Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Do you remember what it was like being a teenager? Boys and girls going through the cycle of adolescence find themselves with a paradox. Their bodies and minds are developing a sense of separation and independence from their parents. At the same time, middle school and high school are places where fitting in, not sticking out, is preferred by most. How can they establish an individual identity where social groups can mean popularity and acceptance? How can they be perceived as “normal?”
In fact, how can we as adults? If we are like others we have a sense of acceptance about ourselves. At the same time we want to be recognized for the unique person we are. A great deal of my work is helping others to find what is special about them, to find their “gift.” While in the spiritual sense we are one with everything around us, we are also an individualization of the creative mind behind all life. I’ve seen my friend, Natasha, grow up from a child into a beautiful woman. She marched to her own tune as a teenager without apology or any seeming need for approval. Today she’s grown into a beautiful and caring woman who is very clear on who she is.
We risk labels of being weird, crazy or eccentric if we step outside acceptable social rules, color outside the lines or dance to the beat of our own drum. “Why don’t you dress your age?” is a question asked of some seniors. I don’t even know what that means. Who are we to tell someone else how to express themselves? It’s been my experience that a person who asks that of another is doing so for one of two reasons. They might be concerned for a friend or relative being looked down on (though the person in question probably doesn’t care). Or, they may just be jealous that someone else has the chutzpah to live without allowing people to dictate how they should live their lives.
I saw a woman in the grocery store last year that was probably well on the other side of sixty. Her hair was flawless, the blouse sensual but not tacky and the simple black skirt that fit her like a glove was well above her knees. The ensemble was completed by a pair of fierce, black pumps with five-inch spike heels. She was elegant, proud and confident. I complimented her on the fact that she took such meticulous care in her appearance and congratulated her on being one of the few women I’d seen recently who could walk in stilettos without looking like a gazelle with splints on its legs. She blushed and was truly moved that anyone would take the time to compliment her. She was unassuming in conversation and the epitome of a gracious presence.
Is she our “normal” picture of a woman of that age? Probably more so in 2014 than when I was growing up in the ‘60’s, but I’m sure she turned a few heads in the store that included disapproving smirks. I loved her. She wasn’t out to prove she was 30. She wasn’t trying to recapture a sensuality usually reserved in society’s opinion for a woman twenty years younger. She was being who she was, without exception, explanation or apology. When we are confident in our own personalities we don’t do what we do to prove anything to anyone. We are being authentic and unique. In doing so, we reduce our stress level and provide the planet with a gift only we can give.
As one of my dearest friends, Dr. Arleen Bump, once told me, “I don’t defend, justify or explain my actions. I let the results speak for themselves.” How are the results in your own life? Are you seeking approval instead of being the magnificent, unique individual you are? I invite you to step back this week if you begin thinking of stopping yourself from doing something out of fear of reprisal or the disapproval of others. Normal is average. Do you want to be “average,” just “good enough?” I don’t. I want to be amazing, authentic and magnificent! Be yourself. Remember, God doesn’t make junk!
In Spirit, Truth and Playfulness,
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Have you ever felt out-of-place in social situations? I have. A friend once said she often felt “like a house dress in an evening gown world.” Talk about feeling out of place! Imagine showing up for a party in very casual, knock-around-the-house clothes, only to discover it was a black-tie affair. NOT pretty!
First let me make something perfectly clear here about the title of this article. I’m not giving preference to Raggedy Ann or to Barbie. Most of us have heard what Barbie would look like in human form if her proportions were enlarged to a real person. She’d definitely turn heads, but not for the right reason. And, Raggedy Ann’s name alone may give us a picture of something less than pristine or desirable if used to describe ourselves.
Little girls and boys are taught in the media what body types are desirable and which are not to be imitated. Most of us look nothing like the people in the majority of advertisements we see and there’s a perfectly sound marketing reason why that is so. Commercials and print ads are selling a product and playing on our egos and insecurities to buy the wares they are hocking so that we will look better, smell better or be more like the ideals society ascribes to us to be the most desirable man or woman.
Setting Barbie’s “real” measurements aside for a moment, let’s assume that both she and Raggedy Ann are equal. See them as two different individuals, both with desirable characteristics, and each as living happy, productive and fulfilling lives. They are no different than the apple and peach trees in my yard. Both produce different and satisfying fruit. In real life, those of us who are Raggedy Ann and the ones of us more Barbie-esque can have lives worth living if we can accept our own individual gifts and personality.
I love being in a tux and am told I clean up fairly well when I wear one. But I can still enjoy being the t-shirt and jeans guy I am. You may find yourself in complimentary careers or living situations that seem diametrically opposed to others, yet you know it works for you. What we each can do is see if the “Barbie-type” goals to which we might be striving to attain are really what we want. Conversely, we can additionally examine our uncomfortable feelings with enjoying the simpler, “Raggedy Ann-type” accomplishments in our lives.
Successful living is about accepting who we are and changing what we choose to change. It’s about knowing that we need only our own approval to live our lives full-out and magnificently. Perhaps this week you’ll join me in allowing your own unique personality and gifts to be made more visible by sharing with the world who you are. The world awaits you!
In Spirit, Truth and Playfulness,
Thursday, July 17, 2014
I’m on vacation this week – away from home AND away from all my electronic gadgets! I hope this week you’ll enjoy a revised version of a popular article I wrote in 2012. See you next week with something brand new and fresh!
I am Diagonally Parked in a Parallel Universe
Have you ever had one of those days when everyone looks at you like you have green antennae growing out of your head? It’s sort of that “fish out of water” experience; you just don’t feel like you belong.
I grew up, like a lot of my friends, not really feeling at all like I belonged where I was. My trailer park roots are not something of which I am ashamed, but mother always said that I must have been mixed up at Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton, OH, with a missing baby from the Rockefeller family. My champagne tastes on a beer budget have gotten me in a financial pickle more than once.
But that’s not exactly what I am talking about. Sometimes when we don’t feel like we fit in it’s because we really don’t fit in. That’s not to say we are better than those around us, but we may very well be different. It’s as if we are trying to park diagonally when everyone else is parking parallel. We tend to stand out.
While our school systems would like us to believe that we are educating free-thinkers, the teachers who allow students to think outside the box are few and far between. Today many educators are more concerned with test scores and measurements than they are with teaching our young people how to reason or think creatively. When a child does not conform to the norms of the school or society she or he can be set apart as undesirable.
We must each decide how much we wish to fit in without jeopardizing our individuality. At the same time we can be more loving in how much latitude we give to those around us in how they choose to express their individuality. Just because we are different than those around us, or around those who are unlike us, it doesn’t mean we or they are wrong. Neither should it require anything more than a change of outlook. It means each of us is uniquely qualified to express life in a way that no one else can. That is something to be celebrated, not repressed.
Perhaps this week you can cut yourself some slack if you find your decisions are going against the grain of those around you. We needn’t make others wrong to justify our actions. But, we can believe in ourselves, knowing that we are acting in a matter which is best for us.
In Spirit, Truth and Playfulness,
Tuesday, July 08, 2014
“So, how are you?” you are asked, to which you answer, “Good! I’m good!” Then it happens. The person raises an eyebrow, perhaps smirks ever so slightly and asks, “Then why don’t you look/sound like it?”
I hate to be busted. I’d like to think I can keep my emotions to myself, but the truth is I’m not nearly as good at hiding my feelings when I’m upset or angry about something. I was serving on a board one time and in the middle of the discussion another board member said, “Terry hasn’t said anything yet. I want to know what he thinks, because it’s been my experience that it’s not when he’s talking that I need to worry, but when he’s quiet.”
What’s going on with us when our life is seemingly okay on the surface, but something still seems amiss? It’s a puzzling situation. We can’t put our finger on what’s eating at us, but we’re well-aware of something being “off.” For me, it feels like the ground is going to fall out from under me, or the world around me is going to explode, or some little gnarly critter is nibbling at me in an unrelenting manner. Whatever it may be in your experience, it’s unpleasant and stops us from being truly happy.
If everything's “alright” but something still feels wrong, then things aren’t nearly as right as we’ve convinced ourselves to believe. It reminds me of two ministers I know discussing their respective relationships. The one was going into extensive details about his marriage, defending all the reasons why he was in and should stay in his relationship. When he paused, the other said very gently, “It sounds like you have what I call a “good enough” marriage.”
The question we can all consider is, Do we want to be in a good enough marriage, job, house, or any other situation? Don’t we, each and every one of us, deserve to have an amazing life worth living? I’m talking about a lie that so excites us that we just can’t imagine how today can be so amazing, yet we know tomorrow is going to be even better. We live in a user-friendly universe, designed and created to support us in all sectors of our lives. So why would anyone settle for less than s/he deserves?
I hope you are as uncomfortable reading this as I am writing this. Understand, please, that I’m being sadistic. I bring this subject up because I know that addressing the problem in your own life can create the atmosphere for the discussion, decision and motivation necessary for change. I’m not suggesting you quit your job, leave your spouse or move across country later this week. I am suggesting, however, that the next time you feel like you’ve settled for a good enough anything that you make sure you are really happy in doing so. Being content is not the same as settling. A sense of calm contentedness has its foundation in an empowered life. But if we settle in our present situation while at the same time forever reaching for something to replace what we have, then we are not living in strength. We are living in spiritual poverty as victims.
None of us deserve to be victims. You have within you the power to create the life you desire. No matter how small that power may feel, know that there is a universal power greater than any situation and you can use that power to affect change in your life. If I can be of any assistance in that regard, please let me know!
In Spirit, Truth and Playfulness,
Tuesday, July 01, 2014
Do you ever feel like getting someone to help you with a project, or seeking counsel when you’re stuck in some way, is a sign of weakness? To some people, if they can’t figure out a problem by themselves they think they have failed. This type of person seems to believe that they should be able to handle anything. If you feel this way from time-to-time you know the kind of emotionally and physically stress it can put on you. I know. I’ve been there. My name is Terry and I’m a “recovering independent-holic!”
I remember how I felt when I began caring for my aging father. Before I was able to get a county aide in several times a week, and prior to when I was able to arrange hospice care, I was his primary caregiver living nearly 200 miles away from him. I traveled over three hours in one direction to get from our house to his apartment across the state. I spent the day grocery shopping, cleaning, doing laundry … and listening to him complain about the way I did just about everything. In between visits I worried constantly about whether or not he was okay.
I quickly learned that although he needed my help he also needed to be in charge. By having him come out to the kitchen and tell me where to place the groceries I’d just purchased he became more involved with his own care. That helped him to better deal with his situation, but it did little for me. I still found myself feeling inadequate, as if I should be able to anticipate his needs and provide for him before he asked.
He wasn’t the first person needing hospice care that I’d assisted. One of my first ministerial assignments began in 1989 when I became director of visitation for our church, providing services for people with HIV/AIDS in various Los Angeles hospitals and hospices. When I began caring for my dad I was already an experienced minister, had just received my first licensed as a social worker, and had a master’s degree in that field. In my mind these facts only upped the ante for me to set higher standards for myself than I was capable of attaining. Surely I should know how to handle this!
Well, I didn’t. I had all that prior experience, training and expertise that was useful in caring for strangers and teaching others, but precious few of those tools made sense to me when I looked at my own father. After three months of eighteen-hour days once a week I sat at his feet in front of his recliner, looked up at him and said through my tears, “I don’t know now to do this. I just don’t know how to do this anymore.” He just stared at me. I told him I was doing my very best, but nothing I did seemed to be good enough. I told him I felt like I was completely failing him in providing for even his basic needs. I suggested he find someone who could help him the way he wanted, because I was tired of crying all the way back home every week and feeling helpless about it.
He started crying. My vulnerability and refusal to think I had all the answers opened the door for him to admit how useless he felt, how angry he was that he couldn’t do even the simplest of tasks for himself, and how much he resented having to rely on the son he felt he’d failed as a father. After 50-plus years of being at odds with one another I honestly think I felt our hearts crack open. It was a breakthrough moment for us both. Over the next three years we still had our differences and disagreements (many quite unpleasant for one or both of us, if you must know!), but most of the time we worked as an interdependent, symbiotic unit to direct his care until he passed quietly one morning.
Ultimately, all we have at the end of the day is whether or not we are happy with our life; no one else but us is responsible for our happiness. Still, in this amazing universe in which we live, move and have our being, we are surrounded by other independent, autonomous spirits having their own human experience. Why not help one another instead of competing, isolating and alienating?
Here’s a thought for you to ponder and play with this week if you desire. If you’re stumped with a situation, even after meditating or approaching the problem through affirmative prayer (like the spiritual mind treatment I’ve written about before), why not ask for help? Where would you find that? In the people around you, that’s where! They can be a trusted friend, a partner/spouse, a mentor, a minister, your spiritual guide or a therapist.
It’s not a sign of weakness or lack of independence to seek help. I find doing so takes the edge off of feeling like I have to do everything. Would you be willing to give that a try this week? Is there something you would like to move through or beyond? I’d be happy to be there for you. If so, reach out by contacting me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be my honor to support you!
In Spirit, Truth and Playfulness,