Category Archives: Musings on Life and Beauty

Bucket of Awesome

In order to accomplish my goals in 2017 and be who I want to be, I realized that I need to re-write part of my story.  By re-write, I mean that I am the storyteller of my life.  And like every truly good book that we read, parts of our personal stories will need revision in order to capture what is essential for the rest of the story to progress and unfold.

Sometimes we get stuck in the details of these stories and forget their role in propelling us forward.   We might make the mistake of letting someone else tell the story and allow their words to make us merely a supporting actor or even a victim.  When our voice is strained or tired, or the plot seems messy, we might be tempted to conclude that it’s unimportant and quit talking.  That may be part of the journey but it’s not the main idea.  The truth is that each of us lives an amazing, individual, never-to-be-duplicated life full of highs and lows, and it is absolutely worth telling.  Worth telling it well.  When we craft a dead-end version, we need to go back, re-examine, and revise it so our story, the one in which we are both the voice and the hero, can lift and teach and triumph.

I believe that with all my heart.  I will also be the first to admit I’ve been stuck in a dead-end chapter of my story, and it needed to be re-written desperately.

With this goal in my mind, imagine my delight when Kathryn Thompson, author of Drops of Awesome, sent me an email about her newest book, Buckets of Awesome.  Let me tell you, it is awesome!  I’ve been a fan of Kathryn’s message for a long time.  I’ve posted about it here and here.  But I really love what she’s done with this book.

Bucket of Awesome is a journaling tool filled with specific prompts to wander through your life history and write about it in positive ways.  Some parts may be easy; others hard.  You can skip the prompts that don’t trigger anything for you and focus on the ones that do.  Her message is this:  We are writing our life story whether we realize it or not.  We can write it in ways that recognize and honor the good or we can dwell on the negative.  The option we choose is powerful and has long lasting effects on us and others.  So why not tell the story that is awesome?!

Robert Atkinson wrote, “There is a power in storytelling that can transform our lives.  Traditional stories, myths, and fairy tales hold this power.  The stories we tell of our own lives carry this transforming power, too.  In the process of telling our life stories, we discover that we are more sacred beings than we are human beings, that the most powerful life story expresses the struggle of [our] soul.” (quoted in Dare Dream Do by Whitney Clayton, p. 16)

I love that Kathryn has created a tool to assist us in transforming our own lives by examining the stories we’ve collected about ourselves.  In my reading of the book, I read through all of it and then went back and lingered in the section about Resilience and Struggle.  Why?  Because the last two years of my life have been all about challenges.  I know that in the struggle of those years I have experienced some beautiful things but I’ve often chosen the story about how hard it was.  If I want to craft a narrative that predicts a brighter future, I need to do some re-writing.  Not a re-write that pretends the hard times didn’t happen, or that depicts them as something they weren’t.  Revised in a way that includes the fact that I haven’t quit, that I’m still standing, that I’ve learned some important things, and that I can do hard things and still find happiness.  So that’s where I’m journaling right now.  I need the most recent section of my life story to be powerful enough to predict a brighter future.

One of the sweetest blessings of challenging years is connecting with others in their challenges.  I listen differently to them now, and feel more deeply what they’re going through.  These friends amaze me as they fight through their trials.  I love their stories.  They give me courage.

Kathryn writes, “Never stop telling your story, and always be conscious of how you tell it.  Ask yourself, ‘What stories can I tell that will be the most helpful and productive in my future life?  What backstory do I want my future superhero self to have?’  Write that.  Focus on that…. Your life will be beautiful.  Choose to see it for what it truly is.”  (Bucket of Awesome, p.167)

What can you do to find your voice and use it?  What story can you share that will lift someone else?  What story needs revision so it no longer drags you down?  What dream is your current story propelling you towards?  I highly recommend using Bucket of Awesome to get yourself started.  You matter, and so do your stories.

Jennifer

Dreaming of a Brighter Future

A couple of years ago I was sitting on a beach watching my children play in the sand and the sea when I began reading the book Dare, Dream, Do by Whitney Johnson.  I was hungry, but not completely ready, for the invitation.

I started the book, made it to the middle, and restarted it several times before I finally finished it last year.  My halting reading had nothing to do with the quality of the writing or the content, and everything to do with me.

Whitney writes in the first paragraph of Part One that dreaming is an inalienable right, something we naturally understand as children.  “Unfortunately, as adults we often put our dearest dreams away, as life hands us unexpected challenges or circumstances and the harsh realities of economic necessity whittle away at our energy and our hopes.  Dreaming truly becomes a dare.” (Dare Dream Do, p.7)

This was me.  I was living the dream of being a wife and mother, but in living it I was totally exhausted. The murkiness of motherhood had drained me of energy and aspirations, and I was also running low on hope.  Having reached the point that I no longer believed any of my “big” dreams were possible, I traded them instead for “little” dreams.  But they weren’t really dreams, just small accomplishments that I could count on, like making my next quilt.  I was happy to be a mother, happy to watch my children grow, and busy with all kinds of good things.  Keeping a family of ten running is a massive undertaking and hard as I tried, there seemed to always be something I forgot or didn’t do well enough.  Sleep deprivation had gone on for so many years that I no longer remembered what it felt like to be rested and my biggest dream at the time was to have just one morning when I woke up feeling like I’d had sufficient sleep.  Life was really good, but in my head it was really hard.

I had no idea how much harder it was about to get.

Thus began a series of events and experiences that challenged me like nothing else could.  As mothers often do, I sometimes couldn’t tell where I ended and where my family began.  This fuzzy line led to questions like, can I still be a good mother if my child struggles?  If he/she fails?  Can I be happy if others make choices that break my heart?  We also experienced the usual adversities of life, but they felt like they came in such quick succession that we were often left reeling.  Things like failed transmissions, flooded basements, you name it, it broke.  I had days when I was lost in sadness.  There were other days when I felt full of hope and purpose.  I learned more patience.  I learned what it means not to give up on someone.  I learned not to judge.  I learned to treasure my loved ones.

As 2016 drew to an end, I knew that circumstances would stay much the same going into a third year.  But I also have children who are growing up.  My daughter will finish high school and leave for college this year.  My youngest will turn eight and be baptized.  We have some wonderful highlights ahead.  So something needed to change, and that was me.  Whatever else changes or doesn’t change in 2017, whatever battles I have to face, this will be a happy year for me.  I will love and support and sacrifice and do everything in my power to assist, but I won’t let our problems define me for another year.

Deciding it and doing it aren’t the same thing.  So I’m learning.

Whitney Clayton also wrote, “Dreaming is essential to making meaning of our lives — dreaming lifts us out of what has happened in what is often an confusing, messy, and painful past so that we can craft a narrative that predicts a brighter future.” (Dare Dream Do, p. 20)

A narrative that predicts a brighter future.

I read that phrase and thought, “I could sure use that!”  Could you?

I’m writing one.  Which means I’m revising the story I’ve been telling myself and I’m trying to start dreaming again.  Imagine my smile when a tool for doing it dropped right into my lap.  I’ll share what it is tomorrow!

 

2017 Word of the Year: Light

My word of the year for 2017 is LIGHT.

January has come and gone, and Feburary is underway.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks listening to podcasts, studying productivity, pondering the direction I want to move in, and generally doing some soul searching (while trying to keep the circus that is our family of ten moving, of course).

For one thing, I’m not focusing on as many year-long goals.  I’m trying to think of 2017 more as a 52 week project, with each week building on the one before.  I’m also breaking the year down into smaller chunks to accomplish my main goals.  But I do want “light” to be something I focus on all year.

In what ways?

Well, one golden thread that I’ve seen in my life for decades is the truth that if I’m really spending time studying the word of God on a daily basis, the light in my life increases.  Psalms 36:9 reads, “For with thee is the fountain of life:  in thy light shall we see light.”  This is so true!  He is the fountain of life, goodness, beauty, mercy, you name it.  And when I make an effort to move further into His light, I have new eyes to see light.

With those new eyes I see light in my surroundings, meaning in everyday challenges, beauty where before I saw only an obstacle.  I’m more intelligent, more patient, more sensitive to others.  So, seeking light is huge.

But it doesn’t stop there.

I want to be a light, to reflect His light.  I want to fill my life with more service and do a better job of encouraging, lifting, and strengthening those around me.

I have a large, busy, imperfect, but really great family.  Keeping things running smoothly requires constant effort.  I want to do whatever I can to minimize clutter, distractions, and unnecessary time wasters so our lives flow better, and especially so that the bulk of my time is spent with them, focused on them.  A simple way for me to word this is “live light.”  I want to get rid of whatever isn’t a blessing for my family.

The last couple of years have been very heavy ones emotionally.  I’m done letting these burdens define me.  While I know some challenges aren’t going away anytime soon, it’s time to quit letting them have the power to drain me so much.  So I’m also going to “lighten up” and be happy even when things may seem bleak or ugly.

The lettering you see above is something I sketched out a few weeks ago.  I was sitting at my kitchen table with my daughters and we were all coloring.  It felt so peaceful and happy, but I felt hungry to practice some lettering.  My handwriting is something I worked hard on as a child and teenager (I’m left handed and people are always shocked at how nice it is) but I haven’t used it as much in recent years and I miss writing nicely.  I took a class a while ago from the very talented Lisa of Hand Lettered Design but haven’t practiced as much as I intended, so I got it out and was re-tracing some of her lettering when my 18 year old said to me, “Mom, I don’t get it.  If you already have such nice handwriting, why would you try to make your writing look like someone else’s?”

So I put the tracing away and tried lettering one simple word:  light.  With handwriting that is mine.

I appreciated her reminder that in all of it, I need to remember that I have my own set of gifts and talents to share and develop.  So I guess another goal for 2017 is to “honor light.”  I want to honor the light that is uniquely mine and work hard to honor that light in each of my children.

Here’s a quick list of some things I did in January:

I started a topical study on light.
I took a mini class on using light better in my photos.
We went through all the clothing that half of my children own and got rid of everything we don’t truly love and use often.
I focused on getting more/better sleep, including an overhaul of my morning routine to encourage better sleep at night.
We spent more time serving and interacting with some neighbors and friends that we love.
I really did smile and laugh a whole lot more.  I laughed at my mistakes and tried to meet daily mishaps with a chuckle instead of stress.
I started a creative project to explore light.
We spent many hours as a family reading books aloud and simply being together.

Fear and worry plague all of us.  I’m so excited to step away from those emotions this year and live in the light.  I’m full of hope for an awesome experience!

Jennifer

 

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