Look Forward and Up, not Back

This is the first day of the new year and I am promising myself to look forward and up, and not back.

I don’t make resolutions, so I don’t think my decision can qualify as such, but it is a decision, a decision which will be very difficult to do, I might add, but it is necessary. I have to look forward and up because if I don’t, I will get stuck in the past.

What I want most of all is for my life and my work to make a difference, even now, though I am not a spring chicken! I still believe that miracles happen, no matter one’s age. I still believe there is talent and are gifts inside me I have yet to birth. I cannot afford to get stuck.

Iyanla Vanzant has said that in order to grow, people have to “do the work.”  She wrote, in her New Year’s message, “Do not be a slave to what “used to be” be open and willing to be do a new thing in a new way.  It about a new level so STEP UP with your head up!”  Moving forward and up means looking in, which is never pleasant, and yet, doing the work needed to keep our focus where it needs to be involves looking in and seeing what is there, not what we wish were there. It is, frankly, a “yucky” exercise, this looking in, but after the yuck comes release from something that has kept us from being our true, authentic and gifted selves.

What I want is, in spite of my weaknesses and foibles, to make a difference for somebody. I can give something, some part of myself, to someone who is struggling, who is sad or lost. I can share what I have and add something to someone else’s life.  I am fairly reclusive, but I can ditch some of that and share what I have been given by God.

As I write this, I am thinking about how many people are struggling on this, the first day of a new year. I am struggling, but my struggle is nothing compared to what others are going through. I have a friend whose son is critically ill; he was in and out of the hospital so many times last month that I wondered how my friend was holding on. Yesterday she called and said he was in the hospital again …on the eve of a New Year. She cried. I cried with her. She said, “I so wanted him NOT to be in the hospital on New Year’s Eve.” I can share some of myself with her.

I have another friend who lost her mother three weeks ago…and her mother last week. I have had a lot of loss in my life. My mother, father and sister have died. As a pastor, I have lost so many people I loved. I can share with my friend, who, at 52, had never lost anyone close.

I think it was Deepak Chopra who wrote that there are no bad experiences; what we call “bad” are really life lessons. And I have learned that we waste good lesson time if we do not study what happened, do the dreaded “look inside” exercise, and learn the lesson or lessons we were supposed to learn. Another friend of mine calls the experiences that come from bad times “blessons.” A blessing and a lesson, rolled into one. Looking at my own struggles as “blessons” helps them to be bearable, and encourages me to get on with my life, to look up and forward …and not back.

My friend with the sick son sits today in a hospital where she sat all night at his bedside. She is afraid to leave. I am sort of afraid to go to her, because I don’t want to see her hurt …and yet, part of looking forward and up is about seeing who’s out there who can use what I have. I have lots of compassion. I can share that.,

I will be writing out my goals, personal and professional, for 2013 later today. Part of the plan is to look up and forward. In everything I do, I will have to make sure those two things are being done. I am going to force myself not to look back. I am going to leave what’s behind …”back there,” take my blessons, put them in a place close to my heart …and move as God directs.

I think people who make a difference in the world must do that sort of thing, don’t you think? I do…

A candid observation …

The Power of Re-Calculating

I love my GPS; I use it whenever I am going to a new place and it is extremely funny when I don’t follow directions and it is as if the GPS sighs and murmurs to itself because it has to recalculate a new route. You know. create a new normal.

I have come to understand that “new normals” are a part of  life, even if we do not like them. I read Iyanla Vanzant‘s book, Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get through What you’re Going Through,” and marveled at how many times there has been a “recalculation” in her life and how many times her “normal” has changed.  Another book of hers, The Value in the Valley speaks of the place we find ourselves before we climb up and out of our valleys into a new space…but what is clear is that once in a valley, if we use the valley experience correctly, our lives, upon emerging, will be different. Our inner beings, our personalities, our spirits, will have “recalculated” because our valley experience is meant to be a place where old experiences and thinking patterns and even old relationships are meant to be discarded. There is a better way to get to where we need to be, and it is the valley that we begin to realize that.  We don’t willingly go into valleys. Life takes us there, over and over. It might be a diagnosis of cancer, a death in the family, a divorce, betrayal by a friend, being laid off or being fired …Stuff happens, and when it does, it seems to take us to valleys that we do not want to be in.

So recalculating is always going on in our lives.

I hear that Tony Robbins said that when he had valley experiences in his life, the way he got through them was to pour positive energy – and a lot of it – into work or projects that he believed in.  It is while we are in a valley that we don’t want to do anything – not eat, not read, not even enjoy the beauty of a new day – but when we succumb to the tendency to wallow in the valley, we waste the experience. It is too valuable an experience to be wasted.

Valley experiences are meant to strengthen and encourage us. I have always taught my students the words of Psalm 30: “Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning!” but have added my own two cents’ worth …”and morning always comes!”  No matter how dark and long the night, morning will push through. The goal should be, while we are in a valley, to make sure than when morning comes, we are not the same as we were when dark descended.  It seems that our spirits cry out to us to let them (our spirits) do their work, to let them reshape, reform, retry, recalculate – so that we can live lives that are optimally meaningful for us.

That’s what our spirits yearn to do, I think.

My spirit is in recalculate mode. I think I’m going to let her do her work.

A candid observation …

 

 

Change

Cover of "Scarred by Struggle, Transforme...
Cover via Amazon

 

Here we are on Election Day, with one candidate talking about going forward …changing the way things have been done in the past, and the other candidate talking about change …going from big government to smaller government and a balanced budget.

 

President Barack Obama says going forward will help his policies take hold. There will be health care for more people, young people will find college more affordable, federal regulations on banks and financial institutions should help consumers. Change…that’s all change…

 

And Governor Mitt Romney says he will balance the budget. That sounds good, except that with a balanced budget and less spending,  somebody is going to suffer. Less spending usually means less spending on programs that help the masses. Although economists say that less spending should be accompanied by more taxes, it feels like the emphasis will be on less spending, which means …change.

 

Change, no matter which way it comes, hurts. Joan Chittister, in her book Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope,” writes that “change means movement. Movement means friction.”  But, she says, change is necessary because it is in change that we grow. If we cling to the present, she writes, we “cut off the wings to the soul.” Every day we should be “growing into more” or else we “retreat into less,” says Norman Mailer.

 

So this change in our country …whether it’s from President Obama or Gov. Romney…is a sign of life.

 

Thing is, we resist change.  Collectively and individually, we resist it. We grow comfortable in our spaces, even if those spaces are not good for us, even if those spaces are toxic. To change means we willingly engage in struggle, and struggle is wearying. We would rather vegetate, even though we wail about things not being right. We wail, but we do not want to do the work of change. Too much friction. We don’t want scarred knees.

 

If the truth be told, President Obama has brought about a lot of change. Many have not like it; there was movement and therefore, friction, lots of it. There wasn’t as much change as he wanted, but there has been change. And if Gov. Romney wins, there will be change that will rub lots of us the wrong way. There will be friction and struggle; there will be scarred knees.

 

But that means that there’s life. Where there is no movement, there is no life. Where there is no change, there is no life, either. Change comes unannounced and uninvited too often; in fact, because we resist change so much, the only way change can really happen oftentimes is if it DOES come uninvited. The good thing about presidential politics is that we know that with whomever is in the White House, there will ALWAYS be some kind of change that’s going to rub someone the wrong way. Sometimes, the change, like FDR’s New Deal, helps the masses, and sometimes, the change helps far fewer people. But we know change will come, whomever wins.

 

In our personal lives, change has to crash through our protective doors, invade our spaces of familiarity in order to get our attention. Change has to force us out of saucers and onto the ground; it has to make the scales fall from our eyes so that we can see what we have been trying hard not to see, and make us break into a jog instead of shuffling along where we’ve always been, satisfied.

 

In the case of politics, our country doesn’t decide to become new; the election of a new president forces newness upon us. But in our own lives, change, if we embrace it, means that we decide to become new, that we “do the work,” as Iyanla Vanzant says. The essence of struggle, says Chittister, “is neither endurance nor denial. The essence of struggle is the decision to become new rather than to simply become older.”

 

Well, if that’s the case, and if more people could and would understand change as an opportunity and not a curse, then perhaps we wouldn’t avoid the struggle so much…and just get into the process.

 

And even in the case of the changes thrust upon us by each president, perhaps it might help us and our country if we would accept some of the changes with a little less resistance. We might benefit from that.

 

A candid observation…

 

Girl Talk: Honoring Ourselves

I call it “breakthrough” when we as women finally learn to accept, honor and love ourselves as we are.

Iyanlya Vanzant wrote a book and a poem by the same name, One Day My Soul Just Opened Up.  At the beginning of the book is the poem, and one verse reads:

One day, my soul just opened up

There were revelations, annihilations and resolutions

feelings of doubt and betrayal,vengeance and forgiveness

memories of things I’d seen and done before…

Vanzant’s book takes readers through a number of things people in general, but women in particular, seem to struggle with: self-acceptance, acceptance,  setting boundaries, dealing with disappointment…and she offers exercises that readers can do to begin the process of doing whatever we need in order to have …souls that open up.

Dealing with those things, “things of the soul,” as they were, are those things which can help us know and love and honor who we are. That book, along with Wayne Dyer‘s latest, Wishes Fulfilled,” have been food for me.

From the beginning, I always compared myself to others. I was too tall, too skinny, I had a giant gap between my two front teeth, I was smart, but not as smart as “the smartest” in the class. I continued making comparisons and subsequently rating myself lower than I wanted to be …until fairly recently, when “my soul just opened up,” and, as Ntozake Shange wrote, “I found God in myself.”

There are reasons why we women tend to compare ourselves, but none of them make much sense.  I find myself wondering if our lack of respect for ourselves in this area is the same reason or lack of respect that keeps us in relationships, romantic or otherwise, that are not good enough. We remind me of Edith Bunker, who really was not treated very well by her husband Archie, but who was always running to serve him. I mean literally running. No matter how much she ran or showed obeisance to him, she was never worthy of him treating her like a wonderful woman. She was, instead, an “object,” his wife. She acted as though she felt she had no inherent worth, and that all she was good for was serving her husband.

There isn’t anything wrong with having the kind of love Edith had for Archie, but not at the expense of honoring ourselves. I am a pastor; I honor the people I serve, but I realized I was suffering from the “Edith Bunker” syndrome, honoring the people I serve more than I honored myself…and I realized I was doing myself great spiritual damage and was not doing my ministry any good, either.

It was clearly a breakthrough, and I was able to see how my behavior had spread into all areas of my life. I was honoring people who did not honor me, and I was making some people a priority in my life, who had made me an option in theirs.

It is amazing how many of us as women keep ourselves in self-imposed spiritual and emotional prisons. Our souls are not open, but are, rather, closed tightly. Behind those closed doors we keep so many feelings that are instrumental in keeping us at the edge of life instead of being immersed in life, while we yet have the chance. For the longest, I knew something was off-center in my life, but didn’t know what it was…not until recently. As a child, I didn’t feel honored or liked in my family; it seemed that I could never do anything right; I looked funny…and all that baggage became feelings that I carefully folded and carried around inside me.

Life is a little too short for that.

And so, for the rest of my days, however many those may be, I am going to “walk in myself.” I am going to appreciate my gifts and use them, and not worry about what I don’t have and what I cannot do. It really doesn’t matter. There is plenty I can do…and will do.

This morning there was a thunderstorm here, and as the rain fell and the thunder and lightning played an amazing symphony of sound, I realized that we women have symphonies in us that nobody has ever heard; they don’t have a clue there is so much in us because we have kept those parts of us hidden. We have sublimated our gifts, trying to please others who cannot or will not be pleased, and trying to be what we will never be.

God is waiting for the symphonies.

A candid observation …