Worthy of Love and Belonging

Last Thursday, I had one of those moments with my eldest that reminded me that I had Enrolled in Parenting 505.  A simple task that I had given my daughter to do turned into a yelling match for some reason I still don’t understand.  I ended up embarrassed by my own role in the argument and hurt by the words that my daughter yelled at me.  It wasn’t pretty.  We didn’t end on a bad note, but the sting of my hurt stuck with me and I went to my room and cried, once she had gone to bed.  It’s moments like these that I wish I could will my mom to be alive so that I could call her and be comforted.  Thankfully, I had the forethought to reach out to another mom who is always good about reminding me of my worth and how we’re all imperfect people trying to do our best.  However, I still somehow managed to forget her words of encouragement as the evening passed and I went to bed with a series of self-loathing thoughts and tear-stained cheeks.  A few days later, I was reminded of something I read in one of my favorite books, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown, “If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe we are worthy of love and belonging.”

I don’t know how one grows to feel unworthy of love and belonging.  I don’t think there is some statistic that ties such a thing to something like “being breast fed versus bottle fed” and, if there was, I wouldn’t believe it anyway.  You can’t isolate feelings of unworthiness down to one source, so I see no point in trying to figure it out.  But, sadly, I am a victim of believing myself unworthy of love and belonging.  I can say with certainty that these feelings were felt long before any diagnosis of depression or Bipolar II Disorder.  Before you go worrying about me, I know in theory I am worthy of being loved and accepted.  Most of us know that in theory, right?  Also, I don’t want people worrying that I grew up without “I love you” and support from my family, because I did have all of that.  Again, I don’t know the source of these feelings, but the fact is that I somehow have deemed myself unworthy of love and belonging.

Worthy of Love and Belonging

The scariest part of coming to terms with how I feel about myself is realizing that, based on our last argument, my daughter appears to be having a similar view of herself.  My daughter was able to articulate herself in such a way that I knew the source of her words had to do with her feeling unworthy of love and belonging.  While I don’t go blaming my parents for my feelings of unworthiness, I certainly blame myself for my daughter feeling this way.  I don’t know if that’s unfair or justified for me to do so, but if my eight-year-old feels like less than enough, then I cannot separate myself from that.  Now the question is, what do I do with the knowledge that my daughter and I are facing a similar struggle of believing we are unworthy of love and belonging?

There are several points that Brown makes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, but I think a big one for my eldest daughter and myself is that we confuse guilt and shame.  If I boldly reprimand my daughter, her instant response is to cry out, “I’m a bad person!” or “I’m the worst kid ever!”  Mind you, I have said nothing about her character in my disciplining nor any such thing about her being a bad person or child.  I merely pointed out that she didn’t listen or that she made a bad choice.  She is the one that turns it into, “I’m a bad person.”  I am quick to correct her about the difference between shame (I am bad) versus guilt (I did something bad).  The interesting part is that I find it so absurd that she takes my disciplining and turns it into a five-alarm situation of self-loathing.  But, guess what?  I do that too.  I don’t cry out with wailing and gnashing of teeth, but I sure as heck go to my room and tell myself what a horrible person I am for yelling at my daughter.  Then to make sure I really give myself the proper punishment, I begin to tell myself all the other aspects of life that I am horrible at.  I am a horrible wife, because I don’t prepare dinner.  I am a horrible at-home Mom, because my children watch too much TV.  I am a horrible friend, because I don’t serve others enough.  I am horrible with finances, because I like to eat out.  You get the idea.  I’m really good at this self-loathing thing.  Well, well, well, looky there!  I just gave myself a compliment.  At least we know I’m good at something – shaming myself.

Here’s the best part – I just had this epiphany of the similarities between my daughter and I while I was typing this post.  That’s how blind I’ve been to hers and my struggle.  I recall my therapist trying to teach me the difference between shame and guilt years ago, because she saw that my confusion between the two was having a damaging affect.  I didn’t understand how I was mixing the two up in my daily life nor did I grasp the negative affect it was having on my emotional wellbeing, until now.  I understood the difference in theory, but I did not understand their difference in practice.  Does that even make sense?  It’s the same thing with feeling worthy.  I logically understand that, as a person, I am worthy, but I don’t feel worthy.  Just like I get the difference in the definitions between guilt and shame, but I don’t recognize when I am mixing the two up in my daily life.  I honestly did not get it until this very moment.  ::mind blown::  I am behaving in the same absurd manner as my daughter is when she takes my discipline and turns it into believing that she’s a bad person.  I throw the same fit.  I just do it in a more controlled manner and somehow I’ve convinced myself that that is okay.  Oh my gosh!  I now get why my husband gets so frustrated with me when I share my self-loathing with him.  He sees how absurd it is for me to believe myself a bad person for having made a mistake in a particular moment.  He knows better.

So, is confusion between shame and guilt the only cause of feeling unworthy?  No.  But it certainly doesn’t help my situation if I’m turning my mistakes into a blanket statement of me being an awful person.  It’s no wonder I feel unworthy of such love and belonging.  Woah.  This is a lot to process.  I guess the first step would be to catch myself in the action and teach myself to separate shame and guilt.  My husband is always good about stopping me in my tracks when my self-loathing begins, but he’s not always with me.  He simply says one line, “Put the phone down,” to get me to stop speaking negatively about myself.  His line is in reference to the fact that he once told me that my self-loathing is like having Satan on speed dial, calling him up, listening intently as he whispers all these terrible things about me, and then foolishly believing him.  So when I get going on my laundry list of reasons why I am “less than,” my husband quickly tells me to, “Put the phone down.”  It works every time.  I can be redirected, because in theory I know I am worth being loved.  The breakdown occurs when I’m alone with my thoughts, I pull up my speed dial, and suddenly Satan and I are catching up on old times.

I know that I am loved and accepted.  I’d like to believe that my daughter knows she is as well, as I try to show her often and tell her regularly.  However, she and I both seem to have some miscommunication between what we know and what we feel.  As a mother to this special little girl, I’ve struggled greatly with knowing how to raise her when I feel like I haven’t even figured myself out.  How do you teach a child about self-esteem when you seem to have so little regard for your own?  How do you teach a child about healthy living, when you struggle with proper diet and exercise?  I don’t know the answers to these questions.  My only hope is that open communication with her about my weaknesses and imperfections will help her to realize we are all imperfect individuals, but we are also beautiful and incredible people trying to do our best.  Perfection and worth are exclusive of one another.  I do not have to be perfect to be worthy of love and belonging.  The sooner I can learn to separate the two, the sooner I can help my daughter on her path.  We are all worthy of love and belonging, when we believe that in practice, and not just theory, we will free ourselves up to fully experience those same beautiful emotions.

Because of Him

Earlier in the year, I contributed on the blog Over the Big Moon.  I have been making a point to include all of my posts that were previously on their site over here on my site.  This is the final post that I have to transfer.  The post below was previously published on Easter Sunday.  I felt that it would be fitting to share it this month, as we approach this sacred holiday in which we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who atoned for our sins so that we may have eternal life.

Today is a significant day for Christians all over the world.  It is Easter Sunday.  A day in which we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Through out this past week, I saw a series of posters created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sharing the different blessings we have received because of Him, our Savior.  The one that left the deepest impression on my heart was the one that stated, “No goodbye will last forever.”  Perhaps the reason this poster touched me the most is because today also happens to mark the anniversary of my mom’s passing.  Six years ago, to the day and date, my siblings and our spouses surrounded my mother, as she slipped from this life in to the next.

As I sit here and contemplate all the many blessings that we receive through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I marvel at how I’ve witnessed those blessings first hand in the lives of so many, myself included.  I think of my own Mom’s life and how she struggled for so many years.  While I do not know all the sins and troubles my mother bore, I know that in her final years on this earth, she did all that she knew how to change her life around and make it Christ-centered.  She had expressed to me at one point how much she mourned all the wrong that she had done.  At that same time, I watched firsthand as the power of forgiveness worked in her life.  I watched as she touched the hearts of all those she came in contact with, I watched as she showed mercy to others that she saw suffering similar trials, I watched as she exemplified strength with each hideous chemo session she had to endure, and I watched as she made every effort to make every moment count with her children and grandchildren.  My Mom left behind an amazing testimony of the strength and peace that comes from living a Christ-centered life.  What she left for me, and her posterity, is an example of each and every blessing we are afforded through Jesus Christ.

While it’s difficult that the anniversary of her passing lands on Easter this year, I am finding comfort in the significance of the sacred holiday as it pertains to my Mom’s life and my eternal perspective.  Upon reading and watching the above mentioned messages and applying it to the tender matters of my heart, I have gained a greater understanding of Easter.  It is not just that we celebrate that He is risen.  It is the realization of all that we receive through His atoning sacrifice and resurrection.  Because of Him we are given second chances, mercy, comfort, hope, and eternal life.  How grateful I am for each of these blessings.

All that being said, it was hard this week to recognize the blessings that come from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I suppose my load just felt too heavy to bear.  Sadly, I spent a good portion of Wednesday focusing on all the things I had been “robbed” of by the premature passing of my Mom.  I found myself experiencing feelings of anger and resentment all over again.  I subconsciously made the decision to focus on all the “have nots” in my life and began to feel sorry for myself.  I think what it comes down to is that the depth of my heartache was too heavy to bear…alone.  That was my problem.  I was trying to do it alone.  I needed to give my burdens to the Lord and open my heart up to those with whom He has placed in my life as a tender mercy.  Even though night was falling by the time I opened up to my husband, and then to my friends, my day was growing brighter; my load was lighter.  

That is the message of Easter, is it not?  It is a message of life and light, mercy and hope.  Without my knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I imagine I would spend more of my days feeling the desperation and loneliness that I felt this past Wednesday.  While those feelings are reasonable to feel from time to time, I don’t recommend soaking in them, as I did.  All it led to was a whole lot of crying.  I couldn’t help but think of Marjorie Hinckley’s quote the following morning when I awoke with swollen, burning eyes and a terrible headache, “The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.”  So today, even as I managed to do the actual morning of my Mom’s passing, I will choose to laugh.  May your Easter, and your life, be filled with the mercy and hope that comes through our Savior.  And may you know, as I do, that because of Him no goodbye will last forever.
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Don’t Waste Time with Worry

As I have shared previously in my posts (Stroke of Luck, The Truthiness About Strength, and Living Cheerfully Amidst Trials), I recently suffered from a stroke, which led to a serendipitous find of a tumor in my optic nerve.  The tumor is currently deemed as stable, thankfully.  What I had not previously shared is that the tumor’s location is indicative of a tumor disorder called Neurfibromatosis Type 1 (NF-1).  The long and short of it is that it causes a person to get tumors along the nervous system.  The spectrum of the tumor disorder ranges from a benign tumor that creates no pain to cancer and chemotherapy treatments.  I handled all that news okay.  It wasn’t until I put together the pieces that my daughter is showing the starting signs of this disorder and it is deemed much more dangerous for kids, that I became heartbroken.  However, I’m not here to discuss the battle that my daughter may or may not face.  What I wanted to share was some uplifting insight I had regarding events tied to this knowledge of hers and my health situation.

To understand my insight, you need to know that there is the potential for me to become blind and that my daughter may battle cancer before she’s eleven years-old.  Those are our worst-case scenarios right now and neither are pleasant.  That being said, I am currently not blind and my daughter currently does not have cancer.  Right now we just have the possibility of such an outcome.  Now, I have two options.  Option #1- I sit here and worry about the possibility of the worst-case-scenario outcomes and hypothesize how long before things start to deteriorate in each of our bodies.  In essence, I worry senselessly but try to pawn it off as though I’m just preparing myself for the future.  Option #2 – I let my worry go and embrace the able body and mind that she and I currently have.  In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m opting for the latter.  I was having this discussion with a friend of mine and she shared with me this awesome quote by Michael J. Fox that speaks to this matter, “Don’t spend a lot of time imagining the worst-case scenario.  It rarely goes down as you imagine it will, and if by some fluke it does, you will have lived it twice.”  This quote from a man who has suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for over twenty years and still continues his role as an actor and, now, an advocate for the disease.  Proof that we can’t let our worst-case scenarios keep us from living to our full potential.

This came to my mind again yesterday, as I drove my daughter three hours to the closest pediatric specialists available.  My daughter has become terrified of doctors ever since she underwent her second eye surgery two years ago.  As a result, my husband and I did tell her that they might need to do some tests, but we did not tell her that the tests would include them drawing her blood.  We didn’t see the point in having her worry about it for days.  I finally told her in the lab waiting room and as soon as her name was called she went into panic mode.  I physically dragged her into the lab, fought to get her jacket off, braced her down in my arms, and stayed strong while she yelled at me, “MOM! LET ME GO!”  Once the needle was in and she realized that it wasn’t that bad, she immediately calmed down and said, “Sorry; I was scared.  It was my first time.”  I had tried so desperately to explain to her that she was making it worse by freaking out and that it wasn’t nearly as bad as she thought it would be, but she just couldn’t believe me.  I even tried to reference the last time she freaked out at the doctors when her eyes needed to be dilated.  I reminded her that her tantrum then didn’t change the fact the dilation was going to happen, just as this blood draw was going to happen regardless.  She could either go about it calmly or freak out and make it worse.  Unfortunately, she chose the latter, but she assures me she will not freak out next time.

These events served as a confirmation that I don’t want to waste time worrying about the worst-case scenario.  I fell into this trap before when I was mourning my mom’s death while she was still alive.  I was wasting time fretting about how I wouldn’t survive once she was gone, instead of enjoying all the beautiful time that I still had left with her.  I’m thankful that I learned this lesson then, so that it could prepare me for the situation I currently find myself in now, where it would be so easy to cry over the possibility of me going blind and not see the life I currently live before me (pun intended).  My goal is to somehow instill this same lesson in my children’s hearts and hopefully save them some angst down the line.

This way of thinking has proved freeing for me.  I worry about the future from time to time, just as the next person, but somewhere along the way, I learned to embrace the present as well.  Right now, my daughter does not have cancer and I can see the world around me and that is a glorious feeling.  And if, by chance, she does get cancer and I do go blind, at least I can take comfort in knowing that I didn’t waste the time leading up to those events.  Plus, I will hopefully have gained a better understanding of the power of a positive attitude and use that strength in whatever battle me or my loved ones will have to face.

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Living Cheerfully Amidst Trials

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to speak at one of our church services on the topic of “be[ing] of good cheer.”  Since the topic happens to echo virtually the whole premise of my blog, I thought I would include a large portion of the talk here as this week’s post.  I hope you enjoy it!
When I was in High School, I recall having a lot of fears and anxieties.  Most of my fears were of the unknown.  One fear in particular was the end of the world.  At the time, there were three movies out that were about the end of the world.  They terrified me.  I found myself preoccupied with the “how” and “when” the world might come to an end.  I also remember this specific time where I hoped that nothing bad would EVER happen to me.  I had an irrational understanding of how life worked.  I thought a life of roses and lilies would be the key to my happiness.  Thankfully, I’ve learned much since those high school days.  I’ve learned of all the beauty that comes from being faithful and enduring well through trials of all shapes and sizes.

In the Bible, the term “be of good cheer” is mentioned eight times.  Never once does the scripture read, “Be of good cheer and enjoy your life of roses and lilies and no problems.”  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  In reading through them all, my take away is that we are asked to be of good cheer in times of adversity.

These things I have spoken unto you, 
that in me ye might have peace.  
In the world ye shall have tribulation: 
but be of good cheer;
I have overcome the world.
– John 16:33

We each have adversity in our life in different forms.  Some are dealing with heartache, some financial struggles, some temptation and so on…

Recently, for me, it’s been my health.  Nearly four months ago, I gave birth to our fourth child.  One week and one day later, I suffered a significant stroke.  Thankfully, I’ve had a full recovery.  I had a mini-stroke previously, but this experience was much more disturbing.  Upon reviewing my MRI, it was found that I have a tumor in my optic nerve.  At this time, the tumor is considered stable, but obviously it weighs on my mind (pun intended, because humor helps).  The reality though is that I will likely have another stroke, there is a potential for the tumor to grow and I may ultimately lose my sight.  The tumor and the stroke are completely unrelated, so the finding of the tumor was considered a serendipitous find.

I told you all of that, to tell you this.  Shortly after my stroke, I had a chance encounter with an older gentleman from my church.  I can’t remember the exact details of our conversation, but the premise of the conversation changed my health fears to peace.  I had shared with him that I had had a stroke.  He informed me that his late wife had also experienced a stroke.  He then shared with me all of the significant and challenging callings (volunteer-based duties) she held, prior to her passing, in the church post-stroke.  While I had never met this woman, I could sense of her devotion to the Lord.  I knew she must have been a great blessing to those around her.  I knew this because the gentleman I was speaking with had the light of Christ in him and he spoke so highly of his wife who had passed away some time ago. 

Every time my heart starts to fill with fear as to what might happen to my health in the future, I reflect on this conversation and realize that if the Lord has a work for me to do, he will provide a way to make it possible.  If this man’s wife was still able to serve the Lord despite her health issues, then certainly so can I.  This knowledge immediately dispels my fears and brings me peace.
I now see how foolish it was for me to believe that a world of happiness was founded upon a life without trials.  Instead, I’ve learned that happiness is found in having faith in our Savior in all situations and watching rich blessings come to pass.  We are not here to live this life in misery.

Another way to help live a life based on being of good cheer is having perspective.  Perspective is one of the best ways to endure trials more joyfully.  I learned this firsthand when my mom passed away from cancer six years ago.  I had to hold on to the eternal perspective to help get through the day to day.  Prior to her passing, I lived in fear of what my life would be like without her around.  Once she did pass, I was carried through the trial with strength beyond my own and held on to the knowledge that I would see her again.  Having an understanding of the bigger picture and a surety that I would be reunited with my mom again brought me great comfort and joy.  A feeling of joy that seemed near impossible when I first realized I would lose my mom at a young age.  Camille Fronk Olson put it simply, “The more we know the Savior, the longer our view becomes.  The more we see His truths, the more we feel His joy.”  And what joy I have felt.

Of course, it’s easier to feel that joy in hindsight.  When we are in the midst of our trials it seems inconceivable to feel any sense of hope, let alone cheer.  I think this is why it’s important that we remember who is speaking in those eight scriptures referencing “be[ing] of good cheer.”  It is not the words of Adam speaking in ignorance prior to experiencing the pains of mortal life.  No, it is our Savior.  Jeffrey R. Holland stated, “Only one who has taken the full brunt of such adversity could ever be justified in telling us in such times to ‘be of good cheer’.”

I truly believe that being of good cheer manifests itself in our lives through faithfulness to the Lord, optimism, and believing on His word and the eternal plan which has been laid out for us.  This is the recipe for living a life of good cheer no matter the circumstances.  This is the recipe that no longer has me even wishing for a life free of trials and tribulations.  Now, I hope for a life that I may endure joyfully.
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Purposefully Kind

During the two weeks that my Mom was home on hospice before passing away from cancer, we were the recipients of many kind deeds from an abundance of people.  One in particular that stands out still is an ice chest that arrived on our door filled with fruit juices, snacks, toys, and a variety of goodies.  It was from two girlfriends of mine that I hadn’t seen in quite some time.  When I first opened it, it seemed like such an odd menagerie of items.  However, as the days passed and I needed drinks for visitors, snacks for kids, and a toy for my toddler daughter who was desperate for attention, it all made perfect sense.  Years later, I received a phone call from a friend who was at a loss as to what to do for a friend of hers whose mom had just passed away.  My friend was asking me what she could do for her own friend, as she knew I had experience with the situation.  The ice chest immediately came to my mind.  My friend took the advice and told me later how grateful her own friend was for the gesture.  Since then, I have given greater thought as to how I can be of service to those around me in a way that is particular to their situation.  We’ve heard this described in several different ways – do unto others, as you would have done to you; be the good; pay it forward; love thy neighbor; and so on.  The motto I am going with lately is – throw kindness around like confetti!

Confetti is like glitter, it gets EVERYWHERE!  That’s what I want kindness to be in my life.  I want it to be EVERYWHERE!  I want to be like the waitress I had two weeks ago.  She had overheard our table conversation of snow clothes needs for our kids.  She immediately asked what sizes we needed for our kids.  I told her and she said, “Let’s exchange numbers so that I can get you what I have.”  She was true to her word too.  She went home, went through her storage, found my kids sizes, contacted me, and handed a bunch of items over and let me know she would keep in touch if she found more stuff that would work for my kids.  Sure you have a friend that might gladly hand over their used items, but a stranger?  Not likely.  And it’s not like snow clothes are cheap, trust me.  For the sake of argument, though, let’s say you don’t stand in need of anything financially and you can easily give away snow clothes without a second thought.  What then makes this situation that much more special?  She was a woman who paid attention to the needs of those she came in contact with.  Sure, she’s a waitress and she should be aware of an empty glass or a missing dish, but her role as waitress ends there.  What makes her extraordinary though is that her kindess wasn’t a product of her customer-oriented occupation, it was something she obviously carried around with her everywhere and then threw it around like confetti.

This is definitely an attribute that I need to improve upon, especially in our home.  I kid you not, I raised my voice at my bickering daughters yesterday to tell them to be kind to each other.  What sense does that make?  Granted, I was in pain, impatient, and frustrated, but that is not an excuse.  In fact, I plan to write a future post entirely about how that is not an excuse for poor behavior.  I wasn’t throwing around kindness, I was throwing around a poor attitude and it was felt by the entire home.  Because that’s how our moods and actions work, remember Attitudes are Contagious?

So, my goal is to heighten the amount of kindness I show others and, when possible, make it more purposeful.  I have started by following the example of that kind waitress.  While I am not in a financial state that I can give away a bunch of stuff, I’m doing what I can.  I recently posted a huge stash of infant clothes up on Craigslist for $30.  It was an entire wardrobe for an infant boy and then some.  Since posting it and having a person call to confirm the price, I have put several more items in the stack.  There’s well over $100 worth of items in there now and it’s no longer limited to clothes, as I learned the recipient is a first-time mom.  I don’t say this to boast of my generosity, because, frankly, I still feel a little guilty that I’m not handing over all of this stuff for free.  I’m sharing it as proof that the kindness and generosity of that waitress has spread into our home and I’m going to make sure I get that kindness everywhere.

What a wonderful time of year for all of us to increase our capacity for kindness.  It’s so easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated during this busy time of year, when instead we should be slowing down, soaking it all in, and spreading kindness.  I flash back to the scene in You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan gets in the cash only line at Zabars.  Do yourself a favor and watch the clip.  Then say to yourself, “I will be Joe, not Henry.”  The kindness of Joe brings smiles to the grumpy.

Go ahead and throw kindness around like confetti.  Even better, come back here and tell me the impact that it’s had on the world around you, because it WILL make an impact.  I know because the impact of the ice chest, a warm meal, flowers, snow clothes, care packages, cookies, free baby-sitting, and so very much more, has warmed my heart and brightened my day countless times.

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Let Your Light Shine!

A few nights ago, while I was up feeding our infant son, I found myself marveling at the amazing things that have come about in our society through great minds.  The trigger to this thought process began with the fact that I was contemplating the genetic testing results that I am patiently awaiting to see if I have the cancer gene.  You can get cancer without the gene, but having the gene drastically increases your risk for cancer.  With a mom who passed away from Ovarian Cancer at a relatively young age and my maternal grandmother having battled breast cancer, you can probably understand why I’m diving in further.  As I sat there in our rocking chair, I was in awe thinking about the ability we, as a society, have to look at blood and analyze it in such a way that we can learn about the future outlook of someone at a molecular level.  It’s mind boggling to me.  My mind doesn’t work in such a way.  I can’t even imagine how these types of methods came to pass, but I’m grateful for those people who took the time, energy, and their God given talents to bring forth so many amazing things in our lives.

As I continued to feed my son, my thoughts kept racing along on this same topic.  I got to thinking about all these amazing inventions, discoveries, research studies, and technologies that are beyond my comprehension.  I happened to look up at the source of the light shining in my room and it caught my attention.  The four vanity lights from the bathroom served as my light that night.  Three were shining and one was not working.  I got to thinking about how the light that was not working was not broken because the light next to it was working.  It was not shining because it had just burnt out.  This made me think of the parable of the talents found in the Book of Matthew.  Stick with me here, if you’re starting to lose sight of my direction.

You see, I was not blessed with the mind of a genius.  These types of minds that create these marvelous things mentioned above aren’t even found in my circle of friends.  In referencing the parable of the talents, let’s say these geniuses are the ones granted 5 talents that then return to the Lord with an additional 5 talents.  Let’s say the ones that were given two talents to work with are all of my amazing friends and family that live simple lives but with great gifts and contributions to the world around them.  For the sake of the parable, I will be the person who the Lord gave one talent to and then that person buried the talent, then returning to the Lord with nothing.  Now, in tying this back to my vanity lights.  The person granted the five talents went out and made the most of their five talents.  He did not gain more talents because he stole from the person who was originally given one talent.  The person given the one talent (me) ended up with nothing completely on his own accord.  I am the one responsible for the lack of light and talents coming forth from me.  I still struggle with this from time to time.  Everybody else is so bright and gifted that sometimes I don’t see much point in making more of the one talent I’ve been given.  It’s easier to just hide what little I have for safe keeping, right?  Wrong.  And that’s where this whole crazy train of thought wrapped itself up into a little package with a pretty bow.  The three lights in my bathroom seemed bright enough to suffice.  Light was still filling the room.  But how much brighter could it be if that fourth light shined among the vanity lights?  I am always amazed at how much brighter a room of several lights gets when you merely replace one burnt out light.  And, even better, in that light shining nothing gets taken away from the lights around it.  The idea is simply beautiful.

Bringing it back to the parable of the talents.  Each of the people in the parable were given separate amounts, however, none of them were lesser because of it.  Both the person given two talents and the person given five went out and made something of it.  They, in essence, chose to turn their light on.  Though the last person only received one, he also was no less of a man.  He was not left with nothing, or burnt out, until he chose to bury it.  What I’m trying to say, and perhaps not as eloquently as I’d like, is that it doesn’t matter if Suzy is given the talents of a genius and Jane is given the talents of your most admired friend, and you are given one talent.  It’s what you do with that talent.  Do you let it shine and work for your betterment and the world around you?  Or do you simply throw in the towel, as I often did (and perhaps still do) at times?  And, if you are throwing in the towel, might I suggest that you consider the fact that while three lights may very well light the room sufficiently, one additional light can make the world that much brighter?

How grateful I am for the marvelous minds that have enlightened our lives in ways that I cannot understand.  For all the effort they put into not only keeping their light alive but bringing greater light to the world around them.  Now, it’s my desire to be the light in my own life.  I don’t have to be at some genius level to brighten the world.  I just have to turn on and make the most of the individual beauty I’ve been given.  I am striving to let my light shine.

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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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