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.

“I Think They Were Meant For You”

rosesongrass

Recently, upon learning of a Twilight Zone-like encounter of mine with a homeless person at a local Chick-fil-A restaurant, my daughter commented, “The most amazing things always seem to happen to you on your walks!” I smiled, preferring instead to think of it this way: I sometimes happen upon things on my walk with an open heart and then the universe intervenes to show me their “amazingness”.

Yesterday was one of those times. For no particular reason (or so I thought at the time), I decided to take a slightly different route back to the apartment on my usual early Saturday morning walk. As I rounded the corner, I saw 6 beautiful, long-stemmed red roses still wrapped in plastic lying intact in the grass near the side of the road. I could only surmise that someone had purchased them the night before, likely to surprise a special friend or mark a special occasion, but at the last minute lost their courage or decided the time just wasn’t right and tossed them out the window of their car instead.

“What a shame,” I thought to myself, imagining how different the intended recipient’s night might have been had they actually been delivered.  That’s when it occurred to me.  Spotting a woman walking towards me with her dog on the opposite side of the road, I bent down, picked up the bouquet of flowers and crossed the street. As she got a little closer, I said excitedly, “I just found these roses in the grass. I think there’s still life in them – and I think they were meant for you.” I wish the whole world could have seen the smile that broke like a sunrise across her “here I was thinking-this-was-gonna-be-just-another-mundane-Saturday-morning-dog-walk” face!

“I guess I was right. They were meant for her,” I concluded as I continued on my way, slightly taken aback by the warmth of her smile and the depth of her gratitude. But it was the woman who I imagined hadn’t received them the night before – her and the countless number of others like her – that flooded into my heart as I headed for home.

I thought of all the 6 year-old ballerinas, musicians and choralists who diligently keep working on their craft, recital after recital, all the while knowing that the empty seat in the auditorium will never be filled and that when the performances are over they’ll be relegated to the role of spectator as all their friends receive bouquets from their doting dads.

I thought of all the middle school actresses, athletes, writers and students who know that no matter how great their onstage, on field, on paper or in class performances are, none will be acknowledged with even a “job well done” from the man who matters most, let alone something as beautiful and thoughtful as a bouquet of their favorite-colored roses.

I thought of all the self-conscious high schoolers struggling to come to grips with self-doubt, the transition into womanhood, feelings of where they fit in or, more likely, of being left out, who would give anything to be seen and appreciated simply for who they are – and be over the moon if a special someone honored them with even a single rose.

I thought of all the seemingly secure and independent, but silently sensitive collegians trying to navigate a complex and fear-filled new environment far from home, longing for a sign that they belong, that they are welcomed, that someone cares – or that they are remembered and still loved by those they left behind – a bud of hope.

I thought of all the young and not so young women who feel trapped in broken or abusive relationships and those in no relationship at all, and the soothing balm that a gift of flowers might offer their hearts and souls – hearts ravaged by hurtful words or loneliness, souls left questioning their worthiness, loveliness and loveability.

I thought of all the women who continue to seek their truth in a mirrored reflection and how different they and their lives might appear if they were afforded the chance to search for it instead in the reflection pool of a beautiful bouquet of roses offered by a complete stranger for no particular reason other than that they’re alive – and that someone noticed.

Maybe you once were that someone or maybe you’re her today. If so, there’s something I need you to know – several things actually:

The fact that you may not have received flowers (or all they have come to represent) when you needed them most or didn’t receive them at all doesn’t mean you weren’t worthy or deserving of them.  You were and you are! It also doesn’t mean that you were or are any less than those who did. You weren’t and you aren’t.  If you’d been on the sidewalk with me yesterday, you would’ve realized that.  But since you weren’t, these (and the song that follows them) will have to do – at least for now!

rosesongrass

http://tinyurl.com/q5cnhql

Photo Used with permission: D 32854678 © Aliaksei Smalenski | Dreamstime.com

The Need To Be Noticed

weeds

“Let us remember: We’re all just waiting for someone to notice—notice our pain, notice our scars, notice our fear, notice our joy, notice our triumphs, notice our courage.” Rachel Macy Stafford

It’s not often I get out for a Saturday morning walk before the break of dawn anymore. But, today I did – and I’m glad. Because no sooner had I crossed the street that leads from the entrance to our apartment building to my walk route than I came across a small calico kitten lying in the dew-stained grass of a large field near the sidewalk. She was shivering cold, scared to death and alone. My initial instinct was to scoop her up and take her home with me and I actually would’ve if I could’ve, but I’m allergic to cats, so I did what, in the moment, seemed like the next best thing. Despite knowing that it likely would mean spending the remainder of my 6 mile journey sniffling and sneezing, I stopped, bent down as softly and as slowly as I could so as not to scare her away and gently began to brush the tiny droplets of moisture left behind by a long night spent in the weeds off her back. As the trust between us grew, I moved my hand to the side of her face and began to stroke it for a few minutes, all the while staring in her eyes. By the time I stood up to continue on my walk, I could’ve sworn I saw her smile – not because I’d “rescued” her, but because I’d noticed her, taken a moment to care – offered a tiny seed of hope that today might be a little different, a little kinder than yesterday.

As I walked away, it occurred to me that there are lots of “little kittens” like my new friend walking around on two feet in this world. Some are doing their level best to hide in the weeds, while others are sharing our church pew on Sunday, our lunch room at work, our classroom at school, our Social Media networks – even our dining room table at home – insisting they’re “fine”. Yesterday, one of them, a young South Florida lawyer with a two year-old son and a beautiful wife put a gun to his head and took his own life. I didn’t know the man, except through a mutual friend and I don’t pretend for a minute to have any understanding of the demons he was battling or how long he’d been fighting them. I’m also not naïve enough to believe for a minute that a few words of encouragement or affirmation would have made a meaningful difference, let alone led to a different outcome. But, maybe they could have helped if they’d come at the right time, been uttered by the right person, struck just the right chord or opened the door of hope just wide and long enough to allow his troubled soul to catch a glimpse of the possibility that tomorrow could be different – and maybe they will for someone like him, someone you may know or encounter as you walk through life.

I can’t help but think there is a lesson to be learned from this young man and this morning’s encounter with my precious little friend. Perhaps it is that all lives matter; that we’re all in this Life thing together; that loneliness and fear are real and far more prevalent and life-threatening than we realize; that we all have the capacity to be a little more attentive to each other; that sometimes we are called to look beyond polite assurances to family, friends and colleagues that someone is “fine” into eyes that on closer inspection plainly reveal a deeper, darker truth – and not ignore it when we see it; that we can’t afford to make assumptions about people based on how many FB friends or Twitter followers they have or how many smiling faces they post on Instagram; or that, contrary to what we may believe, all of us have the time to step outside of ourselves, to stop and offer an ear to listen, an open heart to empathize and open arms to offer a moment of comfort and reassurance. Sometimes that moment may be all it takes to reignite a pilot light of hope, give birth to a commitment to take a first step on the road to recovery or the next or inspire a willingness to finish out the day and give tomorrow a chance.

The little kitten wasn’t there when I made my way back to the apartment this morning. I’d like to think it’s because a friend came along and invited her to play or that she found her way home to her worried mother. In fact, I did think that – and this time the smile was mine!

Because You’re In It

you-matter

Because you’re in it, the world is . . .

a more beautiful place,

a softer place,

a kinder place,

a more sensitive place,

a more compassionate place,

a sweeter place,

a more empathetic place,

a more creative place,

a funnier place,

a more joyful place,

a little quirkier,

a gentler place,

a more loving place,

a more understanding place and

a more forgiving place.

It also is . . .

a smile richer,

a teardrop moister,

a hug warmer,

slightly more imperfect,

and

a scar (or two) more real.

These are the things that matter.

They are but a few of the reasons you matter.

They are why you are in the world.

And why you need to stay in it.

You may not always be in a place where you can see these truths about you.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not there to be seen – they are.

Look closer.

Use others’ eyes at times if you must.

Then, love you.