“Letting Go...Embracing Change...”
Living the Life I Dream
“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?...
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” – Thomas Campbell My oldest is a Marine. He’s been in for three and a half years. His contract is for five. He spent most of the first year training. The next two years he was far...
“What I do know is that if we open fully to these moments, there is something exquisite wrought in the heart.” – Kathleen Prophet Most mornings I wake up long before the sun rises, throw on my Altras, and take my dog, Roxanne,...
“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
I have always been full of questions. As a child, I quickly learned not to annoy the adults in my life with the endless stream of inquiries that rolled through my head. To be honest, it was tough to surpress. Luckily, I learned early on that many of the answers I sought could be found in books. I became an avid reader at an early age.
Things haven’t changed much. I’m still full of questions and still read incessantly. It’s just that now most of the information I seek is found on the wondrous inter-web.
When I was in college, I worked as a server in a popular restaurant. Everyday, over and over again, customers would ask the same two questions. One was what type of salad dressings did we offer. The other was what type of soft drinks did we serve. The other servers and I would complain about how annoying this was. Come on people. Unless this is your first time in a restaurant you should know this.…coke, diet coke, sprite, thousand island or blue cheese.
One day as I was suppressing an eye roll and large sigh after being asked one of these two questions for the fiftieth time that day, it dawned on me that the person asking was doing so because he really wanted to know. Here he was in our restaurant turning over his hard earned dollars to have a lovely culinary experience. He just wanted to be sure there were no unexpected options. What if we served Pepsi products? (We didn’t.) What if we had special house dressing? (We did.) He just wanted information to make the best choice. He was asking because he didn’t know.
Something shifted in me that day. I thought about all the people who rolled their eyes and sighed at my questions with annoyance. I thought about all the questions I didn’t ask for fear of angering or irritating or being dismissed. I made a decision then and there that anytime someone asked me a question, I would honor it and do my best to share what I knew. I decided that even if I’d been asked the question a million and one times before, I would act as if it was the first time I had ever heard that question and I would treat the person asking it respectfully.
I’m a strong proponent of the idea that there are no stupid questions. If someone takes the trouble to think about something to the point of formulating an inquiry, then the least I can do is honor it with a thoughtful answer. It might be nice to live in a world where everyone already knew all of the important stuff, but that’s not how it is.
We are put here to solve problems and seek a better way. We are put here to learn and grow and evolve. The only way we can do better is to learn better. All learning be it math or matters of spirituality starts with a question. It always starts with a question. Always. To ignore any question is nothing short of cruelty. If one has an answer, they also have the responsibility to share it.
As a teacher to middle school students, at the beginning of every class, I would write a question on the board that related to the day’s lesson. My student’s would spend a few minutes pondering it on paper before we discussed it as a class. One day one of my eighth grade students raised his hand and asked me how long his answer had to be. I responded that it should be at least a paragraph, maybe two. He then asked, “Mrs. Stewart, what’s a paragraph?”
When I stated teaching, I made the decision to honor all student questions the same way I honored questions in my everyday life. So, true to form I stopped what I was doing and explained to him what a paragraph was. He nodded and began to write.
After class, he came up to me and thanked me for telling him what a paragraph was. As I busily shuffled papers, he continued. “I’ve asked this question every year since I was in second grade and you’re the first teacher who has answered it for me.”
He had my full attention now. I turned and looked at him. In shock, I stammered, “you’re kidding?” I asked him how teachers responded to him when he asked the question. He said they blew him off because they assumed he already knew the answer and thought he was just trying to disrupt class or avoid work.
I found that by thoughtfully and considerately answering every single student question including the ones that were used for the avoidance of work and for comedic value (my favorites) that the students realized two things. First they realized I would take every thing they said seriously. Second, they realized that I respected them.
No tween-ager wants to look stupid. For the most part, after having me spend several minutes earnestly answering several of their non-serious inquiries pretty much ended the game. They knew they could trust me and from then on our class discussions remained on-topic.
While I believe there are no stupid questions, I do believe that some questions are better than others. I think it’s important that we really contemplate where we want to end up once the question is answered and formulate and reformulate our questions until we get to the place we need to be.
For many years, I asked the question, “why am I unhappy?” You better believe I found thousands of answers to this question. The thing is after a lot of knowledge accured, I was still unhappy. Then I changed the question and asked what I believe to be a better question, “how can I be happy?” I found thousands of answers to this question, too. But the difference was after all the questioning, I was happy.
I think we often get trapped asking the wrong questions. Why does my marriage suck should be replaced with how can I make my marriage work? Why am I fat should be replaced with how do I get healthy? Why won’t this dog stop barking should be replaced with what is causing the dog to bark and how can I remove the cue?
Good or bad, right or wrong, the question is the beginning and necessary. Therefore, I will continue to ask questions even if others find me annoying and I will answer any question that comes my way or at least help point the person to possible answers.
We are put here imperfect. We’ve given our great big brains for a reason. Now, let us accept this and start asking all the questions we need to ask to make ourselves and our world a better. In addition, when we are questioned, let us consider it an honor instead of an annoyance. Let us realize that someone is trusting us to help them on their journey. Let us honor their journey with thoughtful answers.
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“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” – Harriet Tubman
Last fall my son asked me if I had any dreams. “Of course,” I answered quickly. As he talked, I poked around the dark crevices of my mind searching for a dream I could share. Sadly, I couldn’t think of one.
He was charged and the conversation went forward sans my contribution. As he excitedly told me of his dreams, I realized there had been a time when I too had dreams. Just like my son, I once believed that whatever I could dream could truly happen. I never doubted that if I put my mind to it, worked really, really hard, and played smart that anything was within my reach. I remember feeling excited and energized by all the possibilites.
As my son continued, it dawned on me that somewhere along the way I stopped dreaming. I realized that I haven’t felt inspired about what’s next in a long time. While I was glad to see his enthusiasm, I felt sad for me.
Over the next few months, I tried to remember the exact day, the precise minute I last felt excited about my life. Throughout high school and college and into marriage and motherhood I was a dream machine plotting all the wonderful that would fill my days. Sure, there were disappointments. Plans had to be changed to accommodate all the moving parts of my life but I was mostly optimistic.
Being the daughter of a career Marine, landed me in eight different schools, ten different homes, five different states, and one foreign country in my first thirteen years. I never had a negative experience. To me it as a grand adventure. But because of all the moves, I always regarded my grandmother Claypool’s regal, white house, lovingly filled with family heirlooms as home. It was the one constant throughout my childhood.
Even before I started my family, I dreamed of making this kind of home for my children. I wanted my kids to feel the way about the home they lived in with me as I felt about my grandmother’s house. So, when we bought our house in Temecula, California, I set about creating a family home that would be filled with love and cherished memories.
For two years I poured all my spare time and money into decorating that house. I painted and planted and sewed it into what I pictured as perfection. I dreamed of watching my daughter walk down the stairs in play dresses, then prom dresses, and then her wedding gown. As I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with my kids on the patio, I dreamed of doing the same with my grandchildren.
So, when the tech bubble burst and my husband announced that he had been laid off from his software job, my bubble burst too. I realized that if he didn’t find a job quickly and near where we lived, we could be forced to move from this house in which I had put my heart and soul.
As we stretched his severance and he searched for a new job, I did the only thing I could to protect my heart. I detached from the house. The idea of loosing it hurt too much. It was the only way I could cope.
We didn’t loose the house that time. Joe was employed inside of a month and bought us two more years before fate stepped in again and we were uprooted for good. It didn’t matter. I lived in the house, but I never felt the same about it. It was just a roof over our heads, a mortgage that had to be paid, and nothing more.
The threat of loosing that dream was so painful I just stopped dreaming. I didn’t want to hurt like that again.
For the thirteen years since, I’ve really not made plans, set goals, or checked things off my list. I’ve latched onto other people’s dreams and supported their efforts, but I haven’t dared dream for myself. I’m terrified that the second I do I will loose whatever it is.
A life without dreams is no life.
As I continue to listen to my son talking of his plans for his future enthusiastically sharing all the projects he wants to tackle and things he wants to experience, I knew that I had to find a way to dream again. I had to unearth those long hidden desires. I had to figure out what really excited me. I had to name it and claim it. I had to move forward towards what I wanted.
It’s really difficult for me to write about this. I’m still struggling to figure it out.
I don’t want to glom onto someone else’s bucket list. I want dreams that are authentically mine. I also want to be sure that I’m helping others. I want to leave this Earthly Heaven a little better than I found it.
In order to do this, I’ve found I have to hold myself in this strange place where I have laser focus on the goals for which I’m working but am open and accepting of whatever happens. I have to feel worthy and deserving while being honest about what it is I really want and need. I have to surround myself with people who are supportive, loving, and generous while reaching out to those who are hurt and broken. I have to work hard knowing that what’s best will come easy.
It’s an odd bit of alchemy.
I’m moving forward slowly taking tentative steps as I carefully mull over each idea. I try to wait patiently until I feel it in my bones. That’s why I’ve placed such importance on goal setting and vision boards and all the other exercises I do to unearth what will really make a difference in my life and the lives of others.
Our dreams matter. I’m taking this seriously.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ernest Hemingway
“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” – John Steinbeck
On Saturday, I registered for the Rock n’ Roll Savannah Half Marathon. What this means is that I put down cold, hard, non-refundable cash for the privilege of running 13.1 miles through the streets of Savannah, Georgia. For many people, signing up for a road race is no big deal. For me, it’s a total and complete ordeal.
I’ve wanted to run a Rock n’ Roll for ages. Savannah is hands down one my favorite towns. Running through the streets of Savannah would be heavenly. This should be a no-brainer. Instead, I stalled for days coming up with a million and one reasons why I shouldn’t go.
This is not how races get run, so on Saturday, I registered. Like I said, the race fee is non-refundable. Next, in what I can only describe as an act of total defiance, I booked a hotel room: for two nights. I made sure it was non-refundable too. I doubled down. I was immediately flooded with feelings of remorse and regret.
Anything could happen between now and then. My mind raced with the possibilities of things that could prevent me from showing up on race day. What if I’m sick? What if the weather turns bad? What if there’s an accident or emergency? What if my training goes poorly? What if I’m injured? The list went on and on and on.
The truth of the matter is I will go or not go, and I’ll either have a great run or the whole thing will suck. One never knows how it’s going to be with running. I can plan and train and do everything perfect and still go out and have a crap of a race. One lousy meal, weather that’s too hot or cold, or a bad night’s sleep can turn what should have been a great time into a 13.1 mile death march.
While my head knows this, the thought of having to live through the next several months with this event looming larger by the minute made my heart feel tight and the pit in my stomach grow larger. I decided to sit with the fear and uncertainty. I decided to lean into the discomfort.
What I realized is that it’s not just running races that sends me into a near panic attack. I realized that committing to any significant event that requires planning, dedication, and an outlay of cash, causes me to do a stress spiral. For years, I’ve stressed over vacations, social events, weekend outings, you name it.
That being said, I’m not a total wreck. I own a house, pay taxes, and take care of my family. I’m a good employee and team player. I’m a solid problem solver be they my problems or those of family or friends. I work hard to help other people (as long as they aren’t lying and stealing) reach their goals.
It’s just when it comes to me committing to something that I find exciting, enjoyable, or interesting that it all falls apart. If it’s something that I deeply care about, that I really want, then I begin to fuss and fret myself into a frenzy.
Is it fear of failure or fear of success? It doesn’t really matter. What I finally realized is that what this race is really about is the million and one things that I do between now and then. It’s about the weights lifted and miles run. It’s about rest and recovery. It’s about the food I eat and vitamins I take. It’s about holding space on that weekend for myself. It’s about saying no to what doesn’t propel me towards this goal and yes to what does. It’s about accepting that regardless of the outcome the experience was worth the effort.
The truth is that when I show up on race day, all the work has already been done. It doesn’t matter if I’m sick or well, if it’s hot or cold, if I run a personal record or not. The race started on Saturday. It started the moment I hit the button and transferred the funds. It’s about the journey and getting there.
All I can do is prepare and do everything in my power to make sure I’m on the starting line at the appointed time. All I can do is lean in, work for the best, and know that regardless of the outcome I was exactly where I was suppose to be doing exactly what I needed to do every step of the way.
In honor of my forty-eighth birthday, here’s a list of twenty-four things you probably don’t know about me. Yes, it’s a bit self-indulgent. I hope it’s not too boring. I would LOVE it if you would leave at least one fact about yourself that most people don’t know in the comments below. Consider it your birthday gift to me.
1. See Seven States…I have lived in seven different states: Kentucky, South Carolina, North Carolina, New York, Tennessee, California, and Georgia, and one foreign country: Japan.
2. Love At First Sight…The first artist I fell in love with was Vincent Van Gogh. I was six. His self-portrait sans ear hung over the blackboard in my first grade classroom. I would stare at it anytime I wasn’t trying to sound out words or learning to add and subtract.
3. Veni, Vidi, Vici…I majored in Art History in college and minored in psychology. I blame VanGogh.
4. Four…My favorite number is four. I also like forty-four (two fours in one number) and sixteen (four times four).
5. What?…My father’s childhood nickname for me was “snake.” He called my brother “frog.” He dubbed my nieces “moose” and “goose.” I think “moose” and I got the best nicknames.
6. It’s a Family Tradition…My nicknames for my children are “prince,” princess,” and “doodle-bug.” My husband is “honey-bunny.’ The dogs are dubbed “the bone,” “goose,” and “fleo.” The new dog doesn’t have a nickname, yet.
7. I Wear Black on the Outside…I wear black a lot. I also prefer dresses to just about any other type of clothing and wear them as often as I can. I don’t wear prints that much, especially big ones. Big prints make my head look small. It’s really creepy.
8. Random Facts…I was born in the Chinese year of the snake and my element is water. I’m a Pisces. My spirit animal is the bear. I have no idea what any of this really means.
9. My Soft Place to Land…I met my husband in August of 1988. He told me he loved me on September 11, 1988, he asked me to marry him on October 11, 1988, and we got married on November 11, 1988. We are celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary this year.
10. Blooming Bravery…My favorite flower is the daffodil. There are two reasons for this. One: they bloom right around my birthday in early March. Two: I think they are extremely brave to venture out when the weather is still so unpredictable.
11. Jackpot…I once dreamed that I won $160 million in the lottery. My husband has bought a lottery ticket just about every week since. We haven’t won. Maybe, I should buy the next ticket.
12. Oh, No. Not again!…To the eternal embarrassment of my children, I cry in art museums. They beg me not to and I promise I won’t and then I turn the corner and I’m standing in front of the work of one of my hero’s and the tears flow. It’s really a problem.
13. Biggest Fail …I’ve never been to Europe to see all the art I studied. I find this eternally grievous. When I finally go, I plan to visit all the amazing works I love. I’m sure I will cry, a lot.
14. Talk to Me…I love nothing better than a good story. I read constantly but prefer to sit and listen to yarns as they are being spun.
15. ROOOOOXAAAANE….When my kids were little and would start getting whiney in a store, I would belt out the song “Roxanne” by the Police at the top of my lungs. I wouldn’t stop singing until they started behaving. After the first couple of times, I rarely got past the first word before I had the compliance I needed to finish my shopping with three well-behaved children in tow.
16. Mama Mia!…When I was in grade school, I lived in Kingston, NY in a neighborhood that was populated by first and second generation Roman Catholic Italians. My parents were non-practicing protestants from the South. Our new neighbors didn’t care. We were completely and lovingly embraced in spite of our funny accents and different views. It was a great place to be a kid and I have wonderful memories of those years and the amazing families who loved us.
18. I’m Not Shy…I’m an introvert. What this means is that I need to spend some time alone everyday to recharge. It also means I’m not big on small talk and will choose to remain quiet unless I can add something meaningful to the conversation.
20. No Pain, No Gain…I delivered all three of my children without the benefit of an epidural. The idea of not being able to move the entire lower part of my body freaked me out way more than the idea of labor pain.
21. I Left My Heart…While there are things about the East Coast I adore (luke-warm water beaches, forests, Atlanta, and New York City), I really love California and miss living there.
22. Hope It NEVER happens…If my husband ever leaves me for a younger woman and I’m thrown back out into the world of being single and some gentleman comes calling with the intention of wooing me, I will ask him the following questions: 1. Are you currently married? 2. Who did you vote for in 2008? 3. What is your primary source of news? 4. Are you a cat or a dog person or neither? 5. What do you think happens to us when we die? I think every single person should have thier own set of questions. It would save a lot of time and heartache.
23. Keep Moving…I love nothing better than taking a long walk or long run. Doesn’t matter where (city street or wooded trail). As long as I’m moving forward, I’m happy.
24. Past Lives…I have no way of knowing if the whole past life thing is true or not, but if it is, I’m pretty sure I spent most of mine in England as a dude.
Now it’s your turn…please, tell me something that I probably don’t know about you in the comments below. You can use a pseudonym if you’re feeling shy.Read More