Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Life of Gratitude

Every November gratitude becomes front and center of life. There is increased conversation about gratitude journals and other ways to express appreciation for 30 days. I see the value, but I also recognize that the start of the holiday season doesn't usher in the same feelings for everyone. It may make sense to some to designate the month of November as the time to be extra thankful for family, love, and life, but for others, including me, the winter holidays are difficult and heartbreaking.

Two years ago, I was rocked by the unexpected death of my father. Losing a parent is difficult regardless of circumstances, but my father was not a figurehead in my life. He was present, consistent, and concerned. He was there for every event and performance. He was supportive and not just of my brother and me—he was a source of support for his siblings, niece and nephews. His absence has been deeply felt not only during holidays but also on the most mundane days.

I find a way to tap into gratitude most of the time. I am grateful that he was in my life as long as he was. I am grateful that he was so kind and thoughtful. I am grateful to have such wonderful memories of him. I am grateful that the last words he heard me speak were, "I love you." Those are good days. However, I have days when I wish I had more time, more memories, and more opportunities to say I love you. There are days when others mention their 60- or 70-year-old fathers, how they celebrated Father's Day, or that they did something as simple as call their fathers and I feel extremely cheated. There are days when I question if holidays or any days will ever be the same. There are days when I miss him and no amount of encouraging words or quotes diminish the longing.

Even prior to his death my holiday seasons have been problematic. Family gatherings are attached to painful complications making it difficult to latch onto the idea of a season of appreciation or to view it as more than the latest fad or "it" thing. What's beautiful about gratitude, though, is that it extends far beyond the typical, limited use. Gratitude also means to praise, grace, and honor. On difficult days I have the option to praise those who have added to my life. When I'm annoyed by declarations of gratitude from those who complain or speak negatively the other 335 days of the year I can extend grace to them—and to myself for being judgmental. When I am overwhelmed with feelings of loss I can choose to honor memories and imprints.

Today, on the second anniversary of my father's funeral, I am grateful for all that he was to my family and me. I am grateful that I can empathize with those who have painful memories attached to this time of year or who may not have a family gathering to attend. Mostly, though, I am grateful that I don't need a calendar to nudge me to praise, grace, or honor those I love because in spite of the loss and heartache—and in some instances, because of it—I am able to live a life of gratitude.

Read last week's post, The Walkway.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Walkway

Walkway in Roatan, Honduras
On a recent trip to the airport I witnessed a toddler less than excited about his day. He cried as the family received boarding passes. He cried as the family went through security. He cried as the family walked between concourses. His last fit amused me as it was a representation of the way that many go through life. He stood on a moving walkway, facing the opposite direction while repeatedly screaming, "I don't want to go!"

Life can be difficult, but in the difficulty exists opportunities to grow into larger, fuller versions of ourselves. At the time that these types of situations arrive it's not comfortable or desired. We feel that life is conspiring against us and go through periods of denial, anger, grief, confusion, and sadness. However, we always have a choice. We can choose to focus on classifying situations as fair or unfair, consequence or punishment, or we can choose to invest in our lives and use challenges to extend into more than we imagined. We can stretch ourselves, trust our inner circle, discover the source of our peace, and learn just how strong we are when we need strength most.

Maybe you are in the middle of one of those situations, one leading you to question everything and trust nothing. Maybe you feel like you are being tested in every area of your life or you are facing difficulty in one area with such intensity that you can't imagine an end or even relief. Whether you decide to turn your attention toward growth or turn your back on it and scream all the way, life will react much like that moving walkway the unhappy toddler was on—life will guide you toward the best version of yourself. You can turn away, close your eyes, scream, or even run in the opposite direction, but life will continue to take you toward achieving your best self. Use your energy to walk in the direction of your best self, not against it.

Read last week's post, Need Evolution.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Need Evolution

As children we are told what we need. Parents/guardians tell us what we need to eat in order to grow. Teachers tell us what we need to read, practice, and study in order to develop intellectually. Over time, though, we are introduced to the concept of choice. We still need food to grow, but we choose what we consume. To develop intellectually, we must continue to read, but our choices expand beyond what's offered in a classroom. What we select may differ drastically from what we've been taught, but we are all responsible for choosing what we need.

More than likely, your parents/guardians made choices based on the same choices their parents/guardians made for them. From food brands to career paths to religion, you may be living out decisions made long ago by someone else. One day, though, you may not be satisfied doing what's always been done. One day you may find yourself drawn in a radically different direction. One day you may find yourself driven by what's possible instead of what's expected. When you opt to blaze trails someone might have a problem with it. And not just anyone, but someone you care for deeply. Someone you respect. Someone you love.

In recent years the need for me to create boundaries became more important than people pleasing. The boundaries went up, the fallout came down. Motivated by habit and their own comfort level, people expressed their displeasure. People I care about. People I love. I had to ask some tough questions. Should I risk my well-being so others could hold onto a false sense of security? Should I stop being honest so others will not have to? Should I choose the comfort of others over my peace of mind?

As you evolve so do your needs. What sustained you at one time will no longer suffice. What was once acceptable will become intolerable. What others want for you may no longer be big enough for where you are going. If what you need conflicts with what others want trust your judgment. Trust that you will have support. The evolution of your needs is a sign of growth which will lead you to step into greater and fulfill your purpose.

Read last week's post, Becoming.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Between the ages of fifteen and twenty-three we are bombarded with future-focused questions. Well-intentioned family and friends ask what we would like to study, what universities we’re applying to, and what we would like to do for the rest of our lives. These questions are appropriate and can help young people place some attention on the next phase of life. The problem is we are conditioned to focus on acquiring. We want to acquire a degree, a job, and/or a career. We want these things because they lead to more things—clothes, jewelry, a house, cars, vacations, etc. However, fulfillment is not in acquiring, fulfillment is in becoming.

Financial gain and status can enhance quality of life. Liberty can be found in having. Its greatest benefit is the freedom to make choices instead of having them made for you. Excess provides access. Yet there are also trappings found in having and without a proper foundation, the stressors choke the freedom. Our goal should not be to acquire. Our goal should be to become.

There is nothing wrong with niceties. There is nothing wrong with wanting material things. Yet when the majority of our energy is spent chasing a status and stuff we open ourselves up to disappointment, frustration, and discontent because we are chasing a moving target, one that will never bring satisfaction, no matter how much we amass. Our primary goal is externally focused so we are internally disconnected. The good news is that we don't have to remain disconnected. The moment we decide we prefer fulfillment over fillers, we can shift our attention from acquiring to becoming—becoming better, becoming fulfilled, and becoming authentic. When we focus on becoming we can't help but attract and attach ourselves to the benefits associated with being our best.

Read last week's post, Work Through Your Fears.