You Can’t Fix Yourself by Breaking Someone Else

I find human nature amusing at times, don’t you?  The first scene of the movie He’s Just Not That Into You is a perfect example.  It shows a little girl being bullied at the park by a little boy.  The little girl then goes up to her Mom to explain the events and the Mom’s response is, “That means the boy likes you.”  Wait, what?  Being mean is an indication of liking someone?!  I recall, in my own youth, being told that if a kid was being mean to me it’s a sign that they are jealous of me.  This brings me back to my first statement that us humans can be an odd bunch sometimes.

My examples above are that of kids, but some of our backwards behavior carries on into our adulthood.  Are you ready for my true confession of discordant thinking?  I take you back to the first year of my marriage.  This is when a disturbing behavior of mine was brought to my attention.  I don’t exactly recall the specifics of how it came about, but I quickly gained the nickname “Red Pen” from my husband.  The name was an indication of my constantly correcting everything he did.  You may recall the orange slicing incident from my previous post Celebrating Differences?  He’d also respond to some of my remarks with a simple, “Put the gavel down.”  This was his delicate way of saying I needed to quit unrighteously judging him or the circumstances around me.  In short, I was being unkind as well as a micro-manager.  The latter being an annoying habit for sure, but harmless for the most part.  Or is it?

It turns out that I was increasing the frequency of my “Red Pen” behavior when I was feeling a lack of control over myself.  I didn’t really make the correlation until I was sitting in a therapy session a few years back.  I was confessing to my therapist that I tend to point out all of my husband’s faults and short-comings.  She, being a therapist, immediately recognized this behavior as a sign of my own insecurities.  My insecure nature had already been recognized as the root of a large portion of my struggles so I’m sure this behavior came as no surprise to her.  Then she pulled a typical therapist move on me.  She went and said something I had heard a million times before, but had never internalized or applied it to myself.  Her response to my confession was simple, “You can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else.”  Wait, what?  You can’t?  Because somewhere along the way I subconsciously made this a truth.  If I wasn’t able to feel good about myself, then surely I could make my husband feel worse or bring him down and that would somehow put me up higher, right?  Wrong.

Oh, how sad of a way to behave.  How terrible I felt when I realized that I had been breaking my husband down in a failed attempt to lift myself up.  I took the therapy session to heart and began trying to right my wrongs immediately.  It must have worked successfully because I was just telling my husband about the topic of this post being that you can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else and he promptly responded with, “You don’t do that.”  I had to remind him of our first years of marriage and then he said, “Oh yeah, that happened.”  Unfortunately, the micro-managing sneaks back in to our relationship when I am feeling less than optimal about myself.  Thankfully, it doesn’t escalate in to me trying to break him down or point out all of his flaws, as I’ve learned to reel myself in and see the situation for what it is.

It’s tough to redirect ourselves from these unhealthy behavior patterns that somehow get ingrained in us.  Obviously, nobody taught me this behavior specifically.  I was not pulled aside as a child and told, “You know what would make you feel better about yourself?  Bringing others down.”  But I did have to be directly told to NOT act in that manner.  And what about the other behaviors I mentioned above?  A kid who bullies being an indication that he likes you?  Or is jealous of you?  Huh?  That is an odd way to show your admiration or affection for someone.  What happens to the person that buys in to that way of thinking and ends up in a harmful relationship with someone who treats them in such a manner?

This brings me to my final thought, which leaves me recalling a line from the movie French Kiss.  The main character, Kate, is frustrated with the manner in which the French share their emotions in an opposite fashion to their true feelings and exclaims, “Happy, smile.  Sad, frown.  Use the corresponding face with the corresponding emotion.”  My final thought echoes that of Kate’s: Let’s use the corresponding behavior for the corresponding results.  If you want to feel better, be kinder and better.  If you want to feel love, show love.  Let’s strive to lift one another up in an effort to make the world a happier place rather than bring someone down under the falsehood that we will somehow be lifted higher.  Let us compliment people and magnify their strengths, not their weaknesses.

I learned that bringing my husband down did not make me feel any better about myself.  I must have been disillusioned into thinking so, as I had made a habit of it, but it was not the reality.  I often felt worse about myself, as I was bringing unnecessary contention into our home.  However, lifting him up and lifting others up around me actually does make me feel better about myself.  Joy begets more joy.  I know this to be true because there is more joy, understanding and compassion found in our marriage now than when I was trying to fix myself by breaking him.

May we each begin to recognize the true happiness that is felt within when we lift others rather than break them down.

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Strength and Purpose from Our Trials

The topic on my mind this week might be considered a delicate topic by some.  It’s something that I ponder often.  So much so that I suppose it’s no surprise that it compliments a previous post I wrote almost a year ago entitled Finding Happiness Amongst Trials.  I genuinely appreciate trials.  Perhaps not in the midst of the trial itself, but I do strive to find the silver lining even in the moment.  However, today I wanted to speak about finding purpose in the aftermath of our trials.

I was recently writing a piece about my battle with depression and Bi-Polar Type II.  A friend was proofing my work and questioned one of my remarks.  My sentence read, “Thankfully, I’ve learned that each high and low I have faced has strengthened me and equipped me for a healthier future.”  Her comment in the margins was, “Is this honest?  Sounds a bit too good to be true.”  I can answer without hesitation that it is 100% honest.  I abhor the lows of my Bi-Polar Type II.  That is how intensely painful those moments feel to me.  I feel legitimately check-me-in-to-a-mental-facility crazy in my times of darkness.  BUT, when I am able to come up for air and see clearly again, I find I am stronger.  Even more rewarding than seeing those moments through until I am back in the light, is the level of empathy it has provided me.  Prior to this personal struggle of mine, I had zero understanding of the pain and heartache that depression and mental illness can bring upon an individual.  It was not until I was able to experience extreme highs and lows in a short period of time that I was truly able to see how deceiving such an illness can be.  Deceiving in the sense that you will come across someone who seems perfectly happy and fine, but struggles silently with unseen darkness within.  This is why I find it so crucial that we Have a Merciful Heart.  It probably does sound too good to be true that I am able to find the good in such pain.  I didn’t always feel that way.  It’s taken time for me to understand that all of these trials are for my betterment AND that enduring these trials has afforded me the opportunity to be there for others who have or are suffering similarly.

The ability to be there for others is one of the greatest blessings that has come from all of my trials, whether they be big or small.  I just don’t see how enduring through our trials should be an isolated event.  When appropriate, I find that sharing our trials and how we “survived” them helps alleviate others who are going through similar difficult times.  I know I am grateful for the men and women who have been courageous enough to share their trials and tales of perseverance with me.  They have strengthened me.  The one that comes to my mind right now, probably because I am at the tail end of my pregnancy, is a friend of mine who shared her story of being on bed rest.  With my past two pregnancies, I was sentenced to bed rest.  I say “sentenced” because my personality does not thrive in such situations.  My husband always jokes about the irony of how women are more likely to be ordered on bed rest and how they seem to detest it.  He assures me that a man ordered to bed rest would gladly embrace day after day of watching TV and playing video games.  Alas, I digress.  When struggling with being on bed rest, my friend shared her experiences on bed rest.  She had to be flat on her back in a hospital for multiple weeks.  She was not allowed to sit up at all.  She told me that the first meal brought to her hospital room was spaghetti.  “How am I supposed to eat spaghetti laying down?!,” she said laughing.  Then she shared with me how her sister came and shaved her legs while she was bedridden.  She spoke of all the numerous services that were performed on her behalf that she struggled with accepting.  She spoke to my inner struggle at the time.  She encouraged me to graciously accept all the acts of service that I was receiving and not feel guilty about them, as I had been.  How grateful I was for her sharing her trial with me and confirming that I would get through it and soon I would laugh about it all.  And, of course, she was right.  That is just one of countless stories that has brought me peace and hope during a trial.  My prayer is that I have been able to lift another similarly by sharing my own struggles with them.  If for no other reason than lifting another in their time of need, I am grateful for the trials I have endured.

I want to share one last story with you on this matter.  It is the story that I read this week that inspired this topic in the first place.  This is the story of Antoinette Tuff, a 47-year-old bookkeeper at an elementary school in Georgia, and Michael B. Hill, a 20-year-old armed with an AK-47 who entered that same elementary school on August 20, 2013.  Hill encountered Tuff inside the school and Tuff quickly learned that Hill had stopped taking his medications and no longer wanted to live.  Tuff calmly responded to Hill saying, “I thought the same thing.  I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me, but look at my now.  I’m working and everything is OK.”  Tuff’s remarks soothed Hill and he relinquished his weapon and not a single person was injured that day.  If you want to read more about Tuff’s story, she wrote a book called Prepared for a Purpose. I have not read the book myself, I read about this story in the February 2014 Costco Connection magazine.  In the magazine article it states that, “Now when Tuff looks back, she sees the struggles of her past in a new and more meaningful light.”

I share her feelings.  It’s not that I enjoy the trials when I’m in the middle of them.  It’s that I’ve learned to appreciate their purpose in my life and perhaps in the lives of those around me.  I have become fully aware of their strengthening powers.  I love how Steve Maraboli puts it in his book Life, the Truth, and Being Free, “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”  How true that statement is and how grateful I am for a stronger and more resilient me.

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Having a Merciful Heart

I originally posted the following post on Over the Big Moon (OTBM) under the title of Having a Merciful Heart.  As has become my custom during the week prior to the third Sunday, I am featuring a previous OTBM post here in anticipation of my new OTBM post this Sunday.  Normally I wouldn’t do so, but I did do tweaks to this post to make it less holiday focused since it was first published in December 2013.

My Mom battled Ovarian Cancer for five years.  In the latter part of those five years, the battle grew increasingly more difficult.  She was always good to put a smile on about the whole affair.  People would ask her how she was feeling and she would give an optimistic response.  I knew differently.  I recall there was one gentleman at church that would say, “How are you, really?”  I guess he was catching on that my Mom wasn’t offering up her true feelings and state of physical well-being.  It wasn’t that she was trying to lie, I think she just thought it best for everyone if they didn’t worry about her.  I suppose I don’t really know what her purpose was in keeping a strong upper lip on the matter.  As I sit here, I wish I could ask her why she kept so many in the dark.  In some ways, I’ve made a conscious decision to do the opposite, but at the same time my default is to put on that ever-smiling face no matter what.

Since I had never really been a private person, it wasn’t until the darkest time that I battled depression that I even realized I too hid the pain and ugliness.  It just seems that people don’t want to know the real ugly thoughts we each endure.  So, with those thoughts unshared, they become thoughts of shame and grief.    I chuckle recalling my friend’s remarks when I confided in her about my desperate struggle with depression.  She said, “You’re the happiest depressed person I’ve ever met.”  She was not the only person to make comments along these lines.  People would honestly ask me if I was ever in a bad mood.  If only they knew…

Before I go further, let me say that I do not suggest that we should constantly be putting our dirty laundry out, nor carry around a sour disposition, nor spout to all the woes and heartbreak we feel.  I truly believe that constantly feeding negative thoughts begets more negative thinking.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons my Mom kept her times of sorrow private.  She had an attitude of optimism.

In that same breath though, I think it’s important that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable amongst our loved ones.  It’s this misconception that everyone is doing perfectly fine that creates this false feeling to the downtrodden that they are alone in their suffering.  I know that is exactly how I felt when I experienced Postpartum Depression (PPD).  In my eyes, every Mom I had met spoke of an immediate connection with their child and joy beyond compare.  I loved and adored my infant daughter, but I was not experiencing those same feelings that they were describing.  I applaud the first woman who opened up and shared her less-than-positive feelings regarding post childbirth.  It’s that same reason that I have since strived to be open about my own trials.  Since I am, apparently, quite good at hiding my pain during my daily activities, I’ve had to be forward in sharing my true feelings.  Even close friends seem to be baffled when I confess to them that I am barely coping in my daily life.  But, I think it’s important that women, and men, realize that pain and suffering is not set aside just for them individually.  We all must endure and we all must be merciful.

I have had the opportunity to be a listening ear to many women over the past years.  In my efforts to be honest about my challenges, others have felt comfortable in sharing theirs with me.  Some stories included pains I cannot comprehend.  I believe it takes great courage for us to confide in another regarding our deepest suffering.  In my respect for their courage and trust in me, I held their stories private.  But, sadly, I later overheard other women speak unkind words and make judgments regarding these women who had confided in me.  I wanted to shout out, “If only you knew what they were dealing with privately, you would not be so quick to judge.”  So as not to damage the trust that those courageous women had placed in me, I held my tongue.  I simply tried to suggest to the gossiping women that these other women may be dealing with more than they understood.  That experience, more than any other, taught me that we ought not make unrighteous judgments.  Every person has their own story and struggle and rarely, if ever, do we have the whole picture.

I once had the pleasure of spending time with this sweet couple.  The husband was sharing with me how kind-hearted and tender his wife is in everything she does.  He gave the example that even when they’re driving on the road and someone cuts them off, his wife is quick to come up with a myriad of valid reasons as to why the driver did so.  He admitted that he would quickly become agitated until her suggestions of “perhaps they didn’t know it was their turn-off,” “maybe they have a loved one who is ill and needs to get to the hospital,” or simply, “they must be having a hard day” would calm his nerves and change his heart.  When he shared that story, it encouraged me to reconsider people’s unpleasant actions and try to find the unoffensive reasoning behind it.  I once overheard another couple talking about their occasional misunderstandings.  The husband said to his wife, “Whenever I say something, just know that I mean it in the most positive way possible.”  An easy out on his part, but likely true nonetheless.  There are so many ways to interpret actions, aren’t there?  Often we are quick to assume the worst.

What I’m trying to say is let’s be slow to judge, quick to find the positive, and courageous enough to be vulnerable from time to time.  If we but try to bear one another’s burdens and joys with merciful hearts, we will each be blessed with more peace and hope.

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3 Ways to Bring Sunshine to the Soul

Don’t you love those times in life when you somehow feel more upbeat or at peace no matter what life is throwing at you?  I’m in one of those happy places right now and I’m trying to analyze every little aspect of my daily actions to see what is making the difference.  I think I’ve deduced that there are three things contributing to my happier demeanor – focusing less on myself, tidying up, and the joy of sunshine!

I tried to word that first one – focusing less on myself – carefully.  At first I wanted to put down “doing service” or “thinking more of others.”  But in reflecting back on my week, I don’t know that I’ve been doing any grand acts of service or even thinking of others more than usual.  I think what it comes down to is that I’ve been trying to focus more on the good in life in general rather than constantly dwelling on my short-comings and undone tasks, which there are plenty of the latter these days.  I think what it comes down to is that I’m trying to embrace Abraham Lincoln’s quote about how, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”  I’ve struggled with this quote because there are plenty of times that I want to be happy and I think that I’m doing all I can do make it happen and it’s just not happening.  But perhaps it’s not just about making my mind up to be happy, but rather making my mind up to not dwell on the unhappy, or rather, striving to focus less on myself.  When I say focus less on myself, I’m not saying to ignore the personal nourishment that my body, soul, and mind needs.  By focusing less on myself, I mean looking beyond myself and seeing the beauty around me and the opportunities that abound.  It seems to me that focusing less on myself is the way my mind chooses happiness.  This might not be the case for all.  Perhaps it’s worth thinking about this quote and trying to understand what actions need to be taken for your mind to decide to be happy?

The second thing that just made life a little brighter was tidying up some odds and ends around the house.  I still have seven weeks to go in this pregnancy, but my husband is convinced the nesting period has begun.  Last night, as I busily cleaned up clutter and messes that I had let fall by the wayside for too long, my husband was literally chirping and singing some made-up song about what types of twigs and such do I put in my nest.  Just sharing that makes me giggle all over again, which makes me think that perhaps the goodness of my husband ought to be on this list of things that have been bringing sunshine in to my soul.  I say it often, “I married up.”  But, back to the topic at hand, a tidier home just makes for a happier home, does it not?  I’m not saying perfectly tidy, because lets be honest, I am a mother of three.  I have learned that each child produces more clutter and mess.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the added mess of yet another kiddo.  Comedian, Jim Gaffigan’s, line from his stand-up show Mr. Universe is in the forefront of my mind often these days, “You want to know what it’s like having a fourth kid?  Imagine you’re drowning.  Then someone hands you a baby.”  He goes on to say how happy he actually is to have four (now five kids), but that doesn’t take away from the reality that more kids = more chaos.  Perhaps that’s why my efforts to get our current level of chaos better under control helped calm my nerves a little bit.

Lastly, I truly believe my soul just needed some literal sunshine.  While I love the varying seasons here in Oregon, I can certainly tell how my mood responds to a few days of good ol’ sunshine.  The best part is that it rarely gets too hot here.  So the days filled with sunshine are days that seem almost too perfectly beautiful and comfortable to be real.  Yesterday just happened to be one of those days.  We headed down to the river as a family and met up with some friends.  The kids rode their bikes all over the place and threw rocks in the river, while we visited and took in the beautiful sunshine and scenery.  Taking time to enjoy the beauty of the world in which we live and spending time with loved ones just warms the soul.  It’s truly that simple.

So, if for whatever reason, you are having a difficult time feeling the sunshine in your soul, perhaps one of these three pieces of revelation will help brighten your spirit and your day!

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Free Printable Ultimate Summer Bucket List

Being that Memorial Day Weekend is the unofficial kick-off to the summer season, I made an exerted effort to finalize our 2014 Summer Bucket List even though my kids still have a couple more weeks of school.  It was a fun process to come up with what I feel is the ultimate summer bucket list.  My list is comprised of items that we did last year along with some items I found on other summer bucket lists.  I went ahead and linked to the original sources in an effort to better explain some of the activities on my list, plus to give credit where credit is due.  I hope this list gets you as excited about summer as it has for me!

  1. Visit a waterfall – Hopefully you’re fortunate enough to have one nearby.
  2. Find and Follow a YouTube Tutorial – I plan to have my girls look up a YouTube Tutorial on how to do Rainbow Loom bracelets.  However, there seem to be countless tutorials on YouTube to help teach your child any number of skills.
  3. Have a Reverse Dinner Night – This is simple enough, just eat dessert first and bask in the glory of being the coolest parent ever (at least for the night).
  4. Take a Full Moon Walk – June 13th, July 12th, and August 10th are your dates for this activity!
  5. Do a Day of Service – Check out my Service Board on Pinterest, if you’re looking for some ideas.
  6. Go Fishing
  7. Celebrate a “National” Holiday – I’m using the word “national” loosely.  This one is referring to the sillier national holidays; such as National Doughnut Day on June 6, National Ice Cream Day on July 20, or National Watermelon Day on August 3.
  8. Do Letter Boxing or Geocaching – I snagged a couple activities from a post I found on Inner Child Fun’s website titled 20 Favorite Must-Do Activities for Summer.  Geocaching is #13 on her list.  You can also get more information here about Letter Boxing, which is quite similar.
  9. Attend a County Fair
  10. Watch a Movie Outdoors – This may mean a Drive-In Movie for some.  However, last summer we hosted this activity in our backyard.  Thanks to the help of one friend’s projector and another friend’s sound system, we were able to show Wreck-It Ralph.  The problem though with living in the Northwest is that it stays light so late in to the evening.  Regardless, it sure made for a fun night!
  11. Participate in a Reading Program – I actually plan to get my kids signed up in a couple summer reading programs this year.  We have one at our local library, but I also learned that Barnes & Noble has a great one for the summer as well!
  12. Have a Water Balloon Fight
  13. Go on a Picnic
  14. Make a Popsicle Stick Puzzle – check out Love and Laundry’s awesome example!
  15. Have a Family/Friends Game Night
  16. Go Bowling
  17. Host a Minute to Win It Night
  18. Go Camping in the Backyard

  19. Have a Spongeball Toss – I’ve seen this called Spongeball Toss, but Inner Child Fun refers to them as Sponge Bombs (#3) on her 20 Favorite Must-Do Activities for Summer.
  20. Go on a Bike Ride
  21. Wash the Car
  22. Stargaze
  23. Help in the Yard
  24. Have a Lemonade Stand
  25. Play Glow Stick Horseshoes – I found this cool activity posted by one of Design Dazzle‘s contributors, Jamie from C.R.A.F.T., titled Summer Camp: Glow In The Dark Ring Toss
  26. Do Sidewalk Chalk Drawings
  27. Write and Illustrate a Story
  28. Host a Talent Show – Check out one of my previous posts, The Power of a Bucket List, to see how much fun this activity was for our friends and family last summer.
  29. Complete a Jigsaw Puzzle
  30. Get a Manicure and Pedicure
  31. Read A Book, Then Watch the Movie – This post on Andrea’s Notebook is perfect to make your search easier for the right book-movie.
  32. Pick a Craft to Make and Make It!
  33. Go Swimming

  34. Eat a Snow Cone
  35. Have a BBQ with Friends
  36. Watch Fireworks on July 4th
  37. Attend a Farmer’s Market or Festival
  38. Play with Mega-Bubbles – Inner Child Fun’s post 20 Favorite Must-Do Activities for Summer teaches you all about how to make this activity possible.  Check out #7 for the 4-1-1 on Mega Bubbles.
  39. Read a Book in the Shade of a Tree
  40. Make a Pool Noodle Race Track – Another great source of ideas came from the article on Buzz Feed titled 33 Activities Under $10 That Will Keep Your Kids Busy All Summer.  Number 32 on their list shows you how to make a pool noodle race track.
  41. Play Balloon Ping Pong – This activity is #25 on the same Buzz Feed article mentioned above.
  42. Make a Backyard Obstacle Course – While this is #33 on the Buzz Feed article, I think this one is best left up to your imagination!
  43. Go on a Scavenger Hunt
  44. Do a Science Experiment – I have this one on my list since my eldest is a lover of science.  I didn’t have anything particular in mind, but just last night I stumbled across this way cool link on Pinterest from Growing a Jeweled Rose, which shares cool summer science experiments for kids!
  45. Make a Painters Tape Spider Web – Here’s the last one I snagged off of the 33 Activities Under $10 That Will Keep Your Kids Busy All Summer.  It’s #26 on their list.
  46. Write and Mail a Letter to Someone
  47. Play Hide and Go Seek
  48. Fly a Kite

  49. Go on a Date with Dad
  50. Play Charades or Pictionary
If you want a cute and handy little print out to put up somewhere in your home of all of these awesome activities above, download The Ultimate Summer Bucket List.  It’s FREE!  I put it together so that I could reference it easily when the kids start to say they’re bored or I feel like I’m losing my mind, which will likely be happening the moment school is out!

May this be your best summer yet!

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The Unlikely Perfectionist

I have the privilege of contributing on Over The Big Moon each third Sunday.  I decided to publish a post of mine, each week preceding the third Sunday, that was originally featured on Over The Big Moon.  I was actually quite excited to re-read this post, as I had forgotten the little bits of wisdom I had gained from the book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Areby Brene Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. mentioned in this post.  I hope you get as much enlightenment as I did when I learned about the unlikely perfectionist.

During my senior year of high school, my BFF and I were both in the same ceramics class.  Every couple weeks, our teacher would give us a new assignment. I would produce a ceramic piece that fit the assigned criteria and call it a day.  My friend would carefully create a masterpiece.  She would perfect her artwork daily.  As a result, she would be behind on the projects we were assigned.  I recall our teacher walking by our table and commenting on how my friend did not need to keep up with the assignments since she was clearly still productive in class.  Looking back, I think about how inspired our teacher was to recognize that productivity is the goal, in whatever form that means to each of us, not quantity.  She and I each went about our work in polar opposite ways but we both got an A in the course.  Watching my BFF that semester was the year that I realized that I was not a perfectionist.  I held on to that truth, and felt grateful in it, for quite some time.  It seemed like tough work to be a perfectionist.  In my eyes, it seemed like the perfectionist was so hard on themselves.  Then, one day I realized that not only am I a perfectionist, I’m the worst kind there is.

That day of discovery was a few years ago in one of those eye-opening therapy sessions. The conversation started as an “I don’t have any passion or hobbies” topic and then it turned in to a discussion as to why that is.  I must have then given my therapist a laundry list of reasons why I don’t nurture the activities that I enjoy the most.  For example, while I very much enjoy writing, I was not actively engaging in that hobby or passion at the time.  I told her this was because I’m really not that good at it.  In case she had a rebuttal for that, I continued that I don’t write because there is nothing new that I have to share that the world hasn’t already heard.  And just in case that was not enough for her to be convinced that writing is a hopeless cause for me, I told her that even IF there is something I know that’s worth writing about, someone else has already said it better.  I was certain the case was closed and she would see it my way.  I have no hobbies and therefore I am a loser (and, yes, this is the thought process my primitive mind takes).  Her response, “You’re a perfectionist.”  My response, “Um.  No, I’m not.  Perfectionists do stuff over and over PERFECTING the art until it suits their expectations.”  I know, I saw my BFF do it in ceramics with her projects.  SHE is a perfectionist.  Not me.  However, as with most everything learned in therapy, my therapist was right.  I am a perfectionist.  She explained that I’m the perfectionist that is SO worried about it being perfect that I don’t even try.  If I can’t do it perfectly, then why do it at all?  This knowledge opened my eyes to so many opportunities lost because I simply felt that I had nothing to offer that would be good enough.  Even in times where I was assigned to do something, I wouldn’t try to excel at it, because there would always be my BFF who had a better project in front of me.  Of course it’s not the productive perfectionist’s fault that I don’t even attempt it, it’s a setback I’ve placed upon myself.

The best part of this story is that the BFF and I are still the best of friends AND we both have hung on to some of our ceramic pieces from that class.  I’ll let you figure out whose is whose.

I recently read this book called The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Areby Brene Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W..  The book speaks perfectly, pun intended, on the matter of perfectionism and all of it’s effects.  Perfectionism can lead to depression, anxiety, addiction, and, in my case, life-paralysis.  Life-paralysis, as noted by Brown, “refers to all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect.  It’s also all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others.  It’s terrifying to risk when you’re a perfectionist; your self-worth is on the line.”  And there it is, the answer to why I don’t want to try: If I fail, then I’ve deduced that I’m a failure.  My self-worth is shattered.

You know the saying, “It’s better to have tried and not succeeded, then never to try at all.”?  I never agreed with it.  I still struggle with it.  For me, it’s easier to just not try.  In my mind it saves me from pain.  If I don’t try it, then I’m “safe.”  I’m not a failure because I didn’t fail at anything.  If I try and it doesn’t work, then, in my eyes, I’ve become the failure.

It’s not a healthy way to be, but, sadly, it’s been my way for years.  It’s hard to refrain from quoting the entire section on perfectionism from Brown’s book, but I wanted to share one last thought of hers that I plan to use when I need little reminders, “Healthy striving is self-focused – How can I improve?  Perfectionism is other-focused – What will they think?”  This thought has left me wondering if my BFF is even a perfectionist at all.  She seems to always accomplish projects for her own edification.  As a result, she produces amazing things because she has never been afraid to try and practice.

Only in the past year have I allowed myself to write and share my more vulnerable thoughts at the risk of people seeing my insecurities and imperfect writing.  It’s taken a lot of supportive friends and family to help remind me that my self-worth is not based on what I produce or achieve, it’s based on being me and allowing myself to be loved just as I am.  Without that support, I would have never started this blog.  The whole premise of my blog is to simply begin achieving whatever it is you long for, whether it be a passion, a goal, or a healthier way of life.  For the unlikely perfectionist, beginning is often the hardest part.

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Just Begin.

Its only been the customary week between my posts, but somehow it feels like it has been longer.  I went and had a birthday this past week, which is always a treat thanks to the amazing people in my life who shower me with love and well wishes.  I certainly feel blessed.  Even more amazing is that the love and support I receive is given to me year round.

For instance, I have a friend that stumbled upon a poster that read, “Don’t make change too complicated.  Just begin.”  Knowing of my website and, lets be honest, one of my main supporters, she thought to send it along to me.  That’s what this website has been all about from day one: beginning.

In less than a year, I have watched as my small action to begin writing has enriched my life.  I have learned greater discipline; gained a greater understanding of my worth; become more aware of the blogging world, including the opportunity to be a contributor on Over the Big Moon; took a chance and submitted a quote to Via magazine, which was published; didn’t quit even though there were plenty of times that I wanted to; and have been given the wonderful opportunity to share lessons learned in my own life in hopes of brightening another’s outlook.

These gifts and blessings were not what a foresaw when I began.  Certainly, I had a desire to hopefully ease another’s burden by sharing the ups and downs of real life, but I didn’t think that I would gain so much personally.  I wish I could convey to those reading how much my life has been blessed merely by beginning (and continuing).  I had previously spent so many years talking myself out of doing anything in the writing field, as there were certainly others that could do it better.  And there still are.  That has not changed.  I do not fancy myself an amazing writer.  What I do know is that the practice of nourishing this passion has blessed my life in ways that I had not anticipated.  In some ways, it makes me frustrated with all the prior years wasted.  At the same time though, it makes me appreciate the beauty that has come from finally beginning.

I used to see starting points differently.  I liken it to when I once enjoyed running.  I say “once enjoyed” only because I am so out of shape now that I can’t pretend that I enjoy something that I no longer do.  When I ran, I never did well at long distance.  I enjoyed a quick sprint.  I chalked it up to the way my body was built to work, but as I type this I’m thinking maybe my view on life was the culprit in convincing myself I was not cut out for long distance.  You see, I want immediate gratification.  It’s all a matter of impatience, I suppose.  If I don’t hit the finish line almost as soon as I’ve started, then I’ve somehow convinced myself that I’ll never hit the finish line.  So, why even race?  Or perhaps, I’ll hit the finish line last and somehow be deemed a failure?  The funny thing is that I don’t see myself as competitive, more as the Unlikely Perfectionist.  I think what I’ve learned in beginning to actively practice my writing is that each mile marker I hit is a victory.  Now, I don’t know that I even want to hit the finish line because the run itself feels so good.

This “run” I am on right now has been made possible by the many cheerleaders on the sidelines sending me words of encouragement and reminding me that I can do this.  And, you know what?  They’re right.  But if I can do this, then I know those reading can do it too.  I would like to be your cheerleader.  Please share with me what passion you are beginning, or virtue you are working on, or wound you are trying to heal?  Because I want to be there to hear how your life will be blessed in unexpected ways too.

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Making Tomorrow’s Headlines Positive Ones

My Dad used to tell me when I was younger, “Don’t do anything today that you wouldn’t want in tomorrow’s headlines.”  I can’t tell you how many times I dreaded the idea of my poor decisions on one day being the following day’s top news.  Obviously, I am of little consequence in the public eye, but the message left an impact just the same.  I later heard a quote by French Philosopher, Jacques Bainville, that echoed my Dad’s advice.  Bainville said, “One must want the consequences of what one wants.”  In short, we must consider the repercussions of our actions.

I can still see myself sitting in a high school classroom looking back at my friend in the desk behind me before class started.  She was confronting me on things she had heard me saying about her to other people.  You can imagine my embarrassment by the whole situation.  She was completely right.  I cannot remember now what I was even telling people.  The point though is that I had, in fact, been saying stuff behind her back.  I was out of line.  It was one of those moments where I had to evaluate my gossipy tendencies.  I’m grateful for her confronting me all those years ago, because it made me realize the repercussions of my actions.  How fortunate I was to learn at a fairly young age the pain that comes from gossiping.  I wish I could say I learned my lesson and never spoke an unkind or false word again about someone behind their back, but it’s taken years to truly weed out the nasty habit.

My first fix was to make sure that when someone told me a secret, I kept it a secret.  I have been considered a trust-worthy friend because of my efforts.  I was less effective at changing my habits of complaining and backbiting about people who annoyed me.  I wasn’t telling secrets of theirs, as much as I was just ranting about their quirks that grated on my nerves.

The workplace was certainly a difficult place to keep my backbiting to a minimum.  There are so many different personalities that we are forced to work with in close proximity.  I found it difficult not to vent about so-and-so during my lunch break with co-workers whom I trusted.  I don’t recall having any enemies at work, but there were plenty of people who I just didn’t jive with.  I don’t think we are put here to get along famously with everyone.  I know I don’t and I am okay with that.  But I think where we get ourselves in trouble is when we start to fuel the fire of our aggravation by spreading it to others in an effort to support our plight.

I was again reminded of how ugly gossip and backbiting could be when I became a Stay-at-Home-Mom.  Women love to get around and gab and it became difficult not to indulge in the topics at hand.  I learned stuff second hand that I did not want to know about people.  Later, I would hear the same story firsthand from the individual and I began to see discrepancies.  These experiences had an even greater impact on nipping my involvement in the gossip than that experience back in high school.  I realized that the “thrill” of being in the know was in no way worth the consequence of hurting someone.  Sure, others may never know I spoke unkind words about them or that I satiated in the gossip about them, but what if they did?  What if my unkind words were in tomorrow’s headlines?  These experiences made it that much more imperative for me to hold my tongue among chatty women.

I admire my husband on this matter.  He has been my example of one whom you can trust.  Not only does he keep learned things to himself, but he will stop people who are spreading things second hand.  He recently was in a situation where someone was gossiping and his immediate response to the individual was, “Is that really your story to tell?”  Oftentimes, I think we find ourselves guilty of wanting to be in the know, when it does us no good.  My husband has taught me a healthier and kinder way to be.  He has taught me how to show respect for stories that are not ours to tell.

With age, comes experiences and with experiences, comes growth.  I’m grateful that I have been able to grow out of the bad habit of gossiping.  I still struggle with this vice.  I’m not quite sure why that is.  Is it the pleasure of hearing other’s imperfections? Of being in the know?  Of having a team of support when you are completely annoyed by someone’s behavior?  Maybe all of the above?  Whatever it is, I’ve grown utterly weary of the consequences of backbiting.  All it results in is added negativity, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings.

There are so many actions of mine, mostly from my young adulthood, that I would hate to have in headlines even now.  Even worse would be someone putting my shortcomings in their own words and making it a headline.  May we all consider the repercussions that come from our daily individual actions and strive to avoid doing them before we risk them becoming tomorrow’s top news.  But, more importantly, may we remember that other’s stories are not ours to tell.

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Hiders and Seekers of Joy!

I vividly recall the panic I felt, as a child, when my friends wanted to play Hide-and-Seek.  The seeking did not make me as nervous as the hiding did.  I kid you not, most every time that I was waiting in my hiding spot, the urge to go potty would come on and I would have to call Time Out.  I wish I could figure out what it was about being discovered that was so troubling to me.  As an adult, the seeking is the scary part for me, as my husband is infamous for jumping out of his hiding spot to startle the seeker.  I recently learned of a different Hide-and-Seek adventure though that I’m certain would only bring me joy.

In Lincoln City, which is along the northern coast of Oregon, there is an annual Seaside Treasure Hunt.  In February, volunteers hide glass floats and glass sand dollars along the beach.  This is the kind of Hide-and-Seek that piques my interest.  Not only would the search be fun, but the item you find is a beautiful piece of art.  Plus, the glass floats and sand dollars aren’t going to jump out and scare me.  This is a win-win situation to me.

Even as an Oregon resident though, I know a trip to the coast isn’t in the cards for me this upcoming month.  But it got me thinking, why not create my own Hide-and-Seek adventures for my loved ones?

In my teens and early twenties, I was much better about leaving love notes for my friends and family to find around their room or home.  It seems somewhere in the last five years or so, I forgot about how great it is to surprise someone with a note of admiration and gratitude.  Not that your hidden item has to be a love note.

How fun would it be if each of us were as the Lincoln City Volunteers and we left a piece of joy for a seeker to find?  Maybe it’s flowers on a doorstep of a friend?  An anonymous note in the mail?  Or perhaps you tape a quarter to a parking meter for the next person, since feeding someone else’s expired meter is illegal in most places?  Better yet!  Get your kids involved!  My girls love to draw and paint pictures.  So much so that our refrigerator and walls are running out of room.  Why not add the words “Have a Great Day!” to one of their drawings and tape them to doors at an Assisted Living Residence (with the manager’s permission, of course)?  Or a candy box left in your mailbox with a Thank You note for the mailman?  The possibilities are endless.

Since it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to comb the Oregon coast this February, perhaps bring the spirit of the treasure of the Oregon coast to your neighborhood.  Be hiders and seekers of joy!


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Saving by Serving

When my eldest was born, I experienced a level of service rendered towards me that I was not familiar with previously.  It was the blessing of a home cooked meal brought by friends three times a week for nearly a month.  I was not accustomed to such a service.  Now, years later, we have been the recipients of countless meals in our family’s time of need.

This came to the forefront of my mind as we were, again, blessed with dinners brought in by friends. I had an unexpected hospital stay last week due to pneumonia.  As word spread that I was in the hospital, the well wishes, prayers, offered meals, and requested visits rolled in.  I felt so much love.  I even had one friend visit me in the hospital and insist on massaging my hands with lotion while she chatted with me.  I would have been perfectly content with her company, but her tender service warmed my heart that much more.

It got me thinking about how when I bring a dinner or share one of my husband’s baked goods (yes, my husband bakes), it feels like such an insignificant thing.  But when I’m on the receiving end, I am immensely overwhelmed by the love and blessing that comes with that service.  The same goes for any service, really.

Years ago, my husband and I were struggling financially and we were sitting at the table one night trying to figure out how to make our food go further for the week before pay day hit.  At that same moment, my neighbor texted me to tell me she had a coupon for $20 of groceries that was going to expire that night.  She was not going to use it and offered it to me.  I’ve often reflected on this event as a testimony that our Heavenly Father knows our every need and the blessings that come from service.  A simple service where one person hands over a coupon that they will not use to the person that stands in need of that very thing.

How many times, I wonder, do we think of such services and then get wrapped up in our daily lives and forget where our hands and heart are needed?

Before you spiral downward thinking that you are not being as service-minded as you’d like, think of those small acts of service that go a long way.  Giving a smile provides aid to the lonely and giving a call lends hope to the downtrodden.  I had a door opened for me once that still has an impact on me.  A teenage boy was visiting outside with his friends and saw me through the window about to come out of the restaurant.  He had no need to come in to the restaurant I was at.  He merely saw my need, as I struggled with my son’s stroller, opened the door and returned to his conversation with his friends.  A simple service where this boy looked beyond himself.

I hope to raise my children in such a way that they too will recognize the world around them and how they can help.  As I was giving thought to how to go about doing this, I came across two ideas that seemed to be the key to rearing service-minded children.  First, expose them to service opportunities in the community.

When I was in high school, I was one of the officers in the Interact Club; an extra-curricular club based on serving the community.  We had a couple activities that made an impact on my view of the world, but there is one in particular that stands out.  We were assigned to hand out food to those in need at a local church parking lot.  It was a drive-thru process and each station had a food group where volunteers would place food in to the cars of those less-fortunate.  Naively, I was unaware that so many in the community were dependent on that free food.  That act of service taught me about what I truly have in life and what I have to give.  We can give of our time, certainly, but we can also give of our sustenance, our joy, and our love.  Serving in the community helps us to better understand all that we have and where we are needed.

Another way for our children to learn about the blessing of service is the same as it is for any virtue: lead by example.  I learned the great value of a meal being brought in by those who served me.  I learned that receiving a cooler filled with snacks, drinks, and toys for your young child when your Mom is dying is surprisingly perfect.  I learned that a surprise treat of any size or kind at your door brings uncontrollable joy in the hearts of all those in the home, particularly the children.  I learned that special mail deliveries can cheer up even the saddest of hearts.  I learned that an unexpected “kidnapping” of your kids so they can have a playdate with friends while you’re stuck home on bed rest will move you to tears of gratitude.  And I learned that dollar store care packages are worth much more than the money spent to put them together.  I learned these things because others set the example for me.

I am still learning and feel humbled by the myriad of services that have been rendered on my family’s behalf.  It may not seem like much when you’re on the giving end.  It may seem like just a meal, or just a note, or just a smile, or just a bag of hand-me-downs, but I can assure you, from the recipient’s stand point, you are saving the world one kind deed at a time.

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