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tilt shift lens photography of tealight candleWhen I looked online and saw how expensive candles were, I thought, Why not make some candles? How hard could it be? Plus, it might be a fun craft project. So, I looked up “Complete Candle-making Kits” and found one that sounded promising, but when it arrived, it turned out to be just a bag of wax and wicks with no instructions. Now what do I do?

Back to the online search. I found a how-to video and followed its instructions, but instead of a candle, what I ended up with was a royal mess. White wax spilled all over the white counter and hardened, and when I tried to scrape it off, it just made it look even worse. 

Back to the online search again. I found out that the heat of a blow dryer can melt wax that has set onto a surface, and then you can wipe it off with a wet paper towel. 

It was a life lesson for me. False advertising can lead to snafus, especially when you buy things online.

Isn’t it the same way with faith? Some try to sell a bill of goods, promising  that troubles will go away if you take a leap of faith, but true religion adds to your life. Lifts you up. Helps you to be a better person. It doesn’t require blind loyalty. Your whole paycheck. Mind control.

Coming to faith is like that do-it-yourself candle. It can light up your life or make a major mess. Knowing what you’re buying (or buying into) is a life skill worth having.

heart shaped flower arrangementFor some reason, a small, sweet moment crossed my mind this morning. When my son was younger, he had friends over to play video games, and, as I put away the laundry, I realized they were talking about me.

You wouldn’t believe what those kids said about me! Never in my life! Well, it’s not what you think. As it turns out, they weren’t kvetching at all.

One of his friends had asked Cole, “Why is your mom always so nice to us?”

My son called me into his room, amused. “Why ARE you so nice to my friends, Mom?”

The other boy said, “Yeah. Moms aren’t usually like that. What’s up with that?”

“Well, I love my son, and I want him to be happy,” I said. “When he has his friends over, he’s happy. I think it’s good to extend hospitality so you guys feel at home too. It’s nice to show people you care.”

There really is a secret to being in a positive frame of mind all the time, and it’s saying what I actually mean. It keeps me emotionally in balance. 

My motto is: Be truthful but tactful. If it’s not important enough to mention, it’s surely not worth holding a grudge over. Say it, so it doesn’t go on lay-away. Don’t put it into storage so that you can make an appointment in your mind to be mad at someone again later. Speak at the moment an infraction occurs. 

You did this thing. It was inappropriate. Or, You said something that hurt my feelings. Get it off your chest so you don’t harbor it in your heart.

Love your loved ones, starting with yourself. Don’t hurt your heart with hate. Speak your mind. Clear the air. Get past the past and let new blessings in.

person holding camera lensMy son knows when I happen across a spider in the house by the karate-sounding “ke-yai!” noise I emit. The spider is startled by me, too, but I’m sure its perspective is different.

Growing up, Mama Spider taught her son about humans: “Don’t stare honey. I know that’s a face only a mother could love, but God has a purpose for all creatures. Now let’s get out of here before that monstrosity squashes us!”

That seems to be how some religious groups see each other: If you’re not just like us, you’re a threat. The other day, my Lyft driver asked me if I was a Christian. When he went on to say something pejorative about Muslims, I knew we didn’t share the same perspective.

In photography, “perspective” is a term for a visual effect that causes objects to appear smaller as their distance from the viewer increases. In life, if you haven’t gone through a particular experience, it may seem far away and foreign to you.

Your perspective can change based on your status in society and net worth as well. Asked about how young comedians can get their big break, Jerry Seinfeld said, “The good thing about comedy is that anyone who’s talented usually makes it.” It must be spirit-crushing for struggling comics out there to hear their comedy idol make such a statement when they haven’t found success yet. 

The only way to keep your own karma clean is to assume there’s validity in the experience of others. So before you squash that spider — or another human being’s spirit — take a moment to adjust your lens. It might just broaden your perspective.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24 NIV

“Mouthwash Cancels Out Benefits of Exercise.” Even before reading the article, it was clear the headline was misleading. Sure enough, hours later, it was revised to: “Mouthwash Cancels Out Key Benefits of Exercise, One Study Finds.

These old newspaper headlines show the importance of word choice:

Amphibious pitcher makes debute funniest newspaper headlines

funniest newspaper headlines

funniest newspaper headlines

Of course, sometimes, the editor is just having fun with wordplay, as in the case of the psychic who couldn’t predict her own arrest.

Choosing just the right word is an editor’s job, but it’s just as important for you and I to give consideration to the impact of the things we say to one another.

With all the negativity in the news lately, it’s more important than ever to choose your words carefully. You never know what someone’s going through as you encounter them in the course of a day.

So if the cashier should have said, “Thank you, have a good day,” but didn’t, maybe she just can’t wish you what she doesn’t have herself. Maybe her baby wouldn’t sleep last night and the dog wouldn’t stop barking. Perhaps when she got to work two minutes late, the boss read her the riot act. It’s possible she can’t find the energy to have a bad day, and at the same time, wish someone else a good day.

If you’ve been there yourself, try to find it in your heart to forgive these minor infractions. Your kindness could be the catalyst that enables her to have a good day, and in turn, wish a good day to others.

On jury duty years ago, we were given a break during a case so we could stretch our legs. I went to the snack store, picked up some noshes and got in line. When it was my turn, the cashier asked, “What have you got today, ma’am?” In response, I said, “Oh, just a couple of these things,” and absent-mindedly waved toward my snacks. “I’m sorry, ma’am, you’re going to have to be more specific,” he said. “You see, I’m unsighted.”

I apologized profusely — so much so that he realized I didn’t just mean I was sorry for the flip answer. I’ll never forget his response. He said, “No need to feel sorry, ma’am. If the Good Lord had wanted me to be sighted, he would’ve given me sight. I work around it.” 

His strength of character was impressive, but so was the collective moral compass that switched on for those waiting in line. The man could tell which coins he was being given by their weight and size, but the bills all felt alike, so he had to ask what denomination he was being given. 

Suddenly we all had eagle eyes. You say you gave him a twenty dollar bill? Let me check on that. People were craning their necks to keep everyone else honest. It was as if a tiny Community Watch had formed spontaneously.

I think of that day when I lose faith in humanity, or when I think I’ve got it hard due to my own visual impairment, which developed later. That man soldiered on despite the hardship and got it done. And those people in line did the right thing without being asked. The truth is, the milk of human kindness hasn’t yet soured into yogurt. Just under the surface, the still, small voice is speaking loud and clear.

It’s just been me and my son in our house since he was eight-years-old and he’s 20 now. Oddly enough I’m still 29! (And I have been for the last 25 years.😏)

Well, it’s just been us and our (late) pet-partners, Sheena, the black lab/border collie mix, and later on, KitKat, a former street-cat tabby. 

So I’ve always put my son first and my own needs on the back burner.

I realized the other day that he’s probably doing the same thing for me.

In trying to take care of each other in this way, it’s led to a bottleneck in terms of actual communication. As an example, something as simple as setting the temperature in the house can lead to a mutually neutral response.

“Cole, honey, do you want me to turn on the AC? Are you too hot?”

He’ll answer, “Are you too hot, Mom? I’m okay either way.”

So I realized we need to work on communicating with each other. 

Oddly enough, the answer is for each of us to put ourselves first. I’ll aim to be more declarative, saying instead, “Honey, I’m hot, so I’m going to turn on the air. If it gets too cold for you after a while, let me know and I’ll adjust it.” And he needs to do the same. 

You can’t get what you want until you can put it into words. Take care of yourself so you can be there for your loved ones.

I could say to you, Don’t worry. Be positive.

Or, Don’t beat yourself up about that. You always try your best.

But all of it boils down to this equation: Don’t tear yourself down. Build yourself up.

So yesterday, you didn’t get anything accomplished. Your tuchus was dragging all day. All you were able to do in the affirmative was turn on the heat when you realized a chill had rolled in. I suppose you could even beat yourself up over that. Tiny mean voice in head: Oh, great. Another dent in the ozone layer! Way to minimize your carbon footprint, genius.

Or when you make a mistake: You always do that. Will you never learn?

Always and Never are the two Poles of Pain. The North Pole of “Always” is a place of perfection that you believe you fall short of but, in truth, can never reach. The South Pole of “Never” is what you feel you always fail to do. They feed off each other and distract you from the Equator of Balance. 

But “always” hasn’t happened yet, and “never” may never come. Life isn’t all-or-nothing. It’s some-and-something. Take some steps, and you’ll accomplish something. Give yourself some latitude, and something will change for the better.

Breathe in fully. Relax your muscles. Have some cocoa or herbal tea. You did your best today. Tomorrow’s a clean slate. Move forward. Oh, and also? Be where you are.

Don’t deplete. Replenish. So what if you’re not perfect? You’re flawed, but you’re also funny, functional and formidable. Don’t let negative notions tell you otherwise.

You’re fine as you are. 

In other words, perfectly you.

Kind people, I don’t wish you hardships. If anything, I wish you only softships. Luxury liners, even! 🚢 And, on the road of life, if you stumble here and there, I hope you’ll always have a soft place to land.

But you know as well as I do that hardships are life lessons. It really is where the rubber meets the road. Your “wherewithal escrow” increases during those times you have to take the long way and come up with creative solutions.

“Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” This nugget of wisdom was on a strip of paper inside a fortune cookie.🥠 When you realize a situation isn’t working, that’s the nudge from your soul to make changes.

The opposite of “hardship” isn’t life on Easy Street. It’s purpose. Community. Working toward a goal. Self-acceptance. Contentment. Kindred spirits. Partnering with Providence.

It’d be great to be able to get ahead of the bills, but you and I both know that if we got more money, we’d spend more money 💰 and we’d just end up with new bills.

All right, so you don’t own a yacht. If you’re lucky enough to have a roof over your head, food on the table and loved ones in your life, you could just fill up your bathtub with water, put a rubber ducky 🦆 in it and call it your houseboat. If you have a place to call home 🏡 and hope for the future, you know as well as I do, you’re truly blessed indeed.

Agitation seems like a negative word in general, but sometimes it’s actually a good thing. For instance, when my washer stopped its agitation cycle, it backed up and water overflowed onto my basement floor. I was able to fix it, but it made me wonder: what about the agitating people in our lives?  

Everybody’s got that one person in their life who believes they’re God’s gift to the world. You know the ones I mean. They’re opinionated and belittling. Utterly insensitive.

One such person finally pushed me too far and I told him exactly what I thought of him, that he was condescending and downright rude. It didn’t faze him at all. “When the Good Lord was handing out brains, I was at the front of the line,” he said. It was his way of saying, you go ahead and have your opinions, little lady. I still know what’s best.

My theory is that God put these people into our lives to teach various lessons. Sometimes it’s patience. Sometimes it’s perspicacity: when to speak up, when to hold your tongue. 

Of course, the best approach to someone contentious is not to engage, since they live to press your buttons. It’s been my experience that they’ll eventually find other people to annoy and waft away. Keep your eyes toward the sun, and you’ll realize how small those dark clouds really are.

Okay. So you say you want it all? Noted.🗹 

First, you’re going to have to start with “nothing” as a baseline. See, that way, you have a frame of reference. 

Next you’re going to have “some,” to help you learn how to manage “it all” when it arrives. If you don’t learn from this phase, it’s okay. We’ll helpfully let you start over at “nothing” again to get those More Muscles in shape.

Very few ever get to “it all” because even the ones who seem to have “it all” are deeply in debt, sick from their secrets and alone in a crowd. 

The “all” you’re really seeking isn’t a big pile of money, a perfectly-coiffed and curated persona on Instagram and a happily-ever-after with a stranger you met by swiping right on a dating app.

Actually, the ache for “it all” embedded within you is something else. Just as you’ve got a heartbeat, that’s your soulbeat. It’s:

  • Being who you are, no matter what room you walk into.
  • Learning every day that you don’t have all the answers, but that the questions themselves are sometimes the point.
  • Working toward a goal to engage all your faculties and your faith at the same time.
  • Using your own experience to know that people causing pain in your life are in pain themselves and greeting that grief with grace.
  • Getting to know and love yourself just as you would a “soulmate” so that you don’t end up with a “cellmate,” both locked into the self-defeating notion that you’ve failed to complete each other.

Life really is simpler than you make it out to be. 

  • Find your forte. Do that with all your heart. 
  • Find your community. Connect and show you care. 
  • Be yourself. If you meet a partner on the same page, be yourselves together.
  • Do your best. 
  • Take care of yourself. 
  • Be kind. 

Whatever you can’t figure out, turn it over to me in prayer. You may come to realize that in some ways, you already do have “it all.”

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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