Joy…and Pain (or rather Pain…and Joy?)

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

-Brené Brown

As a kid, I remember complaining to my parents about my various aches and pains – and my parents would often say “that’s just growing pains.” Man I didn’t realize back then what they really meant – that growing up is literally painful – not just physically, but emotionally. How do you tell young people what is ahead of them? That becoming an adult is incredibly hard. That change can be excruciating painful. That growth is HARD WORK and no one can do it for you. That each one of us is going to face heartbreak, loss, and hardships that we never thought we would be able to handle. And that even when we get through a tough time, there is going to be another one down the road, and then another, and another.

I think it’s like what some people say about childbirth – that if women actually shared how painful it truly is, no one would choose to be a parent. If children knew how hard it is to enter adulthood, they would likely try to join Peter Pan in Never Never Land where no one grows up!

I remember when one of my best childhood friends lost his best friend in a tragic accident during our freshman year of college. A few short years later, he lost his father to cancer. I remember him telling me the day of his dad’s funeral that maybe his best friend’s death helped him prepare in some way for his father’s. Over 20 years later, what he told me has stayed with me all this time. I have often thought about how strong he was at the young age of 21 to try to cope with his grief by relying on what he had learned about himself during what had previously been the tougest loss he had faced. He taught me something about how to grieve, how to cope with pain, and how to grow.

My friend Erin and I had drinks together this week, and as we often do, we spoke about our lives, our struggles, and the lessons we are trying to learn. I did a terrible job trying to re-tell this wonderful story that teaches a great lesson about overcoming pain. I looked it up later to share with Erin, and decided I wanted to write about it in my blog, so here it is!

I hope that the author Sofo Archon of The Unbounded Spirit blog doesn’t mind if I share his story. His entire blog post can be found here.

The story begins when a young woman who is going through a very painful experience and reaches out to her wise grandmother for help:

“Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, ‘Tell me what you see.’

‘Carrots, eggs, and coffee,’ she replied.

Her grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The grandmother then asked the granddaughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

Finally, the grandmother asked the granddaughter to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The granddaughter then asked, ‘What does it mean, grandmother?’

Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity? Do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level?

How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can’t go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so at the end, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.

May we all be like the COFFEE.”

Here are some painful truths.

  • When we live a life where we are open to love (any kind of love – not just romantic love), it is certain that we will experience pain at some point in the future. Not just possible. CERTAIN.
  • We are each responsible for how we cope with that pain, how we grieve, how we heal, how we grow. It is up to each of us to decide if we want to be the carrots, the egg, or the coffee.
  • There is no “pain contest” where anyone wins because their hardships are greater than one another. Who would want to win that anyway?? Each of us has our hardships, and it doesn’t help anyone to try to compare whose burden is greater.

I kind of hate the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” because it is too trite. I rephrase it to say “Everything happens for a reason if we take the time and put in the hark work to make meaning out of our experiences.” Too long to inscribe on a coffee mug, but still true. coffee

My intent is not to bring everyone down with this post – sorry that if it’s a bit intense! My intent is to speak the truth, and to encourage everyone to own your choices. I have not always made the right choices – that is FOR SURE. And you know what – I am CERTAIN that I am going to make more mistakes, and I am certain that I am going to experience more pain and loss in my future.

What I have tried to do is stop being a victim, and to own the decisions I made – or didn’t make – that got me to where I am, so that I learn my lessons and can move on with my life. One of the best compliments I received recently was from a friend who told me I was “wise.” Wisdom is healed pain. It hasn’t been easy – and it has been a lot of work up to this point. I have worked with a therapist/coach for years, and my work is ongoing and never-ending.  And it has been so incredibly worth it.

Just like the grandmother says in this story, when we are like the coffee, we change. We grow. We are able to let go of our heartache and our painful pasts. We are able to heal, and we remain open to love. We have the ability to experience joy. We can be happy with what we have, and we can look forward to a bright future. It won’t be perfect – but it will be ours.

“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

From the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

 

 

 

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

A few minutes ago, I cut my finger changing my air filter. Apparently my new house has some very unusually sized air vent…so I had to “cram” it in for lack of a better word. Ouch. A few days ago, I hung some pictures in my new house…and yes, if you were to look behind the pictures you would find multiple nail holes. I don’t use a level – I barely use measuring tape – no surprise to anyone who knows me or has read previous blogs. The day before that, I spent too much time trying to hook up my new XBox 360 – and I still can’t get the audio to work. Last week, I spent 2 days without cable and internet – because after unplugging the system to place into my new armoire, I hooked it back up incorrectly. A month ago, I backed my car into my garage door, knocking it off its rails, and thus trapped my car inside. I had to call a repairmen, who luckily came within 2 hours, so I could escape and drive to Charlotte to start my much needed Napa vacation.

I could go on. That was only one month of my life. If you have read my previous blogs, you already know that I have never changed a flat tire, nor have I ever used a lawn mower. I say it’s good to know my limitations – and safety should always come first.

I am sitting here – chagrined at my ineptitude when it comes to fixing anything mechanical or electrical. It is just not in my skill set – or “wheelhouse” as too many people say. It’s like my brain freezes, and reading any directions seem like I am trying to translate some foreign language. You can not imagine how proud I was when I assembled a desk for my living room last year…maybe one of the drawers doesn’t open without a firm tug – but hey, it is functional and looks great in my living room!

Did I miss my calling as a 50’s housewife?? Would I have been happier staying at home, cooking, cleaning, raising children and making things for my house while my husband took worked and took care of all that stuff? I love listening to Paula Cole’s song Where Have All the Cowboys Gone…I always seem to sing it to myself in these situations when I could use a partner to take care of something. Like fixing my freaking toilet.

But then the fantasy always falls apart when it gets to that line – “I will wash the dishes while you go have a beer…” Uh – nope. How about you clean up since I cooked, while I go have wine with the girls??

I do have skills. I can sew curtains and pillow covers – and even designed some without using patterns. I have made my own soap, candles, and designed jewelry for many years. I can cook some really fantastic Italian food. Last week, I had 8 friends over to show them how to make Magnolia leave wreaths for the holidays (doesn’t it look nice on my front door?)

My handmade magnolia wreath

AND I fed them homemade chili – on a work day. I can decorate – and I can throw a pretty good dinner party. I am having 12 family members over tonight as a matter of fact.

I’ll admit, part of me likes that fantasy of the Marlboro man in the song – someone strong take care of me. But that is all it is – a fantasy…for a short song or a 2 hour movie.

I think that the answer is really that I have strengths and weaknesses in different parts of my brain. If I liked research (I don’t), I would spend hours on the internet trying to figure this out. Rather – I sat down with my thoughts and my computer to think about what this means to me as a single woman, trying not to burn down her new house.

So – I have a list of things that I am going to ask my brother in law to help with when he arrives in a few hours for his Thanksgiving holiday – I hope he’s ready! These include – figuring out with the HECK is wrong with the audio on my XBox. Changing my gas tank on my grill (I don’t think ANYONE wants me messing with propane). Minor toilet repair. Moving a couch.

Once he leaves, I’ll start a new list…I believe I will have a partner at some point to help me with it…and in the meantime – heads up – because I am not shy asking for help.

Moving Day

Tonight I am spending my first night in my new home. I made good progress with my move. The kitchen is completely unpacked and organized thanks to my sister in law Catherine and my good friend Janet, who I challenged to bring her “Six Sigma” skills to this kitchen “project.”

My new kitchen

Catherine and Janet, in addition to my brother Geoff, met and exceeded my expectations with their generous offer to help me get ready for Moving Day.

After a week of packing and moving, tonight, I am too tired to really think or write very coherently, but my mind is racing so I figured I would sit and write to sort through my thoughts and feelings.

On one hand, I am really freaked out. I am doing this on my own – and I am so out of my comfort zone. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I fix things with mounting tape and a glue gun. I have never mowed a lawn in my life. I kill plants, and have been unsuccessful at growing grass to mask the abundant weeds in my previous rental home. So many things are unpredictable with home ownership and now there is no landlord to call when something breaks like the AC. It’s all up to me. But you see, over the last couple years, I was a landlord in a house that I didn’t live in…and once I finally sold it, I realized that I was already doing what I was scared to do! So what’s the big deal?

So on this other hand, I am totally psyched. I feel confident that I can do this. Yes – I have made and will continue to make mistakes. I’ll use the wrong color to touch up a wall, and not care that it doesn’t quite match (yes, this has already happened.) I’ll just cover the wall with some art until I am ready for a paint project! I’ll get scared about being able to afford the mortgage. I’ll still fix things with tape and glue when it seems to make sense. But now, I’ll think and feel about these things differently. Because I can think about things in the long term rather than as a temporary state of being…

You see, I realized something about myself – or maybe I was just reminded of something that I had forgotten. I am a “nester”. I crave my own space – my “own” space – aha! I like forming roots. That is part of what literally grounds me. To me, a house is not just an investment of money. It’s an investment of time, effort – and love – to maintain, and to improve. It’s a refuge from the rest of the world. It’s a place to reminisce about fond memories, and to contemplate what others may lie ahead.

Yes, my life just got a lot more complicated. I was debt free for all of 34 days. I was thinking of going on a major vacation like a safari, and instead I bought a house. I could have kept my life more simple – to travel more, to minimize, to have the freedom to relocate without too much complication. But – that is not who I am.

I just unpacked a few boxes that hadn’t been touched in over two years. And I was filled with contentment to find space for the things that are important to me.

Redefining The Wall

My brother Geoff, his wife Catherine, and I “competed” in the “Warrior Dash” in Huntersville, NC this Saturday. I am not sure how I got involved in doing this with them…I think I’ll blame Groupon. And maybe my friend Janet, my running buddy, because she has been trying to convince me to do something like this for a while. So when Catherine sent me the Groupon for the race (so she may have some culpability in this as well), I had to decide quickly because that is how Groupon gets you. Half price to risk my life – what a bargain! In the spirit of my journey to take more risks in 2012, I signed up.

The Warrior Dash is the world’s largest foot race with obstacles…which included a fire pit, a muddy pond, a rope bridge, tires, beat-up cars, and a long crawl through mud covered in barbed wire as well as many walls with varying heights, angles, aids, and treachery. All of these things we ran over, under, through or around for 3.08 miles to get to the finish line. To get a feel of what we did, check out this out. A guy with some kind of camera/helmet thingy, carrying an American flag, made this 3 minute video of our race from Saturday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfNISwztIEY

In preparing for the race, I tried not to stress out about how I was going to handle the obstacles. I knew I could always skip ones that were too hard – I wasn’t running to win anything. And I knew I would get a medal just for crossing the finish line…and a free beer!  I just wanted to have fun with Geoff and Catherine and knew we would have a lot of laughs. So I concentrated on what I was going to wear and how I was going to style my hair given how dirty I was likely to get. No other training besides my regular running routine took place.

What happened on race day exceeded my expectations in so many ways. First, some of the obstacles were a LOT harder than I expected. After a trek through a few disgustingly muddy obstacles in the woods, we found ourselves facing a 20+ ft rock climbing wall. If you don’t know what this is, please let me explain. It is a vertical wall with little tiny ledges you use for your hands and feet to climb. There are no harnesses or safety nets. This is probably why we each had to sign the waiver about 30 times with our names and initials. Anyway, my point is that our shoes were caked with mud and we were to climb this thing and not fall off. Add the fact that I am pigeon-toed and you have a recipe for disaster. Geoff and Catherine were like spider monkeys…I was so impressed! So I gave it a shot and up I went.

What I didn’t realize is that after about 6 feet up, it became much scarier to think about coming down from whence I came than it was to continue…so I kept going up and tried not to think about anything. I got to the top with a little nudge from the guy below me and a kinda crazy tuck and roll move onto the platform. Whew!! Then, as if that isn’t enough, when I got to the top of this thing, I had to leap out about 4 feet and grab a fireman’s pole to slide down. And then about 6 more obstacles to go after this…

Another thing that exceed my expectations is that I got a lot dirtier and wetter than I ever imagined.

There was no way around the muddy pond obstacle except through it…and the water was over our heads. Ick!!! We came out of it covered in what Geoff called pond seaweed…but I called pond scum. Ugh. It was at least as awful as it looks in that video.

By the time we got to the end, we no longer cared about how gross we were. Well, maybe I did, because I scratched up my elbows and hands pretty good trying to not immerse myself in mud in the final mud crawl under the barbed wire obstacle…

In the end, I completed more of the obstacles than I thought that I would (11 out of 12). Geoff and Catherine did ALL of them – I am in awe. I always have a goal for each race I enter… sometimes it is about time, sometimes distance, and sometimes it is about simply finishing. For the Warrior Dash, my goal was to have fun with Geoff and Catherine and to not hurt myself. Minus a few scrapes, blisters and bruises, I did what I set out to do and then some. Geoff, Catherine and I have stories that will last us a lifetime, and hilarious pictures for our Christmas cards.

But – this story can’t be a true blog post without my comments on my lessons learned.

So I got to thinking about something I have heard my dad say about me and my siblings many times. He says if there was a wall, my older sister Jacquie would bust through to the other side, that I would find a way to “dance” around the wall to get to the other side, and that Geoff would choose stay on his side of the wall. Let me tell you he was right that I did run around (not exactly dance) one wall that I just couldn’t get over. But – I saw my brother in action, and he was fearless conquering the multitude of walls that we encountered on Saturday, and I know he has conquered many other kinds of “walls” in his life as well.

So here is what I think. The idea of “The Wall” can mean different things to different people. And it can mean different things to us at different times of our lives. It can represent risk, and it can represent boundaries. The “wall” can mean it’s time to rest, and it can mean it’s time to push through. The wall can conjure danger, opportunity, obstacles, and safety. The key is to increase our awareness of the walls that exist in our lives so that the walls don’t control us. It’s not that we control them either. Rather, we recognize the walls – understand them, define them, and figure out what they means to us – and then we can make conscious choices with our actions, thoughts and feelings about how we cope with these walls in our lives.

Also, as a side note, I learned at the rock climbing wall that sometimes the risk of moving ahead is worth it compared to the pain of going backwards. What a metaphor, right? On the same said wall, and in the pond scum obstacle, I learned that help from a friend or a stranger is there if you ask and are willing to accept the help.

Will I do the Warrior Dash again next year – absolutely! As long as Catherine and Geoff are there to help me, and maybe we can get Jacquie out there too.

Spring Cleaning

Today, energized by the promise of spring around the corner, I decided to clean out my garage. I fired up Pandora on my MacBook, opened the garage door and I was off to the races.

As I made progress in collapsing boxes and compiling bags of trash, my mind wandered all over the place – maybe in an effort to clean out the cobwebs, re-organize and purge the clutter bouncing around in my head too..

Here are my random thoughts that I feel like sharing:

  1. My Milli Vanilli Pandora station was the perfect choice to give me energy for my project today. When is the last time you heard New Edition, MC Hammer, Marky Mark, George Michael…or DeBarge? “Just come with me and shake your blues right away…You’ll be doing fine once the music starts…” “Girl you know it’s true!” I am certain there are more than a few of you out there that can sing every word to Bust a Move…yes that came on too. Can you believe that Marky Mark is now Mark Wahlberg? Talk about “Not Peaking Too Soon…” Anyway, my point is that if you need to channel some energy, Milli Vanilli will help. And my other point is that even if you happen to make it big early in your life, you can reinvent yourself and have more success than you ever imagined if you work at it!
  2. I really wish I had washed the salt water off of my bike the last time I used it…like 6+ months ago. That wasn’t very smart. I need to take better care of my things.
  3. There is something very energizing about throwing stuff out. Check out what my friend Greg Hart has to say about it in his blog called The Pare Down. Life is more simple with fewer things.
  4. In collapsing dozens of boxes, I quickly was reminded of how many times I have bought stuff from “Wines Til Sold Out”, and Zappos. This will not surprise anyone who knows me. It doesn’t surprise me either…but standing amidst all of the trash…it does make me ponder if I should curb some shopping habits.
  5. My bocce ball set and tennis racquet are really dusty! I need to play more!!
  6. I should recycle more.
  7. I am glad that I now remember where my 2nd fire extinguisher is. That reminds me – today is the day we are supposed to check the batteries in our fire detectors!
  8. 2012 may be the year I actually learn how to use a lawn mower. Or maybe I’ll just leave it right where it is and keep using my lawn guy.
  9. I am going to do a better job of keeping my plants alive this year. And I am going to try to actually grow some grass amidst the weeds in my front lawn.
  10. I am going to restore the dollhouse my Gramps made for me and my sister when we were kids…The dollhouse has been sitting in my various garages for the past 10 years. I am not sure what I will do with it – but it is one of the first ones he ever made, and it will be a family heirloom once it’s restored to its original glory. I know it will be worth the effort.

So all in all, it was a productive Sunday. My garage is clean, boxes are recycled, and my head is in better order!

The Greatest Love of All

Like so many today, I turned on the television this morning to the massive media coverage of Whitney Houston’s untimely death. After watching the Today Show and surfing the net for a bit, I decided to turn off the TV and to ignore the snarky comments about her drug addiction that some were making on Facebook. Instead, I decided to play her music for a while and to reflect on what I was thinking and feeling.

I remembered the fun I had seeing Whitney in concert when I was 16 at the old Charlotte Coliseum back in 1987. It was the first time my parents let me drive to a concert, and I was excited to drive my friends for our big night out to see Whitney sing her big hits “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and “The Greatest Love of All.”

I sat and thought about how dramatically her life changed during the years when so many tuned into “Being Bobby Brown”, and how many people were entertained by the drama of her “crazy” life. Watching other people’s pain and chaos on reality television is just something I have never really understood. Addiction is a disease, and while the media will always focus on famous celebrities like Whitney and Amy Winehouse, it is easy for us to forget that so many people struggle with the same issues that they did.

Then, I listened to The Greatest Love of All, and I felt sad that Whitney sounded like she had it all figured out back in 1987, but then struggled with the demons of addiction and a difficult marriage where she clearly never fully recovered. I sat and wondered where the lesson was in this.

Whitney sings that: “The greatest love of all is easy to achieve…Learning to love yourself…It is the greatest love of all.”

It occurred to me that learning to love yourself is not exactly as easy to achieve as it should be. And it is most definitely not easy to maintain in the face of what life throws at us. We all have our own demons and struggles, whether due to addiction, loss, illness, failure…Even if we have it figured out early like Whitney did, many of us struggle to maintain love for ourselves through all of the mistakes we make along they way.

I think that the lesson here is to remember that learning to love yourself truly is the greatest – and probably hardest – love of all. And that we mostly battle ourselves when it comes to achieving it. We carry so many “stories” of not being good enough – and we fight the voice in our heads that someone I know calls “the itty-bitty-shitty committee”. You laughed because maybe you have one too??

I believe that learning to love yourself is how you strengthen yourself to be a better spouse and parent, and employer or employee. Loving yourself is how you serve the community and world around you. I believe that loving yourself will lead to more love, success and happiness in all aspects of your life. Keep at it. It’s worth it.

Self Reliance

Living on my own for the last few years, I have learned to do the best I can to take care of stuff around the house with some help from books like this one: Dare to Repair

I am not the handiest person on the planet. In fact, the exact opposite is true…evidenced recently by my decision to use mounting tape to fix one of my kitchen drawers. Just so you know, I tried to use my Dare to Repair book – and some actual tools…but I resorted to mounting tape and took the easy way out. Who else besides me (and now all of you) will know what is actually holding that drawer together anyway?

My simple approach is to fix the things I can, outsource what I can afford, and ask for help when I need it. Sometimes I take shortcuts if the stakes aren’t too high. No big deal if my kitchen drawer comes apart again – but I would definitely call for help if my dishwasher caught fire (this has actually happened). If you get invited to my house for dinner, you may be asked to help me hang a picture, move some furniture or fix a drawer – but chances are you will be well fed, and I will always have some great red wine for you. And for simple situations when no help is available, I can always grab the mounting tape, duct tape…super glue…whatever works!

When it comes to taking care of me, it’s a little (make that a lot) more complicated. I had some lessons to learn and bad habits to break. Who knew that inner peace is exactly that – peace that comes from within? Sounds easy, right? Not exactly. This is not a job that we can outsource for someone else to fix. We can hire someone to help us – a coach, therapist, or enlist a life partner, mentor or friend to aid, but let me be very clear – the hard work is up each one of us as individuals.

As Emerson said so wisely in his essay Self Reliance,

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance and Other Essays

Self reliance isn’t just about survival. Self reliance is depending on ourselves to be whole, happy, and authentic from within, rather than relying on others to “complete” us. This finally explains why I always hated the movie Jerry McGuire. Everyone else cried in the theatre when Tom Cruise (Jerry) tells Renee Zellweger (Dorothy): “you complete me.” I, on the other hand, kind of hated Jerry and Dorothy without really understanding why.

Working with my coach over the last few years, I came to realize that I alone am responsible for my well being, which includes my inner peace and happiness in both my personal and professional life. This did not happen overnight. And just because I am more aware doesn’t mean that I have all of the answers.  Did I just admit to the world that I don’t have the answers?? My hands are almost too clenched to even type this – that is how hard it is for me, the former Queen of Problem Solving and Always Right.

This is a continuous journey full of challenges, setbacks, highs and lows. I am practicing asking people to fix my things – but not me. Chris Martin – you can go and fix Gwyneth if you really want to, but it’s my job to fix myself.