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Happiness

There is a plethora of research being generated about happiness, and what makes people happy.  I find this topic to be hugely fascinating.  It's intriguing, as well, that the quest for happiness gets so much attention.  We want answers.  We want to know how others find happiness. We want to know how to be happy.

I struggled with writing this piece because somewhere in the recesses of my mind I have some negative associations with the idea of happiness. We shouldn't talk about wanting to be happy, right?  As spiritual people happiness is supposed to be at the bottom of our list of pursuits. At least that's what I've thought at times.  I really don't know for sure where these negative messages  came from, but I picked them up somewhere and I'm ready to officially shed them.

I'm openly admitting that I have desired happiness and have sought after it.   Here are some things that I have learned about being happy:

  • Happiness is within your reach.  
  • Happiness is a choice. 
  • No one else is responsible for your happiness (this has been a HUGE one for me)
  • I am responsible for my own happiness.
  • Happiness leads to a  healthier, more vibrant, more fully alive life.   
  • Happiness can be experienced even in the most difficult circumstances.
But how to be happy?  That can be more elusive.  There's mountains of material and research out there that you can read for yourself about that, but from my experience here is pretty much the essence of happiness:

Helping others.

Giving your life away.

Serving other people.

Society would say that to be happy we have to try to grab whatever we can get.  I would suggest the opposite is true.  Letting go of what we perceive to be our rights and thinking of others first will  lead towards the path of happiness.

Part of the note from my student
This past week I received a note from a student who, upon graduation, was expressing his gratitude for the ways in which he felt that I had helped him to achieve his goals.  His thoughtful words penetrated deep into my heart and I felt such happiness welling up within.  Happy to know that I had been helpful, that somehow I had made a difference in his life.

Jesus said, "If you give, you will receive.  Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over." (Luke 6).  If this principle is applied to happiness... giving happiness to others... clearly the promise is of much happiness coming back to you.


Wayne Dyer says it like this: "If you seek happiness for yourself, it will always elude you.  If you seek happiness for others, you will find it for yourself."  


Are you as happy as you would like to be?  If not, perhaps finding even small ways to help others might help move you towards being happier.  As my dear father used to say, "It couldn't hurt and it might help."


Live An Interesting Story

My daughter has been wanting to read a book that I'm not so sure is age appropriate.  So, I'm reading it to see what it's like rather than just saying "no" without really knowing.

I asked her why she wants to read this book, knowing the general themes of it.  She said, "Because it's interesting."  Reading between the lines of her comment, I hear her saying, "Because it captures my attention, my imagination, it draws me in and takes me to another place."  That's what a good story does, right?

Her comment made me think.  I said, "Maybe the story of our lives needs to be more interesting. Perhaps one reason why this book is so popular is because not enough of us are living out our own interesting stories."  She just looked at me as if to say, "Why can't you just let me read the book."

I do think about life as a story.  Would the story of your life, if it were written in book form,  be interesting enough for anyone to want to read? Would YOU want to read your story?  Would anyone want to read MY story?  What I'm not advocating for is living carelessly just for the sake of a great story.

Speaking of Great Stories....

A couple years ago, my daughter and I took a mother-daughter adventure to Washington D.C. for spring break.  I'm terrible with directions. While traveling in a new place I tend to rely heavily on the GPS.  Late one afternoon, after having spent the day seeing the sites around the National Mall , my daughter and I  drove back to our hotel, which was in Maryland.  I could see on the GPS that my turn off was coming up fairly soon, so when the GPS lady told me to "Turn right",  I obeyed.  Immediately I found myself driving down a long, narrow lane through the deep, dark woods.  By design, there was nowhere to turn around, and  at this point I realized that I was not on the freeway I should  be on. Clearly, I had taken a right hand turn too soon.

Eventually, in the middle of the deep, dark woods, I came to a paved clearing.  Immediately my van was surrounded by men in black uniforms brandishing what looked to me like some really big weapons.  Where the heck did they come from, I wondered.  Suddenly I realized that not only did I make a wrong turn, but I must have made a significant and serious mistake by the looks of things.  Even my daughter had a man in black with a weapon standing guard on her side of the van.  I guess we  looked pretty scary with our flaming red hair.

Eventually, after much interrogation, I learned that we had inadvertently landed right in the center of certain  government headquarters.(I'm not gonna tell you which... I don't want to get in trouble!  And, just for the record I couldn't find that place again if I tried.)  Who knew.  Apparently, I had unknowingly trespassed on highly restricted federal property.  Uh-oh.  This isn't  good, I thought.  I tried to make light of the situation and crack a few nervous jokes with the men in black brandishing big weapons, but they didn't think any of it was funny at all.

Finally, we were let go.  With knees knocking and heart  still pounding I started my van back up and drove, escorted of course, out of the property.  Never have I been so happy to be free.

Back to What I Was Saying

 Great stories keep us on our toes, keep us wanting to turn the page to see what's going to happen next.  And, great stories often have similar themes: . of being in a near death situation, of being rescued, of risk, of redemption, of unconditional love and acceptance, of hope, of overcoming forces of evil and triumph.

 G. K. Chesterton said, "Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."  There are reasons why we are drawn to great stories.  We find truth in them.   And we long for those truths to be our truths.

You Can Live an Interesting Story


I want to live an interesting story, and I bet you do too.  So how do we do that?  In part, if we are living out the dreams and passions in our hearts the best we can and bringing who we are to bear on the world around us, I believe  that our stories will ring true to the truths that we often read about in great stories. We can live out a great story.  I think that each of us need to figure out how to live a good story.  I know  for myself that as my story has intersected with God's story (God has a story going since the beginning of time replete with all of the themes we love in a great story), that's what has made my story have meaning and purpose and hopefully a story worth telling.  Without that, I'm pretty sure my story would be so boring no one would ever care to hear it.  It would be a story where the main character doesn't get rescued, never knows unconditional love, gets swallowed up by the evil in the world and dies a hopeless and helpless lonely old woman.

So go live today, and as you do may it be a page worth reading in the interesting story of your life.




One Life

What if all you had was $100 to feed a family of four for two weeks?  You could choose to spend that money however you wanted, but it's all you have for for food for the entire two weeks.

You could choose to go out to eat at a nice restaurant with that amount of money,  thinking you deserve it.  Yes, a break from cooking and cleaning up sounds really good. The kids would love you when you say, "Hey, get whatever you want on the menu!  There are no limits today!"   Chances are, you wouldn't have much left for the remainder of the 2 weeks. In the end, the wanton spending would leave you and your family impoverished and hungry.

Or you could carefully take stock of the resources you have, and  plan out how to make the most of the $100 over the 2 week period of time.  Your family would be thankful and happy with this choice, no doubt, as  there is enough to go around and no one goes hungry.  You would have creatively and  intentionally made the most of what you had.

Sometimes I think we approach life as though we have unlimited days.  It's easy to choose to spend our days how we want to, even wasting time if we choose to.  And when it comes to choices on how to spend our time, we have the luxury of choosing good over best because we can get to the best at some other time in life when we feel like it. Or, we might not even realize what is the best because we've been numbed by the illusion that we have an abundance of days and time.

As part of my job, I supervise students in an oncology clinical setting.  Oncology is where people with cancer are treated.  Occasionally, one of the patient's will open up about what he or she has learned from having cancer.  More often than not, the learnings and new perspective on life have to do with seeing in a new way the value of each day.  How each day is such a gift.  And with each day, learning to make the most of the things that are truly important in life.  With the diagnosis of cancer, each day, each moment, has become extraordinarily precious in part because time is now viewed in the context of a limited number of days. Most people, in that situation, choose to spend each day embracing what they view as most valuable and important.

I don't think we have to be struck with a terminal disease in order to learn to appreciate fully each day.  I do think a careful analysis of our life is required, taking time to evaluate what is important to us, and committing to pursuing those things wholeheartedly and intentionally.  I try, most days, to start the day with gratitude for a new day and a recognition that I need help from above in living this I've been given to the fullest.

Paul says it like this:  "Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that.  Don't be impressed with yourself.  Don't compare yourself with others.  Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life." (Galatians 6)

That's a lot of good wisdom and advice to live by. We've been given one life to live.  Let's make the most of each day, doing the creative best we can.  And may we each be blessed with an ability to see what truly matters.


You've Got What it Takes

To My Students:

At the beginning of the school year, some of you didn't know if you had what it took.  Now look... you are nearly through your first year of nursing!

Think back on all of the astounding accomplishments:
  • You have overcome significant obstacles and difficulties and yet managed to stay on track
  • Some of you are the first in your family to ever go to college... you are paving a new future not only for you, but you are setting a powerful example to those who know you!  You inspire others!
  • You learned how to answer NCLEX-style questions!
  • At times you felt like quitting, but you did not. You  learned to persevere in a new way which has made you a stronger person and better equipped for all that the future holds for you.
  • Not only did you show up for clinical, but you managed to get yourself into your first patient's room...  and you even touched them!
  • From there, you learned how to give basic nursing care to someone who needs you.  Someday you will have built on these same skills and will be delivering nursing care with ease and expertise.
  • You are already making a difference in the lives of your patients by lending a listening ear to someone feeling down, a sympathetic touch, a smile, or act of kindness.
  • You have become more disciplined.  While your friends are hanging out and having a good time, you are studying and finishing care plans :)
  • Time management skills have become your best friend.
  • Each day, you got out of bed and chose to do what you knew you had to do to reach your dreams, and one day at a time you have successfully made it to the end of your first year (almost).
I'm sure that there are more accomplishments that could be identified.  Feel free to add to the list in the comment section below!

So as you approach finals next week, think of how far you've come!  You have what it takes, and don't ever forget it.

"Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; then suddenly you are doing the impossible".  St Francis of Assisi

Shooting for the Moon

Charles upgrading the kitchen of the first house we flipped
I have identified and put in writing a number of goals for the rest of my life.  One of the goals that I have identified  is to flip one house a year.  We flipped our first in 2011.  Since then, we have looked at many houses and put several offers in, yet haven't secured another house to flip.

It could get discouraging and it would be easy to give up, but remembering the specific goal... to flip one house a year... keeps me going.  Through this process, we are learning a lot as well.  We are learning how to make decisions faster, how to more quickly estimate the costs for the upgrades on the homes we look at, and much more.  So even though we haven't yet obtained another house to flip, we are learning things that will make us better at this.

Benefits to Writing Down Goals
  • Goals help you to remember what's important to you.  Working towards your goals assures that you define your life, rather than letting circumstances define your life for you.
  •  Specific, concrete, and measureable goals are motivating:  For example, knowing its already April and we haven't yet obtained a house for 2012 motivates me  to keep intentionally working at this.
  • Goals help you to accomplish more than you would without them.  We may find out that flipping a house/ year isn't an attainable goal.  On the other hand we will probably end up flipping more houses with that goal in place than if we hadn't ever set a goal at all.  You've heard the saying: "Shoot for the moon!  You may not make it but at least you will have reached the stars!"  So true.
  • You learn things about yourself and /or acquire new skill sets as you work towards your goals:  As someone with a very high value on being a life long learner, this is a pretty big deal to me.
Flipping our first house enabled a trip to Europe with the family!

 The reason for the goal of flipping one house a year?  It's because I have another goal in mind!  And that is to travel!  I have a list of countries that I want to visit in my lifetime, and since money doesn't grow on trees...

Today we put in another offer on a house and now we wait and see.  In the meantime, I have other goals to work on.

And the Future Starts Now

Never, in my whole entire life, have I worn a new dress on Easter.  Today I am.  I didn't buy it for Easter, but today is the first time to wear it. I'm wearing it as a symbol of being wrapped in the newness, freshness, and "all things new-ness" (I made that  phrase up) of this day.

I love Easter!  Easter speaks of new beginnings.
Joelle created these colored eggs

New life

Second chances

Of being rescued

Restoration of that which was dead, lost, broken

Hope

Growing up, I was always taught that Easter is a celebration of Jesus dying for our sins and then coming back to life again so that we could live forever.  While that's all true, I've come to see that there is so much more.  I think the Message version of 1 Peter 1 verse 3 says it well:

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we've been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven.-- AND THE FUTURE STARTS NOW! (emphasis added)

Every day, every moment, is the promise of a fresh start, of a new beginning, of our lives becoming all we were meant to be... Here. Now.  Not just in some distant future.  Easter is the promise of "all things new". And its in Jesus that we find the fulfillment of that hope.

May we each reach out today for the New Life that is offered to us each day, each moment, from now to eternity.

Are you doing anything in particular to symbolize the meaning of this day?  I would love to hear about it!



Between Death and New Life

Today is Good Friday.  Whether you grew up in the church or not, we all have heard the story behind this day. And, we know how it turns out.  But what we often don't know what to do with is the awkward time between Good Friday and Easter morning.  We love to jump ahead to the rest of the story. In fact, it's easy for us, knowing how the story goes, to almost skip over what it must have been like for Jesus's followers from the time he died until....

Until what?  That's just it.  They didn't know what was going on after he had been killed and buried, but they did know that how they thought things would be were not as they were now.  Something went wrong.  All they knew now was...

Confusion.

Hurt.

Disappointment.

Hopelessness

Maybe even betrayal

Let down

Numb

Have you ever felt that way?

These followers of Jesus had given up so much to follow him.  They had put their faith, hope and trust in him and now he was gone. It was over.  Now what.

How do you begin to regroup from such a disorienting experience?  I don't know about you, but I've had those times in my life where I've felt as though I'm in limbo, trying to figure out what's next, now what.  Sometimes- often- life doesn't go like we planned, or like we thought it would or should.  Then what?

Maybe that's part of the mystery that we are invited into during this time before Easter morning.  Not knowing how it all turns out.  Not seeing the entire picture.  Not fully understanding the purpose of the deaths we experience.  Deaths of dreams, hopes, desires, longings, relationships, security.  Whatever it might be that is important to us.  Death.

May we each embrace the mystery of not knowing, of not having it all figured out, of not having life go according to the plan, and lay it all down at the foot of the cross.

In the words of Mark Waltz, "Easter is coming, but don't miss Friday."

Family.

After church today, we decided to head on up to Lake Michigan for a couple of hours.  Sylas drove, Andre sat in the passenger seat and Joelle, Charles and I were in the back of our Subaru WRX.  Cozy, but that was all part of the adventure.  Whenever we do something out of the normal patterns of our life, we get a fair amount of opposition from one, or sometimes all, of the kids.  Supposedly, they had things to "do" and places to "be".  I know them well enough that that means hanging around watching TV, playing video games, or just doing nothing really.  Today was no exception... plenty of opposition to the idea. At first.

However, as usually happens, once they knew the decision was firm and wasn't open to discussion anymore, it was all good. Once there, we walked along the water, skipped stones, threw a frisbee, knocked around a volleyball and climbed the sand dunes.  The weather was nice and the best part was that there weren't the hordes of people that warmer weather and water usually brings.

At one point in the day, I began to think about how a few years ago we weren't really doing much together as a family.  We did  more when the kids were little, but somehow we began to slip out of that pattern of going to parks, beaches, or little outings to various places.  The reasons for the decline in quality family time were complex and multi-faceted at that point in our journey.  All of us being together in the same room or car was just plain hard.  In some ways, it was easier not to be together. Just as individuals, teams, and corporations can have slumps, families experience slumps. We did.  But we determined not to stay there because I know that God had, and has, more for us.

It's been a process and it didn't happen overnight, but today represented to me so much growth, hard work and maturing as a family.  We had fun together.  We laughed, we enjoyed the day and the experience.  We did life together. Yes, the kids made their verbal jabs at each other occasionally, but if that didn't happen at all it would probably be because we were all dead.

Desmond Tutu said, "You don't choose your family.  They are God's gift to you, as you are to them."  The gift is that in the midst of being family, we learn how to love, to forgive, to not always have to have our way or be right, and much more.  It takes hard work, great effort and an unwillingness to settle for status quo, but in the end its worth every ounce of effort we put into being a family.