Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Missed your Calling? Just do it.

So while I feel  like I’m 30, my place on the timeline is drawing ever so ominously toward 50.   Funny – it’s not the loss of my looks that worry me the most.   What I’m really worried about is that I’ve missed my calling in life – that one thing God placed me on earth to be.  Given that the meter is running quickly, I feel enormous pressure to get this done.

What’s that one thing you believe you were just meant to do?  Did you know at 3-years-old you were destined to be a best-selling author, a labor and delivery nurse, a pilot, a teacher, a mother, a bank president, a pastor?  It was never exactly that clear for me.   I knew I wanted to encourage people, and to write, but the combination of choices, chance, and God’s plans for me conspired a bit against the more specific plans I once had.  What about you?

While I'm enjoying my career as a freelance writer and editor - and I know I'll always do that in tandem with any path I take - I often lament I’ve missed my most urgent calling.  You see, I'm supposed to be a hospice social worker.  Now, pursuing that path at midlife (did I just write that?) means sharing some funds set aside for my kids’ college educations to pursue a Master's degree. So I may be a very old woman by the time I return to school!  (At which time I might look back fondly to the days when I was a spritely 46 ...)

Still – a little voice in my head keeps chirping, but what about mama’s dreams?

What I’m realizing is that while I may have missed my truest vocation, I can still find ways to live that purpose.  Why am I convinced I was called to be part of the hospice family?   Because when I’m visiting with people during vulnerable moments, I feel like my most authentic self.  I feel totally at ease, completely capable, and often helpful.  I feel like I’m listening to what God has whispered into my ear – that I’ve been called to bring people love and cheer during dark days.  And facing death can be pretty darn dark. I walked my mother alongside her journey home to the Lord, after a brutal battle with cancer.  It wasn’t easy, but I was so inspired by her dignified approach to the end of her life, and by the compassionate, dedicated hospice team.  Unsung heroes, every one.

But I also know that I can take that passion for holding hands, listening, brokering difficult conversations and just loving on complete strangers and find other ways to invest those gifts.  I just have to be open to the needs around me.  I can visit the elderly, the sick, the least, lost and the lonely among us without an advanced degree.   I just have to be willing to part with the egocentric part of my psyche that needs to achieve.  That wants to fulfill something in me.  If I’m willing to simply give myself away with a humble heart, I can still heed my calling.  Light bulb moment!  (God moment??)

It struck me that I’ve always lived my calling in a way – and maybe you do too.  We can take our gifts into every sphere of our lives.  Your gifts, whatever they are, can be expressed and utilized at your place of business, your neighborhood, and in your community.  Mother Theresa said, “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.” 

So if you’re a wizard bean counter - and hats off to you if you are, because math still gives me hives - perhaps you can invest your gifts by teaching financial literacy at a home for single parents.  Perhaps if hospitality is your gift but you never landed that gig as an event coordinator, your calling is to coordinate game nights in your neighborhood. Always wish you had become a lawyer?  Volunteer as a guardian for children enduring the court system.  And nothing says you can’t work toward achieving a new degree, land a brand new job in a different field, or start your own business. Meantime, the world simply needs you to find ways to live your calling – wherever you are called.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Midlife Opportunity

I’m 45.  (Ok, OK!  46 next month ...) Old enough to remember waxy bottle candy, young enough to still bust it out on the dance floor when the DJ takes pity and spins some vintage Prince.  You know, before he became the “Artist formerly known as Prince.”

If I’m blessed enough to inherit my family’s longevity and stick around till I’m 90, then I’m technically standing square in the middle of the journey.   And I feel it.  Every. Single. Day.  The wicked passage of time.  A blessing and a curse at once.

What I’m experiencing at this midpoint is an urgency to accomplish that which I haven’t done yet.  But then also, a peaceful centering that beckons me to inhale the scent of my children’s necks, not so little anymore, but still tantalizing.   To breathe in a moment of joy and hold it.  It is a place confusing and unsettling, and also blissful.  Better get some stuff done, now. On the other hand, I also want to stop and smell those roses I keep hearing about.  What’s a “Pretty in Pink” era girl to do?

I’m reliving some of my teenage angst, I guess.  There was a sign on my door in college that read, “Future Journalist Inside.”  I haven't achieved that dream exactly the way I once envisioned it - jet setting the world shining a light on the plight of the oppressed.  Writing stories about heavier things. That future always seemed so broad, so distant.  I had so much time.  That dream and a few others are still works in progress, and I’m staring at the stark reality that if I don’t make them happen no, RIGHT NOW, time could wave her insidious finger at me.  I’ve been walking around with 5 unwritten books noodling in my head for the past decade. I mean, when I am I actually going to write them already?  When will I start giving myself the same time and energy I give my family and clients?

I wonder if many women feel this way at midlife, and how our experiences differ from our husbands' and brothers'.  Perhaps they crave the rush of a fast car to land them back in touch with youthful vigor.  Or engage in a harmless (hopefully) flirtation to affirm that they’ve still got it.  Or wish they had taken a left instead of a right in their career.  Those are the stereotypes anyway.  But I really don’t know, because men are still a mystery to me, even after logging almost 20 years as a wife.  (Put that one on my midlife “to-do” list, figure out men.  Check!)

As for me, I don’t long for the trappings of vanity and vitality wrapped in tight jeans and stilettos; there are no augmentations or Botox parties in my future, not that there’s anything wrong with those options!  I don’t crave so much my youth as I crave the idea that I had the world by the tail – that I could dare to dream, that it was all still ahead of me. That was all before the searing reality of bills to pay and 401 K’s to build and lunches to pack.  What I’m craving again is the idea of possibilities. 

So I’ve decided this.  I’m not going to have a midlife crisis.  I’m going to embrace a midlife opportunity instead.  I’ve still gotta keep my eye on giving my own kids roots and wings; I still have those pesky bills to pay and a marriage to nurture, but I must carve out some time to pursue a dream or two.  Take a chance, from right here in cushy suburbia.

Some pretty amazing people have led the way in proving there is still plenty of opportunity at midlife.  Erma Bombeck never wrote a word until she turned 35.  Helen Mirran didn’t get her big break until she turned 40.   Colonel Sanders’ restaurants never took flight until he was 65.  Bill Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous at 40.  Mother Theresa opened a school in the slums when she was 38.  They were busy beforehand, but they hadn’t arrived yet at truly fulfilling their purpose and potential.  And they must have found some inspiration to keep reaching, even in the midst of the maturity and peace that beckons us to slow down, get off the train, soak in life a little.

I’m up fore the challenge.  I’m GOING to free one of the books trapped in my head.  I’m GOING to spend more time expressing my love for connecting with people.  I’m GOING to also, in the midst of my revitalized passion for missed opportunities, stop and just reside in my messy, real-time life.

But enough about me.  What about you?  What's still left for you to finish?  Oh - and if you've got the answers to figuring men out - go ahead and leave it in the comment section!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Does this question make my brain look small?

You've had a moment like this one, I bet.

You're sitting in a meeting, a class, a conference.  And you're lost.  You have no idea what the speaker's talking about.  Scanning the room, you're just certain everyone else is following along.  A few hot shots are eagerly nodding, scribbling notes, banging on tablets.

But not you.

Your mind's spinning.  You desperately want to ask for clarification, but you just can't. Because you're sure they'll discover you.  You don't belong here.  You're not who you say you are. You're a fake.

I had a moment like this recently, when I attended a chic after-hours networking event.  The speakers worked for cutting edge companies, and during one of the presentations, I got lost.  Really lost.  And I desperately wanted to understand, but I couldn't bring myself to raise my hand.  I was so afraid everyone would wonder, what's this girl doing here?  Clearly, she's in over her head.

And maybe I was.  I'm a freelancer after all, haven't had the benefit of brainiac colleagues or a big corporate name behind me since I hung up my corporate card and carved a new professional life from a messy desk in my home office.  I was there that night to learn.  Problem was, I was drowning, and I never worked up the nerve to ask for a life preserver.

I didn't know a soul at this event, because I'd just recently relocated and hadn't made contacts around town just yet. Honestly, I was just glad I'd worked up the nerve to walk in, knowing I couldn't catch one familiar eye in this new region full of uber smart people.  I'd left my home office and my kids and my comfort zone.   I tried to convince myself that in itself was enough, but it wasn't.

So I turned sheepishly and asked the savvy looking gal sitting next to me - hey, were you tracking with that second part?  Nope, she said - she was lost, too.  Ah, sweet vindication!!! Maybe I wasn't as clueless as I thought, after all.

Still, I wish I could go back.  Get over my ego, my fear, my embarrassment and just ask.  Um, I'm sorry.  I don't get it.  Can you just clarify a bit?  Why was it so hard??  Why couldn't I summon some Wonder Woman courage for just 20 seconds?

I came home and hugged my kids hard.  How many times had I told them, there are no dumb questions?  How many times had I encouraged them that surely someone else in the classroom would be so glad someone else asked?  I admitted to them that mama hadn't taken her own darned advice.  My bad.  It was humbling, and felt for them.  How much harder would it be to ask at their age?

At the heart of it, I think, we all have these moments.  We feel small, lost, overwhelmed, insecure.  We believe we'll be seen as impostures, like someone's going to discover our hidden secret.  That keeps us from raising our hands.  From taking a chance.  From actually learning something new and getting better.

For me, it's times like these I remind myself who I really am.  I'm a daughter of God and a sister of Christ.  I'm far from perfect, but I'm loved anyway.  I'm the apple of my Father's eye - and so are you. Through His loving lens, we really have nothing to prove.  We can reside squarely in the messiness we are, while always seeking to improve.  What do we really have to lose by raising our hands to ask?  By exposing the secret that we really don't have all the answers?  I believe our redeemer loves us so perfectly that the more we seek Him, the less we seek the approval of others.  And if we had all the answers, how could we rely on Him so fully?

Next time, I vow to let go of my need to measure up.  And just maybe, at least one other person will be relieved I did.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Man who truly delivers Doesn’t always Send Flowers

“I got flowers at the office, and everyone else was so jealous!” 

It was a commercial that made me cringe.  My husband scoffed, and while normally we might disagree on such matters, for once we were on the same page.  Someone alert our marriage counselor!

It’s this sort of “He went to Jared!” mentality that makes guys want to skip out on this whole Valentine’s Day deal in the first place.  And of course, there’s the shady subliminal message that sending flowers or giant teddy bears to the office will inspire your lady's, shall we say, amorous side. 

Shaming may be one way to motivate, but it never feels good.  Methinks there would be rioting in the streets if an ad featured a husband smugly pronouncing, “She went to Victoria’s Secret!!”

Truth - whether your man sends flowers to the office isn’t necessarily a true barometer of his love or commitment.  It doesn’t mean the woman who received them landed a better man, or that he’s more devoted.  Because most of us who’ve been married a long time realize somewhere along that line that real love, real commitment, isn’t nearly as glitzy as a batch of red roses.  (Even though they’re very nice, and I would never discourage anyone from sending them.  Don’t hate me, FTD!)

I'm happy for the gal who gets flowers delivered.  But I also want to say to the gal who doesn't - it doesn't mean he's thoughtless or unromantic, or that he doesn't adore you.

A man who quietly stands by a woman day in and out, or brings her soup when she’s sick, or accepts her child as his own, or affirms her work, or appreciates her quirky traits and forgives her downsides, or who works tirelessly each day so so can work tirelessly raising the kids at home, or goes church with her even if he’s a bit undecided - now that’s a man who truly delivers.

Some say Valentine’s Day is a ruse - that you shouldn’t need a national holiday to commemorate what you ought to do every day.  Personally I’m still in favor of setting aside a day to make a little time for kindness and affection that gets lost in the daily grind.  

Some of us need a little encouragement – and not just the guys.  Which makes me think - maybe I should run to Victoria's Secret!

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."  Corinthians 13:4-7

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Peepless in Seattle

“But I don’t want to move away from my friends!”

Me neither.  It’s my standard response now, as everyone in my household navigates the news that rocked our world, again.  After 16 years of waking up to sunshine, we’re moving to Seattle.  

Yes – I’m picturing the rain, just like you.  But also – the GREEN!  I remember green!! And Starbucks.  LOTS of Starbucks in my future.  Guiltless, because enduring all that rain deserves a few pleasures, don't you think?  

But the list of people - and things I’m going to miss about Phoenix is long.   Waaah!! 

So we're dusting ourselves off and shopping for umbrellas with (mostly) smiles because after all, cliché as it sounds, there is nothing more inevitable than change.  I don’t know anyone my age (a very young-at-heart 45) who hasn’t coped with life-altering change – the loss of a home, job or parent; or a re-location, a health scare, or a divorce.  

Life’s moving at breakneck speed, and the pace of change seems to be accelerating.  Better hang on and enjoy the ride.  

It's not all bad.  As my husband (who will still be recovering from cancer surgery and radiation when we move) changes to a new job, my kids to new schools, and me to a new market from which to write, we’re gonna have to band together.  It’s scary – adapting to a new life.  We’ll have to depend on each other.   In the end though, I believe my babies will become stronger, more resilient and more independent.  At least, that's what I'm telling myself!!

As for me and hubby, well, a move is bound to draw us closer.  Right?

So, my advice to myself, and to anyone else coping with change, is this:

Don’t just Survive Change – THRIVE!
It’s not easy to adapt to something new, but the process helps you grow, like the rain on Seattle’s gardens.

1.  Accept that change is inevitable, and it never happens at the right time.  Walking through life knowing that anything is possible - that your life could change in ways both big and small without notice, helps us roll with the punches. 

2.   Practice Small Changes Proactively.  Life altering changes might not seem like such a big deal when you make small changes on your own.  Take new routes to the office; add a new recipe to your round; ask for a new project at work, strike up a new friendship out of your comfort zone.  Challenge your brain to respond positively to small changes so larger ones seem less intimidating!

Stay tuned for reports on how things are going.  I'm off to buy a raincoat ... and some stationary! Enough about me - how do you cope with change?

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” 
― Laozi

This piece originally appeared in East Valley magazine.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In the Eye of Cancer’s Storm

It was a moment that made me stop and suck in a long, deep breath.  Cancer.  After an endless month waiting, we’d finally learned my husband’s diagnosis.  Squamous Cell Carcinoma, HPV-positive, to be exacting – or Cancer on the back of his tongue near his tonsils, spread to a lymph node in his neck.  Um, no, not possible.   I lost my mom to this insidious disease (gastric cancer) just 9 months ago; so sorry, Cancer, I thought, you’re not allowed to rock our world again just yet.  

But of course, Cancer can’t be counted on for timing.  My husband and I walked through a haze and shared the news with thick throats.  Then, we linked arms, dusted off and readied for another fight.

Despite medical advances, Cancer conjures our worst fears, whether your prognosis is curable or life threatening.  Still, many patients, survivors and family members are molded by the experience, even despite a crushing loss.   Walking alongside my mother’s battle left me stronger in some areas, vulnerable in others, but mostly more resilient and more appreciative of life. 

So while it was crushing to receive this news so soon after losing her, my husband’s Cancer appears to be one highly responsive to treatment; my faith is strong; and we enjoy a supportive community, great doctors and health insurance.   So it’s easier for us to remain hopeful and positive.  The real heroes survive, thrive, and/or heal when they don’t have those in spades.

Recently I contributed to a book by Kathe Wunnenberg titled, Hopelifter: Creative Ways to Spread Hope when Life Hurts.  The book describes ways to comfort those enduring crisis, like Cancer, divorce, unemployment, and more.  My own loved one’s journeys with Cancer make me a giver, and receiver of hope.  Because the greatest gifts cancer delivers are the sweet expressions of love and compassion. And for that we say, Thank you, Cancer.  But don’t think we aren’t going to kick your tushie!! 

(You can follow our story at Caring Bridge.org. )

How to Cope with Cancer:

  1. Rely on family, friends, and faith.  Tap into your support system, or create one online.  You may choose to tell just a few close friends; or you may connect with the masses via social media.  Either way, don’t do it alone.  
  2. Accept offers for Help.  Most people want to do something to ease your load.  Let them!  Graciously accept offers to drop off meals, clean your house and babysit the kids.  In time, pay it forward.
How to Help a Friend or Loved one Cope with Cancer:

  1. Listen.  So many have been been touched by Cancer, so resist the urge to immediately share your own story. Listen, first and fully.  Ask questions.   There will be time to empathize with your own experience.
Don’t worry about the words; speak from the heart.  It’s hard to know what to say to a Cancer patient, so just be real.  One of the best emails we received came from our niece, Julie, who said simply, “this really sucks."

This content originally appeared in East Valley Magazine.