Do. Or do not. There is no try. -Yoda

It’s still the first week of 2016. The very first week. Inside 7 days. Like, if I’d started driving to California on January 1st, I’d hardly be there by now from where I live.

It’s early.

And it’s already hard.

This is where many people give up. It’s likely where I have always given up.

But I have chosen this year–2016–to be the year I do not give up. Intentionally.

So I had to look at all of it and say, “How do I make this year different?” How will this year not be like the others. The answer is pretty simple, really. It’s the same reason that certain marriages survive when so many others don’t. It’s not because life for the survivors is better…or perfect…or easier. It’s because the survivors–the hangers-on–have chosen to keep their grip. You don’t give up, because you just don’t.

All the love I had for my resolutions two days ago is gone. I’m home from the honeymoon. My resolutions are still pretty and they still sound good. But they’re hard and I’m not feeling it. I wonder if I’m up to the task.

It wasn’t the smoothest of mornings. I woke up with enough mucous in my head to supply a family of 6 (thinking I might do this or at least tweet about it). My kids are coughing and were at each other before 7 a.m. about who got to sit in front of the fake logs (this is a real thing. I’m not making it up.). My neighbor–we’ll call him Denny, because that about fits how I feel about him this morning–has the city digging up my yard because of his sewer problem. And I didn’t get as much as a post-it note on my door warning me that by noon there’d be no more grass in my front yard. Awesome.

So I’m in a crummy mood and my pants are tight and a backhoe is in my yard. And this is the point at which a donuts day might be just the thing. Or a morning of Hallmark movies. When you are sick, or exhausted, or frustrated– a new year of trying might begin to seem hopeless. But it’s not hopeless. It’s just hard.

So what am I going to do now that the love grass is gone?

What do I do when my pants are tight, even though I’m making an effort that isn’t showing up (yet)? Well, I’m gonna put on pants, I can assure you. I haven’t been able to find an acceptable pantsless society, so I’m going to have to wear the tight pants.

The following list is for me. If it benefits anyone else, so be it. But I’m making the list for me.

How to make progress when you hit a wall:

(1) Acknowledge that what you’re doing is hard. If it was easy it wouldn’t be a New Year’s resolution, it would be this morning’s to-do list.

(2) Accept where you are today. Better habits are good. Change is good. But there’s danger in deciding you hate where you are–or who you are–now. The person I am today is the one making the decisions, writing the lists, building the accountability buddies, etc. That person got me where I am today. Don’t be mean to her.

(2) Be patient. Again, your resolutions are long-term and slow-going. If you get there too quickly, you won’t get to remain there.

(3) Pace yourself. Remember the tortoise and the hare. Though I’ve never seen a tortoise or a hare in the wild, and it’s possible they don’t even exist, there’s a reason this is a wildly popular folktale. The person sprinting like a mad hare toward the finish is probably going to poop out and go eat some cabbage by the side of the road. The person stepping and a slow, steady, consistent pace will finish, however slowly.

(4) Be consistent. Whatever you’ve mapped out for yourself to do, do it. Consistently. Don’t take a week off for donuts. Don’t worry about how much progress you did or didn’t make in an hour or an afternoon or a day. Just take consistent steps toward the goal.

(5) Don’t feel. Do. Who cares if your head is full of mucous and Denny dug up your last remaining patch of St. Augustine grass? Who cares if the scale doesn’t move or the pants rise up against you in the night with a serrated knife? Who cares if the love is gone? You made a resolution. You resolved. The definition of resolution (which incidentally, I cannot spell on the first time through. Ever.) is a firm decision to do or not to do something. So what’s on your to-do list today? Do as much as you can muster for the day that you’re having. Each day has its own challenges and parameters, but you can make progress, however small, every day. Do. The feeling will come.

As I was typing this list to myself, a call came in to my cell phone. It was a city number, and since there’s city people crawling all over the front yard today, I figured I should answer it. So I did. It was the Automated Library Lady with a message for me: “According to our records, you have 5 items that are very overdue. Please return your items to the nearest library branch as soon as possible.” Very overdue? I have never heard this before. Do they really use adverbs now? Was she intending to make me feel guilt or just to get my books back faster? I have chosen to forgive her for her judgmental tone and am adding one final thing to today’s list:

(6) Return very overdue library books.

Intentional

They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. They say this and they chuckle. I think you can only chuckle if you are fully confident that you are not standing on that road, paving that road yourself with your own good intentions. I stopped chuckling a long time ago. My intentions were almost always good. But they were almost never successful. I could wallpaper the Biltmore Estate with my resolutions lists. I don’t remember ever finishing any of them. Ever.

However. HOWEVER! I refuse to give up. I believe with my entire heart that people can always change. And while I believe there’s a place for cutting myself some slack and being content with who and what I am, I know who and what I want to be and don’t intend to quit. Not yet.

So I say that the road to success is paved with good intentions. The road to Heaven. The road to being Intentional.

My word of the year, for the whole year, is Intentional. Whatever I do this year, whether it’s spending a day in PJs while watching You’ve Got Mail or whether it’s finally entering a 10K and surviving it, I will do it on purpose.

I will save money intentionally. Get healthy intentionally. Parent better intentionally. Run the house more efficiently. Read the Bible cover-to-cover for the first time in my life. None of these things ever happen accidentally, after all.

It applies to everything. And it’s not that hard. It only requires a couple of major things: The first is that I redeem my time. I can’t let life schedule ME. I have to be holding the leash.  And it requires making consistent and daily deposits into all of these banks. It requires being 100% proactive. I can’t intentionally procrastinate and have this work out for me in the end.

I intend to do many things.

I do not intend to fail.

We shall see, now won’t we?

 

a last place finish is still a finish

It is January 2 of a brand new year. Yesterday, as hopefully you know, was January 1st. New Year’s. A new year in every way. I didn’t realize until now how much I love the new year. It’s because I live in constant fear of my own mistakes and in constant regret when I make them. I am bad at letting things go. And the beautiful thing about a new year is that you get a free pass to crumple up that previous one with any exponential number of regrets and drop it in the nearest trash receptacle. And then you get to take out that fresh, white piece of paper and pretend that maybe this year…this year...it will be different. I will be different. I will do that thing. I will make the change. I’m sorry this turned into Man in the Mirror. That was subconscious, I assure you.

I saw the memes all over Facebook yesterday and each time there was a different country singer credited as the author. (Someone  has a good lawsuit waiting.) It said: “Today is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” There is something to this. I buy in 100%. Especially on January 1. Because as of yesterday, I hadn’t done a single thing poorly. Not one thing! I was 100% successful. My book was awesome. Riveting. Inspirational.

Wanting to celebrate my 90 minutes of mistake-free New Year’s Triumph (it was 9:30 a.m.), I took my new fitness tracker and went out on a walk.  Shortly into this walk, I encountered a runner wearing a race bib. This person wasn’t exactly running. Nor were the stragglers behind him. It became clear to me within moments of my first racer sighting that this was the end of the race. The very end. These guys had been at it for awhile. They had been BEAT UP by this race. And as I climbed the only hill in my flat central FL tinytown, I saw the last place runner coming toward me. I know she was last place because she was being followed by a police car with his lights on. So either she was being arrested for running too slow, or he was the cop signaling the end of the race.

This woman was struggling. She was barely in it. I visually took her in, as much as I could, in the few moments we intersected. I somewhat unintentionally locked eyes with her briefly as she continued her woggle (jog + walk + wobble) down that hill, and she managed a weak, sheepish, almost apologetic smile at me. It was a smile that said she was embarrassed. She was sorry she wasn’t faster, thinner, nimbler, edgier. She seemed sorry it was her in front of that cop car. She seemed sorry I saw her. Sorry we made eye contact. She’d been caught in last place. But I wasn’t sorry at all. Because right then it hit me: A last place finish is still a finish. She was slow, sure. She was struggling, clearly. But she was IN THAT RACE. She had a bib on. She wore the sweat like a trophy. She had the cop car behind her. She was going to finish that race. And she did.

Me? I didn’t even know about the race until I turned off my street to take my January 1 Victory Walk. I wasn’t in the race at all. Last place was ahead of me. This year, I want in on the race. I want in. I want to be official. So I’ve picked a word I’ve been thinking about for years but never turned into a profit. This year I want to be intentional. I will do life intentionally.

I am entering the race. On purpose. Intentionally. And if I finish last, I still finish. And in good company, I’m just guessing.

That’s the goal.

Happy New Year!

An Attitude of Gratitude…with a little latitude

It is the season of Thanksgiving. In two short days, privileged Americans will gather around tables all over this nation and gorge on foods they spend days preparing. Some of them will do it with solemn traditions and rituals that have been in their family for ages. Some will do it without thinking very hard about what it all means. Almost everyone, whether they feast or not—whether they have family to feast with or not—will stop and think about what it means to be thankful.

Thankful adj

1: conscious of benefit received <for what we are about to receive make us truly thankful>

2: expressive of thanks <thankful service>

3: well pleased :  glad <was thankful that it didn’t rain>

thank·ful·ness noun

I love the word “conscious” in the first definition. The benefit is received. But am I conscious of it?

Gretchen Rubin posted a quote a few days ago that burrowed itself into me and won’t leave. It said, “Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of everything.”

Oh dear. Receiving the benefits. Conscious of nothing. Complaining of everything.

It is a hard thing to look in the face of and admit, but I think I’ve become this.  I’ve allowed some ugly stuff to creep in.

For me, in a situation like this, I like to do two things: (1) Figure out how I landed there and understand the journey, (2) Determine the quickest and most direct road OUT of there. I think the second facet will be easy. There are some easy roads out of negativity and toward gratitude. Spending more time In God’s word is a big one. Serving others. Serving the less fortunate. Meditating on POSITIVE things. Keeping a gratitude list. Focusing on the good in every situation. If your INPUT is good, so will your OUTPUT be. What I put into myself, will spill out.

But how I got here, and exactly when, bothers me. I honestly don’t know. I do think I’ve declined a great deal in the last 6 months, maybe starting in the summertime. And I think it relates somehow to the kids getting older and busier and more involved in activities. These things drain me, require my car and my excellent driving skills and my time, and take all of us away from  home and each other. They are temporary to some degree. Sports seasons end. Plays take place for audiences and rehearsals are over. But in another sense, they are not temporary. My family is moving into another phase of life with older, more active kids. I didn’t see it coming and I’m fighting this phase. I think a great deal of my own internal discord comes from my fighting the system instead of finding a way to thrive within it.

I read an article years ago about how to react if ever attacked by an alligator. Silly me, you may think. What a stupid waste of time to read articles about reacting to alligator attacks. Not really. I live on a river and I do stupid things. I think I have a reasonable chance of needing this advice at some point. If you are ever with me in a kayak, consider yourself covered. So I read the article. The point of it was that you can’t fight an alligator and win. He will win every time. The only way to deal with an attack is to roll with it. Literally. An alligator’s approach is to grab on and roll you over and under the water until you are dead by drowning. Then he stores you under a log and lets your meat rot and he’ll come back later and eat you. (You’re welcome. Now you know.) The best thing you can do in this situation is try to roll with the gator and come up to breathe and roll again. You try to keep rolling toward solid footing and give yourself time to be helped by someone else or get away.  But you can’t go contrary to the gator. You can’t fight against it. You have to roll with it.

I’ve been fighting a system that is stronger than I am. A gator. I’m fighting something unchangeable. And I can’t. I have to roll with it. Come up for air. Work myself into the systems so that I can still be effective. Roll with it.

I have focused on the things that were wrong and completely overlooked what’s still okay and intact. I’ve focused on all the time I don’t have, creating a paralysis that destroys the time I do have. I have required a circumstance that hasn’t existed and decided to sit down and wait for things to go my way. Anyone who was just on the recent camping trip in sweaty Florida will know what I mean. They went camping with this version of me. (A story may or may not follow in a later post, depending on how much self deprecation I feel I can handle.)

Ouch.

Sigh.

Well, now what? I don’t think it’s that hard to pull out of something like this. A big part of it is deciding to change. If you want to get somewhere, go there. Sometimes it really is that simple. A big part of it is realizing you have somewhere to go. I personally have to assess what can and cannot change and work within the system. I have a boy enrolling in high school to be a freshman next year. If I’m honest, right now is probably a whole lot less complicated and busy than next year will be. So it would serve me well to be thankful for now. I have 2 boys playing middle school soccer, one on JV and the other Varsity. That means 4 days a week, at least, of soccer. I have a 4th grader involved in chorus and drama after school on Mondays and Thursdays. And I have a tiny one playing violin.

All of these things are good and all are things I have allowed and endorsed, albeit reluctantly. So it’s time to embrace where I am—where WE are—and make it work. But I don’t just want it to work. I don’t just want to eek by. I want to thrive. I want it to work well.

That starts with me.

With me being thankful.

I saw an internet meme on Facebook (just typing those words made me want to punch myself in the face) that said, “It isn’t happy people that are thankful. It is thankful people that are happy.”

If Facebook said it, it must be true.

Of course I don’t mean that. But I do believe this:

I Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Give thanks in all circumstances. In all circumstances.

I’ve been given the gifts. I have received the benefits. Now it’s time to say thank you. Baby steps?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

And Speaking of Dead People

A few weeks ago, my sister in law and I held a garage sale at a family beach condo. I know, rough life. But if you are going to be at the beach, I recommend you go out TO THE BEACH. An indoor garage sale didn’t afford much coastal breeze.

In deciding what to call this sale, we rejected garage sale, since it did not relate to a garage in any way. We also rejected yard sale for similar reasons. The label that came closest to defining our terms was Estate Sale, which indicates a total liquidation of contents and almost always means an indoor, walk-through-the-home sale. Perfect. Well, almost.

Two people expressed their condolences over the death of our parents. My parents are still alive. Some might even call them energetically alive. Dare I say spry? My sister in law also has living parents right here in town. I felt awkward explaining away the dead people. The sympathizers didn’t buy anything. I guess they told us.

At any rate, the end of the sale rendered more than $700 in revenue and no dead bodies. However, there were two different occasions in which we each thought the other might be dead.

And it is those dead people and their killers about whom I write.

I’ve already told you there are no actual dead people in this blog. If there were, I would hopefully take a decidedly different tone. But the fear of Death by Crazies came up twice.

The first occasion happened when an old codger named Tom wandered into our “estate.” He explained that he was a property owner and had 3 condos right there in our building. Two were in good, rentable condition. One was being renovated. Since our kitchen was ripped out and being redone, he was interested in what we were doing and willing to offer free advice. (As a side note, I cannot count the number of times people came in and said, “How much did you get for your kitchen?” “Oh, ha ha. Yes, well…we didn’t sell it. Blabety blabb blabb.” Ah, we wore that joke out.) Before the conversation with Tom was over, he had lured my sister in law, whom we’ll call Amelia upstairs to one of his units. When I agreed to let her go, I said, “Hey wait a minute! You’re not a serial killer are you, Tom?” He laughed. “Not as far as you know,” he answered. Comforting. “My wife wouldn’t go for that,” he finished. Ok. Well, that settled it. His wife wouldn’t allow murder, so Tom was safe.

So Amelia wandered off with a stranger named Tom and I was holding down the fort at the sale.

Tom and Amelia were gone for a long time.

Too long.

So I finally texted Amelia and said, “You still alive?”

She replied immediately. “Ha ha. Yes. Just finishing looking at the last condo. Back in a few.”

I thought about that for a second and said, “How do I know this isn’t Tom using Amelia’s phone to say ‘ha ha’ to me?”

She didn’t reply to that. I think she was either done with me or dead.

A few minutes later Tom and Amelia walked back in and I got invited to go tour his condos. Of course, I said yes, because no one had learned anything from all of this.

The sale went on. We sold our dining set for more than it was worth because a lady wanted it so badly. We didn’t want to sell it so we set a crazy price on it and she accepted.

The stream of people traffic that day was steady and thick. It wasn’t unusual to have 5-10 people inside at the same time.  Because of that, sometimes I would look up and not even realize who was inside shopping.

It was just such a time when Robert walked in.  I wasn’t the first to notice him.  Apparently, he marched in rather brashly and asked where the bathroom was. When Amelia pointed to the bathroom and said it was closed off and nothing was for sale in there (we’re keeping our toilets…), he went in boldly, turned on the light, and locked the door in our faces. Feel free to use the facilities, Robert. Help yourself. He did.

After relieving himself against our will, he shopped items in the kitchen and finally settled on 6 low-priced, stainless steel knives. He then walked over to a chair that nobody bought that day and plopped down in it, setting his unpurchased knives loudly down on a glass coffee table that was also for sale.  He was then sitting 3 feet from me.  Ignoring him was no longer an option.

I looked over at this man and took a moment to just absorb the outfit. His rotund, old-man body shape was stuffed awkwardly into baseball pants that were very much 20 pounds ago. Into those baseball pants, he tucked a turquoise golf shirt, and he finished off the look with loafers that a CPA might wear to work.

In the beginning, I was both entertained and amused. Even delighted. Here was a colorful character who was surely just resting up and chatting lightly before making massive and lucrative purchases. My delighted amusement lasted about 90 seconds. That’s how long it took me to figure that I wasn’t dealing with Entertaining.

I wasn’t dealing with interesting.

I was dealing with Crazy.

Amelia was in and out during my conversation with Robert. At this point, he hadn’t told me his name. From his vantage point, he thought he could see that our walls were warped. The solution was to panel them with oak from Home Depot. Amelia wasn’t taking the bait. She fought back. She doesn’t like oak and so she told him so.

“Well, then,” Robert countered…not to be deterred. “You can go to the Home Depot and sit down with the nice lady and find out what is selling. Then you go over to Lowes and sit down with the nice lady and say what is selling. Then you find the closest thing to what is selling to what you like. And that is called ESTABLISHING REALITY.”

Ok, Robert. What in the name of James Madison are you talking about?

This went on for awhile and my sister-in-law was politely responding to his crackpot advice because I was too busy taking a covert video of his crackpot advice. I did my best to blur his face so that I can’t be sued in the unlikely event that this post reaches more than 30 people. Take a moment and enjoy. Don’t miss the outfit.

There are a couple of things to note about this video. One is, I completely allowed my sister in law to handle the excruciating responses that were required at the end of all of his unnecessary and boneheaded renovation tips. But to retaliate, she threw me UNDER THE BUS and went outside and downstairs into the parking lot to “deal with the signs.” Huh.

So at this point, I was alone with Bob.  Knowing that she’d gone out to work on the signs, he took the opportunity to complain about our signs. He’d apparently passed the driveway three times.

“So what brought you here today?” I asked. “Were you shopping sales on Craigslist, or were you just out for a drive and saw our ‘bad signs?’”

And this is when weird shook hands with insane.

“Permission to speak Truth?” he asked. My eyes got buggy and I paused a long moment before answering.

“Uhhhhhh, I don’t know. Permission granted, I guess.” I mean, what am I gonna say? I had to know where this was going. At this point, I grabbed ahold of my brain and begged it to remember the next few seconds.

“I am guided by intuition,” he began. “Fueled by synchronicity, and drawn to grace.”

So, the powers of the universe led him there? I’m not quite sure what he intended me to take from that, but I am quoting.

“Well, grace is good,” I said.  Amelia was still gone. Dork.

“I am looking at that mirror,” he continued. “And feeling an attraction.” Seriously. “But I can’t quite seal the bond.” Again, I quote. Again, I have no idea what he was saying. I translated it in my mind as, ‘how much is that mirror? Maybe I will buy it.’

I needed Bob gone, so I got up, walked to the mirror, and looked at how we had priced it.

“This mirror has a price of $20 on it, but for you, right here, right now, it’s $10.” He looked at me and then looked at the coffee table.

“Will you throw in the knives for free?”

“Done,” I said.

Now get out.

Get. Out.

Now.

Here’s where the second almost-dead body came in.

Robert told me he had a bad back and needed me to carry the mirror down to his van.  What are the odds of that?

I collected his money before picking up that mirror. I’m not totally stupid. And I shot a look to my sister-in-law before walking past her with this asylum escapee. I’m not sure what I said in that look. Maybe it was a plea for help. Maybe it was a stink eye for her jaunt down into the parking lot. Maybe it was a warning to call the police if I wasn’t back up the stairs in 3 minutes.

I went down into that parking lot and I wasn’t back in 3 minutes.

After I put the mirror in his trunk, he wanted to know how he could continue our lifetime relationship. Another quote. Yeah, Bob. Sorry. That ain’t happening.  As I was trying to back away from the vehicle, he asked my name, wanted to know if it was the “name God gave me,” told me about his entire family history, explained how his own family name got truncated at Ellis Island, and asked for my dad’s phone number. I gave him my dad’s phone number. He said he wanted to rent the place. What do you say? I’m sorry. We can’t rent to you…on the basis of YOU’RE CRAZY.  Sorry, Dad.  Meanwhile, back in Room 206, Amelia had grown very concerned.  She called me but the phone rang right there in the unit. I hadn’t taken it with me. She then started looking over both balconies for his vehicle. He had parked in a blind spot. She was convinced that I was already under a concrete slab somewhere or stuffed into his trunk with the mirror and the knives when I finally walked back in.

My exhausting story about this dude ended with this:  “I’ve told you my story, but you can just call me Bob the Obscure.”

I made $10 off Bob the Obscure.

It’ll cost me $250 in therapy just to get back to where I was. Maybe we can just chalk it up to a lesson in “establishing reality.”

I’ve been in pursuit of reality for a long time. Remarkably few people are.

Being There

Today I had a couple of hours when I wasn’t feeling peaceful. When this happens–and sadly enough, it happens more often than it should–it is almost always for reasons too dumb to verbalize to other humans. And so I would never. I won’t even say them aloud to myself while walking or praying. What is there in my life that would justify anything but peace? I am healthy. I have everything I need plus a thousand million luxuries. I have a loving husband, 4 wonderful children, and family and friends. I mean, for the love of Ramon (I don’t like to say Pete), I have Jesus! I have too much. So I get irritated with myself when I feel this weird unsettled offness. And I try to stop it through a brisk walk or a prayer or anything that seems like it would serve as an attitude shifter. Today I chose to walk. I walked up to Florida College and back. I passed three old men, 2 german shepherds, one truly strange-looking dog, and a person on a bike that surely died shortly after she passed me. There are a lot of older people in my area. I hope to be one some day.

When I returned home, there were 3 or 4 extra messes that had not existed when I left. So of course, I barked a few orders and set the laws in motion. Heads were gonna roll if those messes didn’t disappear quickly enough. And then I decided to take a shower. That was more for others than for myself. After working in the yard all day, I had smelled better.  One can only require so much of their deodorant.  As I was about to step into the shower, the knocking at my bedroom door began. This is not terribly uncommon and a person has to double lock doors to keep out the riff raff. But that’s where this story goes bad.

“What?!” I said, annoyed that anyone was trying to get in.

“Can we come in?” I heard little Beloved’s voice.

“I’m taking a shower,” I said. “What do you need?”

And then I heard it. That phrase that was both the best and worst thing I’ve heard in weeks. Her answer, totally bare and honest.

“Nothing really,” she answered. “We just want to hang out with you.”

Oh man. There I was in my unpeaceful state of “what is your problem” and my daughters, 7 and 9 years old, were knocking at my door…needing nothing but my presence. Just wanting to hang out with me. How long until that is no longer the case? How long until I am begging to hang out with them and it is their tone laced with irritation or impatience?

I don’t know how long.

So you better believe I got clean fast and went looking for my daughters.

I found them reading on the porch swing, and they had left a space just right for me in the middle. I slid into my spot, patted them on the legs, and we hung out.

And I felt peaceful.