Note to Self

My husband is notorious for writing notes to remind him of tasks, as well as affirmations to keep him on target. There are yellow sticky notes on the wall in his office, on the panel of his dashboard, on the door of his mancave, and on the bathroom mirror. Even though they are personal to him, I find myself reading all of them. I’m not sure if the yellow sticks out and draws my attention, or if I’m just nosy. At any rate, I see the value and I often pick up a helpful tidbit of information for myself. Perhaps more of us should adopt this practice.

As I watch the news and listen to various conversations among my friends and foes, I wonder if we need some of those sticky note reminders to help us to cope with change and differences of opinion. You know like a note that says: “Be a good listener!” or “Empathize with others!” or “Don’t Sweat the small stuff!” Life is too precious to spend our time on a constant flow of negativity. Perhaps we need a Note to Self that says: “Look for the positive!”

This past weekend I had an opportunity to work with some young adults (ages 16 to 22) who were part of a Department of Juvenile Justice program. We were helping them create vision boards which included short term and long term goals, both personal and professional. At the end of the time, some of the participants were asked if they wanted to share their visions. The young man that I worked with decided to share his board with the group. He had written several things that stuck with me, especially after he explained their significance to us. One of his notations said, “Be the Best Me I Can Be Everyday in Everyway.” Another said, “I’m a Man in Motion to Help Myself and to Help Others.” When he explained these to the group, he told us these were notes he wanted to write to himself to help him look forward to the future and stop dwelling on the the mistakes of his past. He said, “I can’t change my past, but I have an opportunity have better future, that’s why I’m here, and that’s why I wrote this.”

I was so impressed with this young man’s attitude and perspective. He had been in trouble with the law, he had failed his senior year in high school, he had overcome neglect, and grew up in a group home through DFACS. Yet, he had volunteered to be in this mentoring program which offers tutoring, job training, internships, and counseling in order to better his life. Note to Self: “Your Past Does not Have to Define You.

I couldn’t help but think about how the good influence of one or two people could change someone’s life. (That’s definitely my testimony, as describes in my book, Our Voices) It also reminded me of my former student. (See blog: Time Passes) Each of us have opportunities to make a difference everyday. It may only take a smile, a genuine greeting, a hug, a positive attitude in the face of disappointment, or patience when things aren’t going as quickly as we may wish. Sympathy and empathy may paved the way to unity and peace in the workplace, as well as the school yard. Note to Self: “I Can be the Catalyst for Change.”

I used to make fun of my husband and all his reminder notes, but now I find that I can use a few reminders from time to time myself. Just to be different I use multi-colored sticky notes to remind myself that comradery and joy can spread just as fast as confusion and indifference. Note to Self: “Don’t Use Sarcasm as Your Go-to.” Note to Self: “Think Before You Speak.” Note to Self: “Walk Away from Turmoil.” Of course there are some positive affirmations as well: Note to Self: “You have Experience and Wisdom.” Note to Self: “You can Connect Generations.” Note to Self: Creativity is on Your Side.”

I certainly don’t expect everyone to paste sticky notes all over the place, but it would be good for all us to make some mental notes to our selves throughout the day. What would your notes say? Could you make some positive changes with a few notes to yourself? Could you make the small corner of the world you occupy a better place? Note to Self: “Brighten the corner where you are.”

Live well, Laugh Often,
Love Much

In the Here and Now

Have you ever had a lengthy conversation with someone only to realize you may not be talking about the same subject at all. A few days ago, my fifteen year old granddaughter and I had a great philosophical discussion. This is not unusual for us because she is a creative in her own right. She writes fantastical fiction and poetry, and she loves to discuss existential ideology. At any rate, we were both waxing eloquently, when I asked a question. She paused and I waited; then she said, “Wait, what are we talking about again?” We both laughed hysterically since this has happened to us before. Each of us become so caught up in making our point that we haven’t really taken the time to hear what the other person is saying. In our case the subject is always less important than the vocal exercise of witty banter that we enjoy. We think it keeps our creative juices flowing.

That little episode did make me think about the importance of being in the moment – being truly present in the here and now. Too often, I find myself either stuck in the past, or contemplating the future to the point of distraction. I think that is what happens when my granddaughter and I are having our conversations. One of us starts concentrating on what we will say next, rather than what is being said at the moment. I think the same thing can happen during any event, whether the occasion is professional or leisure. Instead of enjoying or participating in the circumstances in front of us, our minds are off in other directions robbing us of any present precious moments. This is especially true when our cell phones are in hand. I’m finding that I have to be very intentional about the here and now. In the words of the great philosopher, Aerosmith (lol) “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”

In today’s culture, “here today and gone tomorrow,” is no joke, and living with regret is not the option I want to choose. So I try to engage my whole being in the experiences and exchanges – the opportunities that come my way. It doesn’t matter how simple or how complex the opportunity may be. For example, I received two vases of flowers for my birthday last month. I took the time to notice the texture of the flowers, the scent, the size, and the variety. What was similar, what was different? Did you know that day lilies symbolize “forgetting worries.” Orange day lilies represent joy, love, courage, beauty and devotion. My oldest son gave me orange day lilies and pink roses which represents gratitude and appreciation. My prayer partners gave me pink day lilies, white daisies, and lavender mums. (Love, admiration, compassion, loyalty, honesty, and purity consecutively.) After looking up this information, I had a deeper appreciation for the gifts and the gift givers. I watched the flowers open more and more each day. I noticed how long they lasted, over three weeks. My attention was drawn to the vases at various times during those days, because I allowed myself to be truly present with the gifts. I didn’t allow myself to say thank you, put them on the table and walk away. I thought about the givers, the sentiment behind the gifts, and the beauty of each flower – all having an wholesome and positive effect on me (feeling love, joy, contentment).

Perhaps you are thinking, that’s a little overboard, but imagine applying the power of being present to your relationships, or your encounters with people in general. Last Saturday I went to a meeting at a large complex. When I arrived there was only one car in the parking lot and the door in front of me was locked. I called the person over the group I was meeting with and she directed me to the south side of the building for parking and entering. Just as I was about to pull off, I saw another person pull in to the parking lot. I could read her expression through the windshield. I imagined I looked the same way less than ten minutes before. I rolled down my window and asked was she here for the meeting. As I was relaying to her the directions I received over the phone, another lady drove up. She rolled down her window and asked what was going on. I relayed my phone message to her. She said, “No worries, you guys follow me,” and we did. Today, I went to a meeting in that same complex. The program coordinator assigned us to partners. My partners were the two people I met in the parking lot last Saturday. We recognized each other and began talking. Our group gelled immediately, because our first encounter had been intentional about helping each other. What if I had driven off? What if the second woman had just made a three point turn and left us? How different our first impressions would have been when we assigned as partners.

My husband sent me this little message by an unknown author via text on Thursday. Perhaps it will make the point better than my examples. “80 years, 959 months, 4171 weeks, 29,200 days, 700,800 hours, 42,048,000 minutes. This is the average lifespan of a person. So if you live to be 80 years old, I wonder how many years, months, weeks, days, hours , and minutes are you really HERE? Awake, alive, inhaling and exhaling in this NOW MOMENT? The HERE and NOW. It sounds simple – what’s so hard about being present? The problem is, most of us don’t know how to do it. Living in WHAT WAS or in the WHAT IF’S, we forget how to be here in the WHAT IS!”

Most of us are blessed to have at least five senses, some of us seven or eight (a topic for another time), yet we don’t use them to help us be present. When is the last time you closed your eyes to enjoy the music? When is the last time you inhaled the sweet smell of a sleeping baby? Have you lowered your tired body into a warm bath and felt each muscle ease into relaxation? Have you smelled the scent of fresh brewed coffee (at home not at …)? Have you had the chance to hold the hand of an elder, feel the softness, see the veins through the thin skin, realize the grip was strong, and the power of touch had created a deeper bond? Have you seen the sparkle in the little eyes that look up to you and realized it’s a miniature you looking back? Are you missing anything in those days and times you call ordinary?

I tell myself everyday, “Don’t miss the blessings of this day!” The here and now is a blessing, even when it’s messy because it is an opportunity to feel something, to see something, to hear something, to live something, and most of all to be something. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing!” How about you? What do you do to live in the present? How do you deal with the Here and Now? If life seems mundane, maybe it’s because you aren’t living to the fullest in the here and now.

Peace, safety and sanity – Live the your best life.

Lily Stargazer

Time Passes

Time passes so quickly; sometimes you don’t even notice how fast. Recently, I was in line at my local bank. When my turn came at the counter, the teller greeted me by name. He asked about my oldest son and my mother. Clearly this young man knew me, but I was baffled. I’m usually pretty good with faces even when the person’s name escapes me. I finally had no choice but to ask him his name and how he knew me. It turned out, he was one of my second grade students from fifteen years ago.

While he told me a little about himself and his sister who had also been a student, I was thinking , ‘Wow, how time passes!’ I’ll be honest with you, I never think about how old I am until I’m confronted with it. There I was old enough to teach my former students’ children. His children and my grandchildren are in the same grade. Needless to say, I enjoyed our conversation. We now chat every time I see him at the bank. Time passes, but our impact on a person’s life rarely does.

I remember my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Gorman and my second grade teacher, Mrs. Southerland. I remember my music teacher, Mrs. Taylor and my gymnastic teacher, Ms. Graves. These teachers and so many others had such an impact on my life – an impact that will never be forgotten. They invested their time, talent, and treasure in my education and self-esteem. They encouraged me to be and do my best at various stages of my development. I believe they left a little bit of themselves with me which allowed me to cultivate the essential parts of my identity and my worldview. These educational examples are multiplied by numerous relatives, family friends, pastors, counselors, bosses, neighbors, professors, co-workers, and coaches who took the time to encourage or support my endeavors and dreams. As time passes, this list grows exponentially.

It’s amazing when you think about how people can impact your life and how the effects of that impact can last a lifetime. Their faces, their words, the touch of their hands, the gift of their time emerged with your personality, your goals and your dreams can be magical when the impact is positive. On the other hand, when the impact is negative not enough time can pass to set aside the damage done to one’s self-esteem and emotional stability. What’s that saying about how many positives it takes to erase a negative? Time is passing whether we make an impact or not. Still it’s up to us whether we use our time communally or selfishly.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. It reads, “There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (NIV) This passage makes it clear that there is a positive way to spend our time, and there is a negative way to spend our time. For me, the cool thing is we get to choose. (My own interpretation.)

We can’t do anything to stop time from passing. Minutes roll into hours, hours roll into days, days roll into months, and months roll into years. The next thing you know decades have passed. The question is, what are we doing with our time. Are we investing ourselves into the lives of others – another generation? Are we making a positive impact on our culture – our society? Will we be cherished in someone’s memory after we have translated to another time and space? Will someone smile when they see us years later, or when our name comes up in conversation? If ever there was a time for choosing to build, to laugh, to heal, to embrace, to mend, to speak kindness, and love; the time is now.

The young man I mentioned at the top of this blog entry told me that our school’s summer camp meant the world to him and his sister. He said it was their happy place at a time when their home environment was not so happy. His mother and father were in a domestic battle which included some physical abuse. There were days when they were afraid to be at home. He said he and his sister owed their aunt who paid for the summer camp everything. He said he was glad to have the opportunity to thank me for making learning exciting, taking them on fieldtrips, and expanding their world. He said our school convinced him and his sister that life would get better one day. I certainly can’t take credit for all our school had to offer; I believe the students in every grade had the same experience. What I took away from our conversation is how important it is to pass your time wisely as you interface with others. You never know how much the things you say and do will impact someone’s outlook for the future.

Wow! A lot of time has passed as I tried to capture a particular moment in time and the impact it had on me. I want so much to live a life that’s worth the living – to leave a legacy that gives the generations behind me hope and vision. That’s why I write. That’s why I teach. That’s why I participate in the beloved community. Yesterday is gone, but the things we’ve done, the things we said, the impact we’ve made can live on. Seeing my second grade student all grown up with a beautiful outlook, a family, and good memories from a difficult childhood motivates me to keep trying to make a positive impact in the time that I have.

Take a few minutes to think about those things and people that made a positive impact in your life. Share it with someone you care about before time passes.

Peace to you. Stay safe. Stay sane.

There is a Time . . .

Keeping It Moving!

Everyday I have to remind myself to “keep it moving!” I’ve been going through a hard spell lately, and I can’t seem to stay focused or motivated. Of course, I asked myself all the usual questions: am I depressed, am I distressed, am I angry, am I tired, am I burned out. What am I? Too often the answer doesn’t come easy. Sometimes I survey others to see what they are doing to stay motivated, to keep it moving. I found out I wasn’t the only one having this problem, but I also got some great suggestions.

One person suggested that I stop watching the news. She said she could be in a good mood, but one hour of news would put her in a funk. Her suggestion made me take notice of how often the news repeats the same stories and yet, I was sitting through multiple broadcasts. (Why can’t we have an hour of good news repeated over and over again? ) Of course, it is important to keep up with current events, but it’s also important to evaluate whether the events are current or simply recycled for ratings. I cut my news time back to one channel, one cycle. Two things happened. It freed up some time to do other things, and I didn’t feel like I had missed anything. (Another friend suggested checking the headlines online and scrolling through the stories that interest me. However, I spend too much time on the computer everyday for work, so that wasn’t for me. Perhaps it’s an answer that will work for you.)

One of my co-workers gave me a cliche as a suggestion. “Take the time to smell the roses,” she said. I have to admit I had an inward sneer at this suggestion. Over several days she made her point. The first day she sent me a text that asked if I had seen the beautiful moon that morning. (We are both up at 5 o’clock.) I didn’t see the beautiful moon. The second day she sent a text that said, did you hear the birds singing this morning. I didn’t hear the birds singing. Then my mom got in on the act. She asked me if I had seen the white and pink roses growing in our front yard. I had not seen the roses. Indeed, I hadn’t taken the time to “smell the roses.”

I started lingering on the porch before I got in my car in the mornings. I saw the moon, the clouds, and I heard the birds singing. One morning, I heard a tingling sound. It was soft and sweet like small bells ringing. I thought to myself, what is that? I looked all around the front of the house but I couldn’t get a bead on it. Finally, I walked to the side of the garage and there it was – the silver wind chimes my mom and I hung many years ago. When had I stopped noticing the wind chimes? When was the last time I thought about its beautiful music or noticed the gentle breeze? I stood there amazed. I had been neglecting the things I love – nature, good books, photography, watching the morning and evening sky, and listening to the wind chimes – I had missed them all. I certainly want to keep moving, but I don’t want to fly by the things that bring me comfort and joy. Suddenly, I realized it wasn’t about just keeping it moving, it was about moving intentionally toward the things that were needed, as well as the things that fulfilled me.

As much as I harp on self-care, I had ceased to follow my own advice. I went to the nail salon to get a manicure and a pedicure for a Thursday night date with my husband. As I sat in the massage chair enjoying the reflexology, I tried to remember the last time I had gone to a spa or a salon. I couldn’t remember the last time. In fact, I couldn’t remember doing anything solely for myself. As soon as I got home, I signed up for a writer’s conference. Even though the conference wasn’t more thirty minutes from my house, I booked a hotel and enjoyed a luxury suite and gourmet food the entire weekend. The conference was great too.

Perhaps the point of this blog entry is to redefine “Keeping It Moving.” What is my “it”? It can’t just be working from 9 to 5. It can’t just be the daily routine of taking care of the family. It can’t be my career as a writer alone. It has to be the total package – keeping my mind growing, keeping my creativity flowing, keeping my relationships in priority, keeping my spirit and soul refreshed, keeping my body healthy and rested. I have to remember my “it” isn’t just one thing; no one’s is. The thing that stagnates us or gets us in a rut is being out of balance with all that makes us who we are. We can’t focus on one aspect of our lives and still “keep it moving.”

How about you? What is your “it?” How do you “keep it going?” Perhaps your life, like mine, was thrown out of balance by the things you couldn’t do during the pandemic crisis. Perhaps the substitutes for personal social activities have fail us. Maybe it’s time to reassess what our personal activities are, and whether they are serving our needs. My suggestion is to discuss it with a few friends, family members, your counselor and/or your spiritual advisor. You may find that they have some suggestions that will set you free. Then you can start keeping it moving again from a new perspective.

I look forward to keeping it moving with you. Be safe and enjoy life while you’re keeping it moving.

What’s Normal?

It never ceases to amaze me that everyone’s idea of normal is different. I see it in children all the time. When I worked with homeless children in a daycare setting the children always asked if it was time to go home. Home for them was wherever mom and dad were. Children without a father in the home still played games that included mom, dad, and baby in the dramatic play center. I’ve never had a child without living grandparents ask what grandparents were. Children who eat all of their meals out of a paper bag still understand the concept of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Why are all these statements true? When you don’t know any other circumstances or conditions, and you don’t have anything to compare them to, they all seem normal to you. .

As a teacher of students from various socio-economical backgrounds, different ethnicities, and diverse religious backgrounds, I learned never to assume that their idea of normal was the same as mine. Incorporating celebrations like holidays around the world and sharing family photos always gave us an opportunity to learn about one another and to ask questions to increase our understanding. I especially liked when parents would share food that represented their culture and background. Needless to say, many of us as adults are not as open to the differences of others as we could be. The elusive “they say” seems to dictate what our normal should be. I once heard it said that the American dream is a 9 to 5 job, 2.5 children (I never really understood the .5 kid) , a single family home with a two car garage, and at least one four-legged pet. If that be the case, many people have never lived an American ideal of normal. No wonder we are having problems with achieving the “new normal:” our old normal was never solidified.

When do we reach the point when we stop waiting for things to return to normal or simply adjust to our new normal? Is it because we have never taken the time to identify what normal really is in our lives? Is spending time with our children and reinforcing the lessons they learn at school a part of the old normal, the new normal, or just normal? Is maintaining contact with our distance family and friends and checking on their welfare a part of the old normal, the new normal, or just normal? What kind of normal is having our aging parents move in with us? What kind of normal is sending a care package to a college student or an enlisted soldier? Is it old, new, or just normal to take a hot meal over to a bereaved friend or family member? Am I wrong if I substitute the words “new,” “old,” and “just” for the word ‘my.” After all my normal may be altogether different from your normal.

My normal has always included multiple generations living under one roof. My normal includes having brothers and sisters who are no blood relationship to me. My normal includes sharing what you have with those who are close to you even when it’s part of the last of what you have. My normal means always putting the children first. My normal incorporates whatever my husband and I decide we can do and will do regardless what others think. My normal includes people who believe in prayer and aren’t afraid to pray for me and with me. My normal fosters good will toward all people even if we need to agree to disagree. Commercials, social media, politics, or even the pandemic can not dictate what’s normal for me because they are not the foundation of my worldview. Promises that things will return to normal can not be my motivation for living, perhaps because I reached that age where I want to live in the now and enjoy the present. What I have now is normal since normal always requires adjustments due to circumstances beyond our control. The question then becomes am I willing to make the necessary adjustments. Adjustments are normal.

If this came off preachy, I apologize, that was truly not my intention. I guess what I really want to say is, you decide what’s normal. Don’t miss out on living, on sharing, on giving, on being waiting for a new normal. Make whatever adjustments you need to make to enjoy every aspect of your life in your present normal. You have talent. You have loved ones. You have ideas. You have opportunities. You have resources. You have hope. You have dreams. You have faith. No matter how little or how big these things are, they are part of your normal. Don’t lose another day waiting for things to change. Be the change. That’s normal!

Be safe. Be proactive. Be in the moment.

Transitions (40th Anniversary Edition): Making Sense of Life's Changes by [William Bridges, Susan Bridges]
Celebrating 40 years of the best-selling guide for coping with life’s changes, named one of the 50 all-time best books in self-help and personal development — with a new Discussion Guide for readers, written by Susan Bridges. Amazon.com

Love Demonstrated

Sometimes even English teachers can get into philosophical debates like is love a noun or a verb. Of course, the answer is both yes, maybe, and no. (lol) Love is one of those words that has archaic meaning and modern definition. After all, we have mad love for our favorite authors, musicians, and stars, but we also absolutely love and adore our pets, baseball, and the smell of orchids. The way we use the word indicates several degrees of depth and meaning, but verbally using the word may not mean anything at all. It is far to easy to speak the word, but much harder to demonstrate the word.

I have two adult sons, a godson, and two mostly adult grandchildren (ages 18 and 19) that I have tried to explain the concept of real love to. I start by saying, “Anyone can say ‘I love you, but their actions will tell you whether they really do.” I don’t want them to become enamored with the words alone. The words are not magic. The words do not indicate true conviction. From a noun perspective, love is a decision, a judgment, and a promise. However, love as a verb is action, demonstration, and tangible through the senses. Therefore, I tell my offspring, “When someone says they love you, it should be followed by tangible evidence.” Love must be demonstrated.

In my relationships with my mother, my husband, my in-laws, my dearest and closest friends, there is no love insecurity not because they tell me they love me all the time, but because they demonstrate their love for me consistently. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I venture to say the same thing is true for them because I demonstrate my love for them. The more we demonstrate our love for one another, the more confident, assured, and impactful our relationships become. In other words, I can depend on their care. I can depend on their presence in my life even when they are not physically present. Over time the demonstration of their love builds credibility and dependability in their spoken words.

I also warn my boys (grown men, but always my children) never to use the words ‘I love you” loosely or without thought and true commitment. The words can be used to manipulate others whether intentionally or unintentionally. In other languages there are different words to express different kinds of love. In American English (which I would argue is substandard because we have borrowed so many words from others as well as made up our own words) the degrees and kinds of love is still the same word. I love my husband. I love my dog. I love lasagna. I love cola. I love reading. I love a fire in the fire place. We can take each one of those sentences and substitute the word “love” with the word “like” and they would still be valid. We could also substitute the word love with “adore,” “fond of,” or “enjoy.” When we change the words we may get a more accurate picture of what the person means when they say, “I love you.” So I encourage my guys (and gals) to choose their words wisely.

Okay, enough of this philosophical discussion. My point, first for myself and then for you my readers, is am I demonstrating the words I use. When I say those words that have held so much meaning for centuries, do I follow them with equal demonstration and action? Do I really demonstrate love when I haven’t reached out to a grieving friend? Do I demonstrate love when I don’t take the time to check on those who are alone and isolated because they are not techno-savvy? Do I demonstrate love when I spend more time on social media than actually talking to people? Do I demonstrate love when I half listen to what someone is saying, or when I fail to discern their body language, or when I drop them an emoji when they have expressed a heartfelt emotion or struggle? OUCH!

This pandemic has not only taught me that time has no guarantees, it’s taught me how valuable relationships are. The opportunity to express my love may be shorter than I think, and I don’t want anyone in my beloved circle to ever doubt or feel insecure about how I hold them in my heart. Every day I tell myself to be more intentional about demonstrating my love. In my desire to be loved, I also want to give love – the noun and the verb. How about you? Are you receiving secure love? Are you giving secure love? It’s not too late to make the commitment. Our love may not be perfect, but it can be demonstrated in everyday.

Impactful Relationships

Sometimes we need to take the time to access our relationships. As time goes by we may find that we have substituted new relationships and foregone old relationships. We may also find that the value of those foregone relationships were worth more to us than we realized. While all relationships may be impactful, some negative, I choose to focus on the positive for this blog entry.

What does it mean to be impactful? I’m referring to the actions or words that have had a major effect on our lives, our character, and perhaps even our worldview. Does that bring a list of people to mind? I am so grateful for those people who have had a positive impact in my life. The ones who encouraged me to follow my dreams. The ones who saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself. The ones who blocked my path to self-destruction. The ones who spoke wisdom, when foolishness was all around me, and especially those who taught me that I could have an impact on the next generation as a vocation.

Recently, I was in contact with a childhood friend. We became friends in Junior High School many years ago. At some point in our lives, we stop being just friends and became family. After our conversation on the phone, I began to reflect on the impact she and her family had on my life. Her brother adopted me as his little sister and watch out for me. Her mother treated me like one of her own daughters. My friend accepted me and the dysfunctional awkwardness of my own family structure. From her family I learned so many things about being a confident young woman. Years later, my friend was the maid of honor in my wedding. Although we live far apart, we continue to stay in touch.

In reality I can trace impactful relationships among teachers, neighbors, roommates, sorority sisters, church members, co-workers, employers, my in-laws, and my relatives. Some people bring goodness to your life just by being there, and being themselves: people who are good listeners; people who empathize; people who extend a helping hand; people who deposit wisdom from their own experiences; people who share their life stories, triumphs and failures. These people help you become the best you can be because they impact how you process the circumstances of your life. They impact your perspective, and your outlook without really meaning to; they are just being who they are. These are the type of people that leave the world better than they found it, because they care about others, and are not afraid to touch their lives.

After talking to my friend the other day, I had to ask myself if I am positively impactful in my relationships. Am I taking the time to be an active listener? Am I truly present with others or am I distracted by my phone, my own thoughts, or other relationships? Do I share my experiences, my abilities, my minor or major expertise (depending on how you look at it)? Do others smile when they think of time spent with me, or do they wish I wouldn’t bother to show up as often as I do? We have an opportunity not only to evaluate our present relationships for their impact in our lives, we can also evaluate our impact on others. It’s tied to legacy. (See A Living Epitaph from 10/21/21.)

Relationships are impactful, and the ones that are positive in their impact are worth keeping for years and years. I am so thankful that my relationship with my friend has stood the test of time. I am also happy for the new relationships that keep me active and relevant. How about you? When you evaluate your relationships do you realize the gems? Truly impactful relationships are a treasure.

Whether you’re looking to improve your relationship with your spouse, navigate difficult conversations at work, or connect on a deeper level with friends and family, this book delivers simple, practical, proven techniques for improving any relationship in your life. Amazon.com

Finding Your Roots

First off, let me announce, this blog content is not about finding your roots, as in heritage, which is very popular these days. This blog is about how is your life rooted. I had the experience of feeling like my life had lost its tether, like I was just floating from one experience to another with anything holding me down. These times were very unsettling. I was sure I was going to lose myself, as well as all that was dear to me. The ground of my life seemed to give way to shifting sand. One day I realized, I had to find and return to my roots.

So much has happened in the last couple of years. The things that once gave us stability began to waver. The pandemic, the economy, the political agendas, racial tensions, loss of loved ones, enterprise failing – all these things robbed us of our feelings of security and reliance. In the midst of it all, I asked myself what can I depend on. Clearly the answer wasn’t a job, a title, finances, or possessions. Everything in my life was changing, not only in my life, but in the lives of everyone around me. We were all waiting for “the new normal” to come and stabilize our lives again. Some are still waiting.

Self-evaluation and introspection have become my go-to when I feel out of sorts, or off balance. I start by journaling my feelings. (See blog post 12/7/19 Journaling for Personal Change and 05/29/20 Journals or Diaries – Is That a Question?) How do I really feel? What feelings do I have that I wouldn’t dare share with anyone else? Am I distressed, am I depressed, am I suppressing anger, am I afraid, do I feel hopeless? You can tell your journal anything, good or bad. Am I desiring romance, am I in need of a retreat or a vacation, is someone stepping on my dreams or impending my progress? My journal knows. It may take several days or weeks of writing, but sooner or later the answers become clear.

The next step is to evaluate the sources of input, feedback, and external sources that have an impact on my perspective. This can include people’s opinions or advise, social media, TV news, books, or overheard conversations. Sometimes we are unaware of the effects of outside sources. We subconsciously take a lot in without really realizing it. That’s why introspection is so important, not just when things are going wrong. Periodic examinations and self-reflection helps us to make the necessary adjustments to weed out the negative and hone the positive. Questions like: why have I been feeling so good lately, how did I get through that situation, who was really in my corner, how much rest did I get last night, where did that point of view come from, are these my thoughts and opinions or am I repeating something I heard?

This past week, someone very dear to me walked out of my life. It was abrupt and very disturbing. My husband and I had done everything we knew to do to help this relative. We gave of ourselves physically, financially, and emotionally over a long period of time. Yet, when this person left we were accused of trying to hold them back. My husband was outraged, and I was confused, devastated, and exhausted. For several days, I tried to process everyone’s comments and opinions. I rehashed the words that had been spoken by all parties. I began to feed my despair with carbohydrates (binge eating). My sleep habits changed. I was sad, and somewhat fearful. The “what-ifs” scenarios were taking over my thought life and self-talk. One day, as I was talking to a dear friend, I realized the state I was in. It was time to journal. It was time to return to my life roots.

If you have been reading my blogs for awhile, you probably already know this: My life is rooted in faith, family, and friends. There is nothing more important to me than faith, family, and friends, and in that order. So, when I process and evaluate what’s going on in my life, my writing, my relationships, my mind, these are the priorities I consider first. Faith, family, and friends are the source of my life’s nourishment and nurture. My identity and creativity flourish from this foundation. My worldview and community involvement grew from this base. My outlook and citizenship stem from these mainstays of my life. Faith, family, and friends is the soil where I want my legacy to grow.

I came to the conclusion that I had done all I knew how to do to help that relative who walked out of our lives. There is nothing I would change, and I have no regrets for extending our help, our home, or our resources. By faith, I trust that all is as it should be. They cannot forget what we’ve done, and someday it will make a positive difference in their lives. We will always be family, therefore the door is not closed. We will still be available. Lastly, true friends accept and support our decisions and actions whether they agree or not, because they love and respect us.

My life is well grounded. It’s roots are strong and holding. Like a palm tree in a storm, I’m shaken, but still standing. What about you? Have you found your roots? In the midst of instability, what’s holding your life in place? Whatever it is, I hope it always brings you back to a state of hope, peace, joy and love.

Happy Thanksgiving. Be strong, be wise, be well-grounded!

A Living Epitaph

Several weeks ago I participated in an online writer’s workshop. One of the creative moments required us to focus on what we would like to have written on our tombstone other than our name and dates. We were given five minutes to come up with our final epitaph. I didn’t need the entire five minutes because I try to leave a living legacy everyday.

I wish more people would think about what they will leave behind at the end of their days. We all will leave a message behind whether its intentional or not. When our family, our children, our neighbors, or even our coworkers think of us there will be an impression. When our name comes up in conversation what will be the first thought that goes with our name? For some this may be a morbid concept, especially since no one likes to think about their own death. Yet, in the climate of this pandemic, its become almost impossible to avoid conversations about death.

This past Saturday, my husband and I had to split up to attend two separate funerals. One was for a young father and the other for a seasoned senior grandmother. Neither of them died from COVID. I attended the services for my friend of thirty years. I can remember the first time I met her. She was the type of person that brought love and sunshine to the room. My impressions of her from beginning to end were the same. She loved her family, her work, and her church. She lived the principles of her faith. The funeral services for this phenomenal woman was filled with testimonies to that effect. There was joy in the midst of our sorrow because of the way she lived. The deposits she left in our lives will never be forgotten. The young man also has an awesome epitaph. He was best known for being a loving father. You rarely saw him without seeing his son. It was so obvious that his son was the “apple of his eye” as the expression goes. I can only imagine that his young son will hear of his father’s love for the rest of his life.

If everyone thought about how they want to be remembered on a regular basis perhaps there would be less ugliness in our world. After all, no one really wants to be known as the person who cursed all the time, or the person who bad-mouthed women and children, or the person who was so mean that everyone hated them, or the person who was simply taking up space in the world without contributing anything. I know that sounds tough, but I’m from the generation whose ideal for education was to help everyone become a good citizen – a contributing citizen for the betterment of our society. Those contributions could be made on various levels: family, community, city, state, country, labor, volunteerism, military service, or one’s religious affiliation.

Perhaps thinking about our epitaph could take precedence over our political and social views. Beneath the bureaucracy there are people – people who need friends, people who need solutions, people who need hope, people who need people. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. All I really have is my life, a few meager talents, and daily choices to make.. I choose life. I choose to teach the young and serve the elders. I choose to put my energy into fostering hope and kindness. I choose to use my life as an investment into the lives of others. What are the choices you are making? Will your choices lead to a beautiful epitaph? I love this quote from Billy Sunday: “Live so that when the final summons comes you will leave something more behind you than an epitaph on a tombstone or an obituary in a newspaper.” The thing that’s most important is how you live your life on a day to day basis. We each have an opportunity to create a living epitaph.

At the end of the five minutes in the writer’s workshop, I wrote these words: Her Legacy Lives On!

In loving memory of Mrs. Deborah Ousler Hayes and Mr. Eric Nyantekyi

Through the Eyes of a Child

One of the reasons I love working with young children is because I get to experience the world from their point of view. Things that I take for granted are brand new to them – something to examine or experience or discuss. Their point of view makes me reexamine my own knowledge and encounters. Its a joy to see the wonder on their faces and to hear the excitement in their voices. In spite of adult pessimism and forecasts of gloom, children live in the moment and tend to enjoy the opportunities they have to play and participate in their surroundings.

Several weeks ago, I had an opportunity to monitor and assist a student who is battling brain cancer and its treatment. She was having trouble with her fine and large motor skills, yet she continued to try to participate in class. I admired her tenacity, as well as how the other students pitched in to help her. By mid afternoon we had to send her home because she kept losing her balance and falling. All we could do in that moment was pray. After two days she returned to school determined to join the other students in their daily routines.

This past week, my student was doing much better. The reports of her medical treatment were good and she appeared to be quite in control of her motor schools. She asked to go outside during recess, which was a rare occasion for her. I took her outside and to my amazement she began to run. Her arms were outstretched like an airplane. Her face was turned up to the sun, and her smile was broad and bright. She bent down and caressed the grass. She ran her hand along the bleachers. She hugged some of her classmates, and galloped across the field. Other students watched her. They clapped their hands and yell to one another, “Look at ________!” All of us were filled with gladness.

Later that afternoon, she wrote a few sentences about how beautiful the day was, and I thanked her for helping me see the beautiful day with the beautiful little girl enjoying herself. I imagine many people see her with pity, but she doesn’t see herself that way. She is resilient and optimistic. Her parents have instilled hope and confidence in her. Her classmates see her as part of the collective and allow her to be herself regardless of her setbacks or advances.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all could see each other as members of the same community? If we could see others through the eyes of a child – accepting their weaknesses and celebrating their victories – perhaps we would experience more joy. If we could live in the moment, rather than grumble and complain about the “what ifs.” Certainly, we all have circumstances that we are forced to deal with, even situations that we would have never chose for ourselves, but we do have the choice in how we choose to deal with our circumstances. Like my student, we can choose to make the best of each day and appreciate those who are in our lives to help us. We can take advantage of the ways we can enjoy the beauty in each day if we take a fresh look at all that we have and all that we are. We can find wonder and hope and confidence, and comradery if we take a minute to look at life through the eyes of a child.

Be tenacious! Be resilient! Be determined to enjoy every beautiful day of life!

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