowded. If you’re like me and you don’t bring a list, you know things can get out of hand. I only went into the store for one item: eggs. I came out with two packages of eggs, a huge bag of baking soda (because mine could run out in the next week or two), minced onions (because despite the smaller container I purchased just the other day, I might need the giant one soon), dried pasta (because my husband mentioned that he liked the kind we bought from Costco) and a 6 box carton of organic chicken stock (because I was in the process of making chicken soup for my sick nieces and I ran out of homemade broth) . Not the quick trip I expected and another hour burned, but I was finally on my way home. As I was driving, I was thinking about our weekend plans. My husband and I were planning a dinner out because I will be out of town for a few days next week. With the weather, I wondered if it would be better to alter the plans, so we did. We decided to move up our dinner so we wouldn’t have to fight the weather and panicked drivers later. I love to cook, but I love a night off so this was a welcomed plot twist, especially since I had a volunteer commitment that evening. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing my best to write, interspersed with volunteer work, cleaning up the house and trying to get the chicken soup I was working on to taste better. I love making soup and find it bothersome when the flavor falls short, and the flavor was definitely falling short on this batch.

Sometimes when making soup, the best thing you can do is to add a few ingredients, turn off the heat, let the flavor build and heat it up later to see how things are progressing. As we left for dinner, I did that with the soup. I added some spices and salt and pepper and turned off the heat. We had a lovely dinner out, and my husband dropped me off to my volunteer work so I didn’t have to find a parking spot in a very overcrowded parking lot. My job was to sign up new members to one of our marching band fundraisers. It is a way for students to build up funds for our marching band’s trip to Disney World this year. Traditionally, incoming freshmen have not been able to sign up until they have started at the high school which only gives them a couple of months to build up funds. Our goal was to give them more time which, for some, could make the difference between being able to make the trip and having to stay home. Unfortunately, we had no idea the website would be blocked (plot twist yet again)so; I could answer questions but couldn’t sign anyone up. It was not the way I would have chosen to spend the evening, but I got some valuable information and ideas to help new people become more familiar with the program.

After I got home, I flipped on the soup and tasted it when it was warm. It was still bland. Ok, now it was a challenge to see what I needed to add to make this soup come alive. I decided to start with some chicken base that I buy in the natural section of the store. Maybe that would help things, and after it got incorporated, I could shut things down for the night and work on it again in the morning. It had been such an unusual day, I hadn’t given the soup as much thought and care as I normally would. Perhaps I could coax it along tomorrow. We set about our evening routine, rested a bit and got ready for bed. It had been a long day, and we all were tired. It felt good to get to bed fairly early, and I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

At 2:36am I woke up and smelled something. It was a horrible smell, and I knew immediately what it was; the soup. I grabbed my robe and ran downstairs to see the glow of the flame under the pot and the smell was even worse because there was also smoke to go with it. I turned off the stove. My husband had gotten up and joined me and suggested that we just put the pot on the back porch and wait until morning to open it. I agreed, thinking only of what could have happened if I hadn’t smelled that burning soup. In all my years of cooking, I’ve never done anything like this, and I wondered what was different this time. When I said to my husband that I couldn’t believe I had done that, he reminded me that he had shut down the kitchen and didn’t see the flame when he turned off the light. We both realized how close we had been to not waking up the next morning, and amazingly, all either one of us felt was gratitude. Neither one of us blamed the other one or ourselves. My family often makes fun of my extremely sensitive sense of smell and says I have a bionic nose because I can smell milk and tell you days before it will go bad; we’ve kept it to see if I was right and I was. I am offended by the smell of the trash can long before anyone else, and I can almost always smell something right before it begins to burn. I guess there is a delay when I’m sleeping because the veggies in the soup are burnt to a deep black. I’m not sure if the pan will survive, but I am so grateful that my husband, my son and I did. Last night, after we aired out the house a bit, we were lying in bed wide awake, and I burst into tears. Normally they would have been tears of regret and shame that I had “let” this happen. Last night, the tears were tears of gratitude for waking up. They were tears of joy that I would see my husband and children’s faces again. They were tears of humility and yet, the whole incident feels like a grace filled message. It feels like it’s time to put away false fears and drama. It’s time to step fully into my life, and today, that means telling the ladies in the school office how much appreciate what they do for our kids, which I did. It means thanking my son’s counselor for the incredible advocate she has been for my son and for seeing the potential in him, which I’ve done. It means telling someone I’ve worked with for years who has been told she is difficult to work with because she made people follow the rules how much I love working with her, which I have. It also meant holding my son’s and my husband’s faces in my hands before they left this morning and telling them how much I loved them and then texting my other two boys to tell them the same. Last night reminded me that life can change or end in the blink of an eye, and that I have much to do. I pray that I always remember and never need such a reminder again, so for those who love me, know I love you fiercely and sometimes too much but I’d rather love too much than too little. For those who are angry with me or are ignoring me right now, I love you and forgive you and wish you nothing but peace and happiness because we all deserve that and more. For those who are suffering, I am a fixer, and I love being that person. I am the person who will help you find the solutions if you want me to and sometimes when you don’t. If I overstep, you can say so. I’ll back off and appreciate your honesty and still love you besides. Today, I love life more than I ever have and though some might think that’s a bit dramatic after some burnt veggies in the bottom of a pan, the lingering smell that reminds me of what could have been and the memory of the look in my husband’s eyes last night tell me it’s not overly dramatic at all. It was a message and a gift, and it has been heeded. Thank you as always for taking time to read my posts. It means more to me than you know. Thank you for being you and have a great day.
Jamuary 22

Rising above October

22 Oct

To listen along, click here: http://tobtr.com/s/8017081

Some weeks I struggle with writing my blog and coming up with ideas for my radio show. Some weeks I have an overload of subjects to talk about. Some weeks, I search and search for a topic and once I find one, I can barely hold back the flood of ideas that finally come. This week was such a week. I did not know until this morning what to talk about on the radio show, but once I did, my fingers couldn’t write down the ideas fast enough. Ironically, as I put my fingers to the keyboard to write up my notes to post on the blog page, I still wasn’t sure where the muse would lead me, but I have learned to trust the Divine to send me exactly where I need to be and that is where today’s subject begins.

This week I’ve been thinking about momentum, so that’s where I thought I should start. I lost some writing and holiday prep momentum last weekend. It was a fantastic weekend, and I truly enjoyed myself, but the writing slowed and so did the holiday prep. Unfortunately, that slow down seeped into Monday and even Tuesday I found myself not wanting to do anything, but I know I have a deadline for publication. I know I have a deadline for holiday prep, so I dragged myself into the day on Tuesday, and once I got rolling, I was so excited with the progress I made on my home, my holiday planning and the book. When Wednesday rolled around, I truly wanted to build on the success of Tuesday, and I did really well around the house, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to write. I put it off and procrastinated until well into the evening. It would have been so easy to let it slide until Thursday, but Thursday is radio show day and writing is a bit of a challenge because of the radio show notes and posting the blog post. It takes about the same amount of time I schedule each day for writing, so if I find it challenging to make writing a priority on easy days, you can imagine how difficult it can be on busier days, and with less than ten days left to finish, any day without writing puts me one step closer to missing out on publishing at all. So, I dug in and spent an hour working on the book. I didn’t write thousands of words, but I made progress, and that is how I came to today’s radio show.

I’ve had two amazingly productive days in a row. In October, that is nearly a miracle for me because this is traditionally a time of struggle for me. I don’t like September and October most years for several reasons. September and October are traditionally the times when money is the tightest for us. Our additional income stops and school expenses skyrocket. The weather gets colder and for this spring and summer loving girl, that is usually a challenge. I am often whiny and fussy and generally miserable to be around. I can’t stand me, and it amazes me sometimes how my family puts up with my October attitude, but I truly wanted this year to be different, and it’s amazing how the Divine will give you just what you ask for, if you ask for it with intention and specificity. This year I wrote down several things I wanted. I set a specific weight loss goal, but I made sure to write down that I wanted it to be in a healthy way, and I wanted to enjoy the process. Guess what? I started using my Fitbit app and I’m having a great time with it. I’m not pushing myself to be miserable. I’m focused on enjoying the process and it’s working. I also wrote down that I want our home to be clean, clutter free and holiday ready by the end of the countdown I am doing on the Better Living Daily page. I want to enjoy the holiday season while I get my home, body and creativity in their best shape ever, but I also want to laugh and smile daily and delight in the process of doing that, and it is happening.

I’ve talked before about Tony Robbins’ four step process to set and achieve goals, and those are the goals I have. The second step is to take action. I am writing even on day’s I don’t really feel like it. I’m keeping up with my Fitbit App. I’ve joined a Creativity Bootcamp. I have daily routines and know that decluttering needs to be a part of the plan. The brilliance in the four step plan, in my opinion, though, is step 3 that tells you to notice what is working and what needs to change. Some days you figure out little things. I’ve been eating low carb for a while because I feel better when I do. Since I was tracking calories, one day I decided to have a few potatoes with lunch and some pasta with dinner. I rarely eat either of those things anymore and cannot remember the last time before that day that I had eaten them in the same day. I still stayed under my suggested calorie intake. I got enough sleep and drank plenty of water. By the numbers, I did everything right, but I gained a pound, and I felt like garbage the next day. I realized that eating lower carb was still the right direction for me, and since then, I have seen more success. I also wasn’t seeing the success I was hoping for around my house and realized my decluttering was sporadic at best, so I’ve become more consistent with that on a daily basis and it’s amazing how quickly the house has come into alignment. I’ve even been more consistent on a huge project I take on every year with our marching band. Each year we have something called Tag Day where the band members go into the community and collect donations. Residents know the students will be coming and can recognize them by the band shirts that they wear. The band provides t-shirts to the younger members who don’t have the standard band polo shirt so everyone is wearing something uniquely band themed, and every year, I volunteer to wash, dry and fold the 150-200 t-shirts they use. It generally takes me 6-8 weeks to do, but this year it seems like less of a burden because I am folding between five and seven shirts daily. It keeps the process going and keeps the crabbiness away as well, which brings me to step four, which is to be flexible and keep changing until you find the best approach and results for you. This is big. It’s huge if you think about it.

The whole idea behind these steps is to strive for constant improvement, and I believe each of us can do that, no matter what our circumstances, and if you think you’re circumstances are tough, let me share this with you. Tough is having watched your child struggle for a month to regain her fragile health after open heart surgery for the second time in her less than two year life. Tough is jumping on a boat that may or may not make it to a place that is safer than the one you are living in. Tougher still is risking your children’s lives to make that journey as well because where they live now is such a dangerous place to be. Perhaps the toughest of all is to live through that journey only to be relegated to a camp with a tent for shelter, no running water, less than adequate sewage facilities for human waste and people who are not happy to have you in their country. You can read about the journeys of the Syrian refugees on the Humans of New York Facebook page, and if reading those stories don’t make you realized how very blessed you are on the deepest of levels, may God have mercy on your soul. I don’t share any of this to make you feel guilty or ashamed; please understand that. There is too much of that in the world. Everyone is offended these days and feel it is their right to judge others, and frankly I’m sick of it. You know, I’m reminded of a line from the Broadway show Auntie Mame: “Life is a banquet and most damned fools are starving to death.” Yes, some days are less than stellar, but I would be willing to bet that for most people, their worst day is better than someone who is living in a refugee camp. I know it is for me because I have running water, two working toilets, more food than in my home than some families will eat in a month. Again, this isn’t about guilt and shame. It is about gratitude for the incredible blessings you have. Perhaps the extra weight I carry is a blessing because while losing it, I have been hungry for the first time in a long time. I’ve allowed myself to feel what hungry really is, knowing I can change it at any time but understanding that many can’t. That is a revelation indeed.

I know now that I used to have mild depression during October and November. I have learned to increase my Vitamin D, get adequate rest, eat healthier and focus on gratitude to keep the depression at bay, but I learned something else. I learned that depression is a selfish, hateful brat. Depression only wants you to think about yourself and your poor, pitiful life. Depression tells you that your house would be clean if only your kids would pick up after themselves. Depression tells you that your husband doesn’t care about you and only thinks of himself. Depression tells that someone else’s success is ill gotten and your only friend is someone who suffers with you and will get sucked into the abyss with you. This is how selfish depression is, and it’s very difficult to save someone who insists on being depressed. I understand that some need medication. I understand that some need counseling, and I am the greatest advocate of people having those things and not having to hide it in any way, but I am a huge proponent of solutions, and the first solution is to take care of yourself. Whether it is mild or deep depression, taking care of yourself, however pointless it seems, is a step in the right direction. Honestly, whenever you’re feeling off balance, I think good self-care is the first step back. I used to think it was selfish to pamper yourself and I still know some who take it too far, but I’ve also realized that you truly do have to fill your own cup before you can pour yourself into anyone else’s. The other thing is to start thinking of others and though that might sound like the opposite of what I just said, I would suggest that you think about how you can build yourself up by building up someone else, especially someone less fortunate than yourself. I used to try to do random acts of kindness for people I knew and you know what? It back fired. So many weren’t happy or grateful for what I did for them, and I didn’t feel good about it. Now I do things for people who I may never see again and who cannot repay me. I donate small amounts to worthy causes. I make homeless bags by filling a one gallon Ziploc with a bottle of water, a snack, a piece of candy and some tissues to give to homeless folks at corners. Every time I have had occasion to give one away, I have driven away as blessed at the person I have given the bag to. I pray for people and write notes to them when they are on my mind to let them know I’m thinking about them. Those things put my life into perspective because it makes me look at those who have needs that I can help fulfill. They connect me to my higher purpose and they help me realize that the blessing of being able to write and publish a book is much more important than the fear of whether anyone will buy it. Those things make me look at everything, including my pile of laundry, my messy kitchen table, the number on the scale and my yard full of leaves and know that each of them is a gift beyond measure and a challenge many would love to have. Thanks for being you and have a great day.

Wondering Through the Day

11 Oct

Some days you wonder where the time goes. Some days you wonder where your focus has gone to. Some days you wonder how you got through the day without strangling someone, but how often do you wonder how blessed you are? Lately, I am almost overwhelmed with wonder. I have been reading stories of the Syrian refugees who are stepping onto a boat that may or may not carry them to a safer place. They are risking death and the death of their children to flee their homes to arrive in a country where they don’t speak the language and may not be welcome. They don’t even have enough money to buy a cup of coffee, and whatever your views on their legal or illegal status, stop for a moment and think about that. I cannot imagine being so afraid for my life that I would risk getting into an overloaded boat with my children not knowing if we will live to see the next day. I don’t even want to wonder what that feels like. When the Jews were fleeing Hitler, did we send them back to Germany, Austria and Poland? I don’t know. I am almost afraid to know, and I hope we have learned and evolved since then. When they get to what they hope will be freedom, they are put in camps with little to no sanitation and no grocery stores, markets or gardens to feed them. It o. I now have a different perspective that ccurs to me that I might throw out more food than they eat. There was a time I would feel shame and guilt about that I’ll get to soon.

I also know a couple who is sitting in a hospital after their child’s second open heart surgery, and their baby is not even two. I know what it is to have a child with extraordinary needs. I do not know what it is like to have one in this situation. I do not know what it’s like to make the decision to be with my child or to work to pay my bills. I wonder how they will recover financially from this because I know how difficult it can be to overcome the financial hurdles of huge hospital bills and expensive medications. I wonder why drug companies, who already make so much money, seem to gouge those who struggle most, and yet, there are programs through the drug companies that help financially, if you know to ask. For ten years, we didn’t know to ask and I wonder how much we paid that we didn’t have to.

Then there is another kind of wonder. It is the wonder of seeing the human spirit at its best. It is watching a video of an eight year old boy who has cerebral palsy finish a triathlon. If you haven’t seen the video, here is the link to watch it: http://cbsn.ws/1Itm9cX. I watched that boy leave his walker to cross the finish line unaided and fall not once, but twice and get up to finish what he started. I watched the photographer taking his picture as he made his way to the finish line make a move to help and then realize that the boy would have been disqualified if he received help, so the photographer stepped back and let the boy struggle to have his moment despite the monumental effort it took. I have sat in wonder watching other parents do the same for their extraordinary child. They hide their fear and encourage when they want to step in and make the struggle go away. They hide the pain they feel of every failure so that they can encourage their child to succeed. They build their child up and send them into a world when they would much rather keep their child safe at home, and they do whatever is necessary to give that child a good life, an empowered life, and they sit in wonder as parents who struggle with bigger issues than their own make it look easy and parents who have children with no extraordinary needs complain about the littlest things.

I wonder how people can take their blessings for granted, but then I remember I was one of those people. I didn’t understand anyone’s struggles but my own and I didn’t want to. I thought everyone could just do something to create a better life and if they didn’t, it was their own fault. I was young and judgmental and completely unaware of the privileged life I lived. I don’t apologize for that because we need people of privilege. We need people who know what it’s like to have a good life so that they can help others have it too. You see, I don’t believe we need government programs to change our country and the world. I believe WE need to do that. We need to stop posting about what everyone else should be doing about the struggles in the world and do it ourselves. If you have a passion for the homeless, help out in a shelter. If you have a passion for teens, help out at a boys/girls club or a runaway shelter. If you know someone who needs financial help and you have the means to help them, set up a charitable site for them or just send them money. When you help others, you learn to be compassionate. You learn their stories and you become grateful for your own. You realize if everyone’s challenges were thrown into a pile, you would take yours back.

So many say that we need to take care of our own first, and I agree with that on many levels. We need to be the best providers, parents and people we can be, but at some point you have to make a choice to focus on what you can get or what you can give. If you’re a Christian, Jesus told the wealthy to give up half of what they own and give it to the poor. I’m not even asking you to do that. I’m just asking you to give something. I will admit something to you. We buy lottery tickets now and then, especially when the jackpot gets above $100 million. It’s so much fun to think of what we would do with that kind of money, and the last time we bought a ticket with my family around, one of my sons said, “Well, if we do win, we’ll only get half of what’s left over after taxes because Mom will give half of it away.” At first it sounded like an insult, but when I looked at my son there was a teasing pride on his face, and I knew he would enjoy giving that money away as much as I would. As a parent, you wonder if your children are paying attention. After that comment, I knew for sure that they were. You see, we live in an area of great affluence. When we moved into our home, the median income in our small city of 30,000+ residents was $107,000, and we were making less than half of that at the time. My children grew up with other children who routinely traveled the world, wore high end clothing, always had the newest electronic game or gadget and often got cars their own parents couldn’t afford for their 16th birthdays. We used to joke about living in the slums of our city, although most of the homes are worth over $100,000 and ours is one of the bigger ones.

On the other side of that coin, though, we have family members that live below the poverty line. If it weren’t for family help, they could be out on the street. They deal with mental illness while trying to raise families. We have parents who have practically abandoned their children and left them for grandparents to raise. We have addicts in recovery and some who aren’t. My children have seen the struggle of those who have not had the privileges they have had, and it has made them appreciate their lives instead of bemoaning what they lack. They have also seen some of those with the least give the most and some of those with the most give the least. They understand that when we give away $25 to three or four causes or people we hold dear, it is the same as others giving hundreds or thousands. They also understand that the time we spend helping others has value. No, they are not perfect, but they see the world differently because of the balance of privilege and struggle in their world, and I believe it will make them better members of the human race.

Lately I have been wondering about gun violence in my country. Those outside the US seem to think we are a violent people ready to explode at any second. It hurts my soul to know that because that is not who I am or who I am raising my children to be. I understand those who are afraid of guns and want them gone because they want to feel safe. I also understand those who have had guns their entire lives and have used them to feed their families and serve in the military or as first responders who feel more fearful about not having guns to protect them. What I think about most of all is what goes on inside the mind of someone who could do so many human beings such great harm. They obviously think that taking another’s life and often their own will solve something. Several of them have been under care for mental illness, and many fear the backlash against others who are under care. There has also been talk of some of the perpetrators being on the autism spectrum, and those who are on the spectrum and those who love them fear backlash as well, but what if we look at this all from another perspective? What if we stop blaming and start treating everyone with compassion and love? When I was an angry young person, I blamed everyone else for my problems. If my husband or children would just do what I asked, I wouldn’t be angry. If people would just live like me, then I could be happy. What a load of crap. Who am I to tell everyone around me and even those I don’t know that they have to change so that I can feel better? What a bunch of narcissistic bs that is! One of the best things I ever heard about that subject came from Rita Davenport. She basically said that no one got up this morning and wondered how they could tick you off today, and I would add that if they did, that says much more about them than it does you.

Yesterday I read the following Huffington Post blog post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-paul-evans/how-i-saved-my-marriage_b_6958222.html about a marriage in trouble and how it turned around. Although it’s marriage based, the basic premise holds true in every struggle in life. One question can change it all for most people. Instead of feeling put out, infringed upon and unseen, ask what you can do today to make “it” better. If you and your spouse are at odds, ask them what you can do to make their day better and don’t do it for just one day. Do it consistently for a week or as the author of this article did, for a month. Things will change. I did this many years ago as a stay at home mom who was feeling incredibly taken for granted. Instead of griping about everything I had to do, I started asking how I could bless my family that day. It took a while, but I started to look at what I did around my house as a blessing for everyone instead of a burden for me. I began to see doing laundry as blessing my family with clean clothes. I began seeing that spending a few minutes every day sprucing up the toilet and sink in the bathroom was a blessing for me, not something I did as a martyr to give my family a clean place to use the bathroom. Yes, we did have to have some conversations about bathroom etiquette, and yes, my boys were told that if that etiquette wasn’t followed that they would be responsible for taking care of the toilet for a week, but it was said in a calm, rational way instead of mom turning into a screaming banshee because no one respected what she did. It took a while, but life began to shift, and then came the tipping point. I read an article about a school in my city where every child was on assistance. I took my donation to the school and wept as I listened to stories about children who shared toothbrushes if they had them at all, who may not have a bed and who owned only one pair of underwear. I could not look into the faces of those children and blame society or their parents for any of it. They didn’t ask to be born into their circumstances, nor did their parents. I remembered the judgmental comments of my youth that you could be poor and still be clean, and I understood that if you cannot afford to buy a second pair of underwear for your child, you certainly weren’t going to spend money on cleaning products. How could you? From far away, when reading an article, you can easily blame society, the government and people. While standing in the midst of it, you realize society, the government and “people” are not the answer. You are the answer. The way you live your life is the answer, and I am changing more every day. If something touches my soul, it is my responsibility to do something, and I am. I recycle, not because of climate change, but because I love this planet that I live on. I give money to people who need it, not through agencies that only give pennies of every dollar to the cause, but to programs that are dedicated to helping those who need help now without amassing huge salaries for themselves. I wish I could give more, but I realize that even $5 can help, and I feel so good knowing I have eased the burden of another human being. I carry homeless bags in my car filled with packs of tissues, snacks, first aid kits and water and hand them out as I travel past street corners where the homeless regularly stand. I know many of them are addicts, alcoholics and/or mentally ill but every time I’ve stopped, I’ve seen nothing but gratitude from those in need.

On a larger scale, I write and share what I’m learning as I go. I’ve stopped being angry for the most part, and when I am, I have this awesome husband who reminds me of who I really am and who asks me how he can make my life better that day. I also have this life filled with people of privilege and struggle to remind me how blessed I am and to put my struggles into perspective. I have the blessing of encountering those who struggle to see that blessings are always there, even in the worst of times because if you look for it, people can surprise you in the best of ways. For the little school in my city, the response of the people who live here was so overwhelming, the school is now referring donations to other schools in need. That is the planet that I want to help create. It’s why I no longer wonder about the “bad” stuff that happens because I know it is a call to someone or maybe even several someones to step up. It is an opportunity for someone to contribute to humanity and become more human in the process. It softens the bad and enhances the good, and I no longer wonder why it happens. I just get to work, changing me and the world. Thanks for reading. Thanks for being you and I wonder what you will do today to make the world a better place.

Ask Better Questions

24 Sep

To listen to the broadcast version, click here:  http://www.blogtalkradio.com/betterlivingdaily/2015/09/24/ask-better-questions

Every day we ask ourselves questions.  It’s how we keep our internal dialogue going.  The tone of the question can determine the quality of our day.  The question itself can determine whether we are heading in a positive or negative direction.  How many times have you asked yourself the following:

How could I be so stupid?

Why can’t I handle money?

Why can’t I keep my house clean?

Why can’t I be a better mom, wife, worker, person?

Why do I procrastinate so much?

Why am I so fat?

Why am I so lazy?

Why am I such a mess?

I’m sure you could add on, but here’s the issue with questions.  When you ask them, your brain immediately begins to look for an answer and if the question is put this way, your brain will do its best to give you an answer.  For the former questions, how can you have anything other than a negative answer and how in the world can that help you to change the behavior?

Recently, I have been reading through old journals, and I came across some entries I wrote while I was reading through a book titled Giant Steps by Tony Robbins.  One of the things he discusses is his Ultimate Success Formula which has four parts.

  1. Decide what you want.  He says to be precise because clarity is power.
  2. Take action because desire isn’t enough.
  3. Notice what works and what doesn’t and stop putting energy toward worthless approaches.
  4. Change your approach until you achieve what you want.  Flexibility gives you the power to create a new approach and new result.

I had forgotten about this over the years, but it speaks to me from its simplicity and practicality.  In the process of deciding what you want, you have to ask yourself questions, and when you decide what you want instead of what you don’t want, you ask different questions.

How could I be so stupid? Becomes how can I live smarter?

Why can’t I handle money? Becomes how can I handle money better or what do I need to learn about money to have more of it?

Why can’t I keep my house clean? Becomes what is the best way to run our home efficiently and effectively?

Why can’t I be a better mom, wife, worker or person?  Becomes how can I improve myself every day?

Why do I procrastinate so much? Becomes how good will it feel to take action on this item?

Why am I so fat?  Becomes how can I take better care of my body?

Why am I so lazy?  Becomes what can I do to have more energy and focus?

Why am I such a mess?  Becomes how would I counsel someone in my condition or what can I do to improve my life?

You see, in my world, words matter.  There is a much different feel to the questions being asked in the first scenario versus the second?  Yes, you can still give yourself negative answers, but you are changing the direction ever so slightly.

When it comes to answering the questions, I have a few suggestions as well.  Eliminate the words idiot, stupid, lazy, failure and any other negative terms you use to describe yourself.  Imagine that you’re talking to a five year old.  You would never tell a five year old to get off their fat butt and get to work.  You would never berate a five year old for not being productive or for forgetting about the laundry in the washer overnight or for forgetting to pay a bill.  When we teach children basic skills, we encourage them.  We look for ways to help them be successful, and please don’t tell me that you are not a five year old because if you have a home in bad condition, messed up finances or even an out of shape body like mine, you have been acting like a five year old who does whatever they can get away with or you wouldn’t be in this position.  If you were acting like a grown up, your life would be different and you know it, and I’m not saying that to shame anyone.  I’m sharing that because I know what it’s like.  I’ve had the messy house, the rotten finances and wrecked body, and I’ve learned that we can make excuses or we can make progress, and the best progress comes from asking better questions.  Here are a few you can use to get you started if you’re interested.

What is the one area I would most like to improve?  I know you have several, but it’s hard to get where you want to go if you’re traveling five roads at the same time.  Focus on one area and change your habits in that area so you can see some success and then move forward even more.

What is one thing I can do today that will start my forward progress?  This can sound so small and insignificant, but it may be the biggest question of all.  You have to find a place to start.  When I started learning to take care of my home, FlyLady said to start with your kitchen sink.  I did, but I couldn’t seem to catch the momentum that she said would naturally happen.  I was still struggling until I figured out my own way.  FlyLady says there is a shiny sink in every area of your home, and I agree with that theory not only in your home but in your life as well, but my “sweet spot” as I call it, isn’t a shiny sink.  It’s a clean kitchen table.  My kitchen table is the sweet spot of not only my kitchen, but of my home and my life.  When my home was at its worst, I would move the piles from the kitchen to the dining room so we could eat at the table, but until I addressed the piles on the kitchen table, the mess in my house wouldn’t go away and I felt stuck and frustrated.  I finally realized one day that if I could just get and keep my kitchen table clutter controlled, addressed and/or cleaned up, I felt like I could move forward, so I spent the next 30 days focused on the table.  I spent several hours over several days addressing everything on the table and understood why I had procrastinated on it for so long; it took hours to address all of the paperwork.  I had to send emails and make phone calls and file.  I had to do some things that were uncomfortable, like question insurance companies, face my finances and decide which papers to keep, file or pitch.  It took a few days, but I finally did it, and the first night I didn’t have to move a stack of papers to serve dinner on my clean kitchen table was delightful.  For those of you who have a clean kitchen table or who have someone who cleans the kitchen table for you that might not seem like a big deal, but for me it was huge.  Time and again when I feel overwhelmed with life, I ask myself why am I feeling overwhelmed?  What do I need to get passed this feeling?  Then I look at my kitchen table and realized how cluttered it has become.  To this day, I don’t know if the table gets cluttered because I am overwhelmed or if I get overwhelmed because the table is cluttered.  What I do know is that as soon as the clutter is gone, every part of my life seems to even out and run more smoothly.  Sounds crazy, I know, but it works.

In our finances, we have gotten ourselves into credit card debt more times than I want to admit, but that isn’t where the trouble begins.  The trouble begins with our daily spending.  Before we had a budget, we figured we knew how much money we had to spend.  My husband gets paid monthly, so we paid our bills and did our best to live on what was left.  Unfortunately, we always seemed to run out of money before we ran out of month so we would break out our trusty credit cards and plunge ourselves further into debt.  It was a vicious cycle and you would think after digging ourselves out of $10,000 of credit card debt and then $20,000 of credit card debt we would learn our lesson, but no.  We never got our spending handled so we ended up with a third go round of credit card debt of $35,000.  We had asked how do we get out of credit card debt but we had never asked ourselves how we could stay out.  Within weeks of asking that question, we were introduced to Dave Ramsey, who not only helped us get out of our credit card debt in about two years, he has helped us stay out of that pit for several years.  The “kitchen table” of that process is writing down everything we spend.  At first we did that on small notebooks we kept in our car, but it has morphed into keeping a budget tally on a white board we keep where we can see it but others that come into our home don’t.  Every week and sometimes more often, we tally up what we’re spending and it most definitely keeps us aware and alert.  We stopped doing this for a few months and the result was a backslide of epic proportions.  Fortunately, we had funds we had saved to cover our mistakes, but it was a lesson that even after we thought we had learned how to live within our means, we still had to follow the system that got us there.

I have two areas I am currently working on.  One is creating a healthier and fit body.  I am at a weight that is taxing my body.  I don’t feel healthy, and I want to.  I’ve tried several things.  Some have worked and some haven’t but at this point, I haven’t found a lifestyle that works best.  I’m not sure that I’ve found my “kitchen table” yet, perhaps because it’s more than just food or exercise, and my five year old self has been running the show for sure or I wouldn’t be eating way more than I need to maintain a healthy body weight.  I’m also working on a career launch with a webinar and online course.  It still has a long way to go and my hope is to be more consistent with working on it.  If you read my blog post on Tuesday, you know that I am wanting to move forward with an emphasis on peace and harmony https://karenbemmes.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/rediscovering-peace-and-harmony-2/  and ultimately that’s what brings me great joy in this journey toward my personal success.  I’ve figured out to stop asking why anyone’s life is better than mine.  I’ve stopped asking what’s wrong with me or my life.  Instead, I focus on creating the best life I was born to live.  I ask what I need to do to create peace and harmony and joy in my life, and I know those answers will be better than the answers to those other questions.  Those answers will lead me to my best life, my highest quality life, my Divinely inspired life, and the one that will provide the most value for me, my family and the Universe I live in.  So what is the one thing you can do today to make this a great day for you?  Answer that.  Act on it, and then ask it again.  Thanks for reading.  Thanks for being you and have a great day.

Did I Mention I was Tired?

13 Jan

Today was going to be my day to stay at home and get things done. I have no commitments outside the house, and I have been waiting for a day like this for weeks. Everyone is back to school or work, although it’s exam week for my younger two. The National Championship for college football is over for this year, and my favorite team is the winner, although I was up much later than I am used to. March madness is nearly two months away. It’s time to hunker down and make some serious progress in several areas of my life. So many are dropping off of their New Year’s resolutions, and I feel like I’m just getting to mine, but today was the day; only it wasn’t.

It wasn’t the day I cleaned the house top to bottom, walked 10 miles and organized our finances. It wasn’t the day I de-cluttered the basement, listed everything on Craigslist or Ebay and cooked dinners for ourselves and all of our sick friends. It wasn’t even the day I got all my routines done. Instead, it was the morning that my son sent a text asking if I could bring a notebook and binder to school so that he didn’t fail those grades. It was the day I had to schlep myself out and be the good mom. It was the day to show for my son, again. At first, I was not doing the supermom thing with a supermom attitude. I was ticked because my plan was ruined. I was even more ticked because the more I looked the more clutter I found that probably belonged in a notebook or two or three; notebooks we had already spent hours trying to organize. I felt the martyr rise up in me as once again I was being called up to save the day, and I was doing it because that’s what I do, but I wasn’t being who I wanted to be. I was just being tired and maybe cranky.

I want to be the mom my kids can count on to help them out in a pinch; not enabling them to be dependent, but helping them to be successful. I want to be kind and loving and supportive while teaching my children to do the same. This morning I was being judgmental and angry and acting like a martyr, not toward anyone, but in my head. It was an epic rant about how no one appreciates me or values my time. I was self-righteous and indignant, plus I’m tired and it’s cold and I’m tired. I was up watching the game until after midnight. Did I mention I’m tired? I don’t like feeling this way. I much prefer to be a face people love rather than dread to see coming or a name they smile instead of roll their eyes when they see it on their phone. I knew in that state I was a blessing to no one, even myself. I needed something to change, and it did.

I sat down to write a blog post because it always helps me to sort out my problems and my attitude. I started writing and by the time I was 500 words in, I could feel myself starting to relax, but relaxing brought its own set of issues. Thank goodness I was sitting on the sofa while I was typing because I fell asleep at the keyboard, twice. Did I mention I was tired? After the second time, I started worrying about dropping my laptop so I set it down and allowed my head to rest back on the sofa cushion. Forty five minutes later one of my boys came bounding down the stairs and woke me up. He was ready to do a task I had asked him to help me with, and I was ready to face the day with a different attitude.

I am ready to look at my blessings again instead of my challenges. I am ready to be aware that I have enough to eat, a roof over my head and a family that loves me. Why does it sometimes feel like an ongoing battle to remember these things? I am grateful that, although it may be cold outside, the sun is shining and that is a rare thing during the winter in my part of the world. I am grateful also that I already have dinner planned and only need to heat it to feed my family. I watched a video today of a refugee camp in Syria of a young man who only wants a few things. He wants to eat. He wants a safe place to sleep, and he wants to see his dad. Who am I to complain about life when I look at someone in that situation? Yes, I have challenges, and I lose patience with them now and then, but I am aware that I am spoiled. Isn’t it amazing that we have a billion dollar industry in this country dedicated to losing weight when people around the world and in our own country are starving? A friend of mine who plays an online video game with older adults around the world told me something. In her group, there is a man from India who is well off. He said that every night, they give their left over food to the poor. I think that is a wonderful thing to do. We have restaurants here that waste tons of food every day, not because they don’t want to help, but they’re terrified someone will get sick and sue them. We allow people to starve because our legal system is such that if someone did sue them, the restaurant would probably lose, and that is a shame. It makes us fearful of helping our fellow human beings rather than open to it. Why risk losing your business over a few meals? It’s sad, really, but I digress, as usual.

Now, I’ve had a nap. My dinner is ready to cook. I still need a shower because I had the privilege of working out today, and my youngest son and I are about to donate some items that no longer serve our home. Even the idea that we have so much that we can give much of it away without ever feeling its loss is astounding to me. This is what many call an “aha” moment. I am changed. I am more aware, and because of that, I am a better person, not better than anyone else, just better. It’s what I hope to be every day, just better. Today it came from the luxury of a nap when I was tired and cranky and from the plea of a young man halfway around the world for food. The opportunities for gratitude are everywhere. The agents of change are everywhere. All we need to do is look and see. Today I see, and I am so appreciative of the view. It may not be the view I dream of, but it is a fine view in the grand scheme of things. I am so blessed. So, I challenge you if you’re feeling out of balance to find something to be grateful for. Look for the blessing in your situation. If you’re sick, be grateful for the ability to rest or to have someone take care of you. Be grateful that you have a home to rest and be taken care of in. Be grateful for running water, indoor plumbing or maybe even windows in your home that keep out the weather and allow you to look on the abundance in the world. Find something, anything, to be grateful for and allow yourself to be just a little bit better too. Thanks for being you and have a great day.

Do Better December 22nd 2014 Living in a House of Cards

22 Dec

To listen along, click here: http://tobtr.com/s/7211857

Today is our first Christmas celebration, and it’s at my house. I’m not ready. My tree isn’t completely decorated. My dining room table still has a mess on it. There is food to cook, showers to take and so much more I could list, but the more I put on my list the more fragile I begin to feel. It begins to feel like I live in a house of cards, and one good gust could have it all tumbling down. Why do I feel like this? Why do so many I know feel such anger, frustration, depression and discouragement this time of year? There are so many answers, but I think the biggest one for me is wishing.

I wish I had been more consistent with getting ready for the holidays. I wish I had more energy and focus. I wish I had painted the ceilings, walls and baseboards and doors. I wish I was Donna Reed in It’s A Wonderful Life, but I tend to be more like Jimmy Stewart. I want to be grace under pressure and just sail through it all, fixing everything behind the scenes, but I tend to be more straightforward and direct. I never intend to offend anyone, but sometimes I do because I ask questions; lots of them. I’m open and honest and sometimes wish I could share less and be more private because wearing your heart on your sleeve leaves you vulnerable, but I also know I wouldn’t be happy being guarded and private. It takes too much of my mental and emotional energy. In the long run, it’s easier for me to love as much as I can and take my lumps, and thankfully, I have a husband that knows how to help me soothe the bumps and bruises of life and show me how they make me a better person.

On days like today, though, my life and my emotions feel like a house of cards. It feels like if one thing goes wrong, the entire thing will come crashing down, and maybe it will. So what if it does? I confirm what I think some of my family members think of me. I have a less than perfect Christmas. I realize, yet again, that I can’t do it all, especially by myself. Well, DUH!!! No matter what I do, there will be family members that will never give me credit for succeeding. I think every family has those who look to tear others down to build themselves up, and when you’re the target of those people, holidays just increase the stress level. I’ve also found that those people are either incredibly insecure or are so narcissistic that nothing you do can please them, so why do we even try? For me, I guess I think they may be right. Maybe I’m not as good at life as I think I am. I know I’m not as proficient as I would like to be, and when I sense my own vulnerability and someone confirms what I already doubt, the trouble in my head begins. I start doubting everything and make my life out to be a bigger mess than it is. Add a little sleep deprivation, lack of exercise and food that is unhealthy for me, and that house of cards folds like a bad poker hand. This morning feels like I have one of those bad poker hands, but I know what to do to make it better, and I’m in the process of lifting myself up. So far, I’ve cleaned one bathroom so it’s “good enough”. You cannot eat off the floor, although I wiped it up with a cleaning wipe, but why would you want a floor so clean in your bathroom that you could eat off of it? How gross is that? I’ve spent time in meditation, not because I have the time to do it, but because I feel like I don’t. There is a story of a troubled man who visited a sage and asked how long he should meditate. The wise man said that the troubled man should meditate for one hour every day. The troubled man said, “I don’t have time to meditate for an hour every day. I have too much to do.” “In that case,” the wise man replied, “you need to meditate for two hours every day.”

We can lose sight of what’s important so easily during this season. It’s supposed to be a season of peace. It’s supposed to be a season of caring. It’s supposed to be a season of love. It’s so easy to forget that when we’ve got a list a mile long, but that mile long list being completed isn’t what today, tomorrow or any day is really about. Yes, the tasks are important, but the people are too. If they judge you for some dirt on your baseboards, they would judge you for something else if your baseboards were pristine. If they judge you for something like that, their life must be pretty narrow. If they judge you at all, you can choose not to respond and not to even accept their judgment. Your energy would be much better spent praying for them, sending them good vibes or sending positive energy their way anyway. By doing that, you can hardly help but to have some land on you as well.

Take a moment right now to send those prayers, vibes and energy to every difficult person in your life. Wish them joy, because the more joy they have, the less venom they have to spew on you and others. Wish them great success in every positive endeavor. Wish for them to be surrounded by love and light and all that is good. While you’re at it, send some of that energy to yourself, your community, your country and the world. Make today and the rest of this year an exercise in blessing yourself and those around you in the best way you can. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t need to expect perfection from anyone else. Do your best, and if you do it with joy and love in your heart, your best will be better. Do every task with a positive intent to bless someone, especially if doing that task blesses you, and that task will seem easier. Put some love into every moment and before you know it, you’ll be surrounded by love. Give a hug, even if it’s to yourself. Wish yourself a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or just Happy Monday every time you look in a mirror today and smile while you do it. Bring peace and love to your heart so you can share it with others, and eventually, you’ll realize it doesn’t matter if the house of cards blows away. You’ll be left with what really does matter; peace, love and the joy of the season. That is what I wish for all of you today and the rest of the year, so thanks for being you, and have a great day.

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