Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lessons I've learned

The other day, I realized I lost a year somewhere...I"m not turning 43; I'm turning 44. I have thought about how the last ten years have changed me. There's a thing or two I have learned and I feel have most shaped my life during that time . . .
The past does not equal the future.
New beginnings arrive every day.
Over the past few years, many people have given me excuses why they can't achieve their dreams. When they do this, they usually say something like "you have so much going for you", "you are so smart", or some other comment as to why I am moving forward and they are not. I'd like to tell you a bit about the person I was ten years ago and perhaps you will change your mind.
In 1997, I was the mom of a 9 year old and a 6 year old, newly homeschooling and overwhelmed. I was lonely. I was short on energy and long on criticism. I spent way too much money and then way too much effort trying to hide my spending. I was lonely. I did not know what made me happy or what challenged me or where I needed to grow as a person. I was lonely. I was insecure. I was in over my head in a world I didn't know and I didn't feel like I belonged. I felt judged and found inferior. I was questioned and usually not nicely about our decision to homeschool. I was a disorganized mess. I was floundering with what I wanted to do with my life. I also did not view myself as being special or especially smart. Mostly I was living with no real purpose. Because I didn't have much that was fulfilling in my life, I shopped. That's it. I shopped. I think that somehow having new, pretty things made me feel more valuable because the more depressed I got, the more I shopped.
We changed churches; my old friends drifted away as we embarked on homeschooling. They were all friends from the kids' school, for the most part. Those that weren't were church friends. So here I was in a church I knew no one. No one had a glimmer of an idea that I loved working with 8th graders. The announcement at church that day was basically begging to teach the confirmation class. I'd done that before...and I offered to do it at this church. I honestly believed they'd turn me down; we were brand new and I never put two and two together that if they were begging, they'd take ANYONE!! LOL. I came alive that year...
I thrived. I LOVED every minute of it. I felt challenged and to my absolute shock other parents seemed to think I was smart. I had never thought of myself as smart before. I never thought I was creative either, but the kids couldn't do the typical book approach, so I had to come up with something else. Thus began the walk out of the box I lived in. I quit boxing myself in. I quit boxing God in. I quit boxing other people in with labels and suppositions. Trust me when I say some of the kids I love the most and learned the most from and my heart is tender to this DAY, you would cross the street to avoid. They were seriously tough inner city kids...thugs to some. Sweethearts to me. Adored them. Still do. They changed my life. Suddenly it wasn't about being accepted or respected or fitting in. It was about THEM. It was about what God was showing me through them. It was about being real because anyone who knows teens knows they see right through that fakey adult thing.
And homeschooling...well...back then it was soooo not socially acceptable. I had to walk my own path...and find it. I knew two families who homeschooled and I sure wasn't THEM, so off I went.
The past does not equal the future. The person I am today does not in any way resemble the person I was in 1997. I learned to follow my own path; not someone else's path for me. I learned I'd rather be alone than with someone who tore apart other's for sport. I learned that sarcasm isn't's like a knife in the heart of another. I learned my grandma was right: you DO attract more bees with honey than vinegar. I learned to be true to what I knew God was speaking into my life. Life is a journey. If I had not had that church or homeschooled, or any other of the small stepping-stones - my life would be different. What is important to realize is that they are small steps. Sometimes people take big leaps in life, but it is often the small, seemingly inconsequential moments that change your life forever.
Occasionally I will run into someone from high school and they cannot believe I'm a stay at home mom and love it. Even when I'm a stay at home mom without kids, I think I'll still love it!! That leads me to the second lesson . . .
If you allow yourself to be limited by what others think of you, you will never fulfill your true potential because no one but you really knows what you are capable of.
In 1997, many of my friends told me that I was CRAZY to think that I could homeschool or stay home. Guess how many of those people are still in my life? Deep in my heart I KNEW that I could be more than I was at that time. I knew I was smarter than people thought I was. I knew that I was put on this earth to do more than to shop. I just didn't know how to do it. I found myself because I was willing to test myself.
What sets a successful person apart from others is that they keep trying when others would give up. They look for another path, another chance, and a different perspective. They learn from their mistakes and move on.
Homeschooling was the most difficult thing I had ever done. My social life came to a screeching halt. I did school with the kids for 3 - 4 hours a day and then put another 3 -4 hours of reading and preparing every night. It was a major life shift for me that I was absolutely determined to do...after I begged Paul to let me put them in school and he said no, I didn't have much choice anyway!!
Unfortunately, my friends did not want me to do this. I would come home to enticing messages on the answering machine. My homeschooling was inconvenient to them.
If you want to achieve your goals, you are going to have to make some tough decisions at times. You are going to have to go without sleep when necessary, miss lunches and parties, give up the fun shopping excursions or bible studies . . . whatever it is that is important to you - at some point those things will be tested.
You will also hit roadblocks. People won't understand you. You will be tired, worn out sometimes, you will question yourself. Others will question both your direction and your passion. Some will tell you that you are wrong. Some will distance themselves from you or talk about you. As you get stronger in your vision, they will feel more attacked and thus attack more. Subtly. Overtly. Painfully.
Why did I put up with it? Simple. I had a "burning desire" and passion to accomplish my goal. I wanted to homeschool my kids. I wanted to do youth ministry. I KNEW it was a calling on my life greater than my selfish or lazy concerns; greater than my disorganization; greater than my fear. That was all that mattered to me during that time in my life. I was so clear on where I was going that what would normally have been an intolerable situation was easier for me to handle because every time it got really bad, I would remind myself that I needed to focus on my goal - and get my eyes off the small stuff.
Fear and doubt is a slippery slope. Once you give into it, it becomes harder and harder to climb back up to the top.
Have you ever tried NOT to think about the theme song from "The Brady Bunch"? Nope, don't think about it. DO NOT think about that song. Well, of course in order to NOT think about something, you have to continue to keep what you are supposed to not think about in your head.
Doubts are like that. If someone says to you that you are not very good at color, for example - every time you have to work with color that comment will come charging back into your head. It is an unfortunate aspect of the way our brains work. Like Pavlov's dogs and ringing bells, doubts are conditioned responses.
In the same way, fear can become a habit. I have said this before - and please know that it is something that I struggle with myself - WORRYING ACCOMPLISHES NOTHING. I often tell people that I think guilt is the biggest indulgence a person can have. Guilt is punishing yourself with thoughts so that you don't actually have to go out and DO something to make the situation better. Well, worry is the same. If you are afraid and you are worrying, do something. The antidote to fear is to learn as much about the situation and your options as possible.
Never defend your actions against unjust accusations. Your actions speak for themselves. The truth comes out. And you are modelling for others how to act/what to be when they are faced with that situation. And do NOT ever doubt that others are watching, absorbing, learning...even when you are not aware. Trust me on this...
Among the most difficult lessons I learned was that some people always want to believe the worst of others. The first time I was confronted with accusations over events that had been twisted and turned until I looked like the "bad guy", I was upset and hurt. I defended myself, I explained, I argued. Then I was really, truly SHOCKED when some of the people I talked to still didn't believe me. I was telling the truth, explaining the situation, and they still believed the worst of me!
After one particularly difficult situation, someone gave me great advice. "Never defend yourself. Your friends don't need to hear it and your enemies won't believe you anyway." That may seem quite cynical, but the truth is that some people will want to believe the worst of others. That is their problem unless you make it yours.
You must live your life each day with integrity and honesty. You will make occasional mistakes, and you must face them with dignity and humility. However, if you are accused of something, you should not defend yourself. Actions are what they are. Talking will not change them. If someone wants to believe the worst of you, they will regardless of your defense. People who are seeking the truth will not accuse, they will ask. They will look at your track record and judge you by what you have done, not the word of others. Go back and re-read this paragraph. Read it again. And again.
Never listen to or spread gossip.
I really never had an appreciation for how damaging gossip was until it was pointed in my direction. Until then, it always seemed like harmless banter. It may seem incredibly naïve but I did not consider that what I was hearing might not be true - and that others might believe the gossip and act on it.
At one point, our marriage was almost ruined because of gossip spread by someone. Although nothing about the story spread about us was true - and the majority of people did not believe the gossip, it was a devastating way to have to learn a very valuable lesson.
Another aspect of this is something that many people don't realize - if the person telling you the gossip is willing to spread unfounded information, what makes you think you won't be their next victim? If they lie for you or talk to you about others, they will most certainly lie about you/to you and/or talk about you to others. Don't think you are the exception to this universal rule. You are not. Stay clear of people that gossip and your life will be a lot happier!
At the end of the day, what you are is your word and your actions.
I know that I harp on the importance of integrity ad nauseum, but if you think about it anyone can boast and claim to do anything. What you are - what people think of you, and what you think of yourself - is based upon whether you keep your word, and what you do with your life. If you think of others first, your life will reflect that. If something is true about a person, they don't need to talk about it because they are living it. They keep their promises and they make a difference. Let your life tell the tale, not your a life worth emulating.
Jealousy is among the most dangerous and powerful of human emotions. It can tell you what is missing in your life; it can drive others to try to destroy you. In the Artist's Way, Julia Cameron explains the importance of Jealousy. Jealousy can be used as an indicator of what is missing in your life. If you hear that someone got a contract for a book, for example, and you feel jealous - that may tell you that what you really need is to be writing. Listen to your jealousy and be grateful for it because it is a way that your subconscious communicates dissatisfaction to you.When Jealousy is destructive is when it is misdirected. Instead of understanding that jealousy is an indicator of what is missing in our own lives and what we should be working on, some people see another person's success as taking away from their own. These people view the world as one pie - and if you have a slice it is a slice that they cannot have. To them, it is a dog eat dog world and you must either eat or be eaten.
These people take their jealousy and let it fester. Rather than taking positive action to move forward in their own life, they make plans to undermine the work of those they are jealous of. This is doubly dangerous - not only is it harmful to the person that they are attacking, but it is harmful to the attacker as they feel like they are "doing" something. This feeling of action makes it easy to fool themselves that they are actually taking positive steps towards their goal.
The blessing is that the old adage of "sticks and stones" is true if we can keep our eyes on our goals. If someone attacks you, don't defend because if you do you have to take your eyes off your goal and concentrate on your defense. The danger in this is that you do what the attacker wants; you stop your work.
What you will look back on is not the work you did, but the time you spent with others. When I look back on my life; I don't remember the lectures - I remember the recess. I don't remember the homework; I remember the vacations. While work is important, it is important to incorporate people into what you do. To make a difference in other people's lives is the greatest honor you can give with your gifts. This I learned at the feet of all those teens...and with my kids in our homeschool years. Doing work is not enough. To succeed, you must use your talent in a way that makes the world a better place. And sometimes that means being willing to go off course, to take a bunny trail, to allow the "distraction".
Love is the greatest adventure, the greatest challenge, and the biggest risk you'll ever take.
I fell in love with a boy; he grew into a man I didn't know while we embarked on the greatest ride of our lives. There is great risk in loving someone else. You *will* get hurt. You will be frustrated, challenged, frightened, and made angry. You will also get the joy of loving someone else. You learn how to forgive, to begin again. You learn what it is to love unconditionally; to be the beauty that softens their beast (and the reverse too). You learn grace and kindness softens the hardest heart. But only if you are willing to live out those values...those challenges.
When you love, YOU are the one affected.
This is really important - and something so many people don't understand. When you love, YOU are the one affected. You could fall in love with someone and they would never know it. Yet your life is forever changed. When you see that person, you feel better. The only thing that your love for someone else does is to change the way you treat another person, and your willingness to let them close to you.
When someone says they don't feel love - they aren't giving love. Someone loving you only affects the way they treat you, and how much time they spend with you. No one can make you feel anything.
If you don't feel loved by a person that loves you, perhaps you have rules that don't let you feel loved. For example, one of my friends recently told me that if her husband really loved her, he would buy her diamonds because they could afford it. I asked her if she had ever told her husband that she wanted diamonds. She said, if he really loved me, he would notice. Because we are the kind of friends that are very frank with one another, I commented that perhaps it was unfair to expect him to be psychic as well as loving. It isn't that her husband didn't love her, it was that she had set up a mark that had to be reached in order for her to feel loved - and that mark wasn't fair or a part of reality.
Love, and let yourself be loved. Jesus, long before he changed all of time and eternity by hanging on a cross for us and conquering death for our sins, long before that, he transformed his world by loving and allowing himself to be loved. He didn't check for pedigrees before he reached out to someone. He didn't walk away forever when hurt by someone. He simply loved. He was kind. He was honest, sometimes brutally so. He allowed others to love him in THEIR way...fiery and with tempers...with expensive oil...with questions. He left us a legacy, not only with his death and resurrection...with the way He lived.

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