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Choosing Kindness

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Choosing Kindness

I was chatting with a friend recently when he mentioned that he was living on Ramen until his next paycheck. His rent had recently and unexpectedly increased when his roommate moved out. Being the generous sort and with the holidays and such, money was just a bit tight. He wasn’t complaining. He just stated it as fact and we moved on to the next bit of conversation.

Later that day as I was cleaning up the kitchen, I noticed the avocado, clementines, and pears on my counter. Someone would need to eat them in the next day or two or they’d end up in the trash. As I put items in my pantry, I wondered for the thousandth time who bought the gigantic box of saltines that sits on the top shelf. We’re mostly gluten free and the box is untouched. I thought about my friend and his Ramen and I pondered whether or not he would appreciate a bit of my bounty.

As soon as this idea pop into my mind, I immediately followed my usual pattern. Without a second of hesitation, I began to talk myself out of it. What if he thought I was being stupid? What if he didn’t like the items I shared? What if he were insulted by my humble gift? What if I made him feel bad by giving him some food to tie him over until the next paycheck arrived? What if? What if? What if?

Normally this monologue results in one of two things. I either give up the idea and do nothing, or I drag it out so long that someone else does the very thing I was contemplating doing. This time I changed the conversation in my head. I asked myself if the shoe were on the other foot, if a friend showed up on my doorstep with a few items from their pantry to tie me over until my next paycheck, how would I feel?

To be completely honest, I have an immensely difficult time accepting any largesse be it material or in the form of a kindness no matter how small. I’m frequently dumbstruck when someone does any thing nice for me to the point of feeling flabbergasted and acting stupid.

BUT…

In spite of this, anytime someone spends a second thinking about me from the stranger who holds the door open to the friend who brings me cookies to the co-worker who helps me redo my garage storage system, I’m truly feel immensely grateful and completely humbled.

AND…

The number of times I’ve sat alone and waited and wished without any result that someone, anyone, would take a moment and notice that I needed something and reach out and offer it are too many to count.

SO…

I admitted that if the shoe were on the other foot and I was the one eating Ramen and my friend showed up on my doorstep with a bag of items from their pantry to share with me, I’d be a little surprised but deeply touched. Even if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, I’d still be happy and feel loved.

SO…

I packed a grocery bag and dropped it off. My friend? He accepted the gift in the spirit that it was given.

AND…

I’ve made what I believe to be an important decision. I’m no longer going to wait to be kind. I’m no longer going to worry about how my actions might be received.  I’m no longer going to question whether or not I should give. I’m just going to do it.

BECAUSE…

At the end of the day, I only have control over how I think and feel and behave. From now on,  I’m going to act on the love. When given an option, I’m going to step up instead of opting out. When in doubt, I’m choosing kindness.

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In the End

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In the End

“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” ~ Nicole Krauss 

A few days ago, I came across one of the funniest pieces of writing I’ve encountered in a long time. It was so funny that I decided I had to share it with my husband. I started reading the article aloud to him, but barely three sentences in was laughing so hard tears were streaming down my face. I composed myself. I started again. This time I was only able to read a couple of sentences before the laughter and tears stopped the words.

This cycle of reading, laughing tears, and recompose went on until I finally got to the end. My husband was clearly enjoying my hysteria much more than anything I read. As he returned to his work, he kissed me on the forehead, and noted that he needed to record my laughter, so he could listen to it anytime he wanted.

One of the ways I earn a living is as a professional organizer. Recently, a client and I had spent the better part of the morning sifting and sorting through a lot of boxes in the muggy Georgia heat. As we were wrapping up for the day, she stopped and began to express her appreciation for the work I was doing.

I, of course, threw the compliment right back at her. I reminded her that she was the one who had made all the hard decisions and had really done all the hard work. I was no more than an extra set of hands just helping out. It was then that she looked me right in the eye and simply said, “Denise, take the compliment.” So, I shut my mouth as she expressed her gratitude. I accepted the compliment.

Last Thursday, I was in Atlanta for an event with Living Walls. Each year a group of artist are carefully selected to paint large scale murals on the sides of buildings. As I stood on the corner of Edgewood and Boulevard, I had the privilege of watching a young artist floating high above me in a cherry picker intently painting details on his masterpiece.

As I watched him work, I carefully snapped a few photos, trying to capture the best aspects of his beautiful and intricate painting. I was mesmerized, but finally realized it was time to move on. I took in the painting as a whole, yet again. I scanned it for any delightful details I might have missed. Finally, I glanced up one last time at the artist. He looked down at me (it was the first time I had seen his eyes leave his work), smiled sweetly, and gave me a little wave. I smiled and waved back.

This is all to say that I find myself wanting to linger over delicious meals and take long walks with people I love and adore. I want to listen intently and really, really hear what’s being said in the space between the words. I want to hold hands and hold space, share moments, and love with my whole heart wide open. I crave community and connection, a cup of hot tea, and hugs. I want to roll up my sleeves and give every ounce of love and support I have. I want to look people in the eye and tell them how much they mean to me and how blessed I am to have them in my life. I want to laugh and cry and laugh some more…all at the same time.

I find myself feeling overwhelmed by the sheer mass of it all and I’m tired. I’m very, very tired, and I’m scared.

In the end, only love is real.

So, I’m letting go of all that is not kind, that is not compassionate, and that is not loving. I’m not going to worry about crossing things off the list or rushing towards the end. Instead, I’m putting my plans, my projects, my programs on ice. I’m embracing generosity, reverence, respect, and empathy not only for others but for myself as well. I’m closing my eyes and breathing deep. I’m reaching out to hold hands and hearts. I’m just going to laugh until I cry and cry until I laugh again.

Because, in the end, only love is real.

 

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Silvering

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Silvering

Over the past eighteen years, my hair has been every color from a too dark brown to a light, light blonde. I’ve had highlights and lowlights and washes and tints. I turned my hair green once and a lovely shade of apricot on two separate occasions. All of this has been in an attempt to cover the gray that started poking through somewhere around my thirtieth birthday.

My grandmother’s hair was completely white by the time she was eighteen. My mother’s by the time she had me at twenty-two. I always thought their white hair was beautiful and unique. Neither of them attempted to color their hair, ever. They accepted their genetics and wore their snowy locks like a glorious crown.

In spite of this example, when I found my first white hair, panic immediately set in. I didn’t feel ready to be a white-haired lady and I rushed off to find a solution to what I deemed a problem. I’ve been doggedly trying to cover my white hairs ever since.

At first it was easy. A trip to the salon every six to eight weeks kept my locks the dark brown of my youth. In recent years, the quest to cover the gray has become tedious to say the least. Nothing I or any stylist does effectively conceals the abundant white hair for any longer than a couple of weeks.

There have been many times, especially in the last few years, where I have considered just giving in to my gene pool. I’m tired of trying to solve this problem, tired of sitting in a salon chair, and tired of the white halo that still emerges after every attempt to hide it. I’ll let the white grow in for a month or two but, in the end, I always head back to the stylist for another hit of color.

I have several friends, who like me, started silvering at a tender age. Unlike me, they didn’t hide it. I think they’re beautiful. In addition, whenever I see a woman with snowy locks, I always do a double take. I think they are stunning. So the questions remains, why can’t I do the same. Why can’t I allow nature to take it’s course.

A few weeks ago, frustrated at this dilemma I did an image search for “white hair” and came across photo after photo of gorgeous white haired women. I drove my spouse crazy forcing him to look at the pictures while I discussed at great length whether or not I should just begin the silvering process. I politely accosted several women to discuss their beautiful heads of white hair. They were all kind enough to offer me tips to make the transition easier.

In the end, it all came down to Denise Wade. My best friend for fifteen plus years, she grew up in her mother’s salon and has built a stellar career as a stylist. She gives the best cuts (if you live anywhere near Temecula, CA you must look her up) and I knew that she would be brutally honest.

She’s not a fan of gray hair, but I pled my case, showed her some photos, and promised that I would not become frumpy. I explained that I was going for hip and fit and mature. After much contemplation, she decided that my skin color might be compatible with white locks. She decided I could give it a try.

Prior to visiting her in California, I had already allowed about three quarters of an inch of white to grow. I had  also done a pre-cut to a chin length bob to get rid of the old tinted hair and to make the transition to white faster. Over the next four days Denise worked her magic. Two rounds of highlights, several rinses, and a cut later, I was not quite white but considerably lighter and shorter then I’ve been since my mid twenties.

The whole experience has been unnerving to say the least. I don’t think I look bad but I definitely look different. People who’ve just met me, have had favorable comments, and my friends are supportive. My kid’s reactions have been reserved and in a moment when I caught my poor husband off guard the man agreed that I looked like a middle-aged southern belle. Yes, he still regrets it. Bless his heart.

Everyone says it’s a process and I keep reminding myself of this every time I catch a glimpse of the stranger in the mirror that is now me. In the end, when the last remnants of brown and blond are ancient history, when my hair has grown into the style I want, and when Denise Wade gives her final approval, then and only then will I decide if I like this silvering thing.

If at any point I tire of the process, I can always haul my self into the salon for a color fix. In the meantime, I’m just going to keep leaning in and embracing the change. Thank goodness silvering is a choice.

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A Delicate Matter

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A Delicate Matter

“You share with people who earn the right to hear your story.” Dr. Brene Brown

It’s a delicate matter. It really is.

I really don’t know how to proceed. As I consider my options, a lot is coming up for me and  I keep hearing the words “earned the right” in my head over and over again.

I agree with those who say we have people in our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. As a person who heavily vests myself in those who cross my path, I don’t always like this. As someone who doesn’t want to let go, who wants to stay in the thick of it and work things out, I’m beginning to accept this truth. I’m slowly becoming more at peace with the idea that some people are just reason/season folks and that it’s o.k. It’s really o.k.

Because the bottom line is that not everyone has “earned the right” to hear my truth. Not everyone gets to call me on my bullshit. I don’t always have to work through it or hash it out.

It’s a delicate matter. It really is.

I really don’t know how to proceed. I’m really not sure how one sets the criteria to determine who has earned the right. I’m really not sure how one decides when enough is enough.

I know that for me it’s been a complicated and convoluted journey. I do have a few breaking points, but mostly I’ve had too many spongy boundaries; too many second and third and one thousand and ninety-eighth chances. I’m getting better. I know that at the end of the day the only person who I can save/change is me. I believe that being honest and standing firm in my truth is the best I can do on any day. It’s the best any of us can do.

Because the bottom line is that not everyone wants or needs to be saved (especially by me). People really need to be given the time and the space and the freedom to own their journey, to walk their path, and work out their own issues at their own pace.

It’s a delicate matter. It really is.

I really don’t know how to proceed. My heart is filled with love and respect. I am here and I will stay. I will continue to show up, to be loving, and to be present. I hope that I have earned the right to hear the truth, to call bullshit, and to be part of the conversation as it’s worked through and hashed out.

Because the bottom line is that we need to make sure that the people we allow in our lives have the highest and best intentions for us. We each deserve to be surrounded by people who love and accept us. People who support us. People willing to hold space for us.

It’s a delicate matter. It really is.

I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I say the wrong things. I do the wrong things. All. The. Time. I ask myself…When I mess up do I make up? Do I apologize? Do I try to fix it? I mean really try to fix it. Or do I arrogantly cleave to my right to be right?

Because the bottom line is that we need realize that while love is unconditional relationships aren’t. Ever. Relationships have conditions and boundaries. Relationships require mutual trust and respect. Always. Relationships require compassion and empathy and time and space.

We earn the right to be in relationships one word, one gesture, one kindness, and one apology at a time.

It’s a delicate matter. It really is.

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Boundaries

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Boundaries

“Good boundaries don’t occur naturally. They need to be studied and practiced.” – Nina McIntosh

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about holding space for myself and for what’s important. Once I cut through all the goal setting drama and still more drama and then some additional drama and got down to the business of really deciding what I wanted, I realized that none of it was going to happen unless I chose to hold space for what I had decided was most important.

As much as I was deciding what I was going to do, I was also deciding what I was no longer going to do. As much as I was deciding how I was going to live, I was also deciding how I was not going to live. I was separating what I wanted from what I didn’t want.

What I was really doing was setting boundaries. I’m not always comfortable with boundaries.

Even though I say I really want “X,” I also really want the option of choosing different on a whim. I’ve wanted to be able to, at the drop of a hat, do whatever I please when I please. I’ve wanted complete flexibility and freedom.  Life doesn’t work like that.

  • If I want health, I have to choose to drink water and eat good foods and work out.
  • If I want friends, I have to spend time with awesome people.
  • If I want work I love, I have to figure out what I really like to do, do it, and be willing to accept compensation for my efforts.
  • If I want to learn new skills, I have to invest time and money in programs and books to teach me what I need to know.
  • If I want to write, I have to write. 
  • If I want to save money, I can’t spend it.

It’s sounds pretty easy, but it’s some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. It’s easy to eat crap and lay around and watch bad TV and work a job you don’t love and buy the cute dress. But showing up, being present, being intentional, staying on course is hard, hard work.

As I move through my day I constantly question myself. Is this moving me towards my goals? Do I feel expansive in this situation? Is this helping or hindering my progress? Is this the best choice for me, right now?

What I’m finding is I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with boundaries. I’m starting to realize they protect me and keep me on track.

I’m thinking about putting my boundaries in writing. This scares me, just like writing down my goals, populating my vision boards with images, and making a bucket list scared me. What I realize now is that there is power in committing our thoughts to words and images. So, I think I’ll devote some time in the upcoming months to defining in writing just where my boundaries lie.

I’m curious: how do you protect your time and stay focused on your intentions? What boundaries do you have to keep you on track? Have you written your boundaries down and if so did it make them feel more intentional? Please feel free to share in the comments below or email me at denise.stewart@gmail.com.

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On The Cusp

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On The Cusp

“Wherever the fates lead us let us follow.” – Virgil

Recently, I find myself on a cusp. I’ve been eliminating and simplifying, carefully considering the value and necessity of what I keep in my life. I’ve turned in my notice at the J-O-B and am intently working on a few projects that I will be sharing soon. I feel for the first time in a very long time that I am in transition; an extremely good transition.

Right now, what I most want to do is focus. I want to go deep. I just want to give myself a bit of time to grow. I’ve decided to honor these urges by holding space for myself.

I’m still writing; even more than before. I’m still here; even more present than before. For the next little bit, I am keeping my attention on these projects and the things I need to learn to bring them to fruition. I’m tending to my soul and nourishing my body. I’m loving those whom I adore and holding them close in my life and my heart.

This website has become a very special place for me. I hope it is for you too. If you’re so inclined, you can subscribe using the box to your right. That way you won’t miss a thing. In the meantime, if you need to get in touch hit me up on facebook as I hang out there from time to time.

Now, a question for you. What are one or two things you need to do to honor yourself and your journey? What do you do to hold space for yourself? I hope you’ll take a second to share in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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Tools In My Box or Embrace the Woo: An Introduction

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Tools In My Box or Embrace the Woo: An Introduction

We all have tools in our box. What I mean is each of us has certain things we do to help us cope when we feel stress. Some of us grab a glass of wine or drink beer in the shower. Others shop or watch endless hours of tv. I know people who hit the gym to let off steam and others who say that spending an hour in a yoga class makes all the difference in the world.

None of these things are necessarily good or bad in and of themselves. It’s only when the thing we are doing begins to prevent us from accomplishing our dreams or negatively effects our health and finances or starts to harm our relationships with family and friends that we have to step back and decide if it’s a behavior we want to continue.

Many years ago, as the mother of three small children living in Knoxville, Tennessee, I developed a shopping problem. Knoxville’s weather pretty much sucks year round. Summer’s are fraught with humidity and thunderstorms and winter’s are dank and gray. Spring brings some of the the coldest weather of the year and fall’s rotting leaves set off my mold allergies. Did I mention the mosquitos? Yep, we had those too.

Many of my days were tedious at best. To break the monotony of changing diapers, wiping noses, and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I would load the kids up in the mini van and head to West Town Mall or Target. In that climate controlled, bug free environment, the kids were entertained and distracted and I got a temporary reprieve from my domestic duties.

While we pushed up and down the aisles, I’d spot a dress that was perfect for my daughter, see dish clothes to replace the ones with holes, or pick up new socks for my husband. I’d grab some laundry detergent and a pair of shoes for myself and $50 or $75 or $100 later, I was on my way home.

I always had coupons and I always shopped sales. I always bought things we really, really needed. It was all good.

Except that by doing this once or twice weekly over a period of months, I found that I had run up some considerable credit card debt. Honestly, I was stunned. How could my forays to “gather” the things we needed have caused this problem?

For weeks, I went through bank and credit card statements. I started monitoring my spending carefully. I started asking myself the question, “what is enough?” I changed my shopping behavior and I paid down the debt.

Most important, I recognized that the shopping was my way of escaping from the stress of being mom for a bit. In a store, I could distract myself. Buying stuff was fun. I got a little rush from that new set of note cards. I could dream about the family home I was going to decorate, how cute the kids would look in their new clothes, and how happy they’d be reading the book I just bought.

As I combed through the statements, I realized what I really needed was a break from being mom. So, I enrolled my kids in a great mother’s day out program where they could safely play for a few hours each week. I found an amazing sitter with a flexible schedule who could help out from time to time. Finally, I started doing production work for television commercials where I could spend a couple of days each week earning money and hanging with people who didn’t want to talk about children’s bowl movements, Barney, or teething.

Now when I shop, I do it because I need something. I have my target items firmly in mind and a set budget in place. I hit the store, look for what I need, and leave as soon as I find or don’t find it. There is no more wiling the hours away as I distract myself from the stress of my days.

I wish I could say that this was the only negative coping pattern which I’ve fallen into. I wish I could say from this point forward I found lots of positive ways to hadle my stress. Sadly, that’s not the case. While I extinguished this one particular negative habit, there have been others like this one and this one.

We absolutely should do everything we can to limit the drama and stress in our day to day lives. Even doing this, there will still be stressful situations that crop up from time to time. Good, happy, positive situations cause stress too. Starting a new job or business is a happy, stressful time. Being creative, while yielding amazing results, pushes our stress buttons. Birthdays, weddings, and celebrations of all kinds add stress to our lives.

I realized I needed tools to help me deal with stress be it positive or negative as it cropped up. I needed techniques to keep me in a happy and relaxed state of mind all the time. I needed methods to keep me on track so I could handle whatever was thrown my way good or bad.

So, I started looking for tools I could put in my box. Things I could go back to over and over and over again that wouldn’t make me fat or run up the balance on my credit card or harm my relationships. I’ve delved deep and tried many different things. Some worked wonders and others were just meh.

To be honest, many of the things I tried felt weird and seemed freaky and kind of woo-woo. I have no clear cut understanding of why the woo works, I just know that it does. My scientific brain wants clear cut schematics, but in the end, I decided to just embrace the woo. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some of my favorite tools here. Among them are prayer, affirmations, forgiveness, gratitude, tapping, physical activity, and meditation, to name a few.

These are the things that I use daily to keep myself at peace and employ anytime I feel that little stress bubble forming in my belly. I hope you’ll stick around for the ride. Feel free to jump in with comments and questions. If you like what you read, please share it with your friends. Don’t want to miss an essay? Subscribe to get updates in your inbox using the box to your right. Thanks for being here. It means a lot to me.

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Nice Girls Don’t Have Bucket Lists

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Nice Girls Don’t Have Bucket Lists

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?.” – Marianne Williamson.

 “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Ananis Nin

To say I despise bucket lists would be an understatement.  For years, I refused to even consider making one. Maybe it’s the fact that everyone and their aunt’s mother’s brother has one. Maybe it’s the fact they all contain the same trite items.  I don’t know. The whole thing just bothers me, a lot. It feels insincere and inauthentic. It feels wrong.

Does everyone really want to skydive? I know hurling myself out of an perfectly good aircraft has no appeal to me. Then there’s running a marathon which I’d be willing to bet shows up on ninety percent of all bucket lists made. Why bother? Anything over ten miles is more an exercise in proper hydration and fueling.

With all this swirling in my mind, I sat down about two years ago and began making what I decided to call a “dream list.” Yes, I thought I was being clever by giving it another name. Any-who…my intention was to only populate it with things that I really cared about accomplishing. That way it wouldn’t turn into another sucky bucket list.

Occasionally over the past two years, I’ve taken it out and “dreams” were added and deleted. Each time I just felt really uncomfortable with the whole stupid process. For goodness sake, I was raised to eat my feelings and run from my dreams. I was not raised to make lists of super cool stuff I wanted to do, and I definitely wasn’t raised to talk about it.

So, while I resisted the overwhelming urge to dig a big hole in which to bury myself, I had to ask why I was so afraid. After some serious contemplation, I realized I have some firmly held beliefs at my core that are feeding my deep-seated fears.

I realized I believe that nice girls are practical and do what is expected of them and they like it or else.  I realized I believe nice girls don’t have dreams; they don’t want things. Wanting things is just plain greedy. Nice girls aren’t greedy.

Mostly, I realized I believe nice girls must remain hidden. We have to stay small. I also realized I just don’t think I really deserve awesome or wonderful or great. Nice girls take average and ordinary and they’re o.k. with that. God forbid I not be a nice girl.

But I also realized that by being a nice girl, I’m allowing my dreams, my life, to slip away.

So, I’m pulling out the old dream list and brushing it off. I’m taking a deep breath, searching my soul, and writing down every single thing I’ve ever wanted to do. To the average and everyday goals, I’m adding every crazy, insane, over the top thing I can conjure. I’m weighing each carefully, editing thoughtfully, and making sure that what’s left is stuff that really resonates with me.

I’m doing this for me and at some point, I will publish it. Laugh if you will. Bottom line, I have the right to be seen and heard. I have the right to succeed. Most of all, I have the right to have awesome and wonderful and great.

I’m also doing this for my kids. I talk to them all the time about living great, big, giant lives. I encourage them to search their souls for what lights them up and to walk to the beat of their own drum. Talk is cheap. The best way to lead is always from the front.

And no, I still have no desire to jump from a plane. I am; however, reconsidering the marathon. It is my list after all.

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