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To Everything There is a Season

Today, it strikes me that cooler temperatures are here to stay, the long hot days of summer are once again behind us. It causes me to take a moment to consider the change of seasons and how we cope with change. It is at this time that we have a decision to make, will we spend the next weeks and months mourning the loss of summer? Or do we look back and celebrate the time we had, the beauty of summer, and relish in the last glimpses of the green leaves and grass, knowing it will be months before we see the vibrancy of their color again.

It is about the attitude you choose. It isn't just about the seasons, it's your life as well.

Look at your children, do you see them and panic because they are growing too fast? Do you spend time mulling with regret over things you didn't teach them, didn't do with them, time you didn't take. Or do you look at them, celebrate how far they have come, rejoice that you have had the privilege to be a part of their lives and look forward to the years to come? It's a choice.

If you don't have children, maybe you agonize over your career, your workplace, how the economy has caused it to change. People being let go, responsibilities changing, priorities shifting. Sometimes it is hard to see the silver lining, even if you can't, you can choose your attitude towards it all.

So, here are my thoughts on how to make good choices in this time of change, you can probably find lists of lists online, but here are some of my thoughts...

1. Acknowledge change. Sometimes just hearing the words come out of your mouth, helps you cope with the change. "Fall is here!." "My children are maturing.," "I might lose my job." It's fact, acknowledge; "What is, IS"

2. Talk about it. Find out how other people have coped. You aren't the first to be in this situation, seek out others and learn how they dealt with similar change, ask their advice. Having talked with a few friends who lost their jobs over the past several months, many have taken that opportunity to explore new vocations, new opportunities and look back and see that the change as a good one. Thankful for the impetus to rethink what they were doing, or where they were doing it.

3. Look for the silver lining. As much as I dread that fall signals the coming of winter, there are a lot of things that I do like about fall too. I love colorful leaves, the crispness in the air, a big cozy sweater, and hot spiced cider. Maybe it is taking a trip with a child where you can do things you both like, or perhaps it is sleeping in, having lunch with friends. Whatever it is that you now have the opportunity to do, find a way to incorporate a little of that into your life each day.

4. Dream. Spend some time thinking about what your dreams for the future are. What are your wildest dreams, what about your simplest dream? If you never spend time thinking about what you want, how do you work toward that, how do you know when you have achieved it. Maybe it is having your Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving, a tropical vacation, maybe it is having saved money, lost weight. Maybe it is as simple as wanting to learn to ice skate this winter (my dream), maybe it is sharing that with my girls. Perhaps it is a long held dream for a profession change, a "some day I want to...." Think about it, have fun with it. There is time, it's never too late.

5. Set a goal. Now that you are dreaming, let's start working to make that a reality. Put some real life times, dates, expectations down on paper. Outline some steps that you can take, small steps, to get you heading in the right direction. Try to do something every day.

6. Use affirmations. Find little things that lift your spirit, remind you of your dreams, and inspire you to continue on towards your goal. Write a little note to yourself, and inspiring quote, maybe posting pictures of what you want around your house to keep you focused. Maybe it is a song or a playlist of songs, that make you feel good, inspires you and lifts your spirits. Something to remind you to make good choices, to make the most of today.

7. Be present in today. Now that you have a goal, a roadmap, find a way to show gratitude and love your life for today. Cherish those around you, learn from those you can. Soak in the beauty of the season, of the wonderment of a child, the colleagues you currently have or the perks your employment affords you. Tell people what they mean to you and just take time to "notice what you notice." At the end of your life you don't want to look back and see that all you have done is worry over the future and lament over the past. Even if today is the worst day of your life, take moment to be present, notice how you feel, and how you will one day look back, amazed with the strength you had to carry on. Live in today.

There is a Bible verse that says it well and I will leave you with that today...

  There is a time for everything,
       and a season for every activity under heaven:

 a time to be born and a time to die,
       a time to plant and a time to uproot,

 a time to kill and a time to heal,
       a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
       a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
       a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,
       a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
       a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
       a time for war and a time for peace.

                   ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

A time to make a choice. Make it a good one!


A Matter of Perspective

I hope today finds you warm and well! My family and I just returned yesterday from a week in the Magic Kingdom, Disneyworld. The trip was, let's say, an adventure or at least parts of it were. I will recap in a later post, but looking back now, I want to talk in broad generalities.

Overall, the trip was wonderful. It was a time for our family to be together, together with my brother and his family as well, with a surprise visit from an aunt and uncle. We haven't had a lot of time recently to spend time together, and just being with family and experiencing Disney with them was even more magical. Were there bumps along the way, of course. Where there hidden surprises and things we couldn't have planned for, sure. But let's keep some perspective, for this post, let's just talk about the weather...seems like a nice Midwestern kind of thing to do.

When we left home, the weather was cold, in the teens and twenties. Forecasts for Orlando were showing a balmy range of the mid-60s to mid-70s with lows in the 50s. That range tends to be a little tricky, not quite warm enough for shorts, but could be a little warm for jeans. So you pack a little of each and away you go.

When we first arrived, it was beautiful, so nice to see green grass and trees again and while not exceptionally warm, coming from sub-freezing temperatures, it was perfect. We experienced days that were cooler, where we needed sweatshirts and long pants, and yet there were others where we we spent the day at the waterpark in swimsuits without being cold. Variety is definitely the spice of life.

And then we return, and as I check out the WDAY forecast, I am nearly moved to laughter as I see this:

On exactly which planet does -12° equate to "Not So Cold?" Well, apparently North Dakota, with perspective. If you look at the Monday Night forecast the low that night for the Fargo area was -23° (yes people, these are negative numbers we are talking about here....below zero) So, in comparison to -23° below zero, -12° doesn't seem quite so bad, "Not So Cold." But coming from Orlando and temps in the 60s, if I were writing the forecast it would look something like "#%$@ing cold" (feel free to insert the expletive of choice).

So, why all of this talk about the weather? I think it lends itself to understanding a broader perspective on our lives as well. What is the weather in your life like today?

We have all seen the news; economic downturn, layoffs, foreclosures. It certainly seems frigid, but have we seen the worst of winter yet, are we in store for a doozy of a blizzard? I don't think anyone knows for sure, but we can all hope spring is coming.

I think your perspective all centers around your reference point. I believe we all get to choose our reference point, the point by which we all measure how we are today and what our hopes of tomorrow will be.

For some time while facing adversities in my life, my reference point was that of a moment in the NICU with my daughter Hope. At one point I was in the nursery when stopped breathing. Doctors and nurses scrambled to resuscitate her. I watched as she slowly lost her color and more and more people rushed to help. For some time as I watched I began to think, this is it, I am watching my child die. Even now, I am still moved to tears when I think of it.

When I would have a bad day, when I was stressed, worried, or just being a bit self-centered, and someone would ask, "How are you?" I would reflect back to that day, my reference point, and could honestly answer nothing other than "well" because, the challenges I faced on that day were nothing in comparison to my reference point. 

So, what does that mean for my expectations in life? Should anything above that reference point be acceptable? I don't think so, I believe it to only be a point of reflection, not one on which to dwell. You have to experience the lows to really appreciated the highs. You have to experience failure to really appreciated success.

From the very bottom of that valley, it can sometimes be hard to make out that mountain peak, yet it is still very important to try to imagine it, even if you can't see if from where you are currently standing. What is it going to feel like standing on that summit, what will the air smell like, what will your personal sense of accomplishment feel like. Maybe from the summit, you will have a view of an even higher peak. Certainly, the journey may be difficult, climbing that mountain, or perhaps you will stumble upon a ski lift or a rescue helicopter which will briskly wisk you there without effort. The key is to be looking toward the summit, not moping about with your head down in the valley, or curled up in the fetal position. How will you find your ski lift or helicopter, unless you are keeping your eyes open, looking for it.

By keeping your eyes open, you might just find in your time in the valley, that there is beauty there as well. Is there any silver lining within this dark dark cloud? Look at the some of the measures that families are taking to deal with money being tight;

  • learning to cook at home instead of eating out
  • downsizing houses or possessions
  • thinking more carefully about purchases
  • appreciating the things that they have more, including jobs
  • finding ways to give of their time when they can't give financially
  • finding simple pleasures in life.

If you look at the list, these are things that we should have been doing or paying more attention to all along. Are the material things we had been longing for and working so hard for fulfilling us? Has keeping up with the Jones' taken us off track? Are the Jones' kids spoiled brats? Do the know that their parents love them? Have they really spent any time getting to know them? Remember the movie "Citizen Kane," and his longing for "Rosebud?" He didn't take Rosebud with him on his trek to the mountain top, but that doesn't mean you can't.

Much like the weather has it's highs and lows, life does as well. The landscape can be uncertain, unpredictable, but for every winter there is a spring. And sometimes, a 3-day blizzard and temperatures in the twenties below zero are just what is needed to bring families closer together, or to give those who had been hurried, time to reflect on the summits that await them.

Put on your hiking boots and join me as we forge through this valley to find greater mountains, pack your bags expecting a little of everything, keep your eyes out for helicopters, don't forget to pack dear old Rosebud!


Coping with Change

I don't know if you are feeling it, but I am sensing great change in the air, and I think more than a few people are just a tad stressed out over it. Living in the country, the changes are so obvious. Our yard is surrounded this year by corn fields and during harvest, I am always amazed by how quickly the landscape can change. For the past 3-4 months, our yard has been nestled in the center of 8 foot corn fields. And literally overnight, once combined, can be mowed off to essentially nothing. Talk about changing landscapes!

So much is in transition right now, the economy, the presidency, the seasons. It is no wonder why people are a bit on edge. Over the weekend we saw our first snowfall, and while in in the depths of denial, I am working on trying to see the beauty in the change, and embrace it with open arms.

How do you deal with change? Here are some thoughts I have on how to maintain your sanity, if you have others, I would love to hear them:

1. Admit to yourself that things are changing: Change doesn't always have to be a negative thing. And while sometimes it can be scary, there are often good things that come with change. Have you ever moved into a new house, a new car. You didn't feel the need to cling to your old one, you accepted that you were moving forward, and didn't feel the need to look back. See the changes happening in your life now as positive ones. Even if you can't understand how they can possibly be positive, try to keep a positive attitude, you never know kind of gems could be hidden in this landslide. Admitting that change is effecting you is the first step. The next is to assure yourself it won't last forever.

2. Disconnect: In times when you are feeling overwhelmed, you might need to find some time to unplug from what is going on in the world. The media can have a tendency to focus on the negative things going on, and if that is your only influence, it can be easy to be depressed or anxious. Sometimes, if even for just one day, unplug from the news or from TV shows and movies which are violent in nature. If you need a little info fix, check out who chooses to focus on more inspirational messages.

3. Slow Down: Are you just too overwhelmed? Say no to one thing and take time for yourself. Find a quite place to just relax and "be." It is becoming more and more difficult to do this, but find a library, a park, a bookstore and just spend some quiet time by yourself. Putting on earphone, even if nothing is playing sends a message that you are busy doing something. Take a yoga or meditation class, or just go for a walk and breate. I always come back to the airline saying "affix your oxygen mask first, before helping others." You need to take care of yourself first, before you are any good to those around you.

4. Appreciate the beauty in life: What kind of natural beauty is all around you that you are too busy to even notice? Find a local flowershop, or the one in the grocery store, and take some time looking at the flowers, really looking at them. Appreciate their beauty. As I was driving in to work this morning, it was the beauty of the sun rising above the trees, the beautiful orange glow over the land. What about a plant in the office, take time to really look around. Are you surrounded by beauty? Make an effort to notice one beautiful thing today.

5. Get some perspective: When you look at your life, what was the absolutely worst thing you have had to deal with? How does that compare with today? You have likely dealt with many things that were essentially more life changing or traumatic that what is happening today and yet you are still here, and likely stronger for it. So see this as a small part of the overall life lesson plan, have some perspective and know that you will come through, stronger, wiser, or more complete when it is all over.

My daughter was born weighing less than a pound, 15.6 ounces to be exact. I keep a picture of her when she was little next to my bedside, and no matter what I have gone through that day, it is a reminder of a day which was so traumatic and life-changing for my husband and I, and yet we are stronger for having to deal with that change. This Thanksgiving our daughter, Hope, will turn 12 and is a happy and healthy beautiful young lady. Because this process and the perspective she has show us over the years, I have decided to write a book about our journey, which I hope to have the initial draft finished by her birthday. I will keep you posted as the book progresses.

6. Do something for someone else: What else can make you feel better than helping someone else. It doesn't have to be a major gesture, just something. Pay it forward. Open the door for someone, pay someone a compliment, let another driver into your lane, give your spouse or child an extra hug or kiss today. Make dessert, or have a special treat today, just for the fun of it.

7. Have fun!: When was the last time you did something fun? Something a little crazy, maybe even childish? Buy yourself a cotton candy, or your favorite childhood candy. Find a little container of bubbles, this also helps release stress because you are forced to breathe. Spend five minutes doing something you loved as a child, playing with a hula hoop, jumping rope, or playing with playdough. Sing a song you remember from your youth. My personal favorite is "B is for Bubble" from Sesame street. Find something that can't help but put a smile on your face, or make a funny face at someone else just to see them smile.

8. Surround yourself with positive people: We all know them, there are people who can suck the life right out of you and others who you leave feeling alive and recharged. Who is that person for you that you just love being around? Find a way to touch base with them today, even if for a quick chat, you will likely come away revitalized.

9. Do something for yourself: Do something, anything to help you feel pampered. It doesn't have to be costly or elaborate, but just take time to take care of yourself. That might include: putting on an outfit that makes you feel great, giving yourself a pedicure, taking a bubble bath, listening to a great song. Forget about the fact that the laundry isn't done, or your house isn't clean, take 30 minutes and do something for yourself.

10. Take a deep breath and relax: You can do this several times during the day, be cautious that your co-workers or family aren't getting the wrong idea. Deep breaths and belabored sighs are not the same. I like to try to make a conscious effort every hour on the hour, take a second and breathe. One nice long breath in and out. Survey your body, are your shoulders tense? Consciously relax them. Shake your arms out or roll your head to stretch your neck. We hold a lot of stress in our bodies, and I believe after a while it can really take a toll on your health. Remember to breathe!

 There you have them, my top ten for surviving change. What makes your list? Pick on or more and give them a try, see if you don't feel just a little bit better for it. Just writing the list made a difference for me.

What are your secrets for dealing with change?






Keep Going!

This past weekend I ran in a 5k, words I never thought I would hear myself utter, even in jest. While I didn't actually run the entire course, walking about 5 blocks of it, I did finish, and that felt really good. I hadn't quite fully understood what a mental game running is. You can convince yourself you can make it to the next tree, block, or garbage can, or the full 3.1 miles. You can convince yourself that your legs really don't ache (that badly), and that you can take that next stride, and the one following. In the end, as you turn the corner for that final stretch, you can see the finish line and your loved ones cheering and you know that while difficult, worth the effort, worth every step.

So, is life any different than running? You can convince yourself that you are a winner, successful, a loser, a victim, a martyr. And while each of those rings true for most people at one point in their lives, if even for a brief moment, have you signed those adoption papers on any one of those labels making them a permanent addition to your family, given them a room in your home, and set the table for them at dinner? If as I have heard so frequently lately, "thoughts become things" is true, then what is it that you are becoming? What are you thoughts making you, a victim or a champion?

A while back, I came across something that has stuck with me, I will paraphrase, "Don't look at the distance you have yet to travel, you will only be discouraged, look back in gratitude for how far you have come and move forward." It is about taking that next step. I have most recently been listening to Keep Going: The Art of Perserverance an audio book (hardcover) that I have had on my ipod for quite some time but was drawn to once again.

"Being strong means taking one more step toward the top of the hill no matter how weary you may be." Joseph M. Marshall goes on to describe a story in which a young woman had three suitors, and couldn't decide which one to marry.

So her father devised a test to determine which was worthy of his daughter. He asked each suitor to run to the top of a steep hill and back down again seven times on a cold rainy night. So they began, and the rain had made the hill muddy and the running was not easy, but the young men tried. By the third time they were soaked and had fallen in the mud and were soaked to the skin. By the fifth time, they were mostly crawling. And by the sixth time they were moving on sheer willpower. Each had completed the 7 journeys to the top of the hill and returned again, and it seemed as though the issue of who would marry the young woman had not been resolved. The young men collapsed thinking they had done everything they had been asked, when the father appeared only to ask them to climb the hill one final time. To which two of the suitors proclaimed that they could not, as they were too exhausted. The third young man, equally exhausted, stood and with all the remaining strength he could muster, took one more step and fell on his face. The father chose the third young man because he found the strength and spirit to try.

In the end, it wasn't an enormous effort, but that of one step that won him his bride.

Remember, life doesn't require it to be a long purposeful stride, forward movement is all that is required. At times in your life, you may feel that you are floating, gaining great distances with each step. At other times, it will take every ounce of strength that you can muster just to raise your foot and move it forward and not give into despair. Perhaps only a crawl. What is it that can defeat that despair, but hope. "Hope is one of the sparks by which life sustains itself. The ability to hope is one of life's greatest gifts...if we do not hope, we have empowered the cause of our difficulty. Every step is hope expressed."

What is your next step? What step can you take today to move your closer to a goal, to create balance your life, to make your work environment more productive or fulfilling, to make a difference in the life of another? You can do it, move forward, keep a positive attitude, remember it is a mental game. You CAN convince yourself, you CAN keep going.

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