Don’t You Care About Your Eyes?

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A few weeks ago, in the midst of the holiday shopping rush, as my husband and I hurried through the mall to get to another engagement, I was stopped by a pleasant young woman working at one of those little middle of the walkway kiosks.

Too polite to decline, I took the moisturizer sample she offered and then listened patiently as she jumped into her sales spiel. She reeled me in by commenting on how nice my skin is—a compliment I nearly choked on as my complexion has been as unruly as a stressed out adolescent’s since I was ten years old—but then she immediately snatched away any good rapport she’d built by asking me a simple question: “Don’t you care about your eyes?”

Now, more than a little annoyed, I told her we needed to go, but she kept talking, scolding me for the lines and dark circles that were the result of my apparent devil-may-care attitude, while dabbing on some magical cream that was supposed to erase the existence of both.

The situation brought forth a swift and total recall of a similar event from several years back, complete with shame and humiliation. In that instance, a gentleman who was selling some supposedly pain-free hair removal product from a booth at the state fair grabbed my hand as I walked by, raised my arm, and announced loudly to anyone within earshot that he’d just found a baby gorilla.

As it turned out, his product was in fact pain-free—as I was again too polite (or dumbstruck) to decline his request to test it on my gorilla-like arm—but his decision to compare me to a hairy primate was not. He, like the woman at the mall, like society in general sometimes, was banking on this being enough of an insecurity for me that I would throw money at him as if to say, “Yes! This part of me is not perfect, please fix it!”

Neither of them were wrong. Like anyone, there are plenty of features about myself that I do indeed loathe and that do, at times, rattle my confidence. And there are more, it seems, with each passing birthday—a new line here, a broken capillary there—and when they pop up, I am tempted by those types of sales pitches. Those claims of instantaneous improvement and remarkable reversals and astonishing alterations.

But as the days fly by, I get used to seeing that new blemish in the mirror, and I realize that just like those that came before, it has become a part of me. Not a flaw to be fixed but a badge to behold, and given the opportunity, I would go back and say that to the woman at the mall. In response to her question, I would tell her that yes, I do care about my eyes. I do care about each of those itty bitty lines that surrounds them because I earned every single one.

I earned them with every squinty-eyed smile and with every squinched up look into the beautiful bright sunshine. They are permanent proof of laughter and everlasting evidence of life. And I can’t imagine why I would ever want to erase that.

Maybe

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Do you ever have one of those moments when you’re just trucking along, thinking you know what’s what, and then BAM, something unexpected happens leaving you grasping for purchase, grappling with faith, and gasping for breath?

Maybe it’s a phone call or a knock on the door or a news story/social media post, something that reminds you of the fragility of your morality, the precariousness of life as you know it in this instant. There’s been an accident, a death, a diagnosis, a divorce, a suicide, a crime.

Maybe those afflicted are close to you. Maybe they’re not. Maybe, in some cases, they’re even complete strangers. But what you’re not a stranger to is the lump that sets up shop in the pit of your stomach like a clenched fist. The pall that settles over your heart and spirit. The questions and lamentations lodged in the back of your mind that spin like a playlist on repeat: Why? What if? If only.

Perhaps these feelings even spur you into motion. You act more kindly, give more freely, love more fiercely. You decide that life is too short, time too precious, and energy too valuable to use up on anything that doesn’t meet your criteria for the most important, the most essential.

But then the days fly by as they tend to do, and as one week fades into the next, you find you’ve returned to your old self. Your patience wears thin, your compassion fizzles out, your bitterness resurfaces. Whether out of self-protection or forgetfulness, the tragedy that seemed like it would never leave the forefront of your thoughts has been relegated to the back of your memory along with other such events. The world rights itself, and you find again that which has become your normal.

You rush and run, compete and compare, hustle and harp. All the perspective you gained from this last unanticipated catastrophe fades away until the next one strikes and the cycle starts again. But maybe it doesn’t have to. Maybe one day you realize that you don’t need to wait for a next time. Maybe today is that day. Maybe today is the day you just intentionally stop in the midst of the madness and remind yourself what matters most.

A 2020 Theme

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Yesterday was January 1, 2020. Not just the flip of a new calendar year but the turn of a new decade. And although I no longer subscribe to the notion that a new year is necessary for setting resolutions and goals, I do believe it is a prime time to look ahead. To plan and envision the next twelve months with fresh perspective and hope. To create a concrete and concise theme that embodies our values, our dreams, and our desires.

The purpose of this theme is not to make us inflexible to growth or change—we are, however unfortunately, neither immune to nor capable of fully preparing for the unexpected—but to serve as a guidepost. An anchor to steady us, a roadmap to refer to when life gets hectic. Like the beacon of a lighthouse shining in the night sky, a yearly theme can draw our focus back toward our original destination no matter how off course we might become.

Last year my theme revolved around three words—courage, connection, consistency—and as I began pondering the year that lies ahead, making a list of single words that spoke volumes to me, I again zeroed in on three (as an added bonus, they (again) tapped into my alliterative nature): simplicity, stillness, and service.

Individually, these three words hold a great deal of importance for me but tethered together, the strength of their significance is even greater. The first, simplicity, creates the foundation on which the other two are built and the structure, in totality, exemplifies my 2020 theme.

Simplicity: For the last few years I have felt an almost magnetic pull toward the idea of paring down my life to the bare essentials. To minimize not only unnecessary physical stuff but also mental clutter, meaningless busyness, and those done-just-because-I’ve-always-done-them habits. But shedding the extraneous is simply the means to an end. It’s about creating a pathway through the things that disrupt and distort and distract, leaving ample space for stillness.

Stillness: There’s a hymn we sing in church called, You Are Mine. The beginning lyrics are such that singing (and even reading) them without choking up is next to impossible for me. I’m not exactly sure of the copyright laws for songs and blogs, so I won’t quote it exactly, but the gist of it is a promise from God: That he has called each of us to a specific purpose and it is in the silent stillness of our heart that we will come to know what that purpose is, that we will know how we are meant to serve.

Service: I believe we were all made to love and serve and contribute to the goodness of mankind using our God given talents and abilities. Though this is my belief and something I feel strongly about, it often gets put on the backburner both because a service mindset doesn’t come naturally to me and because I am easily overwhelmed by the number of available options: the organizations that need volunteers, the causes that need funds, the people who are just generally in need. And this is how I come full circle back to simplicity.

To quote business management writer Patrick Lencioni, “If everything is important, then nothing is important.” This year, 2020, is going to be the year that I finally simplify my life enough to figure out what is important. It is through simplicity that I will create space for stillness in order to hear God’s guidance for where I may be of service. Simplicity – Stillness – Service. This is my theme for 2020.

Do you begin a new year with a guiding theme in mind?

2019 – A Year in Review

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Nearly every time I sit down to write a blog post, I think I know exactly what it’s going to be about. I title the document, map out the path from start to finish in my head, and begin typing. It never fails, though, that at some point—usually within the first paragraph or two—my carefully thought out plan veers off in an unexpected direction.

This post, for instance, was going to strictly be a year-in-review, bullet point list of statistics and accomplishments that would serve as evidence that I used my time well. That the progress is possible mantra I’ve been touting for half the year is, in fact, true.

That was my plan, and I had that list compiled and ready to go: the number of books read, blog posts written, Facebook videos shared. Tallies of word counts and completed manuscript drafts and researched literary agencies. But even though many of these things are indeed both proof of progress and achievements worth celebrating, I realized as I looked back at my goals for 2019 that they weren’t focused on these figures but instead, on three words: courage, connection, and consistency.

Aided by my life and business coach at the end of 2018, I had discovered a bible verse that both spoke to me and included my three focus words and which then became my theme for 2019: “For God has not given me a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power [courage], love [connection], and self-discipline [consistency].” – 2 Timothy 1:7 (I added the bracketed words.)

Reflecting on the year with this theme in mind—reading journal entries and flipping through my planner—I don’t seem to have grown or progressed at all. Many of the things I struggled with at the beginning of the year—fear, doubt, timidity, inconsistency—are still things with which I continue to struggle. And yet they look different somehow. Like the slow evolution of a changing landscape, they have shifted, and my perception has shifted along with them.

As I continued to read and reflect further, I began to wonder if my notion of what progress should look like was also in need of some adjustment. A part of me thought (and hoped) that by homing in on these specific challenges, I could erase them from existence. That there would come a day or a moment, complete with an exclamatory “A-HA!” when I would be wholly released from their clutches. But as it turns out, that’s not how it works.

Despite my determination, 2019 didn’t see me reaching this zenith of progress, this imagined place of tangible growth. But what I have learned throughout the year is this: these struggles, these seemingly unrelenting internal hang-ups and obstacles—born out of experiences and circumstances and failures (and even successes)—are as much a part of us as our DNA and extracting them would mean losing a vital piece of who we are.

I’ve learned that while total eradication would be nice, it’s not plausible. What is possible, though, is learning to thrive despite, or sometimes because of our difficulties. It’s determining to overcome their power over us and remembering that although we may not have had a choice in many of the situations that created some our biggest hindrances, we DO get to choose what we do with them. If nothing else, it is in the knowledge and acceptance of this fact that I have grown. Maybe that’s not necessarily progress as I had envisioned it, but it is definitely perspective.

In what area(s) of your life have you gained perspective in 2019?

The Gift of Presence

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Years ago, in the locker room at the YMCA as I was putting on my makeup for the day, a young woman approached me and asked if I had a brush she could use.

“A brush?” I snarled. (Side note: As I have done a lot of research on writing in the last few years, I am well aware that although it is possible to snarl when speaking, most editors prefer the “I said/she said/he said” dialogue tags, leaving it up to the following description or action to define the emotion. But I guarantee that on that day, in that locker room, those two words did indeed fly out of my mouth in a manner as snarly as The Grinch’s.)

If I had any doubt whether my cranky response sounded as outwardly harsh as it did inwardly, it was completely diminished by that unsuspecting young woman’s reaction. Her eyes registered shock, uncertainty, and maybe even a little fear. That expression didn’t leave her face even after I handed my brush to her, nor was it gone several minutes later when she came back to return the brush to me (and probably wishing the no-need-for-a-brush messy bun was a thing back then).

If you’re wondering why I responded so peevishly to such a simple request, the answer is also simple: that is the resulting effect of existing more in your own head than in the real world. I wrote last Thursday about the importance of yarding our yesterdays in the name of progress (i.e. keeping the past in the past and living in the present). But our presence is also important because a lack of it—even in a seemingly insignificant thirty-second exchange—is enough to sour what might have otherwise been an opportunity for genuine connection.

Not that I expected this woman and I to become besties had I been more mindful in that moment, but hey, stranger things have happened (like a crazy lady snarling at you for politely asking to borrow her brush). What I do know is this: to this day, I cannot remember where my mind was that morning—whether I was lost in a wasteland of random chatter or caught up in an invented story about myself or others or even rehashing something from earlier in the week that I wished I’d handled differently. But never, no matter how hard I try, can I successfully erase that woman’s horrified expression from my memory.

Perhaps it’s meant to remain forever, a reminder to wake up, to keep the internal chatter from turning into external reactions that are neither rational nor deserved. Maybe it’s a good reminder to us all this time of year. When the holly jolly season turns us into hustling bustling maniacs. When shopping lines run long and fuses run short. When it’s easy to forget that the cashier and the customer service rep and even our loved ones are right there in front of us, not wrapped up in our relentless inner to-do lists or long-held shoulda/coulda/wouldas or whatever else we allow to interfere with our attention in the present moment.

Wherever we go and whomever we encounter, it is up to us to get out of our own head and be there. Because each point of contact—whether a minute or an hour—carries with it a chance and a choice. We can be present or preoccupied. We can bring joy or junk. We can offer blessings or bah humbugs. The decision is ours.

So what kind of presence do you want to give this year?