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Would you rather:

🔲Take a lawn chair and sit by a landfill.

Or

✅Sit on the beach by the ocean.

🔲Dangle your feet in a brackish swamp by the sewage plant.

Or

✅Skim stones across a crystal lake on a spring day.

Negativity is corrosive to the soul. If you could see it, smell it, experience it in living color, you’d run for your life. But we can’t see it for the pile of stinking garbage it is, so it seeps and creeps into our minds before we know it.

When I woke up this morning, I felt the weight of three issues on the horizon to do with money, health and my son’s well-being.

Sat for some time with my internal Catastrophe Planning Advisor and he offered this sage word of advice:

Panic! 😨

But it hasn’t happened yet.  So why experience it until it does?

It’s like an installment plan of pain. Act now and you, too, can feel bad before the bad thing happens!

Set of guilt-Ginsu-knives that stab me in the back as I try to improve my life? Nah! You’re not here to offer me a fortune from a Nigerian prince. You’re here to steal my peace and make me focus on the problem instead of a plan.

If you could look these negative, nagging thoughts in the face, you’d see they’re lost little souls filled with fear. Look out! Last time you tried to change your life, it didn’t work out. Just stay in your lane. Sure you’re not happy with the way things are but what if you make it worse?

Feel bad less today. Take worrying off your to-do list. Just nix one dark thought and you’ll feel better. The yesness of life is always present, but you have to stop saying no so much to allow yes to find you.

Listen. So it didn’t work out before. Adjust your approach and try again. Face the problem, make a plan, move ahead. This is not a limited time offer. You can sign up for yesness at any point in your life. Why not today?

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This phrase in the Bible shows up more than once: “And it came to pass.”

I’ve always taken that tiny snippet of Scripture as inspiration.

Here’s why: it didn’t come to stay. It came to pass!

Whatever it is in your life that’s holding you back, getting you down, tearing you up. It came here for a reason. And it’s just for a season.   

Even though I reside on the sunny side of the street, we’ve all been down that dark alley. I’ve learned some things that have helped me stay in a positive frame of mind.

Tell but don’t dwell. Tell your story but don’t dwell on the pain of the past.

Follow but don’t wallow. Follow your heart and share what you’ve been through so others know they’re not alone, but don’t wallow in the negative emotions of it.

Make sure it’s useful and truthful. It’s not helpful – to you or those around you – to talk trash about your ex or go into gory detail about the ways life hasn’t been fair to you. It is helpful to be human about it. Here’s something I’ve been through. Maybe it’s happened to you, too. Let’s share what we’ve learned from it, and if it’s still in our life, how to deal with it.

Bask in the positive. You learned from it, lived through it, found a way to rise above.

Be in the present. The past is a springboard. It may have refined you, but it doesn’t define you.

Moving forward with optimism is the antidote to a painful past. No matter what your life may have been like before, every new day is a chance to start again.

Every so often, someone, somewhere, will be mad at the world and will eventually say these words: I didn’t ask to be born!

Now, this is not to minimize the pain of those going through a hard time, but I wonder.

What if you actually did ask to be born. In fact, what if you even paid to come here. Better still, what if tax dollars were used? Maybe your loved ones in heaven (or wherever souls are stored) are working hard there to support you here. You’d do your best and get to work on meaningful projects then, wouldn’t you?

Maybe they’re spending their afterlife populating your dreams with what seem to be mundane activities (Oh look! There’s my mother, folding towels. What does that mean?) Maybe those are really metaphors and bread crumbs, guiding you as much as they’re allowed by universal decree (maybe the dream’s meaning was: Take care of work first, play later.)  Like the Prime directive from Star Trek. They’re only allowed to gently encourage without revealing too much, allowing for your free will.

But then you’d have to figure out what those meaningful projects are. No pressure! It’s only the peace of mind of your late loved ones, giving it their all so you can have the gift of life!!

Okay. That’s probably not the case. But “projects” is another word for “purpose.”

This fanciful tale was brought to you by all those you’ve loved and lost. I’m no medium (I’d honestly have to admit that I’m more of a “large”), but I don’t think they’d want you to fret as much as you do. They’d only want you to do your best with the days in front of you. And when you look back? To do so with a smile and keep moving.

Picture this, if you will. You get to Heaven and God says, Listen, we’ve got a backlog of cases up here, so we’d like you to decide the fate of the people who mistreated you in life. Okay? Thanks.

Suddenly you’re behind a judge’s bench with gavel in hand. A stream of familiar faces flows into the courtroom. People from your past. They’re led to a table to await your decision. So. If you cast them all away forever, aren’t you doing to them what they did to you? Now who’s the perpetrator?

Isn’t it true that people who treated you poorly justified it that you hadn’t met their expectations? Or that you weren’t trying hard enough. Pulling your weight. That boss who yelled at staff. Didn’t she believe that employees need to fear the boss or they won’t meet deadlines? That ex who was cruel to you. Didn’t he feel he had a right to do that, since you weren’t the person he wanted you to be?

So this is the case for forgiveness. If you were in a position to mete out justice, it’s possible you’d throw the book at people – or even your gavel if you were in a mood – and become just as bad as them.

Not only is it better for your mental health to let go of the things you can’t change anyway. It’s possible that you’ve mistreated others without even realizing it. When you felt someone wasn’t trying hard enough, did you yell or give them the cold shoulder? Someone’s in the passing lane on the highway driving too slowly. Did you tailgate them? Of course, these are relatively minor infractions, but it all falls on the spectrum of disrespect. Keep your own karma clean: forgive, forget, and put the past behind you.

So I bought a frozen pizza that was on sale for less than a dollar. Turned on the oven and put the pizza in to cook. Once it was done, I tried to pull it out of the oven, but it got stuck on the rack. After a struggle  to get it out of the oven, I was really hungry and took a bite. Instantly, I regretted it, as it was still too hot and it burned the roof of my mouth. To boot, it was flavorless, as if I was eating the box it came in. All that work and it tasted like cardboard.

And I thought, how many life experiences are like that?

You twist yourself into contortions for someone else (insert situation here: a peer group, a romantic interest, a potential employer, etc.) and end up looking back on it with regret. They didn’t like you anyway, even after you changed yourself to make them like you. And you didn’t like yourself in that context either. That wasn’t you.

When the past comes at you with all the weapons in its arsenal – shame, guilt, and regret – whip out the shield to fend off all efforts to get under your skin and into your soul: faith. Faith that every day is a clean slate and a chance to start again – on your own terms. Faith that the choices you made in the past were your best efforts at the time, and helped you build an acumen for action going forward. Faith in the fact that life is good and you deserve every good thing it has to offer.

And as for that negative narrator in your head, reminding you of times you’d just as soon forget? Put on your boots, kick it to the curb, and keep moving.

Every so often, a painful memory will pop up, and your brain will go over the experience again. In a way, you’re saying, here’s another reason why that wrong thing was wrong for me.

It’s like watching a re-run of a drama that you hated the first time. Don’t resurrect it and wallow in the pain of it. It didn’t serve you. It ended. Thank God! No, really. Thank God.

For the experience, which you learned from.
For its being over, which relieved you of that particular pain.
For the opportunity of having a better experience going forward.

Now you know what to look for. Knowing what you don’t want helps you to update your checklist for next time.

One way to transition from a thought that brings you down is to look up. Think about the things you’re grateful for.

Try this: break down a blessing to its most minute component. This is the makeshift meditation I use to shift gears:

Thank you water, thank you coffee, thank you kettle, thank you stove, thank you gas, thank you flame, thank you kitchen, thank you home, thank you Lord.

Gratitude. All the way to the top.

So you leave no space for whatever you were sad about to seep back in. You’ll feel silly doing it the first time, but it’s a powerful negativity blocker.

These grace-gifts will gently elbow out the fraught-thoughts bringing you down.

Morning coffee and an attitude of gratitude. A great way to start the day!

“Why, if it was an illusion, not praise the catastrophe, whatever it was, that destroyed illusion and put truth in its place?”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Major life events are like tectonic plates leading to seismic shifts. We tend to look back on our lives in a pre- and post-mindset. Life before The Big Thing That Happened. Life after it.

Looking back, there were times in my life in which I was obviously in the wrong… fill in the blank. Job. Relationship. Part of town. State of mind. Size pants.

After all, just because you can squeeze your tuchus into a pair of pants that are actually a size too small… well, that doesn’t mean that they fit. It means you’re squishing yourself into a cage for reasons other than personal comfort.

I’ve come to regard those endings in life as being off-ramps to the place I really wanted to be anyway. That wasn’t home. Those weren’t true friends. I wasn’t myself.

So any time I feel a twinge of regret or nostalgia, I remind myself that I’m not one to pine for what wasn’t mine. That wasn’t for me. I’m better off without it. Now I’m free of what didn’t serve me. Free to find what really works for me. This makes change feel less like a wound and more like a gift.

Having gone through a few things, it made me realize that others are going through things, too, and it might make them cranky. I’m going to remind myself not to take other people’s problems personally.

I can’t imagine what your backstory is, so I’m going to give you a free gift of your own: the benefit of the doubt.

Compassion, not pity.

Understanding, not judgment.

In a nutshell, when I assume everyone is doing their best, things are put into proper perspective.

As for the Big Things That Happened? Well, abrupt endings become another way of saying, Okay, Lord. I’m ready. What’s next?

I’ve got an iron-clad faith in God, to be sure, but my friends know that I’ve also got a lot of new-agey ideas and curious quirks.  I tend to see signs from God in almost everything.  I also believe that I’m supposed to learn from hardship, so I analyze everything that happens like a CSI investigator.

My theory is that I was scheduled to develop MS at 63, but due to the stresses of an awful job, it came on early, at age 36.  I had put the memory of that terrible workplace behind me, until a few months ago, when the cab brought me to the door of the Infusion Center where I’d be receiving treatment every month.

This can’t be right.  Can it?  I didn’t realize I had said this aloud.

The cab driver said, “Yes ma’am.  This is the address you gave me.”

I didn’t speak for a moment.

“Ma’am?  Are you all right?”

I nodded, but I wasn’t sure.

Even though I’m generally somewhat shy, I actually felt the need to pray out loud.

“Is this where you want me to go, Lord?”

The cab driver was unfazed.  He felt comfortable answering for the Maker of All Things, apparently.

“Do you need what they give you here, Miss?” he asked quietly.

The answer was obvious to me.

“Yes.  I really do.”

“Then that is your answer.” 

New Jersey may be the world center for Wise Cab Drivers.  He got a very nice tip, and I thanked him.  I felt comfortable saying “God bless you,” which I’m very cagey about saying to anyone.  It has, on occasion, offended a person or two, so I don’t offer it freely.

You see, this was the place where I had worked for fourteen years, and for the last few, it had been a nightmare.  It was where I first started to notice that the headaches never went away, and that my fingers were starting to go numb.  It was where a deep depression set in, and a constant state of anxiety took hold. It’s where everything in my life seemed to start to unravel.

But it was no longer the same place.  I tossed a coin in my mind and decided to see it differently now.  It was a place of healing.  It had been totally revamped and reconfigured, and the place that had been my office was now a large room where patients sat with their IVs, being tended to by the caring nurses.  There were pillows and reclining chairs, relaxing music and fresh coffee.  If you didn’t know better, you might even mistake it for a day-spa.

“I used to work here, kind of…” I said to the receptionist after she signed me in.  “Really?” she asked.  I said, “It used to be a different company, and I sat right over there by that window.”

“Weird!” she said, and looked over at the window.  “Does it look the same?”

It didn’t.  And I decided it would no longer feel the same.  I realized that God moved in mysterious ways, and maybe He was allowing me to achieve some kind of closure on that era of my life.  That place doesn’t even exist anymore, my child.  Those days are over, and all I have for you here is healing.

I sat back in my chair, feeling the cold liquid coursing through my veins, grateful for so many things: Cab Drivers with an Inordinate Amount of Life Experience; the medicine that would bring back the feeling in my feet and hands; open doors and second chances.  I thanked God that hearts and minds can be revamped and reconfigured, and that even after a deep, dark night, joy still comes in the morning.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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