Relationships and Decisions and Choices

Over the last few days, it seems the theme around me has been relationships. Within conversation, one friend was processing some sadness about her former partner while another, her present one. Both turned to me for advice:  “How do you know when the person you are with is the right one for you?” “How do you know when he’s wrong and the time has come to move on?“How do you stand the feelings while you figure it all out?”

First, let me say that I am by no means an expert on relationships! However, because my peeps and I seek one another out for solution, I was compelled to give the best answer I could in both situations, “It’s not that simple. What I have learned from experience is that you know simply because you decide to and then you work within and towards that decision every day.”

 

My friends’ questions provoked powerful emotions within me, mostly ones of gratitude but also of sorrow and regret. They prompted a hope that once they make their choice they will know that whatever unfolds from that point on, will be right and true and good because that is who they are inside and because they will decide to work at making it so.

All my life, I stood in terror of making decisions. I was afraid to go right and find out later that left had been the way for me. Because of this, I lived always positioned for a move, ready to turn, as if waiting for a tennis shot; poised for either a forehand or back, but never too firmly planted on my feet; just ready, always ready. With this type of stance, it was difficult for any relationship to seed, take root, grow strong and flourish. The garden that was my life was one filled with annuals, never perennials, and I could not understand why flowers were not re-blooming year after year. Instead of planting new ones, knowing that the former’s gift had come and gone, I thought I must have picked the wrong patch of earth. Sure, I watered sometimes, but there was so much more critical work required. There were weeds to pull, soil to turn over and fertilizer to spread. Because I thought once I planted, pretty colors would be forevermore, when things went bare and brown I panicked. I did not understand.

Today, I can only wonder at how it was I believed I should always know, know Who and What and Where and When. How I thought I should be sure and certain in whatever I picked or chose. I wonder how it was that I so naively thought we all were supposed to find our custom designs out there, so easily, so surely. Did I think there were memos to help or sky-written messages from above to guide the way? Did I remain so afraid in my decisions, because I never got those memos, those messages? Was it because I felt abandoned somewhere, by what or whom I am not sure, but forgotten and left to pick my way through life on my own? It is laughable today, but laughable in the most gentle sort of way, to think about how terrified I was of getting it all wrong; the big IT of life; the guy I should be with, the career path to travel, the neighborhood to live in and the bestie to trust.

This morning, I have decided to smile with gentle kindness at all of it, appreciate the similarities between all of us fellow travelers and pass along what I have learned. I have opted to use the feelings stirred up from relationship conversations this week and remember to reach upward towards the blessed prayer of St. Francis of Assisi and its words that will guide me for the future. I choose today to head in the direction before me and to believe that help will come as I go, not in memo form, but in daily dialogue with God and His Angels.

Right here, right now, I choose to be one of the brave and decisive ones as I step out, one of the courageous ones, one unafraid to choose left with both feet on the ground or go right with everything I have inside of me. I commit to a willingness to make today’s choices gracefully and while doing so, believe that whatever they are will be good and true; because no matter what unfolds, the gifts will come in the lessons therein.

The most important choice I will make today will be once again to believe with all my heart, with absolute certainty that there is no right way and no wrong, but ever so perfectly, there is simply the way I will choose.

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Don’t Explain, Don’t Complain

Almost two decades ago, my first spiritual mentor came into my life. A beautiful soul, she crossed my path suddenly and very coincidentally. In retrospect, I am sure our meeting was God’s handiwork, because it happened soon after I began seeking Grace.

At the onset of my quest, although I could almost taste what I sought, I did not yet fully understand what Grace even meant. As it turns out, it is so much more than I had thought. Yes, it is a relationship with God, as I believed it was; salvation even. Beyond that, it is all that you are; it is personal freedom, strength in vulnerability and the capacity to stand true and unwavering as your very best self at a given time. It is also “all that you simply cannot manage to be, even though you might like to, at a said given time.” Some might express the last sentence as “all that you are not,” but I prefer my own understanding.

One of the first things I remember discussing with this spiritual guide was that, “Ideally we want to get to a place in our lives where we don’t feel a need either to Explain or Complain.” The “Not having to explain” part, because if we stay true to trying to do the next right thing in our lives, we won’t have to prove anything to anyone. The “not complaining,” because doing so will just keep us stuck in our ego and that, as I have learned through very painful life lessons, will simply never do.

Whilst traveling a route towards God’s favor, I have done my best to honor many along the way with friendship. In learning to do so, as often as I have been able to remember, I’ve used this “Don’t Explain, Don’t Complain” mantra and it has been priceless. In the midst, I have received precious gifts of time and loving kindness and have offered the same in return. However, it is at times impossible to fulfill the needs of others or even to communicate fully why we are unable to. Work stuff takes a little longer than usual or the car has to go into the shop. The cat gets out or a neighbor distracts with a request to borrow sugar. Someone asks for help, or my husband wants to spend time; a writing deadline looms or a migraine hits.

When these things happen, these tugs, these ways that take me away from what I might really want to be doing in order to do what needs to be done, life can start to feel awfully lifey. Through it all though, I still need never explain nor complain. What I must do, is simply that which is immediately pressing in front of me in the very best way I can.

When living in this simple “Don’t complain, don’t explain” mantra, life has the potential to be grand. No, it’s not as simple as it sounds, not exactly, but it really does work as long as it’s basis is on trusting those you have relationships with to know who you are at your core; to know that you would never intentionally hurt them with what they perceive as your wrong.

When I find myself tempted to give a lengthy dissertation of why I didn’t or couldn’t or can’t, I have to stop and remind myself that getting fearfully embroiled in having to explain what is sometimes unexplainable is unnecessary, especially if my connection to God is intact. Those sometimes pulls, the yanks towards the need to be absolutely certain that others understand the why’s and what’s of my decisions can be let go if I remember that those why’s and what’s don’t really matter as long as God and I know the reasons.

In the big picture of life, what others think about my actions or inactions need have no bearing on my reality. Just as others have no idea what fully goes on in my total day to day, I have no idea what goes on in theirs. There are so many tugs, twists and turns in one twenty-four hour period that to try to be all that we desire to or to explain every situation encountered is a daunting and sometimes seemingly impossible task.

And so, as that long ago mentor also told me, I must trust that when I ask God each morning to guide me to His will, that what he puts in front of me is right and true, even when it changes or deviates from what I had planned. I can be firm in my choices, including re-choosing, even when those choices feel slightly uncomfortable, and do my very best to remember that He alone can judge; though he never even will, because He loves me so. How cool is that!

Weddings and Family and Lessons

As a young girl, I dreamed of the day I would walk down the aisle towards my soul mate. I planned for it, focused on it, obsessed even. I pictured myself sauntering slowly, moving in a sea of ivory and flowers past hundreds of smiling faces, all there to share in my joy, in our joy. Of course I had no idea who the other half of my “our” would be, but I prayed he would be someone wonderful. I spent a great deal of time visualizing, fretting even about my prince, “Would I know him when I saw him?” “What if I missed a cue and he rode off without me?” “What if my feet were swollen on the day he showed up with the slipper?”

At the forefront of my visions, always, was the wonder, “What would it feel like to be “picked” for good, for always? What must it be like to be chosen?”.It hurts my heart to think about how much of my girlhood was spent looking at marriage as a chance to be “picked” or chosen, as if another’s action would be the ultimate completion for my one half, instead of my one whole meeting someone else’s and our mutual choice to come together. Naive, I had no idea that marriage is not about a suitor’s validation, but actually about partnership and compromise, and about honoring that each already so utterly matters of their own volition before any proposal.

Today, I fully realize what this means. Ever so gratefully, I now live in the experience of coming together as two wholes, as partner to my husband.

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I have only come to this understanding many, many dreams and visions after first walking down the aisle as a very young bride, but I do finally understand. I am well aware, having learned the hard way, that marriage is an opportunity for two individuals to inspire each other to be their best self. Each person gets to hold the mirror for the other to reflect beauty not flaws in a framework based on mutual respect. It is a place where both are able to risk being vulnerable and courageous at the same time.

Within the structure of our marriage, my husband and I will soon have pieces of both of our pasts coming together. These pieces will form our family’s future. My son and stepson are both getting married this year. They have each picked a special someone who (and here is the important part) picked them back and it is wonderful to watch from the sidelines.                                                                               engaged

As a mom to a future groom, I am thrilled, ecstatic even for my son to walk down the aisle next June. The woman who will be by his side loves him; he loves her back. She is beautiful, loyal and kind and I know she will honor my boy. I can see that they are truly happy already, even before they go down the aisle so that their vows will be merely a culmination of the partnership they already honor and share.

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As a stepmom to a future groom, I am overjoyed for this young man to go down the aisle next March. His future bride is lovely and kind. They love one another and have found happiness already, even before the walk down the aisle, so that their vows will merely be a culmination of all they already know and share.

The part that makes it complicated, at least it feels a bit so, is that there are exes and steps and past and present and stuff, all the pieces that make up a blended family today. I know this just means that these two young men and their future wives have more people to love them, but in my heart sits a feeling of longing. The longing is a desire for a very sure sense of family somewhere in the midst of all of it. As I spend time now reviewing hotel and airfare reservations, working on logistics for extended family and shopping for attire and gifts, I wonder how we will all gel together. In the midst of this wonder, of doing these things, a sense of exhilaration overtakes me and I realize that I am blessed to be part of all of it.

At the End of Every Ending Lies a New Beginning

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I saw a movie last night in which four grown children return home for their dad’s funeral. To honor his last wishes they stay for a week to bond again as a family.  From the get-go, their sibling dynamic kicks in as you are offered a glimpse into their individual challenges.  In a nutshell, each one is trying to figure out why they are staying in their lives such as they are, or whether they should go.

While watching, I was reminded about my own family and friends. I thought about perspective and how you never have the whole picture of someone else’s life.  It’s so easy to stand in judgment or even revere someone when we go with the information they show us and the world on a daily basis.  But what we don’t know is what they aren’t showing us.  When we encounter a challenge with them, by default it becomes all about us.  Our first instinct is usually to protect our feelings.

Truth is, the challenges occur to show us what to do next. They happen so that we can learn to be vulnerable.  How often have you really stepped back and allowed a situation to unfold all the way?  When was the last time you gave someone else permission to be human?  We never know what makes someone else tick, because we are usually so busy processing how we are feeling in the midst of our encounter with them.  And since figuring that out keeps us so busy, we may miss the whole point.

It is in the midst of our interactions with other people that we learn about ourselves. It is here that we gather information for our future.  And it is here, where we hold on or let go.

At the end of the movie, one of the brothers is seen driving his brothers borrowed Porsche along I-95 to Maine, a trip he has always wanted to take, but has never been able to find time to.  Top down, hair flying, wind at his face, he is making a move to live outside the box that hasn’t served him.  He is taking a risk by letting go.  And in doing so, he is holding on.  And the ending is perfect.  It is a beginning at the end of an ending.  And that, I know today, is what life is all about.

“Once You Know, You Can’t Pretend You Don’t” (MLD)

As a writer I find quotes sexy. Really, I do. Maybe it’s the way the quotation marks outside of them curve or the graceful slant of the font when italicized inside of a document. Perhaps it’s because someone was able to put the exact right thought together to make them. Maybe the sexiness lies in the power that once they are laid claim to, they are forever more out there by the quotee as theirs. That they will live on forever out there in the world of readers, of quoters, of quote gatherers like myself, people looking for a spark of information to propel them to action or to hold them back from it. Maybe it’s because those of us who are looking to be hit between the eyes, figuratively, gently with some idea, some feeling, some thought to inspire or to soothe can find it within a message from some long ago thinker in an instant after a quick quotation search on the internet these days.

I can’t explain it, but I just love how quickly a simple thought can inspire me. On my computer’s desktop there are folders filled with documents filled with quotes. Profound utterances of lessons learned and important life messages that have been amassed along my way and as I was writing this piece I thought of a few of my favorites…interpreted…

Rumi – “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”… (and there we will finally find Grace)

Shakespeare – “to be or not to be, that is the question”… (and the answer is, YES, be a writer, so start writing!!)

Descartes – “I think therefore I am”… (in big trouble)

JFK – “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” … (and be willing to start small, really, really small)

Coco Chanel – “A women who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.”… (yep, I’ve always got my 3.4oz/100ml bottle of Chanel in the medicine cabinet)

Wayne Dyer – “Don’t die with your music still inside of you”… (and don’t worry that you can’t hit some of the high notes)

And then I thought of an original one that I had written a few years back. As far as I know it’s original anyway:
“Once you know, you can’t pretend you don’t.”

Once you know that your actions have consequences, once you know that what you do has the capacity to affect others, once you know that your choices are not always just about you, you can’t continue to hurt people or not continue to help them. Once you know that you are being selfish or childish in the midst of a reaction you can’t be mad at someone else for treating you as such. Once you know that you will not settle for less you can’t look to what you have settled for in dismay. Once you know that people are counting on you, you can’t hide in fear that you don’t matter. Once you know that someone loves you, you can’t wonder if they do. Once you know that you can’t drink a day at a time you can’t listen to someone who says you can. And once you know that you are a good writer you don’t have to look to anyone else to tell you whether or not you are. You already know, so stop pretending you don’t.

Once you know what you know, what you have gathered along life’s way, the responsibility for what you do with it is all yours and nobody else’s. It is all up to you.

Now I’m not suggesting that I have always gotten to this place of “knowing and not pretending I don’t” immediately. I can’t say that I have always gathered information and used it utterly or that once I knew something was not working, or was working, that I stopped doing it or continued as the case may have been. I can’t deny that I’ve sometimes done things without my own permission or that I’ve made the same mistake twice. I admit that I’ve broken more than one heart with the same doubt and would be lying if I said I was a quick study.

I have not always been open minded to the information, the self knowledge, I’ve gathered along the way throughout my journey. In fact at times I’ve needed the equivalent of a bitch slap upside the head, a crack or two with a two by four and a bolt of lightning directed at me from above to get my attention, but today, I am willing to look for the lesson. To review a situation and look at past experiences to determine how to handle something today. To reflect on situations and be willing to work if necessary towards different outcomes because of what I “know” now.

I have actually figured out that instead of looking at experiences from the perspective of:
“Oh God, I can’t believe I did that again!” or
“What the hell is wrong with me that I didn’t get it the first time?” or
“They told me so!”
“I knew it!” or
Simply….”ugggggghhhh”

I can look at any and all experiences, the things that are my life, from the vantage point of what they have taught me. Being in the habit of asking what lessons have arisen from any given situation changes everything. Ah, that brings me to another favorite quote: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,” this by Wayne Dyer. Learning how to look at life as a training ground, as a place where we try and fail and try again and succeed and try again and miss the mark and try again and hit the bullseye makes all the difference.

Within every day there are so many opportunities to learn, to grow to look at things differently that it is awe inspiring. Life’s journey is about learning and then about knowing. Learning about what works, what doesn’t work, who stays, who goes, where we are comfortable, where we aren’t, what to hold onto, what to let go of and then knowing all of it is what it’s all about. I was reminded of this while watching Oprah’s OWN network the other day and I heard her say: “When you know better … you DO better!”

I realized “Yep, I have!” I have “done better now that I know better.” And “now that I know better I am not pretending I don’t,” and that is good stuff! Sometimes the knowledge has come in tiny baby spoonfuls. At other times it has come in wheelbarrows. But the constant has been in grasping it, in striving, in reaching for it, for more of it. I always thought I was really “trying” but that word is for wimps, really. The fact is, when you are “TRYING” you have an out. You can pretend you aren’t sure. You can fail and be a victim living in, ”I was trying,” even believing that you were. You can pretend that “you didn’t know.” But doing is different.

When you are doing your life – with purpose and focusing on what you are learning as the gift…when you are looking for the information in all of it to bring you closer to what you are intended to be…when you are looking for it – really looking for it – you find the Grace that is your life. Your awareness shifts and you notice your accomplishments instead of your failures. Suddenly, instead of needing to check the box you become OK with living outside of it. You feel different inside.

You know deep down that you know that you don’t know what you don’t know and that you know that you do know what you do.

And by admitting all of it, you know better. You DO better. You don’t pretend that it’s up to anyone else to create the life that you want to lay claim to. You know going forward that it will all be about what you learn and what you do with it. With all of it.

And so, this writer, this seeker, this learner, signs off with another quote:

“I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.”
― Edna St. Vincent Millay

And now I know only what I know. Tomorrow, I hope I know a little bit more. But either way I won’t pretend I don’t.

And If I Ever Touched a LIfe, I Hope That Life Knows That Touching Is, Was and Always Will Be, The Only True Revolution.” Nikki Giovanni

I have to laugh.  I just sat and re-read my last blog.  Holy blah, blah, blah.  A bit wordy, but therapeutic nevertheless.  Sometimes the words come out so quickly, flowing and spilling over one another into the next one so fast that it’s hard to realize that you are saying the same thing over and over.  As I read it my first doubtful, fearful thought was “Oh God, what the heck would anyone think of this wordy piece?” …but then, my second thought was how damn good it felt to type every single word of it, to run my fingers over the keys as the sentences tumbled over each other.  And wordy or not, I remember how much the message helps me by typing it and I smile because that truly is the point.

This whole blogging thing has been therapeutic yes, but scary too.  Regarding my last blog, I’d actually written a different version earlier, but was afraid to post it because it was more specific, more raw, more blunt and because it put stuff so “out there.”  I worried that it was too personal even though gracepaidforward is for the most part anonymous.  The other one included references to my little sister and to some of “our” stuff.  My beautiful and amazing little sister who probably doesn’t know how much of both I think she is. 

I referenced her as “the littler girl,” the one I wasn’t really there for and who I didn’t protect very well and who I just didn’t have the tools yet to know how to love and honor better.  The one I wanted to look like and be like and the one, the only one I know, who would ever truly understand. 

I was so afraid that she would be mad at what I had typed, that she might accuse me of delving too deep into the past and that she wouldn’t like what I had written, so I deleted it.  Ironically, only moments after I did I got a phone call from her telling me that she had seen the post.  She sounded teary when she told me that she had read what I had written (she didn’t know I had just erased it) and that it had touched her, had made her cry.  She said I should write a book.  And I knew. I knew that from that moment on whatever I wrote going forward would be perfect no matter who would ever read it and no matter what they ever thought.  That one moment between the two of us would be enough to make all the rest of it worthwhile no matter what. 

I really love my little sister and feel truly blessed that she made that phone call to me.  I love that she was willing to be vulnerable enough to do so and I really wish I had a chance to go back and do it all a bit differently.  A chance to be a big sister, to be her champion.  An opportunity to not spend so much time pretending I felt better in my skin than I did, so that I could spend more time telling her how wonderful she was.  A chance to speak up for her and for me so that we could be better in today.  Perhaps it’s not too late.  And so, little sis, if by chance you get to read this blog, this one that I will absolutely NOT delete, I love you and honor you and completely and utterly understand, always.  We have each other