A New Year, A New Venture

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I want to wish each of you a Happy New Year! Usually that’s said at midnight during parties and other celebrations, but I want to quietly tell you, now that the hoopla has died down and, for some, resolutions begin, that I hope 2013 is filled with true happiness. I hope that you will look at each day as a new beginning and give it your all, whether in work or in play (please don’t forget to play). My desire is for each of you to find peace and spread kindness wherever you are. There will inevitably be pain, hurt, failure, brokenness, and sadness, but through those times that threaten to rob you of your joy, I hope you will persevere and put your foot down (happily) and say, “I choose to be Joyful on Purpose!”

For the last few months I have been preparing to launch into the new year and pursue a different way of life than what I’ve known and, more importantly, what I’ve been comfortable with. Most of the changes I’ve experienced this last year were not at all what I planned and were often met with fear and resistance. But along the way I learned to give in more easily to what unfolds and embrace what used to cause me  panic & perspiration:  change. In doing so, I decided to make the most of the time I have been given and I want to spend the majority of that time giving to others.

I try to give through what I write here, sharing pieces of my heart and soul through words. The response has been touching, delightful, heartwarming, and life-changing. You have inspired me to continue to share and I hope Joyful on Purpose, the blog, will be around for years and years to come. Many of you have also asked me and encouraged me to turn my story into a book and it is progressing… slowly, but surely! Thank you for the gentle nudges; they keep me going.

Now I want to share by helping others who are going through the grieving process, no matter what the circumstances are. My way of grieving has been to purposely find the good, the happy, and the joyful in the midst of pain. My way of grieving is not the only way or perfect way and, for some, maybe not even the right way. But for others it might be just the thing to help them move through (not around) the pain they are feeling and come out on the other side seeing that joy has been there all along. So, if you’ll click below, I will officially introduce to you my newest joy…

My hope is that by helping others find their joy in grief, joy will be passed along, growing and blossoming into something beautiful.

A Whole New Year, A Whole New Venture = Joy

My Parting Words to 2012

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We will open the book.  Its pages are blank.  We are going to put words on them ourselves.  The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.  ~Edith Lovejoy Pierce

We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day. ~Edith Lovejoy Pierce

This is my last post for 2012, a year that has been such a mixture of grief and gladness. So much has happened since February 10, “The Day My Earth Stood Still” and my family’s life took an abrupt and alarming turn. If I could go back in time I’d change everything, rewrite so much and devise a different and happier outcome. Of course, that’s not how our time here works, so instead we choose from the options we do have. Mine has been to look for what is good, what is positive, what is happy, and what is joyful. It’s taken some effort at times and I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy as pie every day.

I’ve spent the last week battling a pretty nasty cold, one that has wanted to linger despite my protests and medication. I haven’t been sick like this in a very long time. Someone asked if I thought it could be related to losing Brian and I’m beginning to suspect that it is. I was dreading the arrival of the first Christmas without him and the emptiness that came with it. Perhaps it was just a virus picked up during holiday shopping, or maybe it was just my body giving in to some feelings of grief. Who knows for sure?

Early this morning, around 2:45 actually, I woke up and thought, “Wow! I feel a lot better. …and I still have almost six hours until the alarm goes off!” Today I feel more like myself and I believe I have caught up on some much needed sleep. While I was under the weather I ran across this quote:

“She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts.” ~George Eliot

I’ve wrestled with grief this year, resisted parts of it that were uncomfortable and tried to push away what I didn’t want to face sometimes, perhaps even to the point of physical illness. But there has definitely been a welcoming as well. I’m learning that it’s simply part of my life for now. It’s part of everyone’s, really, at one time or another. So why not make it a companion and share our thoughts with it? When grief enters our life, it’s here to stay for a while, so we might as well be welcoming.

As this year draws to a close, I want to thank each and every one of you who has walked alongside me in 2012 as I have travelled this rocky path. It’s been nothing less than a joy to feel the compassion and encouragement from each of you, to welcome new friends and draw closer to those I’ve known for a long time. It’s time to say goodbye to 2012. I recently read about a burning ritual done by a fellow “griever” and I love the idea of tangibly saying goodbye to a 365-day journey around the sun and all its ups and downs. I plan to do that on December 31, 2013. I may even set fire to a few mementos of 2012 tomorrow… we’ll see. I hope you’ll look back over 2012 and let go of what was sad or hurtful, what made you upset, and what you’d rather forget. I hope you’ll also leave behind some of what was grand and left you feeling elated! Let that be what you see when you look back at 2012. Prepare yourself for what is waiting ahead in a brand new year. Get ready to open a new book, one of blank pages to fill any way you like. I’ll see you there!

Parting with the Past = Joy 

A Joyful Holiday

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Wishing You Joy

Tomorrow is the big day. Christmas is upon us! What kind of shopper are you? I’m of the variety who waits until the last minute and scrambles, hoping to be struck by brilliance and find the perfect gift. Brian was very good at it, so this year has been a little tougher on me without our creative minds working together. Yeah, I’ve had to resort to gift cards in some instances, but I don’t find those impersonal. Kids especially like them because they get to shop for their own loot. I guess I don’t mind them for much the same reason.

What is your day like? Hustle and bustle or subdued and simple? I prefer the latter… big surprise, huh? Our Christmases in Florida started with a morning walk, just Brian and I, while the boys slept in. I remember making breakfasts, sometimes my grandmother’s cinnamon rolls or my mother in-law’s breakfast casserole. Our Christmas dinner was sometimes traditional, but other times not; I made barbecue pork ribs one year. We often made desserts  and treats to enjoy and also give away. The unwrapping of the gifts was quite low-key, especially as we all got older. Very often we would go out in the late afternoon and see a movie together. Definitely subdued and simple!

Some of my best Christmas memories are from the days when the boys were little. For many years we would sleep by the tree on Christmas Eve, letting the boys open one gift that night and save everything else for later. I remember them decorating cookies one year with Brian. Brian Jr’s creations were carefully and creatively decorated, as realistic as possible. Jordan was more of the “let’s pile the icing high and get messy” sort of decorator. Brian was a mixture of both. The Lawsons are an eggnog-drinking family and the kids always looked forward to the first cartons of eggnog showing up on grocery store shelves. A little thing, of course, but a fond memory nonetheless. Not too long ago I was going through one of my mom’s photo albums that was labeled “Christmas” and enjoyed turning page after page of holidays, watching the kids grow up all over again.

This year is different in so many ways. I’m back in the cold with better chances for a white Christmas, although sand is white, so I think I enjoyed those even in sunny Florida! Jordan and I are here together, but we are missing Brian Jr. and that has been hard to deal with. I have an emptier nest than I thought I’d have a year ago. I even checked into flying down just for Christmas Day to make things seem more normal, even if just for 24 hours. The biggest difference, though, is obvious. There’s an important person missing and no plane ticket can change that.

Going through the first holidays after losing someone is supposedly the most difficult. It’s proving to be emotional and lonely. I also hear, however, that holidays will get easier as time goes on, though nothing is ever quite the same again. That thought makes me all the more grateful for the memories I have to hold on to and the days I have left to create new ones. There will no doubt be happy moments in the days surrounding Christmas and on the day itself that will stay with me forever, that will be added to the scrapbook in my mind. Wherever you are tomorrow, however you celebrate the day, take a moment or two to really appreciate the way things have been and the way they are now.  Look forward to the way they will be, no matter what your future holds, but don’t look too far forward. Treasure the here and now. I wish you the merriest Christmas and the happiest holiday.

Holidays = Joy

Advice for Younger Me

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Older Me

I’m not sure where this picture came from, but it’s circled the Internet and when it popped up I identified with it. If only we could whisper into our own ears and let our younger selves know some things. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.

Older me would have whispered quite a lot to my middle school self. I would have let that insecure girl know that she had a voice and shouldn’t be afraid to use it. I’m not a shy person, but I do get a bit nervous when I have to talk in front of people. It wasn’t always that way though. As a little girl I performed for family and friends, put on little skits and dances, and talked a lot. I knew when to be quiet – in school or church – and when it was okay to let loose. But then I had to give a short speech in 8th grade and the substitute teacher gave me what I felt was an unfair grade because she said “your voice was shaky.” From that day on I avoided speaking if possible. I grew quieter. But older me would go back and tell that girl that shaky voices don’t matter and, quite frankly, grades don’t matter. Trying matters. Going out on a limb matters. Even failing matters… sometimes much more than success.

Older me would have whispered to my high school self to have more fun and not be so serious. I would have told that teenager to get out more and not take the extra classes. I would have told her to enjoy school and study hard, of course. I would also have told her to keep playing music and never let her love of creating art die. Somewhere along the way I decided those two things were no longer important. Now I can no longer read music and while I’m still creative, I sometimes wonder what “masterpieces” never happened.

Older me would have whispered to my 20-something self as well. I would have told her that it is okay to be a young mom and not know what the heck you’re doing. I would have assured that frazzled homemaker that every mom feels that way, whether she’s 20 or 50. I would have told her that you do the best with what you have. Brian always wanted to be a better parent than his parents and that is not to say his were bad in any way! He just felt we should all try to take what we have learned and do more if we can, strive to be the best that we can be. Of course, he and I fumbled many times as parents and always said our kids turned out the way they did in spite of us, not because of us. But older me would tell that 20-something mom that it’s also okay to take credit for the good stuff. I did do things that shaped my children and made them into the great young men they are today. It’s okay to be proud of that.

Older me would tell my 20-something self to be humble and look around for opportunities to learn. While I lacked some confidence in my parenting skills, I sometimes felt I knew more than I really did in other areas, that I had answers and that I was better than other people my age. We all have those feelings at times, of course, where we roll our eyes and feel a little smug about how smart we are. I was a little more judgmental back then and saw the world as black and white. Now, I know that the older I get the more I have to learn. The more I know, the more I realize how little I know!

Older me would tell the younger me entering her 30s that life is very short and we don’t have time to take things for granted. I would tell myself to live every moment fully and appreciate everything and everyone around me. I would have told myself to pick my battles carefully and let a lot of nonsense go. I would have told myself to love more fiercely, feel more deeply, watch more closely, speak more kindly, give more freely.

Like the picture above says, I would whisper to my younger self that I’m not alone. I know that people identify with me and feel the same things I do. I know that we all struggle. It happens in different ways, but it’s struggle nonetheless. I’d whisper that it does indeed get better. Even with ups and downs, loss and heartache, it gets better. If we pay attention to the lessons of life we can find joy and happiness in the darkest of times and we can make those foggy days clearer.

There’s an older me waiting down the road, who wishes to whisper to the me I am right now, at 38. I know she has things she wishes she could speak right now that would make this path a little easier. I kind of wish I could hear those words of advice. Since I can’t, I will just remember that she’s waiting for me somewhere out there in the future and she does hope I’ll take care. So I will. I will take care of myself by paying attention to the little things that happen each day, by giving myself permission to wade through the bad in whatever way is necessary, and by being mindful and enjoying the good. And I’ll thank older me now, in advance, for doing her best and living well.

Whispers from Older Me = Joy 

I Love New York

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The City

Two girls who hadn’t seen each other in two decades. Two and half days. Twenty and a half miles on foot. One big city checked off: explored and experienced. That was my trip to New York.

I was really struggling through a rough patch. One thing led to another and before I knew it, my friend Sherry and I had hatched a plan for a girls’ getaway. I flew to Raleigh to meet her and we spent a quiet evening downtown catching up on over twenty years and two lives that had gone in many directions since our days in middle school band! When we boarded the plane bound for New York the next day, she let me have the window seat because, unlike me, it wasn’t her first time to fly into the city. My smile was wide as my eyes darted left and right, waiting for the first glimpses of New York from the tiny windows of the aircraft. When we touched down at La Guardia we looked at each other and smiled even more, completely excited, but also anxious.

Our trip from the airport to the hotel was my first-ever ride in a taxi. It was nothing like the movies, which is probably good since I watch a lot of action movies where taxis are in high-speed chases and in danger of flipping over at any moment. Instead, it was just a pleasant ride through the city. Yes, the traffic was heavy, but it was actually less harrowing than driving through Miami during rush hour. We quickly settled into our hotel room and then changed shoes, checked our map, and headed out.

Rockefeller Plaza

With just one stop for dinner, we walked for 7 1/2 hours! Our goal was to get our bearings, figure out where the main attractions were, and take in as much as we could. Oh, how we did that! On our first walk we swung by Madison Square Garden, the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Rockefeller Plaza, Broadway, Times Square, and so much more. We definitely looked like tourists. We looked up… a lot. We smiled, said excuse me, and apologized for bumping into people… a lot. We stayed on the sidewalks and dutifully obeyed the walk/don’t walk signs. We waited patiently for the little man to tell us when to cross the street and the big orange hand to tell us to stay put! We also made our pilgrimage to a mecca for readers: the New York Public Library. We stared in awe and wonder at the beautiful entrance and walked up the stone steps, past the lions guarding the way. We whispered, of course, as we walked the hallowed halls and peered into rooms where people were studying and writing and reading. We had talked about the Library before ever going on our whirlwind adventure and it did not disappoint. Two authors, two bookworms, two bibliophiles: completely happy!

Times Square

Our first stop on day two was the Empire State Building. As fans of the movie, Elf, we quoted Buddy as we made our way to the entrance and up to the top. The views were spectacular! I was atop the very place where King Kong roared as planes buzzed by, trying to shoot him down! There are moments in life when you realize how small you are, what a tiny piece of a colossal puzzle your life is. Standing at the top of the Empire State Building gives you that sense. As I gazed down at all the skyscrapers surrounding us and the microscopic people below, the itty bitty cabs and cars and buses making their way through the maze of streets, I was struck with that sense of wonder at how many lives are being lived all over the world and how many are intersecting each day, sometimes for the briefest of moments and other times, when we’re lucky, for a lifetime. I was amazed and grateful.

Central Park

We walked and walked again, covering miles of ground. We walked to Central Park and saw the Plaza Hotel, wandered over to Columbus Circle and met a friend for lunch at a diner. We took a tour of the Museum of Modern Art, impressed and also disturbed by artwork. Our feet took us down Fifth Avenue and back to Rockefeller Plaza where we took in the tree again in all its glory. We watched people skate and shop and saw Christmas lights sparkle and cameras flash like twinkling lights from all directions. Another friend met us at a wonderful wine bar and we caught up again on life and its twists and turns, laughing and sharing where our paths had taken the three of us since graduating all those years ago. Our last stop of the night was the Gershwin where we saw Wicked, the show I’d been waiting for years to see. It was fabulous and there was only a slight moment of regret that Brian and I had been unable to see it together when he bought tickets for us back in April in Denver. He was simply too sick to go by the time the date rolled around and I couldn’t bear to go without him. He would have loved it, but I know he was happily looking down on us and very excited that I’d taken what was, for me, a huge step and gone on a little adventure. Afterward we walked back to our hotel, reliving the evening and the day. Splendid. More than that, really, but splendid will have to do.

The Tree

Our final day in New York was our biggest one. We had to fit in as much as possible! We were determined to see every sight we could… our feet had no idea what we had in store for them. During our nearly 10 miles + two subway rides, we took in: half of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum, Top of the Rock, Washington Square, Gramercy Park, Grand Central Terminal, more of Times Square and the Theater District, and Broadway Comedy Club. A friend was performing there and the thought of someone pursuing a dream like that in a city like that is pretty inspiring. Washington Square was, I’ll admit, a happy accident… I cannot read a subway map very well! Our feet begged us to hail a cab on the way back to the hotel and we decided we should “just because.” As we drifted off to sleep, thoroughly enjoying the sounds of the city that never sleeps, we talked about how good the trip was for both of us, how scared we had been to do it on our own, and how much we had learned about ourselves and each other. I’ll never forget Sherry thanking me for going along and letting her enjoy the city through my eyes. Wow! For me, going to New York was huge. I didn’t have my safety net: someone to take care of me and all the details, and just let me tag along.

It turned out to be two single, clumsy, directionally-challenged, but adventurous girls taking an unforgettable whirlwind trip to NYC… and succeeding in having an amazing time. By the time we left, we still looked up… a lot. We still smiled… a lot. But we pushed our way through when we needed to and learned that sometimes it’s perfectly okay to walk before the man says you can and keep going when the big orange hand says not to. And you don’t have to wait on the sidewalk. You step out of where it’s comfortable and just go with the flow.

Stepping Out  = Joy