Category Archives: Life

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50 thoughts on turning 50: #4 Right place, wrong life

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50 thoughts on turning 50: #3 The butterfly still flaps its wings

Butterfly in my backyard

When a butterfly slaps its wings in Brazil, there’s a tornado in Texas. Does that mean the butterfly shouldn’t fly?

I was having a conversation this week with a women who was telling me about her dream job. Not just a job, but a passion, the thing she’d like to do, in a perfect world, with no obstacles.

I won’t go into details, since I don’t think she expected to be the subject of a blog post. But in a nutshell, all of the pieces for what she wants to do are in place. Not just theory, in practice. She’s got things lined up and ready to go; all she has to do is pull the trigger and bam! She’s off and running.

And yet we talked for quite a long time about why she insists she can’t do it. For every obstacle she needs to consider, she already has a solution. Even if she only meets half of her goal, she’ll more than cover her costs and get to do something she really wants to do.

And yet there was something holding her back.

I was an outsider hearing the story for the first time, but I was struck by the similarity to some of my own dreams and plans, things I’ve thought about doing, wanted to do, and then didn’t do.

I had good reasons, just like this woman. At least, that’s what I thought. But when the layers were peeled back, the reality was that the only thing holding me back was me.

I’d say we don’t have the money, but every day people accomplish great things without money. I’d say I don’t have the time, but there’s always time for things we really want to do. I’d say I [insert excuse here] but in the end, all I had were excuses.

Because here’s the real reason I don’t do what I want to do: I don’t want to upset the apple cart. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #2 We’re just frosting on the cake

Who knows what's actually out there, in a galaxy far, far away ...

Who knows what’s actually out there, in a galaxy far, far away …

I was fascinated last year to hear astrophysicist Adam Reiss on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, explaining (with great humor, I might add) about how much we don’t really know about the universe. Talking to the show’s host Peter Sagal and panelists including P.J. O’Rouke, Reiss said:

SAGAL: I mean, isn’t it bizarre though to find out that 73 percent of the observable universe is actually invisible; we have no idea what it is?

RIESS: You know, it’s not just the 73 percent, it’s the other, there’s a 25 percent chunk in there called Dark Matter. We don’t know what that stuff is either. So…

SAGAL: Well wait a minute, 73 percent of the universe…

P.J. O’ROURKE: Plus.

SAGAL: So you’re telling use that everything that we see in the universe when we look out and we see all these galaxies and all this stuff out there, that’s 3 percent?

RIESS: That’s right. We’re really just the frosting on a cake and we don’t know what’s inside the cake.

Think about that: of the part of universe that we know about, 73% is invisible to us. And of what we can see, 25% is made up of stuff we don’t even understand. We can only see and understand about 3% of the known universe.

We don’t even know what’s beyond what we know – dark holes, other universes, infinity.

We like to think that with all of the advancements in science, medicine, and technology that we’re pretty darned smart. But the reality is that, when it comes down to it, we don’t know squat. We are, in fact, just tiny dust specks on a little pebble, floating around out there in a universe so mysterious and enormous that we don’t even know how much we don’t know.

It’s “Horton Hears A Who”, the reality show.

Think about that the next time you want to puff yourself up and proclaim there is no God. The truth is, you don’t know. You can’t know. You’re just frosting. Pretty, but also pretty tiny in the whole scheme of things.

Does that depress you? Not me. To quote Walter Bishop on “Fringe”: “Where would the fun be if we knew all there is to know?”

You can listen to the episode of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” here.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

50 thoughts on turning 50: #1 Be nice. It’s contagious.

I love this video making the rounds online, mostly because it exemplifies something I’ve learned over my life about being nice: you have to be nice without expecting anything in return.

You can’t “do good” to win favor, raise your standing in the community, earn points you can cash in later, or pat yourself on the back. If you give of your time, energy and money for any of those reasons, you’ll drain yourself dry, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Neither you nor anyone else will be better for it.

Instead, “do good” because it’s who you are, and let the satisfaction from “doing good” be your reward. It’s a far greater return than you could have asked for … and it can change the world.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

50 thoughts on turning 50: intro

Yup, its true. In a few weeks, this little chickadee celebrates a milestone birthday: the 20th anniversary of my 30th birthday.

Or if you want to be more specific, I turn 350 in dog years.

I’ve been thinking back on my life, as old people do, and thought it would be fun (ie: work) to share 50 things I’ve learned about life, writing and myself to celebrate turning 50. It might be a video, a quote, a joke, a photo. Some I’ll explain; some I’ll just throw out there and let you figure out how it applies to your life.

The original plan was to share one thing for the 50 days leading up to my birthday. But we all know how undependable I am, so I’ll just start sharing and when I get to 50 things, I’ll be done. Hopefully, that’ll be before my 60th birthday.

Stay tuned for $#1 …

 

When you’re dead, you’re dead a long time

Words of wisdom inscribed on the headstone of Robert and Grace McGowan, Mt. Hope Cemetery

Words of wisdom inscribed on the headstone of Robert and Grace McGowan, Mt. Hope Cemetery

Here’s the thing about death: it’s permanent. Regardless of your beliefs about the afterlife, in this life, when you take your last breath on earth, the story is over.

Think about it. In 100 years, with the exception of a handful of those who will defy the odds and live beyond a century, every single person on the earth will be dead.

Everyone. Gone. Me. You. Babies born at this exact moment, whether here in America or in India or China or Europe. In 100 years, billions of new humans will walk the earth, and while they’ll share our DNA and genealogical ties, none of them will be us.

How’s that for putting your life into perspective? It’s true. When you’re dead, you really are dead a long time.

Be Nice: you make it a wonderful life

During the Christmas season, one of my favorite things to do is watch “It’s A Wonderful Life”. For me, it’s just not Christmas without George Bailey and Clarence the Angel.

If you’ve never seen the movie, it tells the story of a despondent man who contemplates suicide, believing the world would have been better off without him. His guardian angel-in-training, Clarence, comes to earth to give him the opportunity to see what the world would have been like had he never been born.

George is skeptical as he and Clarence have a series of odd interactions with family and friends who seem not to recognize George or remember anything about his involvement in their lives. George’s entire world seems turned upside down, but soon he finally believes that Clarence is really an angel and that he, in fact, is seeing a world without George Bailey.

In the movie’s pivotal moment, George and Clarence are standing at the tombstone of George’s younger brother, Harry Bailey. As a child, Harry Bailey fell through the ice while he and friend were sledding; George saved his life. Harry Bailey grew up, got married, and went on to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor after saving the lives of men on a transport ship in the war.

And yet as George brushes away the snow on the headstone, he see that the death date shows that Harry died as a child. George is in disbelief, insisting that it’s a mistake. Clarence explains:

Clarence: Your brother Harry broke through the ice and drowned at the age of nine.

George Bailey: That’s a lie! Harry Bailey went to war! He got the Congressional Medal of Honor! He saved the lives of every man on that transport!

Clarence: Every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry

Clarence sums up the point of the movie when he says, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

It’s interesting to think sometime about how many people you interact with every day. I took some time to think about who I’d interacted with yesterday. Turns out, more people than I’d realized:

  • The cashier and cart guys at the grocery store;
  • a woman I kept running into at the store who was perpetually blocking the aisles and apologizing for it;
  • a stock clerk;
  • the staff at the pet store;
  • the girl who waited on my at Tim Hortons, along with the rest of the staff who waved from behind the counter;
  • my husband before he went to work;
  • my daughter on the phone;
  • and scads of people online.

But if you’d asked me who I saw yesterday, I probably would have told you “No one”.

The point of this post was to get people thinking about how many people we actually interact with every day – because every single one of those interactions changes both people in some way.

I’d love for you to join me for this little adventure in 2014, to think about what it means to love your neighbor, put out positive energy, do random acts of kindness, or just be nice.

Be Nice: Do I need a receipt to return my spiritual gifts?

 

sample spiritual gifts

This is a sample of questions on a spiritual gifts test.

Once upon a time, in a religious galaxy far, far away, I took a quiz to determine my spiritual gifts. It was part of a Sunday School class at a church I’d just joined, and I was looking for some guidance about what God wanted from me.

For those of you outside the world of Christianese, a spiritual gifts test (or assessment; there are no wrong answers on a spiritual gifts test) is designed to evaluate what talents and abilities God has gifted you with to benefit the church. You might be suited to teaching, for example, or evangelizing, or serving meals, or opening up your home to people for Bible studies. It’s all designed to help a Christian grow in their faith and better serve his faith community.

The quiz usually asks questions like “I feel that I have a message from God to deliver to others” or “It makes me happy to do things for people in need” or “I often think about how I can comfort and encourage others in my congregation”. You assign it a number from, let’s say 0 to 5, for each statement, depending on how well you think it applies to you. There are no wrong answers; at the end you add up the score and, theoretically speaking, you should have some insight into how God has gifted you to serve Him and the church. Your gifts could be exhortation, giving, shepherding, prophecy, teaching, leadership. Stuff like that.

On my test, I got zero points for hospitality and serving others. Zero. Nothing. As in, I had no gifts relating to being nice or giving to others.

I don’t remember what my other scores were – I think I had some points for administration, which, given my inability to organize my own sock drawer or get my dog to sit even if I was holding a steak, should have been a clue the quiz was faulty). But overall, I wasn’t feeling very gifted. (And while there are technically no wrong answers on a spiritual gifts test, try sitting in an evangelical Sunday School class and telling the leader you have zero interest in helping other people.)

That test – or the constant desire to figure out what my spiritual gifts are – may or may not have eventually had a bearing on my involvement in organized church as a whole. I’ve never felt like I fit in, I’ve never felt as if I was needed. Well, I was needed, in a way. The minute you join a church you often are inundated with requests to serve on committees and help with projects, and while the goal is to help you grow in your faith, the reality is that in many churches, like in many other organizations, 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. Any warm body will do when it’s time to paint walls or rock babies in a nursery.

But what am I good at? Why am I here? What do I have to offer the world? What does God want from me?

Over the years, I began to understand a little better where my gifts are – both in relation to God and to my place in the whole wide world. I tell stories. I give voice to people who can’t share their own stories. I honestly talk about my failings so that other people can relate and perhaps find comfort. My writing mission statement is “Connect. Inspire. Change the world.” Big dreams for a little writer.

But as for being nice?

I’ve had my own ups and downs. The zero on that stupid quiz had to be a fluke; I’ve gone on to do a lot of serving, a lot of being nice, a lot of opening my house to strangers. And I liked it. In fact, I loved it. Then I got burned out and retreated, almost to hermit status.

So for a while, I wasn’t nice. Then I was. Now I’m not so much. Was the test wrong? Or did it ask the wrong questions? Or, and I think this is more likely, did I change as a person, going through various periods of my life when my priorities shifted and became more focused?

So here’s the first Be Nice Project discussion question: Is being nice – or generous or giving or helpful or kind – something innate, or is it something we learn? How nice do you think you are right now and how nice do you actually want to be – in other words, are you as nice as you feel you can be or should be, and if not, are you desiring to be nicer? And honest, there are no wrong answers.

The Be Nice Project: A challenge for 2014

Most of the action has been moved over to my new website, but I want to invite you to join me on this new project: to be nice in 2014 …

That's me in Mexico in 2005. Yup, I was three stories up slapping plaster on a building. Miraculously, no one got hurt ... and from what I've heard, the building is still standing ...

That’s me in Mexico in 2005. Yup, I was three stories up slapping plaster on a building. Miraculously, no one got hurt … and from what I’ve heard, the building is still standing …

I’m trying to be nice. Honest. But it’s not easy.

For years now, I’ve been working on a book idea about loving your neighbors. The idea came to me after I went on a mission trip to Mexico in 2004. At the time, I hated flying, didn’t speak Spanish, knew zero sign language and was completely inept with both ball peen hammer and ball point pen. And yet I got on a plane and flew to Mexico to do construction at a school for deaf children.

It’s not as if I hadn’t volunteered before. I’d done a local mission project for several years, sponsored children through a Christian organization, and supported many charities. But getting out of my comfort zone and allowed me to get a better understanding of my place in the world.

It was a life changing experience, and it gave me the idea to write a book about how to love your neighbors. I figured if I could do it, anybody could. Although I still hate flying, don’t know sign language, can’t speak Spanish and can injure myself with writing utensils and screwdrivers with equal severity, I learned how to be giving and how to love my neighbor.

I tried to write. Tried for almost 10 years. But every time I got in front of the computer I went blank. I kept notes, clipped stories from the newspaper, did research, even had an agent interested in the project. All I had to do was send him the first three chapters. But no matter how hard I tried to write, it just never came together.

Then I realized why: I’m not very nice. Continue reading

Friday the 13th: new book, the emergency room and puffy fish lips

So how does an award-winning freelance writer, blogger and newly published author celebrate the release of her book? Why, by going to the emergency room, of course.

I’ve been battling bronchitis for six weeks now, and after seeing the doctor twice, doing antibiotics and steroids (oral and inhaled) I was still sick. So I went back to the doctor late on Thursday, and he sent me for a chest X-Ray and blood work Friday morning.

I expected when he called with the results that he would tell me that I had pneumonia, prescribe me in some antibiotics and call it a day. Instead, he said my chest is clear (no pneumonia) and my blood work was normal (no sign of bacterial infection). There was, however, something off in a test he ran to see if I was having a blood clot issue.

Apparently when you tell your doctor that you’re short of breath and feel like a cat is sleeping on your chest, it makes him wonder if you have a blood clot in your lungs. He’d done an EKG in the office the day before, but I didn’t connect that he thought my chest pain might be an issue with my heart. I’ve coughed so much over the last six weeks I’m in pain all over. He said, “I want to do an EKG” and I said, “Sure, yeah, whatever you want to do.”

When he gave me the results of my chest X-Ray and blood work, the conversation went something like this: Continue reading