Life University: Insights from 2013

1.  BEING REAL IS FAR MORE ENGAGING THAN PRETENDING TO BE PERFECT

Obvious, right? Well, you’d think so. However, maybe, you’ve found yourself bored with the way people work so hard at convincing others that their lives are perfect — posting pictures of their immaculate homes, happy families, loving spouses and exotic vacations. Well, for me, 2013, like no other year, was soul stretching and laden with disappointment and heart wrenching loss. Often, I felt like a fraying sweater, unraveling as the fiber of my being was snagged by life’s overwhelming and unexpected challenges. At first, my worn edges weren’t noticeable to others, but time and circumstances didn’t allow me to conceal how threadbare I had become. I needed mending. My snagging was just too big to hide. 2013 demanded messiness of me. It required raw honesty, questioning, vulnerability, doubting and struggle. It was too much energy to try to fake it. More importantly, I made a conscious choice not to. This was truly a life changing decision. Friendships of new depth and understanding began to form . Choosing to be authentically real engaged others and became the fertilizer that blossomed forth intimacy, understanding, empathy, and loving kindness. Time and time again I’ve heard others say, “Thank you for being honest and for being brave enough to share your heart.” So, yes, I’m learning not to care about appearances, not to be ashamed of my “messes” and to truthfully let others know what I’m going through. I’m finally getting a handle on how senseless it is to try to prove to the world that I’ve got my act together.  Truth is, I don’t.  I struggle.  I fail. I fall. I learn. I pick myself up and I try again.  We all do. Perfection is way overrated. It holds others at a distance and forbids them to get too close.  Perfection is so 2013. For me, 2014 is all about authenticity and realness.

2. SHOW UP

Confession: I’ve been truant for some of the significant happenings of life. Not something I’m proud of, but it’s the truth. Often, in the past, when invitations came my way, my knee-jerk response was to come up with reasons why I couldn’t, shouldn’t and wouldn’t go. I’d spin an excuse like nobody’s business–many of which even had a smidgen of validity. I was either too tired, too stressed, had nothing to wear, felt uncomfortable, was behind in my deadlines, or under the weather. However, sometime during 2013, I became aware of how often I talked myself out of simply showing up. Truly, it had become a unconscious pattern of my existence. Worse yet, I often relied on my husband to “cover” for me. It’s as if I believed that if Doug showed up to my son’s hockey games, or to the neighborhood barbecue–then it somehow counted for both of us. Talk about enmeshment! Fortunately, I’m now becoming aware of how much I miss out on when I don’t show up. By simply showing up we create opportunities to build into important relationships. Through being present, we’re letting others know we value them, that what is important to them is important to us as well. So, I’ve adopted these two important little words–SHOW UP–into my everyday mantra.  Whenever I feel the urge to let myself off the hook or to talk myself out of a social obligation, I simply tell myself. “Show up, Melissa. Just show up!  It’s not that hard.” And it’s really not. I’m happy to say, I’m showing up for life much more consistently now. It’s nice to no longer be in a pattern of avoiding or playing hooky. I’m choosing to show up to birthday parties. To church. To see the sunrise each morning. To watch my kid’s basketball and hockey games. To the neighbor’s invitation for coffee. To funerals. To building into the relationships that matter most to me. I’m showing up.  And it feels good!

3. CULTIVATE KINDNESS

I spent many days over the months of 2013 in the hospital care-taking my dying brother. It was agonizing to watch Jeremy’s body be ravaged by cancer. However, over the months of his battle, death, and funeral, I experienced acts of kindness that literally took my breath away. Jeremy often described people’s benevolent acts as an “unbelievable explosion of love”. Kindness is such an underrated creator of meaningful connections. It used to be that, when first meeting others, I was instantly drawn toward people with magnetic personalities, fearless convictions, and passionate purposes.  I still find those qualities attractive, however, now, I believe kindness impresses me even more. Kindness shows a strength of character which often comes from experiencing loss. It reaches out from behind our self-absorbed existences, and through concern and care offers a bond of understanding. Whether it’s a listening ear, an empathetic touch, a home cooked meal, an errand run, a thoughtful note in the mail, or a phone call to check in. There are always opportunities for kindness! And yes, kindness is cultivated. Quite simply, we become more kind by practicing kindness. This year, I’m working on growing kindness in all areas of my life. In fact, I’ve decided to keep a Kindness Journal, recording each day one simple act I’ve done. Relational kindness or random acts of kindness…they all make a difference.  SImple acts of compassion and care can lift someone’s burden through letting them know they matter.  Being gifted by someone’s kindness is a treasure that may very well be remembered for a lifetime.

 

4. RELATIONSHIPS MATTER MOST

When you loose someone you love it causes you to reevaluate much of life. I spent a lot of time over these two months since my brother died considering what it is that is truly most important to me. You see, in 2013, my youngest brother was diagnosed with lymphoma and 5 brief months later he was gone. Life is short. Life is precious. Life has absolutely no guarantees. When you have to say goodbye so quickly to someone you love so dearly, it’s excruciatingly painful. The finality of death rocks your world. Last goodbyes force you to prioritize that which matters most. For me, bottom line, it all comes down to my relationship to God and my relationships with others…to be in deep connection with each. This is how I’m wired.  It’s how I’m divinely designed. I’m not meant to be isolated. Quite honestly, I’m not capable of doing this journey very well alone. I need others. In fact, I need them desperately. Did you know that this generation, because of social media, is the most isolated generation in history? Experts are describing our culture as “isolated tribes of individuals’. Loneliness has become so pervasive because people rarely interact face to face anymore. 2014 is a new year! I’ve committed to passionately pursuing my purpose of creating community through real, meaningful connection. No doubt about it: relationships matter most!

 

 

 

 

 

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