The Story of My Life

The story of my life.

Have you ever noticed how this phrase is commonly steeped in negativity? How it is often used to remind ourselves and others of the fact that a current difficulty we’re facing is just one in a long line of past difficulties?

I don’t personally use this expression, meaning, I don’t speak it outwardly. But I’ll be the first to admit that when I get caught up in a present moment of frustration, it isn’t long before my memory bombards me with past scenarios during which I endured something similar. I then get lost on a tangent, focusing all my attention on every challenge that has ever come my way, and soon the story that unfolds in my mind is as fictitious as the novel I’m writing.

I tell myself:

  • My past dictates my future.
  • Things will never change because I can never change.
  • I will always struggle with this.
  • There is no point in trying to rise up because there will always be something to push me back down.

But what if it doesn’t have to be this way? What if we stop defining ourselves and our current reality by our past trials? What if improving our perception is as simple as changing the focus of our narrative?

I’m not denying that there are some really prickly things in life. Disease, abuse, addiction, heartbreak, failure. All of these things definitely change the shape and direction of our stories and they certainly become a part of who we are. But they don’t have to consume our identity.

Take a look at your life as it unfolds today, tomorrow, next week. Pay attention to your inner dialogue. Are you documenting your story using the splendor and vibrancy of the rose petals? Or is the beauty of the present moment dulled by the pain and blood drawn from the thorns of your past?

Are You an Up-Lifter or a Weigher-Downer?

I love singing. I sing in my car, I sing in the shower, and for the last many years, I’ve been singing in the choir at my church. The main choir—a nice balance of sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses—practices weekly and sings during mass a couple times a month. But occasionally, we separate into men’s and women’s choirs and invite those who are interested but unable to make the weekly practice commitment to join us.

Over time, the women’s choir has grown, gaining several new amazing voices, and I’m telling you, these ladies are uber-talented. I have been brought to tears many times by the sheer power of their vocals. And for some reason, they still let me sing with them.

Maybe it’s my proven ability to hold my book without dropping it. Or maybe they appreciate the fact that I (usually) get all the words right. Whatever the reason, I feel very fortunate for the opportunity because, as I said, I love singing. What I haven’t mentioned, though, is that I’m not particularly good at it. Sure, I’m competent enough at reading music and I sing in tune most of the time, but I just don’t have a very strong voice.

But regardless of my natural talent, a really cool thing happens when I am in the midst of all these gifted gals: I BECOME a better singer. I BECOME more confident. I BECOME more capable. It’s as though my voice is literally lifted up by their music-toned muscles.

Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever risen to a higher level of achievement simply because the skills of those around you were more advanced than your own? Or maybe you’ve experienced a perceptible shift in your mood when exposed to certain environments?

I’m noticing more and more that our surroundings affect not only our aptitudes, but also our attitudes. In the same way the ladies in the choir boost my confidence just by being their talented selves, so too do the people and media that we encounter and absorb each day either uplift us or weigh us down.

Spend enough time in the company of negativity and gossip and complaints and it isn’t long before a previously full glass starts to appear half empty. Creativity suffers, energy wanes, even our bodies can begin to ache under the strain of too much pessimism. Conversely, just a few minutes in the presence of positivity can be motivating and invigorating. A cloudy day turned sunny quick as a blink.

So look around yourself today. Pay attention to who and what you are allowing into your mind. Are you being uplifted or weighed down? And on the flip side, are you, yourself, acting as an up-lifter or a weigher-downer?

It’s Your Call

Last Friday, between the hours of 10 AM and 6 PM, our land line rang twenty-six times. Twenty-six. That’s 104 rings and twenty-six replays of the computerized voice on our answering machine asking the caller to leave a message. Sometimes there was a twenty minute lull between calls. Sometimes the next one would come in on the heels of the dial tone pealing through the speaker, announcing the disconnection of the last.

My mood during this eight hour bombardment ranged from annoyance to disbelief to amazement at the persistence. Certainly our number had been targeted by telemarketing robocalls in the past, but never to this extent. And despite my rising curiosity as to how long it would continue, it became a test of wills. The part of me that wanted to go on ignoring them, too busy to waste time on obvious scammers, versus my focused writer side who just wanted to make the interruptions stop.

I caved on the twentieth call, but when I picked up the phone, it wasn’t what I expected. There was no robotic recording informing me of the lower interest rates available to me. There wasn’t a bogus and generic claim about the IRS or the state of my computer warranty. There wasn’t a falsely cheery human calling with the unbelievable news that I’d somehow won a trip for which I hadn’t even registered. There was just nothing. Nothing but complete and utter silence.

In the days that followed, I spent a lot of time thinking about those calls. Perhaps it was the writer in me, as inclined to philosophy as she is to poetry. Or maybe it was a deeply embedded curiosity that followed me from childhood. Whatever it was, my mind drew an immediate parallel between those phone calls and my life’s calling.

If the idea of purpose is a struggle for you, let me assure you, it is for me too. Not the uncertainty of whether or not I have purpose, because I wholeheartedly believe that I do, that we all do. But the notion that following it requires a boat-load (or you might say, an ark-load) of faith. With thirteen years of Catholic education under my belt, religion has always been a part of my life. But faith? Faith is an entirely different story.

Faith requires sitting blindfolded in the passenger seat when you’d rather be behind the wheel with a map and a detailed itinerary. Faith requires taking the next step in the journey before the path beneath your feet is fully visible. Faith requires waiting for directions even when you think you know the way.

Full disclosure: I am terrible at all of these things.

I want that control. I want God’s will to align with mine rather than the other way around. I want a GPS-guided navigation system that displays the next three turns ahead of my current location. I want tangible answers to life’s intangible questions: Who am I? What am I doing here? Am I on the right road?

The problem is when I really began seeking out those answers, when I began to consistently study scripture and pray and pay attention, I wasn’t ready for what came back at me. Like the one phone call I picked up on Friday, the answer wasn’t what I had expected. To be clear, this wasn’t a large-scale, world-changing revelation, but a slight nudge to step out of the mundane to be and do and give just a little something more.

But who wants to do that? Who wants to sacrifice safety for the unknown? Who wants to give up the comfort of complacency? I certainly didn’t. I still don’t. And just like Friday’s calls, I’ve continued to ignore those gut feelings. I’ve served up excuses—I’m too busy, too tired, too focused on what I want to do. I’ve set my jaw, content to stay stuck in my own determination, my own stubbornness, my own fear.

But God hasn’t given up on me. And if this sounds like you, he hasn’t given up on you either. He is as persistent as those telemarketers. He will keep calling and calling and calling. Twenty-six times. A hundred and twenty-six times. However many times it takes to get our attention. Because he wants us to share our gifts, he wants us to open our hearts to love and forgiveness and compassion, he wants us to move and to be moved.

After admitting my own difficulties in this area, it feels hypocritical to offer any advice or words of encouragement, so I will just tell you what I keep telling myself: Start small. Figure out if there is one step you can take today to get closer to doing/being/giving whatever has been placed on your heart to do/be/give and then take it. Answer that one call. Say “Yes!” to that one little thing. You just never know where it might lead.

Who’s the Fool?

Who do you picture when you hear the word fool? A jester? A clown? Another sort of costume-wearing jokester with a silly shtick and an innate ability to repel the judgment of others due to their own absence of judgment? Or do you envision a normal, everyday person who simply lacks enough reason to make good decisions?

It’s likely that whatever image you’ve conjured in relation to this term also brings to mind a certain amount of undesirability. And for good reason. Pretty much all of its synonyms have a negative connotation attached to them: dingbat, doofus, half-wit, nincompoop, nutcase, simpleton. Derogatory names with which few, if any, people would care to be associated.

But who of us hasn’t been there? Who hasn’t—through our own perception or the perception of others—played the fool? Maybe there was a risky career move that didn’t pan out. A grand gesture of affection that went unreciprocated. Or a very big, very public mistake that went viral in a matter of minutes. The criticism that follows such apparent foolishness is often swift, unsympathetic, and targeted as much at the supposed fool as the action.

But who are we to throw those stones? Perhaps it would serve us all well to remember the pain of our own humiliation before we lower the boom on someone else. To remember that, like us, there is a real person on the other side of those missteps.

So, before taking part in a behind-the-back or behind-the-screen attack on a fellow imperfect human who may have stepped outside of that which we have deemed rational and smart and safe for our own lives, let us ask ourselves who the fool really is: The one who tried and failed? Or the one judging from the sidelines?