#theoptimistsjournal

Being a Creative

I am a creative.  I didn’t know it, or even the term, until recently.  I did know the word artist, and I never would have pegged myself for one of those because I had judged artists as free spirits who had talents like painting, drawing, writing music…and I’m not particularly good at any of those things nor would I necessarily consider myself a free spirit.  Not to mention, if one of my kids suggests a trip to Michael’s or Joann’s craft stores I literally break out in hives.  I confused crafty with creative too.  What I have discovered though, is that my mind is creative, it is constantly inventing stories out of my experiences and being moved to tears when I encounter people who have discovered their unique way of telling their story with their God given talents.  I have had these encounters at concerts, Tim McGraw was born to be on stage.  I have had them listening to speakers talk about the truth they have discovered in the world as they live lives of charity and mission or watching athletes rise to the highest levels of their game. I have even encountered this feeling being waited on at a restaurant by the owner who was so clearly delighted to be serving customers in the space he created it was actually moving.  Most of all, I have discovered that I am a creative because I am constantly seeking the greater why of my life and trying to put it into words.  I love it when a great universal truth intersects with a specific experience in my life, it's discovering the sweet spot that God intended for me to find.   

Because this is my lens on life, I am so grateful to have a friend who is a creative like me, a philosopher of sorts if I had to put another word on it, that gives me the opportunity to travel and learn and dialogue about what we encounter (and play a little volleyball too).  This weekend, for the second year in a row, we came to New York City to the New York Encounter, put on by Communion and Liberation, an Italian movement started by a Catholic priest, Fr. Giussani, who understood mans deep desire to belong, not in the fast paced, social hierarchy of this world but to truly belong in our most vulnerable state.  He believed that in the joining of reason and faith, a lifelong presence of Christ could be encountered in anyone’s life that can fill the void of human pain and nothingness and give true and sustainable energy to a life that could then be well lived.  There were speakers from the Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist faiths, not just Christians, bridging the gaps of common humanity in the greater question of how religion can encounter the human soul and make the world a more beautiful place. The encounter is filled with people seeking knowledge and living full lives because they understand true love and acceptance. In a world that can feel so full of judgement, it is a beautiful thing.  We heard a humble woman named Rose, a registered nurse and the founder of Meeting Point International who experiences joy in the midst of suffering as she works alongside women in Africa afflicted with AIDS as they collected rocks and made necklaces to sell, and sold so many that the proceeds built a school to educate and empower African youth. She is quiet, humble and at the same time a force because she knows why she is here and to whom she belongs.  In understanding that, it all becomes simple and the joy and energy are so effortlessly produced. These are not stories you hear on the news but I am so inspired by the people who are out there doing the work that we rarely get to hear about in the normal channels of daily life. It struck me how far removed these stories and actions are from the traditional seats of power in this country and all around the world. That thought is going to take me a little time to digest…

In the same day, (and this is what I love about NYC) we jumped on the subway and went to see Jason Mraz in his broadway debut in Waitress.  There was so much talent on that stage and universal truth in the story and lyrics that I was in my element again.  The writing and realness of this play gives everyone something they can relate to while being awestruck  by great music and live talent.  We figured out that we happened to be sitting right in front of the mother of the actress playing the lead, who was the understudy last night, and knocked her performance out of the park.  I can only imagine how proud she was as her daughter filled up that stage with her talent.  

Without giving away any of the plot, which I also knew nothing about going into the show, the theme of opening up and recognizing the path to your true self and the story your life is meant to tell, not governed by ego, fear or scarcity, was so beautifully translated through the music and lyrics of Sara Bareilles and the talent of the actors onstage it brought tears again.  I will go back and reread the lyrics to the songs again and again, I was meant to see this play this trip for sure, but here is just a taste of what anyone who can should go and experience.

  Sang by Joe, an old man with more than a little life experience under his hat:

“Take it from an old man, my mistakes have made me what I am, and although I don’t believe in silver linings, I believe there is something in you. Something good is trying to break through. You might have to fight the good fight, and when you think you can’t, you can. Take it from an old man.” 

There is that universal truth again, captured in art, talked about over dinner and helping us find a place in this world to be moved. And finding that place is the greatest gift and fulfillment of being a creative.

Defining Strength

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to measure and pass judgment on my own strength, as if this subjective thing can be quantified, and I either pass the test or I don’t.  I’m seeing improvement in my thought process and confidence though because I consciously look for ways to make myself stronger and I realize that the more challenges life brings me, the more sure I become that I can handle far more than I thought I could. 

Part of my rising confidence in my own strength is because my definition for strength has changed.  For a long time, probably all of my adult life, I thought I was strong if I could accommodate and handle anything that people threw at me.  Join this, be here, plan that, call them, organize that, be ready in 20 mins to leave for a week… this kind of accommodating didn't leave me much time to figure out my own head and heart, to define what I wanted to accomplish in my life. When I look back on this time and the way I lived, I actually picture myself, standing on a staircase with someone tossing glass plates at me while I tried to catch and stack them neatly before the next one got tossed and I didn’t catch it and instead watched it shatter on the floor.  Living like this left my heart racing, my spirit tired and my confidence shot because, inevitably, I would take on more and more, until I hit a breaking point. When I did hit that point, I would have to drop everything and hit the reset button, which then caused me to feel like I was failing at everything and could never accomplish what I set out to do.  The self talk that came out of this pattern of living ended up killing my confidence in myself and my abilities to accomplish my goals.  My voice of self doubt can be so loud and convincing, I don’t have to give it much to work with and it can stop me in my tracks. 

Today, I define strength not by how much I can hold, but by how much I decide to carry.  That choice is up to me and I know now that I don’t have to take everything in. I have a choice as to what I decide to accept from others, from situations in my day and the blessings and challenges life presents me.  I challenge myself to slow down and stay present because this is how I have a clear head to evaluate what situations are mine to handle and what needs to roll on by.  Changing this pattern isn’t easy and sometimes make things look like they are falling off my plate compared to how I used to operate. I did things at other peoples pace for so long out of a sense of obligation and desire to keep peace, the way I operate these days looks strange to them too. So in a way, I’m not only retraining myself, I’m retraining people in my life in how they respond to my new way of thinking and reacting. My learning extends to them as well though because the road doesn't just go one way.  Letting the people around me be who they are, take in what they choose from me and not judge them for it gives me and those I love lots of freedom in our relationships.  It gets uncomfortable sometimes, but more struggles are lasting just moments and strength is emerging in sustained action and peace of mind so I know I’m on the right track.  The challenge today is to choose wisely and use both the highs and lows that I decide to accept to fortify the path ahead while I enjoy every step along this beautiful journey.

To my oldest...on her 17th birthday

 

 

As wonderful as sleepy, soft, cuddly newborns are and as hysterical and challenging as the toddler experience was, my favorite moments have come farther along on this parenting road.  Today, my oldest turns 17.  There are 3 more behind her that are 15, 12 and 10 so I have a distance still to travel on this journey, (that really never ends) but it still seems impossible to me that I have a child this age.  I don’t feel old enough, I look at her and remember so clearly being 17 that it brings tears to my eyes.  When she describes her experiences to me, a friend letting her down, a first date, I can feel them because they still feel so fresh in my own mind and heart. I’m grateful that I have such a good memory. I am mindful that we have a mother daughter relationship, she isn’t my friend yet…one day I am confident she will be. And although she teaches me things everyday, today I collected the 17 thoughts that I hope she will take with her on her journey.

  1. know that you have been unconditionally loved from the day you were born, through our faith and from my heart.  Nothing you can do will change that. 
  2. know that you are unique, there is no reason to conform to anything that doesn’t feel true to who you are.
  3. never forget what you learn through life experiences, but always forgive. it’s the only way to live freely.  
  4. your road to success isn’t measured in medals, scholarships or report cards but in the process you engage to make each day a little better for yourself and those whose paths you cross.  (You are winning on this one for sure already.) 
  5. there are few problems that can’t be fixed by a long solo drive, windows down with the right music playing really loud.
  6. let the lyrics of Zac Brown’s Remedy and Roots and Tim McGraw’s Humble and Kind take hold in your heart and even through the twists and turns, things will turn out alright. 
  7. listen to your voice first, it is strong, wise and trained in the right ways. Consult only a trusted few in times of trouble so that your voice is not drown out by others opinions. 
  8. to whom much is given much is expected.  never stop counting your blessings and being grateful for the many gifts God has given you in this life. 
  9. always, always, always look for the silver lining.  it’s there, some times not as shimmery as others, but no matter what can make you smile through the tears. 
  10. love the little things and seek them out,  they make up the biggest parts of your day.  a sunrise, a bike ride, a swim, none of these cost a dime and bring so much joy. 
  11. your heart and mind are trainable. train them to love, seek optimism and altruism. 
  12. let your motivation be intrinsic, not extrinsic.  there is no limit to what you can manifest from inside your heart and there will always be a time when the outside encouragement cannot be heard even when you are on the right path.  
  13. pay attention to what you attract, it can help reveal your purpose in life and guide you on your journey. 
  14. sometimes all you need is a new day.
  15. nothing will work unless you do.
  16. in seeking advice or good role models, look for people who rise to the pinnacle of their craft and pay attention to their process. How we do the small things is how we do the big things. 
  17. slow down and make decisions with intention. it limits anxiety, regret and always shows you the choice that is true to your heart. 

Happy 17th Birthday Lauren! You are amazing and so loved. 

Own Your Energy

Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if we all realized the power we each have to do good, to make choices to challenge each other to be the best versions of ourselves and see what results.  In the past, I could get myself so excited about human potential and then so quickly be let down when that potential wasn't realized.  The truth is though, everyone grows at their own pace and in their own way, not the way I would always say it should be done.  Accepting that people have the same freedom to make their own choices and live their lives as they (not I) see fit, leads to a lot more freedom and happiness for me.  In the past, when people, particularly those I loved, didn’t make choices the way I wanted them to, I got upset and tried to convince them that my way was right.  That action plan takes a lot of energy and slows me down in my own process of fulfilling my own goals and living an independent life. It also gave other people so much power over the energy in my day.  Some days, people brought me great things that revved me up, like a child with straight A’s and some days those same people brought me heavy problems, like sickness or relationship problems.   I would take these things on, even though they were not mine, rolling them around over and over in my head and diminishing my potential to efficiently focus on my own life and what was actually within my scope of choices. 

 

Today, I make it a point to focus on a live and let live mentality that leads me away from needing to pass judgement and rather focus on my own creative path that I work on intentionally every day.  It leads me to create connections with people who have different ways of seeing the world, but similar ways of communicating their vision.  In the end, the best relationships are not about being like minded, but authentic in their communication and discovery of their differences. There is infinite room for growth, connection and intimacy in relationships like these, not the case when everyone is just trying to conform or operating out of a sense of obligation.  Judgement happens, its a natural part of being human, but both how we communicate it (or don’t!) and take it when it comes at us is a choice that I am getting better at making.  My actions today are the ones that matter, my confidence in taking action on my path is what I am building.  Join me, I’m excited to see where it goes from here. 

Seeking and Shining

Writing brings so much clarity to life circumstances that seem so overwhelming before putting them down on paper, virtual or otherwise.   I started The Optimists Journal at a time when I was seeking connection with like minds, to know that there were people out there like me, who were interested in deeper meaning, not just making a list and checking the boxes, but figuring out what makes us all tick and connecting all of this human potential to make a better world.  But there was something so foreign to me about global sharing, and worse, global attention seeking, that I have continually struggled with the blog concept from inception. I am not an attention seeker and honestly one of my worst fears is being seen as boastful, better than or like I have it all figured out…because I don’t, not by a long shot. My daily discovery though is that life’s journey is so fulfilling when I am transparent, real and vulnerable. In approaching my relationships this way, as scary as it is, the freedom and beauty that is unleashed makes conquering my fear worth every deep breath that it takes to get there.  I have lived with the fear of vulnerability my entire life. It's based on fear of failure, confrontation and judgement and also my nature of being a straight up people pleaser for most of my life. This (maybe not so unique) combination of personality traits has made me spend thegreater part of my life purposely trying to stay small and unnoticeable, surrounding myself with people with bigger, louder personalities than me and mastering the art of exiting a room as quickly as possible. I pushed other people around me forward, helping them on each of their journeys from behind the scenes and I was perfectly happy about it. I still don’t regret having lived this way for 40 years because I learned some very valuable lessons. I learned how to listen without responding or judging, I learned to watch for patterns that expose the universal truths in the circumstances that we encounter and that connect us as human beings, and most recently I learned, while going through separation and divorce, that when you expose a struggle to the world, you find connection not condemnation. 

Today, I am grateful that I have learned these things but there are so many more lessons that present themselves everyday, challenging me to master them. The trick seems to be staying present so that I don’t miss them as they come my way.  I’ve started practicing this on a daily basis and have realized once you are on the journey to knowing yourself, there are practical steps like yoga, books, podcasts, and healthy lifestyle choices that keep you on the journey of being a life long learner.  There is always room for growth and improvement in this beautiful life.  There has been a shift in my thinking and here I am sharing my writing.  Today I thank God that the voice that He put inside me is turning out not to be as weak as I had once allowed myself to believe. 

Over the last almost 20 years, I have had the joy, challenge and privilege of loving and parenting 4 amazing kids, the youngest of whom is on the autism spectrum.  I have encountered the near drowning of that same mystical little boy, felt the pain of watching loved ones with addictions fight major battles, and experienced the break up of my family through divorce, a word that still feels bitter in my mouth. And yet, as major and course altering as all of these things have been, they have taught me that adversity provides the building blocks of of a beautiful life if you respond properly. Contrary to how I thought I would handle the bumps and brusies, I learned slowly to lift my gaze to the beauty, not the tragedy of any situation and in this I began to rise and attract like minded people doing life in the most beautiful, conscious way. People who are embracing challenge and turning it into human capacity, exploring their own limits and always seeking to become better at the game of life. As a lot of smart people have said before me, its not what happens to you, its how you handle it. I’ve learned that I can smile through just about anything, but even more importantly, I have learned that my capacity to sustain, to connect and endure life's hardships, still filled with optimism and gratitude, is far stronger than I ever believed. 

So herein lies the bigger message of the Optimists Journal: Our connection is found in our broken stories, not our perfect ones.  We are the storytellers of our lives and I’m just learning how to tell mine.  I invite you to share yours too, its where all the best connections in life are made.