Breaking Through the Loneliness

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I am willing to wager that you have a secret.

Your secret is a story–or many stories–that culminate in a shameful “truth” about yourself and who you think you are.  You go through life hoping that nobody discovers this truth.  It would all fall apart if everyone figured out who you “really” are.

Or maybe you’re trying to bend reality, to make the most out of a difficult situation.  Maybe if you can be strong, brave, and inspiring, then you won’t come across as hurt, damaged, and unstable.

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Am I right?  Because if I am, then I have another secret to share.  Everybody has the same secret that you have.  And it’s all an illusion.  Every last bit of it.

I used to sit in loneliness, trying to hide “who I really was.”  I had a history of fear, of sadness, of anxiety, and of desperation.  Caught in the fog of perceived unworthiness, I did not understand why I had the thoughts I had, why I acted the way I acted, and why I made myself both distant and clingy in my relationships.  

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Fear leads to more fear, and we become convinced that we are alone in our experience.  We don’t talk about it, because we fear judgment.  We are certain that we are defective, that something is wrong with us.

But the more people I’ve talked to, the more I’ve realized that this seemingly private journey through fear is the journey of all humanity.  We all have a “story.”  We have all had experiences that have left us feeling confused and broken.  Many–and I’d venture to say most–of us at some point in time have been given labels, to try and describe fear’s manifestations in our lives.

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And yet those labels are not who we really are.  The story of how we came to feel broken, is not our real story.  We don’t need to be courageous or inspiring.  There is nothing we need to overcome.

Our journey through the confusion of fear and the fog of unworthiness does not separate us from the rest of humanity, it connects us.  We are not alone in our quest to understand and to see reality–everyone is on the same journey.

So take a moment today to see beyond the loneliness.

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Life and Change

There is a song I keep hearing on the radio that makes me laugh, when the singer proclaims, “See, we won’t forget where we came from/
The city won’t change us/We beat to the same drum.”  This makes me laugh, because it’s impossible, in a way.  It’s true, that something beneath it all can’t possibly change, no matter what the circumstances.

But our perception, our worldview, and all that we think is “us,” should always be changing and evolving.

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So, whenever I hear that song, I think of the ways in which the city has “changed” me.  It often feels like a lot of life’s lessons are repeating themselves on a new stage, but I am learning from them and growing.  I see my tendencies and perceptions everyday, so I really don’t get to look at the “changes,” but I think a lot of my friends up north would be surprised if we had a conversation.

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Here are some ways I have “changed” since moving down here:

1.  I view race much differently.  Up north, you don’t talk about race.  Ever  It’s the elephant in the room.  So, imagine my surprise when my students started talking about skin color like it was hair or eye color!  It took me awhile to figure out that this isn’t rude here. Racial differences are a humorous part of the human condition, here.  I work in a town where I am a racial minority, and this is surprisingly not a big deal. All it has done is teach me that I did hold subconscious stereotypes, and that they were ALL incorrect.  True, there ARE cultural and racial differences, but they aren’t what I assumed they were.  And they are beautiful.  Every group has something wonderful to add to the tapestry that is our society.  And we would do well to learn from everyone. It makes me smile, when Beanie describes her imaginary friends, who are every color of the rainbow.  Zoe has “black skin,” and Natalie has “brown skin” and speaks Spanish.

2.  I’ve become much more moderate.  This is a funny development, as we are living a very extremely minimalistic lifestyle right now.  And our neighbors (and best friends) are living similarly to us.  (And, yes, we discuss they joys of Not Having a Lot of Stuff!).  But, in finding peace for myself, I’m seeing how others are finding peace in having their own homes, with their own fenced in yard.  I can see how television shows can make for an easy conversation topic.  I can see how different religious beliefs are very important to the journies of those who believe them.  (And no less “right” or”wrong” than my own ideas!)  I boycott much less, and pretty much don’t get as passionate about causes, in the black-and-white way I used to.  Living in a prosperous city and seeing how that changes reality completely, has led to a change in my thinking.  I am sure this will be examined and evolve in the future.

3.  My driving habits have changed.  I am a much more assertive driver, than your average in-the-woods-of-northern-Michigan person.  But I’m also extremely courteous.  In 6 lanes of traffic,  if someone is trying to move from the far left to the far right, you let them in. It’s karma.  I don’t look at the speedometer or signs; I just keep up with everyone else.  And I love overpasses.  I consider it a challenge to find my way to the top one.

4.  I spend more time on myself.  Maybe it’s because we move here as a part of my journey.  But I am absolutely not a martyr now.  I take a 30 minute walk every morning.  And I get enough sleep every night.  I ate 3 high-protein meals a day, and I will soon be joining a health club nearby.  Rob also spends a great deal of time on himself, and our family has grown stronger for it.

5.  I spend less time online.  You may have noticed. But now that I am not trying to escape anything, I’ve become more intentional with my online time.  I glance through my newsfeed, catch up on blogs when I can, and write when the muse inspires me.  Otherwise, I’m looking at the moon or watching the sunrise.

6.  Family time is very important.  When I get home, I help Beanie with her homework, listen to her read her take-home book, then practice piano with her.  Then, she plays her video games and heads to bed, while Rob and I sit outside and talk, before taking a walk.

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Our life has become very focused on our reality, on our here-and-now. This might be something that evolves later, and I’m sure it will be.  Life is about learning and growing, and I hope that there is much more of our journey to be discovered.

 

My One-Word Theme for 2014

“Love” was my theme for 2013, and it really surprised me how much I did learn about love, within the year.  The walls have been crumbling, and I have begun to understand love on a very profound, spiritual level.  Honestly, I considered making “Love” my one-word theme again, not just for 2014 but for the rest of my life.

However, life continues to teach me new lessons, and I’ve found another word, that aligns very closely with love.  And that word is, “Surrender.”  For so long, I’ve viewed surrender as a negative notion, as one that means giving up or quitting.

My views, though, were changed when I had e-mailed one of my friends about all the changes I intended to make in my life.  I had been in Houston for a couple of months, and I found that I was still backsliding and I was still fearful and coping with (perceived) unworthiness.  I was going to change things, be more disciplined, etc. etc.

My friend wrote me back, “The one thing you haven’t done is surrender.”

At first, I thought that was a compliment.  That I had rediscovered my old grit and insistence on pressing on, even when it seems impossible.  I wasn’t giving up.  I was going to become the person I wanted to be, no matter what!

But, on further examination, I saw that this was not a compliment at all.  My friend was telling me that I needed to stop trying to manipulate everything.  I needed to keep trying to get my hands in everything, and just allow life–and myself–to grow and evolve.

It isn’t through muscling ourselves that we change and grow.  It’s through awareness, understanding, and acceptance.  When we can see what’s going on, it will naturally change, if it needs to.  It can’t be forced.

And life is the same way.  We waste energy trying to get others to like us, trying to protect ourselves and make things turn out the way we want them to.  We need to do what we need to do, without wasting energy on useless endeavors.  There are things that are outside of the realm of our control, and we need to surrender, and to accept that.

Surrender is difficult, because we don’t like to be in control.  We want to hang on, and force things to stay the way they are, or force them to change in the way that we want them to.  But our forcing is like pressing on a brick wall.  It’s nothing more than a waste of energy.

Once we see that, we see that surrender is our only option.  We need to let go.  We need to stop trying to control the wind, and, instead, adjust our sails.

Once we stop fighting the weather, we are truly able to dance with the wind–to dance with life.

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Lessons from the Past 365 Days

A year ago today, my journey began.

I actually don’t want to share the details here, but it all began a year ago, in my basement, in front of that space heater, tonight.

I began questioning.  I began to consider that I could trust, and that my life had worth.

Life began, fragile and tentative, in that windowless room, this night.

Today I am a year old.

And here are the lessons I have learned in that year:

  • We are only limited by our perceptions.
  • We are loved.  All of us.  All the time.
  • Every one of us has within us the ability to change–and save–many lives.
  • If we’re suffering, it is by our own choice, whether we see it or not.
  • There are more honorable goals than martyrdom.
  • Change is inevitable.  And a hard pill to swallow.  Swallow it, and you will find peace.
  • We are all capable of infinite kindness.  But we must first find it within ourselves.
  • You will backslide, no matter what.  You will fall flat on your face again.  Get back up, and carry on.  It just means you’re human.
  • More than anything we THINK we need, we need rest.  And lots of it.
  • Happiness lies in learning to turn off our brains for awhile.
  • We need to learn to find joy and love within ourselves.  And we need to learn to ask for help and support from others.  Those two truths are not mutually exclusive.
  • Gratitude is a state of mind.  We can’t pick and choose what to be grateful for.
  • Life is beautiful, even when it isn’t.

Tonight, I am grateful to be here, in my new life.  The whole journey was a miracle, and it is all beautiful.  I am glad to have experienced every step of it.

What beautiful anniversaries do you see each year, in your life?

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Let Your Little Light Shine

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Marianne Williamson, Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

Do you remember the day I bravely announced that I was leaving my unfulfilling life behind?  Do you remember my insistence that what I do, still matters?  Do you remember when I swore that I would never sell out (frequently quoting this poem that my friend wrote)?

Well, security carries with it a siren call.  It tricks us.  I entered this city as a shrinking violet, telling myself that I would follow everyone else’s lead, before doing anything outstanding.  Then, I fell back into the trap of “ducking the radar,” so that I could make sure that this new life stayed secure, for my husband and daughter.  After all, they did move across the country for me.  We’re 1200 miles away from home; shouldn’t I do all I can, to maintain the stability that we do have?

But, then, I faced a frustrating and discouraging situation today.  I described it to a friend of mine, beginning with the usual “underdog” scenario.  I’m just doing what I can to survive, right?  And I really have no choice.  I would be hurting others if I took any “risks,” right?

And even as I was writing it, I knew it was wrong.  I am not here for security.  I left all that behind.  I have not been as happy here as I could be, and a great deal of that is likely because I have been hiding in the shadows.

I have ideas–great ideas that could bring about a lot of positive change.  Or they could fail completely.  Either way, they are ideas, with potential, that deserve a chance.  Shrinking away, in the name of security–giving in to the fear that I have projected onto those closest to me–with not serve the world or humanity.  That is not why I am here.

Three months ago, I watched the only place I ever knew, fade from my back window.  I made the bold decision to leave it all behind.  I gave away my house, uprooted my family, and started over, completely.

I didn’t do it, so that I could cower and be paralyzed by fear.

Never will that happen again.  Never.  Again.

I am here to let my light shine.  Even if I am terrified.  It will shine brighter.  Even if I feel alone or wrong.  It will shine brighter.  Even if I think it is foolish.  It will shine brighter.

I am here to shine.

Survival is not the issue.  We will eat and have a home no matter what.

The risk is that I will die before ever living.  And I am here to live.

And so I will shine.

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Milagro

Two days ago, the teacher next door to me brought in a coffee maker.  We placed it in a lifeskills room, and donated all kinds of hazelnut, organic, and fair-trade goodness to the collective.

Then, we sipped from our mugs, savoring the aromatic goodness, during morning hall duty.  “I learned a new Spanish word,” one teacher said, holding her mug near her face.  “Milagro.  It means ‘miracle.'”

I smiled and raised my mug toward hers, “Milagro,” I repeated.

And in this sixth week of my new life, in Houston, milagro does seem to be an appropriate descriptor.

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After a period of adjustment, of feeling overwhelmed, I realized that I had carried a number of my old fears and habits with me.  I did what it took to survive in my old environment, and I did what it took to get out.

It took strength to do that, and that strength will serve me well here, if I get rid of the rest of the garbage.

There is no longer a need to focus on survival, to be defensive and isolated.  I’ve learned the lessons of the past.  It is time to focus on what is, not on what was.

And in making that change, milagro does become the fitting term.

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In letting go, I have been able to notice my wonderfully supportive and delightful co-workers and team members.

In letting go, I have been able to notice my delightful (and often comical–as only young teens can be) students.

In letting go, I have been able to notice the bright sunny days, and to let the rays warm my soul.

In letting go, I have been able to enjoy evening walks and conversations on the balcony (complete with the two palm trees we recently purchased!).

In letting go, I am seeing more opportunities to show love and compassion, than I ever imagined were possible.

In letting go, I am able to enjoy afternoon swims with my daughter, joyful nights meeting new friends, and find meaning in things that I had previously overlooked.

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Is there something holding you back, that you need to release?  Imagine how remarkable your life could become, if you chose to let go.

It truly is milagro.

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Taking a Spring Break

It’s spring time, and some of life’s changes are coming up quickly. I will be taking some time off of blogging, to do the legwork for these changes (don’t worry–I’ll fill you in on the details when the time is right!) and to do some soul-searching.

While change can be scary, it can also be very positive.

In the meantime, I do have 500+ posts here. Check out the categories, go to my “Start Here” page, and have a look around.

I will be back, with some surprises, before you know it!

Hafemania: Daring to Soar

I’ve written some exciting posts. Being featured on Miss Minimalist and interviewing the Fly Lady were certainly up there.

But writing about Hafemania is a different sort of honor.

Remember my friend Bridget, of Living a Life Inspired? Her husband received a double lung transplant days after we lost my husband’s mother. They were given the gift of more time. However, after not hearing much from them, we read in Bridget’s blog that Jason was rejecting his new lungs. Their gift of time was not going to be as long as they had hoped.

So we know how the story will end. But, really, we all how our stories will end, we just don’t know when. And that’s not the important part. What is important is how we deal with the here-and-now.

And so it is with Bridget and Jason.

“For the truth is that I already know as much about my fate as I need to know. The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.”
― Richard Bode, First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living

Even in the beginning of the summer, there was no remaining on shore. They scheduled a private movie showing for all of their friends. We tried to set up a meet-up in Traverse City, but the week we spent weathered in at Presque Isle threw off our timing. So they had a romantic getaway in Mackinaw City instead.

Then, their friends began to plan a trip. They asked people to chip in.
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And chip in, people did. All of Jason and Bridget’s friends helped where they could, and put together an awesome itinerary, based on Jason’s “bucket list” of things he wanted to see and do in his lifetime.

So, this is the story of Hafemania (based on their last name, Hafelein), an adventure that rivals our summer journeying in every way. I am telling the story based on their trip itinerary and pictures that their friends and traveling companions took. I use pictures, because you need to see this couple in order to understand them. You’ll see that the are not in need of any pity–Yes, feel sorry for them because they aren’t going to have the time that they deserve, but understand that they are making the most of every moment. And you’ll see that they are not artificially stoic in the face of tragic circumstances. They are people–a happy couple who was blessed to meet each other–playing the hand they were dealt. They have lived every moment of their time together, rather than frittering so much of it away, as many of us are guilty of doing. And here they are, still adventuring. They are definitely not on the shore, “paralyzed with fear.” They are, indeed, daring to soar, both literally and figuratively. We all would do well to take a lesson from them and do the same.

August 21 – early morning: Depart Midland, MI
afternoon: VIP tour of Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, KY
evening: tour of Cumberland Falls in General Lee (Dukes of Hazzard car)
dinner at Original Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Corbin, KY
evening: overnight in Corbin, KY

While they had originally been planning on flying to Florida, they had to drive due to Jason’s lung issues. His respiratory therapist was their chaffeur, and they had plenty of friends along to take pictures!

Bridget: The cast from the Dukes of Hazard actually sat and ssigned the inside of three car…it was cool!

August 22 – early morning: Depart Corbin, KY
late morning: fire H&K MP5 automatic rifle at Coal Creek Armory indoor
firing range in Knoxville, TN
9 pm: arrive in Orlando, FL

One interview of many…

August 23 – early morning: drive to John F. Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island,
Florida to watch launch of Atlas V rocket, tour JFK Space Center Museum
mid-morning: drive to Cocoa Beach, FL
late morning/noon: return to Orlando for rest
late afternoon: day at Universal Studios
5 pm: backstage meet & greet with wrestlers at Impact Wrestling
8 pm: Impact Wrestling taping
11 pm-?: “CLASSIFIED” – per Jason. LOL

August 24 – 9 am: Jason & Bridget arrive at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
9 pm: Main Street Electrical Parade at Magic Kingdom
10 pm: Wishes Nighttime Spectacular at Magic Kingdom
10 pm-11 am: “Extra Magic Hours” at Magic Kingdom

August 25 – 11 am: arrive at Star Wars Celebration for meet & greets and “something
special” from the 501st Stormtrooper Legion
6:30 pm: arrive at KSA Rode in Kissimmee, FL

August 26 – late morning: depart Orlando for Atlanta, GA.
late afternoon: optional stop at World of Coca Cola
early evening: dinner at world-famous drive-in The Varsity
9 pm: arrive for overnight stay n Sevierville, TN

August 27 – late morning: Monster Truck ride and helicopter tour at Outdoor
Adventures of the Smokies in Sevierville, TN
early afternoon: lunch at Calhoun’s Restaurant in Pigeon Forge, TN
late afternoon: rest
6:30 pm: optional visit to Tennessee Smokies baseball game in Kodak, TN
overnight stay in Sevierville, TN OR return to Midland, MI

So, that was Bridget and Jason’s adventure. What can we take from it? Well, first of all, Jason didn’t want to spend more time at work, or more time cleaning his house. The important things to him were spending time adventuring with his wife and friends. As humans, we are by nature social creatures, but we often forget that in the day-to-day grind of work (in and outside of the home). We need to make friends and family more of a priority than they are. In our case, it was the social interactions that make cruising on Moonraker such a joy, and we have decided to make an effort to see our friends more often, at least once a month.

Second, we must notice the power of dreams. Dreams are the things adventures are made of. Like Bridget and Jason, we should never, never stop dreaming, even when the circumstances seem bleaker than ever. It’s not about smiling when you want to cry. It’s not about hiding your true self under false stoicism. It’s about being brave enough to live as long as there is life inside of you. To truly live: to do the things you’ve only dreamed of, to go where you’ve never gone before.

We all have life. So let’s get out and live it!

When Darkness Comes

I think we all wish we could erase some dark times in our lives. But all of life’s experiences, bad and good, make you who you are. Erasing any of life’s experiences would be a great mistake.
Luis Miguel

The recent disaster at the marina really got me thinking about our summer. At first, I remembered what is probably the saddest post I’ve ever written, when I thought our dream was over. I thought that something that could have been wonderful, that could have brought our family closer together, had become a total waste.

But, then, as I read our posts from earlier in the cruise, I realized that we were not headed for a destination as great as the one we found.

Our marriage wasn’t where it could have been. The night of our anniversary, we had a bad fight, mainly due to my suppressed stress and grieving, from my mother-in-law’s sudden death and the risky surgery my dad had had that day (it was successful!). When we sailed, I clearly did not trust Rob, as my trimsman and navigator. If the water was rough, I was constantly yelling at him to hang on, questioning his choices, and sometimes outright refusing to follow his commands. Yet, I did not trust myself to yell the commands or even to disagree with him and state my reasons why.

This began to change when we encountered our first storm. I trusted my judgment enough to tell Rob to release the jib. Still, he didn’t trust me enough to do it right away. Thinking I was panicking, he kept telling me to change course. When he saw what was happening, he trusted me more. But we weren’t there yet.

Our downfall was that we didn’t take it seriously enough. We were out on the Lakes, where you sometimes could not see land, where help was nowhere nearby. Our lives depended on a 44 year old fiberglass vessel, and we needed to respect that. We did not.

That is why we went on the inside of the #13 marker. That is why we failed.

Navigating in the fog, when we could see nothing, I realized my life–and the lives of my family–depended on following Rob’s coordinates. Exactly. There was no room for mistakes.

In doing that, I began to trust him. As a navigator. As a husband. As a father for my child.

He trusted my helmsmanship. On that boat. In our lives.

It was a long journey from that day. But we were able, because of that day, to articulate who we are as a family, and where we want to go. For the first time, we were on the same page with our dreams for our future.

Last summer was the best summer of our lives. Yet we do not pine for it. We would not want to go back.

We lost Ithaca. But we brought Moonraker home.

And Moonraker is the metaphor for our dreams. We lost our destination. But we found ourselves.