Friday, January 17, 2020

Family and Friends and Coworkers, Oh My!

I received an email two days ago from a gentleman I’ll call Fred. With his permission, I’ll share a bit of his story.

Fred’s marriage ended almost a year ago, and he was spending most evenings and every weekend eating meals and dozing in front of the TV. His daughter read my post about making life changes (Creating a Life Redesign Blueprint).  Worried about his uncharacteristic but now-chronic listlessness, she told her dad she thought he needed to make some changes and she knew just the way to get started.

After first he discarded creating a life redesign blueprint as “too touchy-feely” for him. Tired of his post-divorce life, though, he decided to give it a try.  Plus, as he explained in his email, his daughter kept nagging him, so he did it “just so she’d hush up about it”.

Fred jotted down a few ideas and then, feeling intrigued by the possibilities, visited his local library, searching for information on fly fishing camps and African safaris. A helpful librarian told him about podcasts, and he was introduced to a new avenue by which he could learn even more.

He was, he explained, feeling optimistic about life again, and things were going great. Until, in his excitement, he shared what he had been doing with his fishing-buddy brother-in-law and with a coworker who was also a good friend.

Photo courtesy of
Their reactions were mixed. The coworker/good friend was intrigued by the African safaris and even suggested he might be interested in joining Fred. On the other hand, the brother-in-law was at first amused and then dismissing, mentioned the phrase “midlife crisis” a few times, and alerted his wife (Fred’s sister), who in turn paid Fred a visit to share how antidepressants had done her a world of good after her youngest went off to college.

Fred suggested in his email that I warn people in the act of redesigning their life to keep quiet about what they’re doing.

Fred raises an important issue. Unfortunately, and for a myriad of reasons, not everyone in your life is going to be supportive of your desire to make life changes.

I’ve learned in the past 10+ years, as I’ve made my own life changes, that people fall into what I consider 4 camps, and how you handle people you care about and interact with, according to their “camp”, could make all the difference in your journey to successfully and positively redesign your life.

Photo courtesy of

First, there will be the enthusiastic supporters, the cheerleaders in your life. They will support you 200%, be interested in your progress, and may even help by sharing information and resources. You may be tempted to surround yourself only by these folks, but that would be a mistake. Yes, you need people who consistently and wholeheartedly encourage you to follow your dreams. But you also need some people who, while supportive of you and of your happiness, do not unwaveringly support your every idea and action.

You need realistic supporters. These people care about you and are supportive of your efforts to make positive changes in your life. But — and this is important — they will consistently temper their enthusiasm with practicality, and they will share with you honestly, without pessimism, when asked for their thoughts. You need a couple of people from this camp in your life. They are the ones who, at the end of a long, grueling work week, will remind you that singing Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It’ to your boss  with only 1 month’s living expenses in the bank and flying on a one-way ticket to Tahiti to lie on the beach while writing your magnum opus is probably not the best course of action. They are the ones who will understand your frustration and encourage you to lay the groundwork (financial and otherwise) before buying taking any drastic steps.

You probably also have at least one or two skeptics in your life. They can’t really understand what you’re doing because they avoid change themselves and can’t fathom anyone else being willing, much less eager, to alter a “perfectly good” life. These people can be dangerous to your life redesign. Because they may feel their relationship with you is threatened by the changes in your life, they will be careful not to appear too negative or unsupportive. As a result, they may appear to be realistic supporters and insidiously erode your enthusiasm. Be very carful how much time you spend and how much about your plans you share with a skeptic. Typically, the more time and information you share, the more negative they become; so be prepared to change topics or make an exit if  that happens.

Hopefully, there are no openly oppositional people in your life. A friend of mine calls them Debbie (or Davy) Downers because of their chronic negativity that never fails to suck the enthusiasm and joy out of those around them. It would be wonderful if you could avoid them altogether, but if you cannot, you might simply do what Fred suggests: don’t tell them about your life redesign process. If they find out anyway — and it seems that Debbie/Davy Downers often do find out what we least want them to know — be prepared. You might want to simply tell them that this is important to you and that you’d appreciate them offering you, if not their support, at least no discouragement. You might have to take other steps such as determinedly changing the topic when they criticize what your doing, avoiding them as much as possible, etc.

None of us exist in a vacuum, completely isolated from other people. It's crucial that we treat both ourselves and others, no matter how they view what we life-redesigners are doing, with respect.

Share your thoughts via a comment. Give a shout-out to someone who is a positive force in your life. Share about a less-positive situation and, if possible, how you've successfully handled it. Let's help each other as we journey to more fulfilling, joy-filled lives. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Creating a Life Redesign Blueprint

Is your life what you envisioned 20, 10, or just 5 years ago? If not, you aren't alone. Studies indicate that many, if not most, people are living a life unlike what they had planned. Sadly, many of those people are frustrated and unhappy. You may be one of them. 
No matter what got you to this point -- one (or more) major events or the culmination of a number of seemingly-inconsequential events and decisions -- you have the power to change your life. Yes, you really do! As Dr. Seuss said in Oh, the Places You'll Go, "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose."

And whether you want to make some minor adjustments or you're looking for a major life overhaul, this is the time to act.

Not because it's the start of new year (new decade, in fact!), but because it’s now. There’s no better time than today, this very moment, to begin the process toward living the life that will give you peace and joy. 

You may feel stymied, unsure how to get from where you are to where you want to be. That's perfectly normal.

The best place to start is with the proverbial blank slate on which to create a blueprint for the life you want to live.
My life-redesign “slate” was 2 pieces of typing paper accompanied by a favorite blue ink pen. You may choose something else -- a spiral notebook and crayons or a large dry-erase board and markers, for example. 

Gather whatever works for you -- it's time to start your own life redesign blueprint.

Note: If you are married, you may want to include your spouse in this activity or each of you do the activity individually.

The first step in the process is to brainstorm a list of what you want and what you do not want in every aspect of your life: career, leisure activities, people, emotions, home, possessions, etc.  
The key to effective brainstorming is to write down every idea as it pops into your head. In other words, do NOT second-guess or censor yourself. If "buy a monkey and train it to clean my house" pops into your head, write it down.

You might try brainstorm in one or more ways. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.
  • Imagine your ideal week. What would you do every day? Where would you live and in what type of home? What time would you wake up and what would you have for breakfast? What type of home would you live in? What possessions would you choose to have? What would you do in your free time, and what kind of people would you surround yourself with? When and where would you work? What would be the nature of your job?
  • Consider your current life. What from your present circumstances would you keep in your new life and what would you love to discard? What would you prefer less of? What would you like to do more often or have more of? 
When you run out of ideas, consider other ways to explore the topic:
  • Consult some of the numerous “bucket list” sites on the internet and jot down the ideas that appeal to you. 
  • Ask your friends and family members what their ideal life would look like. Ask your Facebook friends.  
  • Go to a local book store or your public library and browse the magazines; select the ones that interest you and then sit down and page through them. Notice what draws your attention. Are you intrigued by magazines and articles about world travel? Hobby farms? Condos in large cities? Quilt-making?
Once your list is complete, set it aside for at least a day or two, adding things as they occur to you.  
When you feel your list is as complete as it can be for now, begin refining it. Combine very-similar items into one.  For example, I had both have more discretionary funds and be debt-free on my list. Obviously, if the relatively small credit card debt I had and my monthly car payment were eliminated, I would have had more money at my disposal, so I combined the two original items into one: get and stay out of debt

Part of the refining process is determining what you really want, above all else, in your new life. Perhaps your original list is small, and it’s completely doable to have everything on it. But if not, now is the time to prioritize your list and/or cull or amend some items. Keep in mind that you should only delete or revise an item for one of two reasons. 

First, if upon reflection you realize you really don't want that item after all, delete it. Yes, having someone else do your housework for you would be great, but do you really want a monkey? Think of the mess, the cost of bananas! So strike the monkey and consider adding "use a cleaning service". 

You should also delete (or at least amend) items that are, if you are honest with yourself, truly unrealistic. A 59-year-old friend wrote on her list "become a professional race-car driver". She knew that, for her at least, that wasn't feasible. She amended it to "attend a race-car driving camp at least once a year" (yes, they exist). 

That said, don’t be afraid to dream big, maybe even bigger than you’ve dreamed since you were a child. There are people who are traveling the world, without a 9-5 job or a hefty trust fund, all year round because they weren’t afraid to dream and then work to make their dreams come true. And then there's my friend who retired from her secretarial job at age 60, converted a portable shed into a tiny house with minimal help from her son (she even did the electrical and plumbing work, and both passed the city codes), and now lives completely debt-free on a small parcel of land overlooking a lake.

When you're done revising your list, create some sort of "final copy" that appeals to you. You might want to create a Pinterest board with an image for each of your items. Or you could cut words and pictures from a magazine and create a collage on poster board or a physical bulletin board. Perhaps you'd prefer to write your list in a rainbow of colors on a dry-erase board. I chose to write my list on the first 2-page spread in a brand new, leather-covered journal that I then used to journal about my own life-redesign process. A dear and very creative friend created a collage of charcoal sketches -- one image for each item on her list -- and hung it over her living room fireplace.

It’s your turn now. Grab a notebook or some paper and a pen or two. It's time to brainstorm!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Choices, Choices! (book review)

On average, experts say, we do it every 2 seconds. We do it approximately 2,000 times every hour and 35,000 times during our waking hours every single day.

We make a choice.

We make decisions subconsciously and deliberately, for a variety of reasons, and in situations ranging from life-or-death to completely frivolous.

No matter why or when or in what situation our choices are made, they add up. As Jean-Paul Sartre said, "We are our choices."

It's important, then, that as we make decisions, we make the very best ones possible. Unfortunately, though, most of us have gotten into the habit of making decisions on the spur of the moment, as we dash from one task to another, barely noticing our choices or their impact until it's too late and the damage of our collective poor -- or just not-best --  choices catch up with us.

There's a better way, and award-winning author Lucinda Secrest McDowell explores that way in her just-released book Life-Giving Choices: 60 Days to What Matters Most (New Hope Publishers).

In the first of 60 easily digestible yet thought-provoking readings, McDowell points out that most of us are not often called upon to make a choice between good and evil. Rather, we are most often required to choose between two equally good things, and she challenges the reader to "choose what matters most".

Each of the remaining 59 "chapters" focuses on one way we can do just that by making the best possible choice. We are encouraged, for example, to choose hope, to choose to sing, to choose power.

Some of the choices may be easy to make and may even be choices you already make. For example, choosing to nurture those around you or to celebrate may be natural for you.

Conversely, choosing to trust or to make connections may be a challenge that cause you to pause and do the hard work that making a decision and then acting upon it can be.

But rising to meet that challenge and learning to consistently make life-giving choices will positively impact your life and the lives of those around you. And Life-Giving Choices: 60 Days to What Matters Most provides the resources for you to do just that!

This life-changing book by Lucinda Secrest McDowell is an excellent resource for both individual and small/large group study.

I was blessed with the opportunity to read/study an advance copy of this book in order to share an honest review.

I do want to add that I first read this book straight through (2 chapters a day), reflecting and journaling on one or both chapters each day. I did this so that I would be able to write a review of the entire book on or before launch date (today!). On November 2, I began reading the book again, reading one chapter a day (as intended), and I'll finished on December 31, 2019. I will share updates on my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as I read and ponder and put into practice the wonderful principles outlined in this book. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Living in Limbo

I wish I had a dollar -- hey, I'd settle for a dime -- for every minute in just the past 10 years I've spent in what the people at Merriam-Webster refer to as "an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition".

In other words, in limbo.  

In the past nearly-ten years, I've sold 3 houses, bought 2, and had one built. I've waited on decisions from buyers and loan officers.

I've waited on word from hiring committees and from insurance companies.

I've waited on doctors' reports and on the results of an IRS audit. 

And now I'm in limbo again as I wait for the sign in my front yard and the real estate agent who put it there to work their magic. 

I imagine that you've spent some time in limbo as well.

It's not a comfortable place to be. 

But I've learned in just the past few months that while being in limbo is unpleasant, it can actually be a good thing.

Not fun. But good.

You see, for most of my life, when I've been faced with a period of uncertainty, of something not yet happening that I wanted to happen, I'd consistently resort to the same game plan:

Impatient drumming of fingertips on nearest surface + attempts to force my will on the situation + planning + plotting + obsessing about the situation + tears + frustration + dogged determination to personally make it happen + prayers for a result that lined up with my plans

Sound familiar?

This time, though, as I've been waiting for my house to sell, I've been employing an entirely different strategy.

Why? Because I finally realized that all my absolutely exhausting efforts had one thing in common. Each one of them -- separately and collectively -- was futile. Totally ineffective.

My new strategy is simple.

Instead of drumming and plotting and planning and forcing and obsessing and crying and . . . well, you get the picture. Instead of all that, I do one very simple thing.

I simply don't allow myself to focus on the situation that's placed me in limbo and on my desire for a solution. Any time even the hint of concern or frustration raises its ugly head, I deliberately, intentionally replace that thought with something else.

Primarily, I pray. I pray without focusing on the sale of my house. Instead, I thank and praise God for all he has done and continues to do for me and in me. I intercede on behalf of others. I ask that He help me honor Him and increase my trust in him during this time of waiting. I ask that He show me how I can use this difficulty in my own life to help others. And yes, I sometimes ask, after I've addressed everything else, that He bring a buyer for my home.

I don't ask every time. Not because the issue isn't important, but because, quite honestly, I've come to realize the other things -- the things I talk with Him about first -- are what's really important.

I look over my prayer list. I consider the list of people who are battling cancer or other serious life issues. I think about the friends grieving the loss of a dear loved one or the loss of a job and who are facing true financial uncertainty. I picture former students who are now serving in the military or who are starting full-time jobs or heading off to college. I don't actually pray; instead, I just pause on each name and think of that person.

Often, I journal. Instead of focusing on what I want and what I don't yet have, though, I begin listing all the times in just the past few years God has answered my prayers that have blessed me and brought me joy. Or I write a letter to God. Or I simply write whatever crosses my mind.

I do something physical. I lace up my walking shoes and go for a long walk or pack a box or two of possessions in anticipation of my move. I lift weights while listening to uplifting music. I turn on my favorite oldies radio station and dance.

I make a deliberate effort to make someone else happy. I visit a friend in the hospital or send a card to an acquaintance going through a difficult time. I go shopping, not to buy anything at all, but to see how many people I can smile (sincerely) at or say something kind to. I look for and post positive things on social media.

Sometimes I watch a television program I know will make me laugh, or at least smile. I'm currently working my through the entire series of Frasier, laughing out loud at the witty dialogue between Frasier, Niles, Martin, Daphne, and Roz. 

My strategy is working amazingly well. No, my house hasn't sold. Yet.

But something even better is happening. I'm talking with God more than ever before; talking less about myself and more about others. And I'm listening to Him -- reading the Bible or just sitting quietly.

And the result is that I've been enveloped in a calm and peace that I've never before felt while in a state of limbo. I'm even laughing more than I have in a long time.

I'm no longer depending on my circumstances or on the behavior of others to make me happy; instead, I'm finding peace where I am.

Even if it's in limbo. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

I Had No Idea!

"Mail call!" I sang out as I came in the house. I had sorted the envelopes while walking down our driveway, culling the junk mail and dropping it in the trash bin outside and stashing mundane-looking items in my purse. Now I was holding aloft 4 or 5 envelopes addressed to my husband.

That had been my routine for the past week or so. Since word of his diagnosis had gotten 'round.

I wasn't surprised when the envelopes addressed  only to my husband began arriving, but he was. In fact, when I presented the envelopes every afternoon, he looked at them somewhat suspiciously, as if I was playing a prank on him.

I handed him that day's collection and went to the kitchen to refresh his glass of cold water. I didn't want to hover; I wanted to give him his privacy as he read messages that, I learned when I read them every evening after he went to bed, contained heartfelt personal messages.

When I returned a few minutes later with his water and some fruit, he looked up at me from where he was sitting on the couch. He looked shyly embarrassed.

"I can't believe all these people are taking the time to send me cards and messages. I had no idea!"

"No idea, what?" I asked, sitting next to him on the couch.

"I had no idea that this many people liked me."

I was shocked by my husband's statement. He was a great guy. Nice to others, non-judgmental, easy-going, quiet (until you got to know him), funny and fun-loving, always willing to help others . . .

Everyone liked him! It was obvious. How could he not know?

The truth is, though, that countless people walk through each day of their life never feeling liked or loved by anyone outside their immediate family. By coworkers or acquaintances. Even by friends.

And that simply breaks my heart. Just as my husband's words broke my heart that afternoon nearly 10 years ago.

If you know my family's story, you realize that my husband's cancer journey didn't end well for those of us left behind.

43 days after his diagnosis, 39 days after his 48th birthday, 13 days before what would have been our 25th wedding anniversary, he passed away.

Today would have been his 58th birthday.

I wish that today you were preparing to come over to our house for a huge birthday party. We'd have his favorites -- white cake with whipped cream frosting and ho-made ice-cream. We'd sing happy birthday and joke & laugh as he tried to blow out 58 candles on his cake. And there'd be lots of teasing about him being an "old man".

Instead of having you over for a party, I have a favor to ask of you. It may be a challenge for you, but that's okay. It's a good challenge -- one that will make you feel great. I promise!

Whether or not you knew my husband, I ask you to do one thing for the next 39 days.

Once a day, every day, somehow convey to someone you know -- preferably a different person each day --  that they bring you joy, that they are important to you.

That you like them.

It doesn't have to be a grand gesture. Often, it's the little things that mean the most. You can do it anonymously, if you're shy.

But do it. Before it's too late.

You don't think you can do that for 39 days? That's okay. Do it once. Today. Then do it again tomorrow. Maybe, just maybe, you'll feel moved do it again the next day.

Don't know what to do? I've created a list below to inspire you, and if you have any ideas to add, please share them via a comment to this post. 

Wait! You can't think of 39 people? I've got a list for that as well. Just scroll on down. :)

These are the cards, stored in a wicker basket in my bedroom. Someday I want to read them again. Every single one was a blessing, a gift of love. 

Suggestions to get you started: 

a regular-mail card (that you took the time to go out, buy a card and then mail it speaks volumes itself  ~~ a phone call  ~~ a bouquet of flowers (doesn't need to be large or even store-bought ~~ just tell them ~~ an act of service ~~ stop by for a visit ~~ a hug ~~ a cupcake or other treat ~~ spend time with them doing what they want to do ~~ ask them about their day and really listen to their response ~~ load the dishwasher if it's typically their job ~~ wash their car ~~

But who? Who will you tell?

your spouse ~~ child/grandchild ~~ a parent ~~ a sibling ~~ a coworker ~~ your pastor ~~  your neighbor ~~ that cousin you grew up with ~~ an old classmate you haven't talked to often enough in recent years ~~ an "old" (previous) teacher ~~ a grandparent ~~ the person you sit by in Sunday School or Bible study ~~ kid who mows you lawn ~~ your doctor ~~ the nurse who always puts you at ease when she has to draw blood (yes, I'm that way about needles) ~

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Beautiful Warrior (book review)

In a nutshell, Beautiful Warrior -- Finding Victory Over the Lies Formed Against You by Tina Yeager is a phenomenal book!

I was at first put off by the subtitle (Finding Victory Over the Lies Formed Against You). I don't think of myself as a person about whom others are forming lies, and I felt confident that over the past 13 years I've developed an honest assessment of myself (more on that later). I simply didn't see how this book related to me, but something kept drawing me back to it. I reluctantly purchased an electronic version and began reading.

Before I was even finished with the second paragraph of chapter one, I was captivated.

Yeager opens with a candid and very moving account of her own experience at a women's weekend retreat that leads the reader into an issue that is relevant, timely, and critical.

In today's culture, women (and men, for that matter) are continually bombarded with messages from the advertising and entertainment industries, social media, peers, etc., upon which they conceive and develop a sense of their own identity and self-worth.

The result? Feelings of insecurity. Loneliness. Bitterness. Self-doubt. Rising rates of anxiety and depression. Self-harming behaviors and even suicide.

Yeager, a licensed professional counselor, offers an antidote, a more sound approach that leads to a more accurate and and infinitely-healthier sense of self.

In thirteen very informative chapters, Yeager addresses topics such as comparison, human approval vs Godly approval, overcoming loneliness, addressing bitterness, and developing emotional strength and dignity. Each chapter provides practical, doable strategies and study questions that lead the reader from unhealthy self-assessment to a healthy one based on who she really is -- a woman created in God's image.

Yeager delivers her life-altering message not as a lofty scribe preaching from the mountaintop. Instead, hers is the voice of a friend sitting across from the reader at the kitchen table, cup of tea in hand, recounting with refreshing transparency her own experiences and sharing life-changing wisdom. It is one of a trusted friend -- kind, compassionate, and loving.

As I read, I quickly realized that this book does apply to me. For much of my life I had assessed myself on the basis of societal norms. At age age 46, after a life crisis and wake-up call, I began to reevaluate who I was. I pondered and prayed and journaled, and I was honest in my assessment -- brutally honest. Harsh. Unforgiving.

Yeager gently guided me to see that neither yardstick -- society's or that of a rigid, unforgiving judge -- is healthy. More importantly, neither is valid.

Instead, it is imperative that you and I see ourselves as God sees us. That we finally, truly understand who God says we are and live accordingly.

Beautiful Warrior is indeed a life-changing book. It's so wonderful that, minimalist though I am, I purchased a second copy -- a print copy that I can hi-lite and annotate. And 5 more copies are in my shopping cart so I can give copies to young and not-so-young women who are dear to my heart.

It's that kind of book -- the kind you will read once and again, rave about to your friends, and give as a gift.

It truly is phenomenal!

Friday, June 28, 2019

What in the World?! (Five Minute Friday)

I'm very excited to again this week join a talented group of women who connect each Friday in an online, unedited (so excuse all errors) flash mob free-write based on a one-word prompt from our fearless leader Kate Motaung. My timer is set for 5 minutes; let's see where the word "world" takes me.

My two grandmothers were as different as night and day.

One was a German-American Indian, Lutheran woman. She loved to play games like Sorry, Yahtzee, and various card games. I never saw her do any handiwork; it seemed to me that all she did was chores. She enjoyed a beer on occasion. She was married to my larger-than-life, boisterous, outrageous grandfather. He was probably the reason she enjoyed that occasional beer!

My other grandma was a Scotch-Irish, die-hard Southern Baptist. Games with dice and cards of any kind weren't allowed in her home, but if we brought a spinner she would play for hours. She loved to tat and make quilts. In the summer, she'd connect (by hand) tiny scraps of cloth into squares, and in the winter, my father would put up her quilt frame so she could hand-quilt every evening while she listened to her favorite television shows. She was a widow, and she proudly proclaimed that not once in her life had even a drop of liquor crossed her lips.

As unalike as they were. My grandmothers shared 3 traits.

First, they were women of very strong faith.

Both loved their families fiercely and with amazing patience for their loved ones' foibles.

Neither of them cursed. When shocked, the most they would say was "What in the world?!"

As I chat on social media, read the newspaper, or listen to the news today, I often find myself parroting my grandmothers' words. 

Happily, my amazement is often of the happy variety. 

I'm often awed by what is going on in the world around me. Just this week, for example, a friend posted on Facebook a short video of the most beautiful sea creature I've ever seen. I watched the that clip of the graceful, colorful creature over and over.

But six or seven years ago, I realized one day that it was in anger or disgust more often than not that I uttered the phrase "What in the world?!" 

I realized that I was letting what I read or heard color my attitude -- making me sad or cranky or worried.

And so, I made some changes in my approach to 

Wow! That's it . . . that's all I have time for.

How do you react to things in the world around you? How do you keep a healthy focus while staying in touch with others and informed on the things you need to know? Please join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts via a comment.