“What if . . .”

what-if

One day, many years ago, my then teenage son, who is a talented and competitive golfer, was in a funk.  I don’t recall the source of it at the time.  Maybe his game wasn’t quite where he thought it should be.  Maybe it was “terrible”.  Maybe it had nothing to do with golf and everything to do with something going on at school. Maybe it centered around friends or family or a combination of both. Maybe it was just one of those days – or maybe it was a little bit of all of the above.  As often is the case when we find ourselves stuck, however, the source of the “glue” is really secondary.  What matters is how we respond to those circumstances and, on that particular day, my son’s response was to stay in bed rather than face what, I’m sure in his mind, was likely to be little more than much of the same of what had come before.

I took a different approach.  I entered his room, sat at the end of the bed, and asked whether he planned to go to the course to practice and play, as was his custom, especially on days as beautiful as that summer afternoon.  Not surprisingly, he responded with a barely audible, but firm “no” from under the covers. “Well, what if I told you that today’s the day you’re going to break the course record,” I said, knowing that the prospect of setting a course record is high on every competitor’s bucket list and certainly was on his. “If you knew that,” I asked, “how fast would you get to the first tee?” “Pretty darn fast,” he said, unable, even in his blue state of mind, to control the grin that the mere thought of it brought to his face. “But you can’t tell me that,” he hastened to add – “because there’s no way for you to know that today’s the day.”

Then it was my turn to smile, which I did, broadly, as I started towards the door, pausing to look over my shoulder. “You don’t know that it’s not,” I replied.  And with that I was off and, shortly thereafter, he was up and out the door.

It’s in that uncertainty, of course, that both the magic and the terror of Life reside, leaving us to choose which we will embrace.  The older I get the clearer (notice I didn’t say easier!) the choice becomes.  For me, the uncertainty that is an inescapable part of all of our lives isn’t supposed to be a paralyzing force, though, God knows, it has been for me more times than I care to consider.  Instead, my sense is that it exists to inspire and motivate us to leap out of bed with an adventurous spirit eager to see what each new day holds in store.  Perhaps it will be a moment in which we catch a glimpse of the gifts that make us unique – of our truth – and we will rejoice in it.  Other times, it may be moments of disappointment, discouragement, loss or heartache, which, in themselves, may serve as opportunities for growth or simply have to be endured.

But, make no mistake: The choice must be intentional and it must be made daily.  Because it is by no means intuitive, particularly on days, like that summer day, when fear is standing guard at the front door and our Inner Critic is loud and hell-bent on doing his/her dirty work.  It’s a choice borne of our willingness to believe in what is possible and our commitment to live with an attentive and playfully expectant heart, not unlike that of a curious child.  The good news is: We get to define that intention, to write it down if necessary and to return to it as often as needed until its pursuit becomes habitual.

What does this “look like” in practice?  Well, at various times, my “intentions” have included the following:

What if today you decided to just show up, that you are enough – just as you are?

What if today you entertained the possibility that those who know you best and love you most have been right all along – that you are courageous, compassionate, creative, resilient, loving, and worthy of love?

What if today you decided, at long last, to come out of the shadows, stand in the light, and be seen as you are – uniquely beautiful?

What if today you believed that “you” actually are worth living for, worth fighting for – worth going the extra mile for?

What if today you resolved that enough is enough – that you’ve beat yourself up enough, lived small long enough and are enough?

What if today you let love in?

What if today you loved “you” differently than yesterday – a little more tenderly, a little less critically, and a lot more generously?

What if today, instead of throwing in the towel, you picked up the “pen” of believing it’s possible and began writing the first (or the next) chapter in your comeback story?

What if today you focused on a singular goal: To reclaim and honor your authentic self?

What if today, instead of judgment, you finally offered your thirsting heart the forgiveness and grace it has been longing for?

What if today you began letting the world in on one of its best kept secrets: You?

What if today you turned the page on the story with the unhappy ending you’ve been telling yourself all these years and wrote a different one?

What if today is that day – the day you begin rewriting the ending, living a little more intentionally, replacing what you perceive as the certainty of a given outcome with the possibility of a different one?  What will your intentions look like, feel like . . . live like?

 

Favorite Things

woolen-mittens

“When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad,

I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad.”

Sound of Music (1965)

 

I don’t know about you, but the last thing or things I tend to think about when I’m in a rut or feeling blue are raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles or warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings or wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings.  No, when I’m stuck and feel the darkness setting in, my mind immediately goes to more adult things. I question my worthiness.  I start to wonder what’s wrong with me, what’s missing, what I need to be doing more or less of to fit in, how it is that I can feel so alone in a crowded bar or restaurant, why I always seem to be the one who has to initiate where relationships are concerned, why so many others appear to be without a care in the world, where I misplaced my voice, my ability to laugh – my joy – what it will take to feel fully alive again.  But, as I passed by a local park filled with the unmistakable sounds and smiles of children at play on today’s walk, it occurred to me that, all those years ago, Julie Andrews may have been onto something, an elixir of sorts, a well-spring of nourishment to replenish weary or frightened hearts: Favorite Things!

For some, it will be “things” that remind them of childhood – when they felt free to express themselves, be themselves, emote, engage, enjoy, explore and experience the world and each other – unabashedly, unapologetically and honestly – to find joy in moments. Perhaps it’s something as simple as a front porch or playground swing, a water slide, a stuffed animal, a treasured book, jumping rope or a board game. Maybe it’s a keepsake from a special relative – a photograph, a letter, a favorite recipe, a piece of jewelry, or a knitted scarf or blanket.  For others, it may be a game of catch, a piece of music, a play, a smell, or a secret fishing hole. Still others will recall favorite restaurants or meals, a ride at an amusement park, activities like writing, singing, sewing, drawing or walks in familiar surroundings.  Some will have a favorite place – the beach, a lake, a stream, the shade of a special tree, a farm or meadow.  But, while everyone’s Favorite Things are different, each shares an important trait: In their presence, it is impossible to restrain our heart from smiling and therein lies their magic – the ability, if only for a moment, to introduce light, joy, safe harbor, or peace in the midst of a storm.

“What a remarkable gift that is,” I thought to myself as I continued on and the children’s laughter grew more and more faint.  And then I realized it was one that, with a little thought, I could (and probably should) give to myself.  So, when I got home, I began scribbling with heart smiles as my guide:

Any seat in Fenway Park.

Leaving the first set of footprints on a dew-covered fairway.

Blueberries.

A real hug.

Being the reason for someone else’s smile.

The breadsticks at the Red Diamond Inn.

A wagging tail.

Any song by David Gates and Bread.

The Giving Tree.

“The Wright House” at Ocean Isle Beach.

Firsts.

Apple pie (no mode).

Og Mandino’s writings.

A heart talk.

Hitting the sweet spot.

A comeback story.

Marvin Gaye’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

The smell of freshly mown grass.

An intimate kiss.

Mini-golf.

Climbing a dirt pile.

Watching children at play.

The North Grounds Softball Field at UVA.

The Grotto at ND.

Dusk on the SHC golf course.

Long walks.

Simon and Garfunkel.

An original 7-11 Icee (Cola).

Flipping baseball cards.

Red licorice.

Drying tears.

The Little Engine That Could.

Watching someone realize a lifelong dream.

A perfect strike.

Writing words that matter.

I’m not suggesting, nor am I naïve enough to believe that any of these “things” offer a permanent respite from the often very real and complex challenges associated with being an adult, a parent and with Life generally.  They do, however, serve as readily available reminders that: there is good and joy in the world; that, at various times, both have been part of my world; and that, chances are, when the storm passes, they will be again.  Why not take a moment then to create your own list and the next time you find yourself looking for something to do or about to board the train to Bitterville, pull out your list, close your eyes, point to a place on it at random – and do that!  I dare you to keep from smiling.

http://tinyurl.com/hy4xom7

*Image credit: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-kcHN9yctdrQ/TeytMGIuFdI/AAAAAAAACv0/_YtjoJURxlc/s1600/woolen+mittens.jpg

 

 

Mattie

Mattie

“She’s very friendly and trusting,” he said, as he paused, Scotch-Tape in hand, to watch me study the homemade Xerox photograph he’d just affixed to a nearby palm tree. “She likes to sit on the front lawn of that house across the street and greet the walkers and joggers as they pass by. I don’t know why she would’ve run away or where she might have gone.” By now, tears had started to form in his eyes and I knew immediately that “Mattie” was more than just a “slim, female cat” to this grown man – and the creator(s) of the signs, who no doubt had sent him out on his mission of love and hope. “I know her,” I said, “I used to walk here all the time – and did for years.  I’ve seen Mattie, even stopped to chat with her, and you’re right, she has a kind spirit and a special heart.  I just started walking again, but I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for her and to let you know if I find her.”  “Thanks,” he replied with a smile, comforted (I convinced myself) that there would be at least one more pair of eyes, albeit a stranger’s, searching for something he (and his family) treasured.

As I continued on my way, it occurred to me that I’ve known lots of “Mattie’s” through the years.  Young and not-so-young women (mostly) with kind and gentle dispositions, eyes wide open to take in the world around them, hearts eager for others to take notice, sensitive, quiet, trusting, often unassuming, who, one day, inexplicably disappeared or went into hiding.  I wondered, as I often do with the two-legged “Mattie’s” I’ve encountered, what it was that made Mattie feel as if the world would somehow be a better place without her sitting proudly in the green grass of that corner lot (day and night), without her ears perking up every time a stranger walked by, without her barely discernible purring intended to let friends and strangers alike know just how grateful she was that they paused long enough to notice and spend time with her – without her smile. Maybe it was all quite unintentional, I thought.  Maybe it started out as curiosity and before she knew it she had forgotten her way home.  Maybe she’d taken ill and decided she didn’t want to be a burden. Or, maybe, someone with ill-intentions had taken advantage of her trust and stolen her or, mistaking her for lost, decided to give her a home.

If only Mattie knew, I thought to myself.  If only she knew that her loved ones were hurriedly plastering her face, her bio, and their contact information on every tree trunk in Coral Gables, desperately hoping someone, anyone might find her and bring her home.  If only she knew how profoundly her sudden disappearance was impacting their lives and just how much they would willingly sacrifice to have her back.  If only she knew that even those of us who never even knew her name, but had grown accustomed to seeing her sitting in the shade on the corner of North Greenway and Casilla, were saddened by her absence and eager to help her find her way home.  “Surely, if she knew she matters so much to so many – that she is cherished, that she is missed – surely if Mattie knew all of this she would want to be found, to come out, to come home . . . wouldn’t she?” I wondered.  And then I thought about the other “Mattie’s” I know and I realized it isn’t and likely never was that simple – that being found, stepping back into the light is far more challenging than those who have never been lost realize.

I typically don’t go on my walks with intention. I prefer, instead, to go out with an open mind and an open heart and let both lead me where they may.  But, at least in the near term, Mattie has changed all of that.  In the weeks to come, finding her and reuniting her with those who love her will be the inspiration and sole purpose of my walks – and there will be more of them because of her.  Who knows, maybe one day she will see me and remember me as someone who once stopped to notice her, as someone who took a moment to care, who is gentle, who she can trust – and she will come out of hiding and take a chance on being found.   It’s really the least I can do – and all I know how to do – that and hope.  Hope that one day, I will turn the corner and there she (and all the other “Mattie’s” in my life) will be – basking in the sunshine, eyes and ears tuned fully to the world around them, content in the knowledge that she is both noticed and loved and that she always has been.  And, “Mattie” if you happen to stumble upon this post, please come home.  Your loved ones are waiting!

http://tinyurl.com/z6ka9ak

Today Can Be Different

BreneBrownQuote.com

No matter how littered the landscape of your yesterdays may be

with brokenness,

with bad choices made despite the best of intentions or a belief, however misplaced, that you “should’ve known” or “could’ve done” better,

with too many missteps and regrets to count,

with guilt borne of a sense that you let yourself or those who love you down,

with unkept promises (yours and others’),

with substance abuse,

with lies told to hide truths you were simply too ashamed or too embarrassed to acknowledge, let alone speak out loud,

with breaches of trust,

with periods of disillusionment, isolation, loneliness and abandonment,

with self-loathing, anger, bitterness and resentment,

with days, weeks, months – maybe even years – when you felt invisible, unwanted, unloved or, worse yet, unworthy of love,

with loss and grief and pain that never seems to take a day off –

TODAY CAN BE DIFFERENT.

Today it can be enough that you’re still standing. You can breathe that in, rest, and resume the fight for you tomorrow.

Today you can entertain the possibility that those who know you best and love you most are right about you – that you are strong, resilient, courageous and worthy.

Today you can decide to stop living small, to step out of the shadows and into the light where you belong – just as you are.

Today you can pull back the curtain and begin letting the world in on one of its best kept secrets: Your authentic self.

Today you can begin to realize that to those who matter most you are not a burden, but cherished beyond measure.

Today you can search for your beauty not in a mirror, but in the imprints you’ve left on hearts grateful for the gift of you.

Today you can decide that you are worth living for, worth fighting for, worth a moment of grace – worthy of forgiveness.

Today you can love you a little more gently, compassionately, gracefully – with gratitude, rather than disdain for what makes you unique.

Today, you can accept an outstretched hand, a warm embrace, a word of affirmation and encouragement- the truth about your worthiness.

Today you can speak your truth – openly and honestly – and trust that in doing so those who love you will not abandon you, but love you more deeply.

Today you can refuse to let a mirrored reflection define you and, instead, seek your truth in the eyes of those who love you.

Today you can treat “you” with the same tenderness, empathy and kindness you so unhesitatingly extend to your best friend.

Today you can muster the courage necessary to take that critical first (or next) step on the road to recovery.

Today you can let grace and love in.

Today you can realize that, while many may have gotten it wrong where loving you is concerned, you don’t have to be one of them.

Today you can love you differently, treat you with the respect your heart is due, and begin honoring her in earnest.

Today you can turn the page, pick up a pen and start writing your comeback story!

#HonorHer

Courage

The more hearts I listen to the more convinced I become that we not only come into this world living, doing, playing, creating, dreaming, loving (and needing to be loved) in ways that are unique to us – that define us – we are meant to leave it having stayed true to them. They are the personality and preference traits that form the DNA of our Authentic Self. Some of us are the quiet, contemplative type, while others are restless and boisterous. Some love being in a crowd, while others of us seek solitude. Some love to be held, while others manifest their desire for independence almost from birth. Some of us intuitively color in the lines, others never will! Some love the outdoors, while others prefer the peace and quiet of their room. Some are writers, some are readers – others are both. Some are patient, others not so much. Some are sharers – of things and affection – while others are not.

As children, we explore, discover and playfully embrace these many facets of our self. We sense their power and our frailty, but neither keeps us from greeting each day with a renewed sense of wonder, adventure and anticipation. We feel our feelings openly and we love the same way – fully and unabashedly. Regrettably, however, as we grow older, many of us begin to question whether that self (our self) is good enough, strong enough, aesthetically pleasing enough, well-rounded enough and you-fill-in-the ______ enough to be part of the group we want, get the job we want, find the mate we want, have the lifestyle we want, earn the degree we want, have the friends we want, be the child we perceive our parents to want – and, invariably, we begin to tinker with it – with us. Some even go so far as to box pieces of themselves up like leftovers from a gourmet meal and stick them in the deep freeze, forgetting they’re even there.

We begin to think, dress, speak, feel and act in a different way – ways that others, who we wrongfully perceive to have this Life thing figured out (or who profess to have the right to dictate our view of self) dress, speak, feel and act. We change our hairstyle, make-up, accessories, behaviors, friends, beliefs, belongings, jobs, faith, the music and books we like, our hobbies, etc. We want to belong, to be accepted, to fit in. We want it desperately, mostly because we fear the alternative. More often than not, however, the farther we move away from our truth, the more impenetrable the accompanying darkness seems to get. The sense of joy we knew as children is replaced with what, at times, are overwhelming feelings of discouragement, sadness, loneliness, frustration – a loss of control. Where do those feelings come from? My sense is that they (and the behaviors sometimes used to numb them) are an inevitable by-product of becoming disconnected from our self.

If I’m right, the journey out of the darkness is less about change than it is about re-discovery and re-connection – a two-step process that first requires identifying the “you” that came into this world followed by a passionate commitment to welcoming that person and all they have to offer back into your life! Simply put, the pre-worldly-adorned “you” is precisely, uniquely – beautifully – the person you were intended to be all along and you and the world need to be re-introduced to her sooner, rather than later. The good news is: Because she is integral to who you are, you can be assured that, regardless of where you may be on your life journey or how many layers of others you may have piled on top of her, when you make the choice and commit to the work necessary to find your way back home, your Authentic Self will be eagerly waiting in the doorway for your arrival with warm, welcoming and open arms.

Homework Assignment: It’s easy to lose sight of “her” in the darkness. So do her a favor: Reach out to 5 people you trust, who knew you as a child, and ask them for the three character traits about you that first come to mind when they think about the childhood you. Maybe it’s a teacher, a pastor, a friend, a sports or arts coach, a sibling or parent. Then write them down. The ones that make you smile are the bread crumbs that will lead you home.

*Photo Credit: http://www.allquotepictures.com

On Dangling Participles

editing

I have a friend who writes beautiful.

I didn’t say “beautifully” because I’m not at all sure if the commas, semi-colons, hyphens, and ellipses in every piece she writes are precisely where Messrs. Strunk & White would prefer them to be, if they should be there at all or if there should be more or less of them.

I’m also not entirely sure if every singular subject of hers is married to a singular verb or every plural subject to a plural verb, nor am I certain whether every sentence expresses a complete thought or if, God forbid, some qualify as a dreaded sentence fragment or, worse yet, a run-on.

I’m even less certain whether any of her prepositions, modifiers or participles are dangling or misplaced (in part, because I have no idea what some of those words mean!?!), whether her tenses always match up precisely or whether, from time to time, her parallelism is faulty and/or her infinitives split.

I’m also not qualified to say whether her pronouns or tenses shift on occasion (they likely do!), whether her verb endings are as precise as they might be or, more generally, whether, here or there, she could have conveyed a thought a little more succinctly, less “passively” or using a different word or phrase.

It certainly wouldn’t surprise me (and I doubt it would her) if some or all of these grammatical peculiarities found their way into her work, in part, because like musicians who play by ear, writers who write by heart seldom concern themselves with whether the finished product neatly conforms to the traditional stylistic rules of their craft.

They’re far more interested in its intangibles and, where those are concerned, I know these things about my friend’s writing with absolute certainty: Her words touch hearts – profoundly. They are a source of encouragement and strength to the weary and a warm blanket of reassurance to those questioning their adequacy.

They inspire hope and are soul-building.  They let others know they’re not alone in their feelings of guilt and shame – however misplaced – and that they are worthy and valued for who they are . . . where they are.  They are an outstretched hand to those who have stumbled and a desperately needed embrace for those who feel very much alone.

They also help others see and react to the world at large and, as importantly, to the person who greets them in the morning mirror with greater awareness, sensitivity, love, compassion, and grace.  They have a way of calming the crazy, bringing comfort to those in despair, and serving as a beacon of light to those battling the darkness.

I know because, at one time or another, they have been all of these things to me and so much more.  I know because of all the tears (of joy, of recognition, of being revealed, etc.) I’ve unabashedly shed in reading them and all the spontaneous heart smiles they have generated. Very few things have that impact on me, but beautiful does and I know beauty when I read it.

And I know I’m not alone.  In fact, don’t ask me how I know this, but of the tens of thousands of “comments” my friend’s writings generated in 2015, 2,168 readers said simply: “Beautiful”!  Imagine that – “beauty” in spite of a few misplaced modifiers, a dollop of dangling participles and a stray comma here or there.

That’s what happens when your heart takes pen in hand and pours itself onto the page. And for that (and you), my friend, I and countless others are eternally grateful.

 

Who Cries At Texas Roadhouse?

Phone in the dark

“Life is way too short to hide in shameful silence over feeling emotions we don’t want others to know we have.” Alison Smela

I cry in public – a lot.  I was reminded of that truth (for the umpteenth time) last Sunday night, while having dinner (alone) at the bar of a local Texas Roadhouse.  In retrospect, I suppose I should’ve known better than to use the “space” between virtually inhaling half of the pail of peanuts and the entire basket of piping hot honey-buttered biscuits in front of me and the arrival of my actual dinner to pull up Rachel Macy Stafford’s latest blog post on my phone. I’ve certainly read enough of them to know that I seldom make it through the opening paragraph before tears begin streaming down my face – #RachelTears – which is why I generally wait until I’m alone and in a quiet place to read them.  So, it was little surprise when, less than halfway through “Advice for Reaching Those in Cages (Seen and Unseen)”, there was a warm parade of them marching down both of my cheeks.  What did surprise me, however, was how I reacted to them, how I tried to hide them from the other patrons at the bar and the servers who’d come to recognize me and grown accustomed to a much more cheerful disposition.  After all, while a quick glance around the restaurant confirmed the obvious (i.e., that there weren’t many (okay any) other 57 year-old male patrons at Texas Roadhouse (or female patrons for that matter!) with tears streaming down their face), it was hardly the first time I’d ever cried in a restaurant or read something that touched my heart.

Truth is: I’ve cried in all kinds of places and for all kinds of reasons.  I’ve cried for friends and loved ones who are hurting – and strangers for that matter.  I’ve cried in the dugout of a little league baseball game over a first hit and on the field when one of my players, in tears himself, confided that his mom and dad were getting a divorce.  I’ve cried in a BBQ dive in Iowa after reading words written by a friend who was convinced the world would be a better place if she disappeared from it and in a crowded Starbuck’s just outside Baltimore at a beautiful young woman’s inability to see the remarkableness of her spirit.  I’ve cried (for hours) over chips and salsa in a Mexican cantina overlooking San Antonio’s Riverwalk and over Caesar salads with chicken at The Clubhouse in Chicago – in conversations I wished would never end, but which couldn’t have ended soon enough for the unfortunate servers who we ultimately scared away. I’ve cried at chorale performances and plays, horse barns, golf tournaments, awards ceremonies, conference presentations, book events, movies, concerts – and on too many commercial aircraft to recount. I’ve even cried in conference rooms and depositions packed with hardened trial attorneys and at the sight of a young couple in an upscale Dallas steakhouse consumed with each other.  I’ve cried over injustices and, more recently, for the little boy in me who it seems never really cried enough, because he was afraid of tears, if not ashamed and embarrassed by them.

For a moment last Sunday night that shy little boy, the one who too often was ridiculed for wearing his heart on his sleeve, reappeared.  He wanted to hide.  He wanted to run away from his tears. Only this time, I recognized him – immediately – and I smiled to myself.  You see, the grown up me is “glad” I cry, in private and in public.  Somewhere along the way, I decided that I’d much rather feel, even though it sometimes means enduring prolonged periods of sadness, than not feel at all.  I decided that I’d swallowed my emotions (all of them) long enough, boxed them up and tried to hide them on a shelf, pretended they weren’t there – hoped that if I just ignored them long enough they’d go away.  I’d even thought about numbing them a time or two and, if I’m to be honest, on occasion I still do.  In the process, however, I denied who I am, why I’m here – one of the central gifts I have to offer.  I feel Life acutely and intensely.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  But, it’s the blessing piece that makes it worthwhile.  The ability, borne of a needy heart, to spot a heart in need a mile away and the insatiable desire to offer it comfort. Perhaps Glennon Doyle Melton captured it best in this recent exchange with one of her many admiring followers who asked, “G, Why do you cry so often?” To which Glennon responded, “For the same reason I laugh so often.  Because I’m paying attention!”

Who cries at Texas Roadhouse? I do and it occurs to me there’s no shame in that.  In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way.