Monday, February 27, 2017

The Keys

You know that feeling… the one where you have just shut your car or front door and instantly realize the keys are inside…locked out of reach. It can be a feeling of panic. Or frustration. Knowing you will be late. Or delayed. Trying to crawl (and fit) in the window (without the neighbors ringing the police) or calling someone who has a spare key or worse; a locksmith. Being locked out is a helpless feeling.

Sometimes in life, we find ourselves emotionally locked. It seems we are trapped in a destructive cycle and unable to break free. It feels like everyone around us is moving along with ease and comfort, and we are stuck, locked out of the joy. My friends, today, I want to provide you with a set of keys. These keys are valuable and if you will use them, the locks on your life can be opened.

Lock #1 – Depression

No one likes to admit they are depressed. Yet one out of every ten person takes some form of anti-depressant. For women over 40; it is one out of every four. Why are we so sad? My guess is expectations. We have a mountain of expectations heaped on us every day. From our families. From our jobs. Mostly from ourselves. We want to do it all. Tackle every project. Take on every job. Solve every problem. Be perfect. We are often guilty of judging ourselves by what we perceive as the success or beauty of others. We stack the demands of our lives, one on top of the other, like a cheerleading pyramid or a game of Jenga. One tiny little tremor or mis-step and everything comes crashing down. We believe we have failed at everything, are worthless and become our own worst critic.  No one can function under that kind of stress. You are locked in a revolving circle of distress. So what’s the key?

Key #1 – Faith

Find faith in God. You are not an accident. You are not a mistake. You are here for a purpose and are where you need to be in this world. Find faith in yourself. You are enough. You are capable and smart with a beautiful soul. Now, you may need to re-arrange the demands in your life. You may need to learn to say “no” or “not now”. And you will also need to stop comparing yourself to others. You do not know their whole story. They have struggles and insecurities too. We all put our game face on. And that’s ok. But never, ever, believe you are not as ‘anything’ as your neighbor. Have faith that you are awesome! And watch the depression fade away.

Lock #2 – Anxiety

Do you worry all the time? What do they think of me? What’s going to happen? What did happen? Should I make this move? Should I change that decision? STOP! Seriously. It is natural to second-guess ourselves on occasion. No one is ever so confident that they never question a decision or reaction from someone else. But a rolling loop of basically unanswerable questions in your mind is crippling. Anxiety can literally rob you of any kind of peace or contentment in your life. It constantly nags you to play out every possible scenario and land on the worse one. You are locked in defeat. So the key??

Key #2 (And my favorite) - Hope

Hope is literally what I try to center my life around. Because hope is the great equalizer in this chaotic world of ours. There are so many things out of our control. Even our best and most thought out choices can backfire due to no fault of our own. Bad things happen. People leave. Disappointment shows up. But as long as there is another moment, there is another chance. We do not know the future. We can’t change the past. We only have the present of the present. My best advice to you is to embrace and savor it. Worrying is not a catalyst for change; but hope…well hope can drive you, inspire you, motivate you….change you. You cannot be anxious and hopeful at the same time. Choose Hope.

Lock #3 – Fear

We are all afraid of something. Dying alone. Running out of money. Spiders. The IRS (or is that just me?) A certain amount of fear is actually beneficial. It can keep us in check and guide our decisions. But fear can quickly get out of control and consume us. Fear will cause paralysis of the mind and heart and render us powerless to move forward in life. This is especially true in fear of the future or the unknown. Truth is, we don’t know what is going to happen down the road. But fearing tomorrow doesn’t change tomorrow. It just ruins today. So what it the key to handling fear?

Key #3 (I bet most you already guessed it.) LOVE

At first glance, you might wonder how love can conquer fear. Loving spiders or the IRS is not going to change my life.  But loving my world can! Love is not only the opposite of hate, it is also the opposite of fear (which is actually the root of hate).  So here is your answer. Love yourself. Love your neighbor. Show love to someone who appears unlovable. The cranky neighbor. The rude cashier. The inconsiderate co-worker. Chances are they are hurting and afraid too. Your act of love or kindness could possibly unlock their joy! Get out of your head and out of your own way. Share your love with the world. There is no greater need for it than right now! You won’t have time for fear if you are spreading love. 

I know it is easy for me to just say ‘don’t be’ depressed, anxious or fearful. A few words on a page do not take away the real issues we all face. But it is my goal to at least try and encourage you. My friends, I want to share one other thing. These blogs that I post and words that I share, these are not me standing behind an electronic podium looking out and down on my precious readers. No, this is me standing in front of the mirror, telling myself these things and then deciding to share with you. We are all on this beautiful journey together. And I truly believe, now more than ever, we all share the same failures and victories. If we could learn to trust each other more, and share our common experiences, we will learn how truly connected we all are. That in itself is a key that would unlock a world of greater understanding and acceptance.

Hope Out 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Fruit On Somebody Else 's Vine

The more commonly known phrase references grass in varying shades of green. And don’t get me wrong, I like grass and all… but really? Sure it is nice to stroll on, play Frisbee on or maybe lay on (with a blanket so you don’t get stains). It even smells nice freshly cut. But there really isn’t much else too appealing about grass. At least not in my opinion.

Fruit, on the other hand…. Well, fruit looks good….. smells good…. tastes good. Fruit is way more tempting than grass. Unfortunately, as we sometimes perceive it, the most tantalizing fruit appears to be hanging on somebody else’s vine.

Now I’m sure none of you have ever been tempted in such a way. But for arguments sake and another blog under my belt, let’s explore this a little bit.

There is no denying the delight of having something new. Car lots and retail stores literally bank on that part of human nature that tires of the familiar and looks to replace and upgrade. This is all fine and dandy when we are talking about a new Ford or pair of Nikes. The problem comes when the source of our discontent is sitting across the dinner table. In reality, the discontent most likely is not about who is in front of us. Truthfully, most of the time, it resides within us.

Somewhere along the way we have been conditioned to believe that those few blissful months (even years) of an unfolding true love romance will last forever. Where everything is precious and sweet and the time and days go by with ease and abandon. This love ‘high’ is intoxicating. Unfortunately, that does not last, nor is it the definition of true love or commitment. The shine eventually dulls on the rose colored glasses and some of the high is lost. When that happens, some people panic and try to assign blame; mostly on the other person. Instead of staying the course, occasionally they look outside for a solution. They run into someone who appears to have all the answers to their prayers and a quick fix to their problems. This person is happy, insightful, put together; and taken.

Life seems so unfair at that moment. Why does their fruit look so much more delicious?

Well in one word….the answer is CULTIVATION.

Let’s consider the Grape….

Grapes were introduced to the Americas 300 years ago by Spanish explorers. There are several varieties of grapes and a wide range of colors. They are consumed as a simple fruit, in countless recipes and even turned into wine. They grow on vines and often are intertwined on a trellis. So what goes into producing this juicy and versatile fruit?

PLANTING: As with most fruits, the grape must be planted in deep, rich soil and kept well watered. Grapes have a deep root system and the health of the plant is an indicator of its root growth. When planting from a shoot, everything must be pruned away except for one stem and cut back all but two buds. Did you see that?? Read it again…. The grapevine starts with ONE stem and TWO buds. That seriously is what came up when I googled it. How awesome is that? 

A good, solid relationship starts with one committed partnership between two people. All distractions and other ‘buds’ have to be cut away.  The relationship needs a deep root system fed and watered with the nutrients of love, understanding, sacrifice, kindness.

MAINTENANCE: Grapes need extra fertilizer the first few years to establish and strengthen the vine. Most articles also recommend a good crop cover to keep the weeds out.

Your relationship needs attention beyond the first honeymoon stage. It takes years to settle in and secure its foundation. Focus on meeting the needs and desires of your partner. Cover them with your love and faithful promises to keep the weeds from moving in.

SUPPORT: Grapes grow better on a vertical support. The tender vines need the trellis to protect them from the wind and keep them out of the dust or mud. They thrive when they are supported and allowed to have full access to the sun.

Your partner needs support; as do you. It is a dual responsibility/reward system. You both stand in the gap to protect the other from the winds of change and discouragement each of you will face. Knowing that steady support is always there helps create an atmosphere for personal growth and allows both to flourish.

One other interesting fact… grapes will not continue to ripen once they are plucked from the vine. Let that soak in a minute.

So in addition to a gardening lesson, I hope you understand what I am trying to say.

If someone else’s fruit looks healthier and juicier than yours maybe it is because of very good care and support. Instead of being jealous or even possibly trying to take it from its home, you should take a look at your own horticultural skills. How committed have you been to keep away the distractions? Are you watering your partner with love? How supportive have you been? Are you cultivating an affectionate and passionate environment?

Look, I know it takes both parties. I am not suggesting that one person has to shoulder the entire burden. That is untrue and unfair. What I am suggesting is to understand the amount of work, yes work, that is involved. The grapes in your salad, fruit tray or glass of wine did not just magically fall off the vine. They were harvested after much time and toil were invested. It is worth it to invest the same into your relationship.

If you are single and notice luscious fruit belonging to someone else, leave it alone. It is ok to admire it and make plans for your own garden, but allow that one to continue to flourish and ripen where it is. And as a side note, if it (they) are not healthy and thriving and you believe you are better suited to care for it and revive it, just know you are taking on something that is already shaky and weak. Transplanting a sick vine is hardly ever successful and extremely difficult. 

This life is a beautiful garden. We all have a place in it. We make it diverse, colorful, delicious, spicy, fragrant and radiant. If you are so fortunate as to have found someone planted beside you, cherish them. Help them to grow and thrive. Be happy for your neighbor’s fruit, but truly appreciate and cultivate your own bountiful crop.  

Hope Out

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

To All The Men I Have Loved Before

Now before you get all wide-eyed and judgmental on me; hear me out.

Willie Nelson sang a song called “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before”. I actually thought he had written it until I googled the song for the exact lyrics. He did not write it, but he did record it with Julio Iglesias in 1984. I would like to borrow some of those lyrics for today’s post.

Today is Valentine’s Day. It is a day we celebrate our loves, partners, spouses.  It may have fallen into the same commercialism trap as many other holidays, but I still think its ‘heart’ is in the right place. It is wonderful to stop and appreciate that special someone in our lives; whether it is a decades long marriage or a new budding romance. And while I do not currently have a Valentine, I have actually been blessed with one or two in my lifetime. And they have each taught me something.  I’d like to share those lessons with you.

 “For helping me to grow, I owe a lot, I know
To all the men I've loved before”

To my first love at age 16… I remember watching you, as the new boy at school, walk across the gym floor during an assembly. It’s funny how so many things in the 36 years since I have forgotten, but I see you in my mind as clear as if it were yesterday. Yes, I was young, but I fell hard. A fall that lingered for a very long time and still today is a bittersweet memory. From you, I learned the hard lessons of what not to do. I was insecure, jealous, and needy. Absolutely everything that would drive a boy (or a man) away. And eventually it did; a fact that I still regret to this day.  Of course, it took me a long time to realize exactly what I had done wrong. (There weren’t relationship advice memes on Facebook every day back then.) But eventually, I did understand how I was the one who sabotaged this young and precious love. Those early lessons can be quite hard, but they usually make a lasting impression.

To the cowboy from Oklahoma… You swept me away and gave me my very own red-headed fireball. From you I learned other important lessons.  Like never giving control of your life over to anyone else. I like to think of myself now as independent and self-sufficient. But I haven’t always been that way.  I had to lose a lot, including my pride; hit the bottom and start over. I’m thankful for that lesson though. It gave me courage. Also that it is ok to admit when you’ve made a mistake. Occasionally we enter relationships for reasons other than just love; escape, loneliness, false sense of security. Those are shaky motivations and they rarely succeed. The key is to recognize it sooner rather than later and move on. And I did.

“They live within my heart
I'll always be a part
Of all the men I've loved before”

To my long blonde haired, blue eyed California beach boy…For a moment in time, you were the one. From you I learned acceptance and patience and how to truly give and receive love. Everybody loved you and you made time for them all. You were lively and fun and hands down the smartest person I’ve ever met. You loved me and my little fireball as your own. We had adventures and laughter and you gave me my raven-haired butterfly.  Then your demons showed up and took over. The lessons then got more difficult. I learned that some things are stronger than love. And I learned that love isn’t always enough to save someone and it really can’t conquer all. Rest in peace my love.

To the one that got away…. You came along when I needed you the most, but I didn’t understand that at the time. You were the most romantic and practical person all wrapped up in one. A tender heart always ready with a song. A great father who shared your family with mine. Those blended family dinners are some of my best memories. You taught me that truly good things can come from very bad experiences. And that friendship really is the basis for a lasting love affair. I also learned that being inflexible and short-sighted can cost you a great guy.

To the hardest lesson of all…Let’s just say for this one, I learned to believe my heart, my guts and my friends. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn it quickly enough. You were a long and devastating roller coaster ride.

Finally…To my musician……You made the world sound sweet again. I have never met anyone quite like you. You challenged my world views and ideas. You opened my eyes to other opinions and truths. You taught me perseverance and goal setting. And how someone can learn to truly appreciate what they have and live in the moment. You treated me kindly and softened my heart again. Our paths and goals were not the same, but you reminded me what love looks like.

There were others sprinkled along the way. Those who gave me a piece of their heart, or maybe stole a small piece of mine.  After reading through my experiences, I suppose it may sound as if I was frivolous with my affections. But I never thought of it that way. I truly gave all of them the best I had to offer at the time. I would have loved to carry on my parent’s example of a 60+ years marriage, but that is not the way my life unfolded. I’m ok with that. I have loved and I have hurt. But I have never regretted the gain or the loss. The adventures and memories live with me as well as the lessons and growth. Most importantly, I still believe in LOVE. I believe in the goodness it brings out in people. In the sunshine it spreads. In the hope it inspires. So…

“I’m glad they came along
I dedicate this blog
To all the men I’ve loved before”

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Hope Out!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Part 2 - The Lies We Believe And The Truths We Ignore

Part 2. The Truths

Last week we talked about lies; mostly lies that we tell ourselves. A destructive internal dialogue that steals our joy and blocks forward progress. Today I want to talk about the truth. Now there is a saying that the truth will set you free. However, that freedom is conditional on you accepting that truth. Many times it stares us right in the face, and we look right through it. Pretend it is the truth for someone else, but certainly not us. Because we tend to believe that we are exempt from life’s certainties. But my friends, none of us are. So, let’s see if we can face these truths head on today.

#1. If It Walks Like A Duck. It is my opinion (and experience) that the absolute hardest thing for anyone to believe is that someone they love would betray their trust; be it a partner, friend or child. Everyone else in the world can see a blue sunny sky, but if your partner says everyone else is colorblind and the sky is actually black and stormy, you will believe that instead and take your umbrella. You will believe their phone really was dead and they couldn’t call you back. You will believe you can’t go to their house because they are remodeling; again. You will believe their Facebook messages to an old sweetheart are just catching up. You will believe the borrowed money really is for gas.  You will believe this is the last, last time they will ever hurt/deceive you.  Is that enough examples? Do you see where I’m going? My dear friends, people tell you who they are every day. In word and in deed.  All you have to do is look and listen and BELIEVE.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not a complete cynic. Do not go off on an unnecessary tangent with anyone. Please understand that things do happen occasionally. Phone batteries do die. Houses aren’t always ready for company. Borrowed money is spent on necessities. Facebook friends are sometimes JUST Facebook friends. No, I’m talking about patterns. Routines. How does someone consistently treat you? Are they there when you need them or disappear for days at a time? Do they call you for help/money/advice but can’t be found when you do? What are their priorities and ideals? If your gut (and your best friend) is telling you something is wrong, then it is time to face the TRUTH.

#2. He/She’s Just Not Into You. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one. Chances are you have already wasted enough time thinking about it yourself. This is actually tied closely with #1. It is another ‘trust your gut’ moment. It is my opinion that this type of situation boils down to respect and communication. If you have both with your partner, you never have to question the next step. And there is always a next step. Sometimes the step is down an aisle; sometimes it is out the door. But most intimate relationships do not stand in place. You are either moving towards each other or further apart. If one of you is unclear about which direction you are going, then a conversation is in order. And if the indications (hard truths) are there then you should accept them. My favorite all time personal truth is this… “People Make Time To Do What They Want”. If they want you (or are INTO you) you will never have to wonder.  

#3. You Can’t Do It All. This one kind of flies in the face of all the motivational memes, quotes and running shoe commercials floating around everywhere. There is a well-intentioned movement that suggests if we try hard enough, prioritize correctly, get only 4 hours of sleep a night and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps we can accomplish anything. But you know what? The truth is that’s not actually always possible. Not because you aren’t amazing and talented and focused, but because you are human. I write a blog that a few of you might enjoy, but I will never win a Grammy no matter how hard I try, prioritize or pull on bootstraps. Why? Because I cannot sing well enough. Our goals and intentions have to be based on reason and abilities. Some of you set goals to be everything for everyone. You juggle so many projects/responsibilities that when you drop just one it feels like the entire world just crashed on your head. The feeling of failure has one of the most devastating effects on our emotions. It ties directly into our self-esteem.  Do not set yourself up for that.

Am I suggesting not doing your best? Absolutely not! I was a single working mom for 18 years. I tried my best every day. Will we fail at times even with our best intentions? Of course we will. No, what I’m saying is to not buy into the notion that somehow you are defective if you can’t do everything perfectly. No one can. Release yourself of that burden. You have to believe in yourself and know your limitations and strengths. It is OK that you can’t do it all. Be kind to yourself.  (As a side note, lighten up on the kids too. They are not meant to excel at everything either. Let them pick something they enjoy and are gifted in and pursue that. Do not make them chase YOUR dream.)

#4. Change Is A’Coming. There is no more absolute truth then nothing stays the same. Change is inevitable. We can fight the gray hair and wrinkles, but we are still getting older. Children move away and carve their own lives. Companies close or relocate and take our jobs. The ultimate change happens and death takes away someone very dear to us. It does no good to fight the natural course of our lives. The key is to find peace with it. Still water becomes stale and stagnant and disease ridden. We do not want that in our life. The fluid movement of a rushing river is teeming with life and its inhabitants flourish even as the water changes the surface of the imbedded rocks or the riverbank itself. As our lives advance and transition occur, we grow and thrive and learn to adapt. Embrace the changes. Move with them. Understand that both the good and the bad ones are all part of this fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime life!

So we have explored both lies and truths these past two weeks. Through all the examples it is my sincere hope that you have made a decision to take back the reins of your happiness. Please do not let either clever lies or difficult truths rob you of joy. The most important truth... is to be True To Yourself! Learn to trust yourself. Your instincts. Your heart. Listen to the one person who knows you best and loves you the most… YOU.

And know that I am cheering for you all the way! And that’s the TRUTH!

Hope Out