Author Grace Hansen once said: “Don’t be afraid your life will end; be afraid that it will never begin.”
If you’ve been living on the margins – going along to get along – decide to do something different today.
Realize that even during these strange times, when a global pandemic has caused untold grief, stress, isolation and disruption, and when the simultaneously unfolding racial pandemic has led to heartbreak, hope and strain on relationships, you can make choices and create impact that yield some positive, lasting change.
Sometimes you may need to stand alone, be still or do it afraid.
You may find yourself compelled to speak up in some instances, while others will require restraint. In all cases, you can be grateful to be a chosen vessel, for such a time as this.
When you do the best you can with who you are and what you have, you’re telling your life ‘thank you’ and showing gratitude to those who are in the trenches with you. Your Creator appreciates the nod, too, for faith without works is dead.
Gratitude in action is a full circle opportunity to appreciate, and in some way, pay forward the chances we get to breathe, be and do some good.
Nothing can trump my love of being near water, but being in the mountains is a close second.
A recent weekend visit to Carter’s Mountain in Charlottesville didn’t disappoint, and in the days to come, I’ll enjoy some of the fruit of my efforts – handpicked apples that I mostly pulled from trees myself.
The pic below was taken before my bag was full, but I left the mountain with it bulging with some delicious apples and a few gems for life.
For what we choose to fill our bags with can both feed us and fuel us. No one gets the mix right 100 percent of the time – my sweet tooth wins more often than it should. However, just enough filling of goodness, wisdom, love and hope can add weight and substance in our life’s favor.
What will you fill your proverbial bag with today? This week?
I’m throwing in some creative juices for my writing,
some sneakers for the miles I want to walk,
some generosity and fun for myself and my loved ones,
some courage to push past fear and take a few more risks,
some prayer for those who are grieving or angry with the world,
and some kindness and grace for all I encounter.
Be intentional. Make sure you enjoy filling the “bags” you’ll carry along your way.
You’ll be more likely to find them weighed down with blessings and lessons you won’t mind holding onto.
A friend and I have been challenging each other to get things done this fall, and to take baby steps, if necessary.
We check in once a week with a reminder to devote at least 30 minutes that day to our goal.
No matter how busy I am that day, can I fit in at least 30 minutes of creative writing? And can she accomplish an art-related task or project for at least half an hour?
We both are certainly devoting more time throughout the week to our endeavors, but this check-in at the start of each week is a helpful reminder that if we put our minds to it, we can do it.
Encouragement and climbing together matter.
Consider finding yourself a challenge partner – one who won’t stress you out or condemn you on the days you falter – someone whose gentle belief in you will help you believe in your dreams all the more.
You’ve got this – one step, half-hour commitment, or day at a time.
If you are of a certain age, you’re among the many of us who have a September 11, 2001 “Where were you?” story.
Mine involved focusing on things that have long mattered most to me:
striving to be a caring mother
striving to be a courageous storyteller
intentionally using my words to make a difference.
That day was my first day back at work as a newspaper reporter, after a 12-week maternity leave.
I’d placed my infant son in his babysitter’s arms and dropped off my daughter at a nearby preschool, and was settling at my desk just before 8 a.m. in the quiet newsroom.
Suddenly, a photographer ran past me and yelled to turn on the TV – a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers in New York City. Then a friend called to welcome me back and to share that she’d just seen live news reports about the plane crash. Together, we watched as a second plane hit the second tower, and we knew the world had changed.
After reminding myself that both of my kids were in good care, with people who loved them and would keep them safe, I did what journalists do – went right into reporter mode, knowing that I’d have to somehow help make sense of this madness for residents of Central Virginia and beyond.
Within the hour, I was driving down a winding road south of the city to visit a local mosque. Despite growing fears for safety in the wake of the terrorists attacks, the Imam (spiritual leader) trusted me enough to let me inside the building, which was teeming with young children, because it doubled as a daycare and preschool.
There was mayhem. The phones kept ringing with death threats, frightened parents showed up to pick up their children and the Imam sought to keep everyone calm.
I saw fear and hurt in his eyes, both over the tragedy that had occurred in our nation and over the need to defend himself and the Muslims he knew and loved. He requested that I use my news article to remind people that not all Muslims are terrorists and that he, too, was grieving.
On my drive back to the Richmond Times-Dispatch newsroom, the radio waves were eerily silent and my cell phone wouldn’t work. I returned to learn from colleagues about the attack at the Pentagon and the crash of another plane that was believed to be headed to Washington, D.C.
I sat at my desk and wrote about the Imam’s plea for people to look past ethnicity and into hearts, and not to harm Americans who looked him or those in his spiritual care because of the hateful and evil acts of others – acts he also denounced.
That conversation with him, and witnessing the distress at the mosque that day, led me to write a year-long series of newspaper columns about people of various faiths – Muslims, Quakers, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and more – and to use their personal journeys to educate readers about the principles of each religion, so that perhaps we could really “see” our neighbors, colleagues and strangers and find some common ground.
What my readers (and I ) discovered through my columns is that regardless of the different commandments, laws and practices of the various faiths, the primary mandate of absolutely ALL of them is to LOVE, and to use love as a guide to honor God, live peaceably with others and flow positively through this world.
Sometimes love must be giving.
Sometimes love must be sacrificial.
Sometimes love sets boundaries.
All of the time love can heal and produce hope.
This isn’t as easy at it sounds, of course, which is why people of faith are always “practicing” their faith. But leading with love never fails and never goes out of style.
Twenty years later, as we remember this significant and painful day of loss and fear, may we also remember the love that followed in the aftermath. And may we continue striving to look past what we see on the surface and give others’ hearts a chance, while having the courage to share our own.
On this Labor Day, may we find some time to pause, breathe, reflect and reset.
In doing so, perhaps we can lean into what we love about having the opportunity to work and the opportunity to live with purpose.
Regardless of whether our life’s purpose intersects with our day-to-day work, I imagine that one feeds off of the other – with our job providing the resources and space we need to execute our life’s calling, and our calling being shored up and reflected in the formal work we do consistently.
So today, my challenge to you is to be grateful for your opportunities to live, work and be.
In doing so, you contribute to your own wellbeing and that of your loved ones, while in many instances also fostering greater good in the world around us.
Whatever kind of work you do, it matters, especially during a pandemic that has significantly altered over the past two years what formal work looks and feels like, and perhaps has led you to set aside your hopes and dreams.
Today, pick them back up.
Consider what pushes you forward even when you’re tired,
what wakes you up before the alarm sounds,
what brings you joy, in season and out.
That thing called purpose won’t be fickle, and when you recognize it and honor it, neither will you.
Do the work to discover the work you were born to do, then give it your all. And even if you’re in a season of retirement or between formal jobs, explore and discover how this new phase or next chapter still can be deeply meaningful.
Someone asked me recently why I routinely see life’s proverbial glass as half-full – especially at times when the tug to focus on half-empty is just as strong.
I don’t have an elaborate, philosophical reason; and the truth is we all have bad days, sad days and the like. This is what makes us imperfectly human, and I’m right there with you.
I’ve learned through living, however, that our journey is what we make it, and the hours we’re given each day can be eaten up with negativity or treated as the treasures they are.
I’ve had a sister survive a double lung transplant, friends survive a devastating fire and several others surmount cancer. I’ve lost loved ones, tangible treasures and valuable opportunities. This has ingrained in me to take no one and nothing for granted. And through it all, I’ve kept my eyes on what’s most important – powerful lessons learned, deeper relationships with those who remain, a stronger sense of self, beautiful surprises and unexpected blessings.
I’ve also remembered that God loves me most, and clung to choices that make my heart smile.
Those things are my “whys” and they drive me to keep seeking joy on my journey, appreciating the simple aspects of each day, and serving others with my gifts and personal passions.
What drives you or lights your way?
Give this question some serious thought, and when the answer comes, embrace it. Honor your “whys” and you’ll walk in the power of being a unique and necessary gift to this world.
New day, new week, new month and a new opportunity to render the looming five months of this year more meaningful than the first.
Consider re-energizing yourself just because…because you’re worth it.
Try – or start again with- enjoying everyday, abstaining from complaining, believing the best and exemplifying The Golden Rule.
Choose to try – or start again with – reaching for the sun so you’ll land among the stars; viewing setbacks as “set-ups” for amazing opportunities; celebrating every achievement with gratitude; giving thanks for the shoulders upon which you stand; appreciating the blessing in every life lesson; embracing others as they are and where they are (and extending that same grace to yourself).
Recognize the many “presents” that the present is providing; live on purpose and in your purpose, and have fun along the way. Each day really is a gift; do your best to enjoy it and invite others on the journey with you.
Won’t be easy all the time, but it will be worth your efforts at every turn – and hopefully contagious.
Years ago, I had an interesting conversation with an acquaintance last week about purpose, contentment and living fully.
We asked each other, “What do you love most about your life?”
For both of us, our answers were evident in our actions – where, with whom, and how we spend our time.
What about you?
If you can answer with one or more truths, you’re blessed. No one’s journey is perfect; yet, in both mountaintop and valley seasons, there’s something to be grateful for. So our answers should match our energy and be evident in how we’re flowing.
The joy comes in finding the grace to accept yourself, and others, as-is while nudging yourself to do and be your best.
I say… go for it! “Let your true self reign – you might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you will be many people’s glass of champagne.” ~ Aine Belton
When I was child back in the day, you could drive up to a gas station and someone would pump your gas for you.
You would just pull up to the pump and an attendant would come out to your car. All you had to do was roll down your window (and I do mean roll) and say, “fill’er up.”
By the time I learned how to drive, the new thing was “self service,” which meant you had to get out and pump your own gas.
I don’t like to pump gas. I’ve tried to convince my husband that this should be his job, but to no avail. I have even figured out how long I can drive around on fumes once the “almost empty” fuel sensor light comes on.
Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that driving until your tank is empty can mess up your car. It leaves room for “junk” to build up in your tank, and it can cause your fuel pump to overheat and wear out more quickly.
I think you know where I’m going with this…
Sometime last year, just before our world became engulfed in a global health pandemic, I read a book titled Leading On Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion. It was penned by Wayne Cordeiro to help pastoral leaders who are suffering from burnout, but you could easily re-title this book Parenting On Empty or Working On Empty or Praying On Empty or Loving On Empty.
I think if we called it Living on Empty it would speak to all of our situations. For those of us who spend a significant portion of our time serving others (whether it’s your profession, vocation or just who you be), living on empty could be an adequate description of what we feel like on the regular.
Many a day we operate solely on fumes, just trying to get through the day, through bedtime or through the next crisis.
It’s so easy to put our own needs on the back burner. We have good intentions to go back and take care of them later. But somehow later never happens.
Living on empty happens when we are blessed with children who need our care. (They are demanding little creatures just by their very nature and before you know it, they have consumed our entire lives.) Or perhaps it happens when we are serving as a caregiver for a loved one who is ill. We want to be there and our efforts become all-focused on their wellbeing.
We don’t have the energy or the will to do something for ourselves.
Living on empty happens when our vocation is to serve people in our community, and as our nation has endured an economic crisis that has led to job loss and personal devastation, the amount of people needing to be served has increased significantly.
There is not enough time in our day to do all that needs to be done. The needs of others leaks into our private time and we don’t know how to shut them off or hold them back.
Maybe we’re afraid if we turn our engine off, fearing that it won’t start back up. However, if we never turn it off for maintenance, it eventually will die out anyway.
We know these things. We understand that this is what self care is – turning off our engine (resting) and then making sure we pour back in to ourselves, to replenish the well from which we have been giving.
The thing we are not quite sure about most of the time is how did we get here in the first place? Why do we allow ourselves to run until we burnout?
These are questions we have to be willing to ask and seek to honestly the answer. Discovering your answers, and leaning into them, will change your life – and fill your tank – for the better.
As a wife, mother and grandmother, Valerie Henderson enjoys spending endless amounts of time with her family. As a minister, she loves assisting others as they journey through their faith walk. As a creative soul, she finds her greatest solace when she can retreat, craft and write.