on encouragement…

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I’ve been thinking about encouragement a lot over the past few months. That little voice whispering “you can do this” has always been so important to me.  Sometimes I’ve heard it from someone else, and sometimes I’ve whispered it to myself.  Maybe encouragement is one of my love languages?

A simple “You got this” or “I believe in you” or “I knew you could do it” can make all the difference in the world to someone. Encouragement is so healing and restoring. One kind and honest word can mean everything to another person. How awesome is it that encouragement is free and readily available for us to give to each other????

So………um……..then…..why don’t we?

Why don’t we encourage each other more? Is it really that hard to be a healer and a restorer? Is it really that hard to offer an uplifting word to friends and even to strangers?

Why will people shout criticism and condemnation from the rooftops, but won’t put that same effort into encouraging each other? I don’t get it.

Not long ago I heard someone say that God doesn’t have a voice on earth, He has us.

BOOM! Mind blown.

That’s it. He’s counting on US to be the voice of love and blessing to each other.  I love this! It’s not just about family and friends – it’s about co-workers, the mailman, the guy who stands at the 490 exit at Goodman Street holding a sign that says please help; it’s about the cashier at Wegman’s, the guy behind the counter at 7-11 where I get my coffee every morning, the lady at the bank, and it’s about so much more. It’s about everyone.

It’s about love. Encouragement = love

BOOM! Mind blown again.

So, today, right now, whatever is going on in your life, I want you to know that I love you and I believe in you. You got this.

#beingrena #encourageeachother

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Almost

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heart growthI used to have this special ringtone for my boyfriend’s text messages. For three years that special “ding” told me that it was a message from him. I deleted it from my phone in early May when I realized our only texts were about separating our lives and our belongings, and every time I heard his special “ding” it only brought fresh tears to my eyes.

I was standing with a group of people Sunday morning when I heard that special “ding” from someone else’s phone – and after a few moments I realized something important. My heart didn’t jump. I wasn’t overcome with anxiety. My eyes didn’t fill with tears. I heard that special sound and it hadn’t affected me. I kept my peace – and that accomplishment brought me even greater peace.

I carried that peaceful feeling with me throughout the day, and I let myself think about him, and our life together. I usually try really hard not to think about him. I miss his voice. I miss his hugs. I miss the way his neck smells. I miss the way we always used to hold hands. Despite our ups and downs, I really did believe our love for each other would transcend any real or imagined obstacle. I loved him so much – I wanted him to be the right man for me – and he almost was. And I was almost the right woman for him. Almost.

God – that’s just so demeaning and insulting. Almost. What the hell is almost? The fact is neither one of us fully accepted the other without judgment. I guess that’s what almost is. Almost is not accepting someone for who they are. Yes and no are definitive. Yes I accept all of your beauty and all of your flaws, and I can live with you. No I can’t accept all of your beauty and all of your flaws and I can’t live with you. Almost is just some kind of a bullshit judgment dump. “Gee honey, you’re awesome, and you’re almost awesome enough, if you would just change (insert bullshit judgment here).” Almost is just so f’ing hurtful.

I had to face the fact that I was as guilty of almost as he was. Accepting this unpleasant fact about myself felt like a big step. If I won’t fully accept my partner for who he is, and if he won’t fully accept me for who I am, then I shouldn’t be there. It seems so simple. I guess I just had to take the reeeeeeeeeeally long way around to get through this particular lesson.

Sometimes my lessons come gently like a leaf floating on a breeze, and sometimes they come like a brick to the side of the head.

I guess I needed a brick. Or maybe just a familiar ringtone.

love letter to my dad

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dad and me

In the fall of 2012 I had the honor of offering my dad’s eulogy. He was such a beautiful soul, and I miss him terribly. Here is a little view into who he was….

Thank you for being here today to celebrate my dad’s life. Our family is so grateful to all of you who supported him through this last part of his journey. Your visits, and phone calls and text messages and prayers really encouraged him and brought him great joy. You helped him to feel so special and so loved. Thank you.

Thanks for indulging me and listening for a few minutes while I talk about the sweet miracle that was my dad.

My dad was the oldest brother in a family of six children. He became the man of the house when he was just 11 years old after the sudden death of his father. His was a childhood cut short. His early road wasn’t easy. But it was that early road, in part, that helped to shape the gentle and compassionate soul that we all know. Those difficult years were eclipsed by what he made of the rest of his life. Particularly the last 26 years where his life truly blossomed.

I talked to a lot of people over the last few weeks who knew my dad differently than I did – either through work, or volunteering, or socially. It was heartwarming to speak to so many people who saw him the same way that I did. He was just such a good man. It was no surprise to me that just about everybody I spoke to used the same words to describe him: humble, grateful, funny, generous, hopeful, devoted, and unconditionally loving.  He had a gift for accepting others just as they are – without any judgment – and for seeing the goodness in people even when they weren’t able to see it in themselves. He was a kind soul.

My parents have known each other since they were children. My dad used to tell stories about throwing rocks at my mom when they were just little kids. I guess in the language of little boys, throwing rocks at a girl means “I’m madly in love with you”. And my dad was madly in love with my mom. Anyone who knew my dad knew that my mom was the center of his world. It was easy to see that she was the love of his life. I know now more than ever that love shines even in the darkest parts of our lives. In those final days when he was making the difficult transition from the physical world to the afterlife, when familiar faces began to fade from his memory, his love for my mom didn’t fade. He always recognized my mom. What a blessing and a gift for both of them. And it was a blessing and a gift to Barbie and Craig and me to be there to witness their love for each other in those last days.

My dad had a lot of roles – husband, father, grampa…brother, friend, neighbor…mentor, trusted servant, volunteer…and he was Santa.

My dad wasn’t just “a Santa”. He wasn’t just a round guy with a white beard in a cool red suit. He was truly the spirit of Santa. He always had that special twinkle in his eye, he was particularly kind to animals, and he loved children. But most of all, he had an unshakable faith that every kid on the naughty list just needed someone to believe in them so they could be transformed. I know he was that “someone” who believed in some of you…and I know he’s still with you, and he still believes in you.

Barbie and I were blessed with a wonderful father. He taught us, through his unwavering example, what unconditional love really is. Love without limits, love without judgment. He had an incredible way of making us feel special and loved for the unique individuals that we are. And we love him endlessly. He always had the simple answer to life’s complicated questions. Sometimes the answer was to put on your lucky red socks and pray. Sometimes the answer was simply a good laugh to break through the tears. And sometimes the answer was a daddy hug that said: “you are my dear child and I love you no matter what”.

My dad loved being a grampa. He was so good at it. He was naturally wise, funny, loving, and always so full of mischief. He and Alex shared such a special love. And when Lindsey and Corey came into our lives, he was so thrilled to have two more grandchildren to love and adore. His three grandchildren were his next generation of unconditional love.

So many of my dad’s treasured memories revolve around he and Mom and Alex and their annual summer vacations. These great adventures were always highlighted by a multi-state game of punchbug that gave the winner bragging rights until the following summer’s vacation. They saw some of our country’s most exquisite natural beauty in their 15 years of summer vacations – the Grand Canyon, both Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks, the unspoiled beauty of Alaska – and still the biggest story upon their return every year was the punchbug score. That was my dad. He was just fun.

My dad was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. His sense of humor ranged from brilliant wit to adolescent and inappropriate – and everything in between. And he loved a good practical joke. He just loved making people laugh. He loved making people happy. I’m sure we’ve all got a favorite memory of laughing with him. Whether it was one of his silly one-liners, a funny pet name that he had just for you, or some goofy practical joke that you were part of…please take that memory with you today and hold it in your heart for a time when you really need a good giggle. He’ll be there with you. That would make him happy.

My dad lived a life of love and hope, a life of service to others, and a life of simple joys. For me, he will always be the greatest example of the person I hope to become. My dad made a difference in people’s lives. He made the world a better place.

May he rest in God’s peace.

three little words

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Truth is Beauty by Marco Cochrane

I was cleaning out a drawer last weekend and I found something I wrote almost ten years ago. I had just come through a divorce, and I was beginning to really dig into the idea that I could create the life I wanted to live – I could create the woman I wanted to become. So I made a list. God knows I love a good list. I wrote:

I want to be….

Kind.

Forgiving. I want to be able to forgive others and forgive myself. I want to let go of the past.

Generous with my spirit and my gifts – time, talent and treasure.

Loving. Able to give and receive love freely.

Fearless. But not foolish. 

Compassionate. One who seeks first to understand, then to be understood. 

Honest. Always. With myself and with others. 

Direct. But diplomatic.

Silly and Serious. I want to be able to sit comfortably in both of these without fear and be able to enjoy both of them freely. 

Faith-full. As in full of faith. To live every day grateful for God’s perfect love, and sharing God’s perfect love with the world. 

Fair.

Flexible. To be able to embrace change whether it’s change in my routine, change in my breakfast cereal, or larger scale change in my life. 

As I read my words from years ago, I felt the strangest feelings bubble up in my chest. I felt sort of sad, then sort of happy, then sort of peaceful, then sort of…ohmygod…sort of…this is so weird…sort of…proud of myself. Then when I realized I was sort of proud of myself, I became immediately ashamed of myself. All of the messages had started playing in my head “you’re unkind”, “you’re disrespectful”, “you’re selfish”…. Those messages that had started out as external messages, and had quickly become my inner voice of doubt and shame. There is that icky feeling again.

Then something really amazing happened – something that should have happened a long time ago. I got really mad. All of a sudden all I could feel was this deep, pure anger. I’m not talking about just being really pissed off – it was bigger than that. But I’m not talking about being enraged either – it was more authentic and focused than rage (which to me has always appeared to be out of control and terrifying). This felt distinctly powerful – even primal – it was a flash of life-force sort of energy.

 “NO I’M NOT!!!”

Omg – who is this woman? Who is this beautiful warrior? I like her.

No I’m not…three little words that turned my inner world from anguish to acceptance. Three little words, just seven little letters, that brought me back into focus. Those messages simply were not true, and I could finally see it.

Thank you, primal warrior voice from deep inside me. I’ve been looking for you for a very long time.

I should have silenced those messages a long time ago. But I couldn’t do it. Because I believed them. I believed I wasn’t kind enough, I wasn’t respectful enough, and I wasn’t selfless enough. I just believed I wasn’t good enough.

Now I know better.

A spectacular splat

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My family has always joked about my clumsiness, my lack of coordination, and my inability to walk and chew gum at the same time. I even earned the nickname “Grace”.

I didn’t like it.

Their teasing wasn’t entirely unwarranted. I’ve had more than my fair share of broken bones, stitches, scrapes and bruises. I think I just always set out to really experience life – and sometimes that involved an ER visit.

Friday afternoon I was making my way to a lunch on Park Avenue. As usual, there was no parking anywhere near the restaurant. I parked around the block on Berkley Street. It was a beautiful day, and I really didn’t mind the walk. Not even in (gorgeous, bright red) four inch heels. I strolled up Berkley with my purse looped into the crook of my arm and my phone in my hand, enjoying the beautiful day. And then it happened. My heel stuck in a crack in the sidewalk and I was pitched forward onto the sidewalk in what can only be described as a “face plant”. It was a spectacular splat, made even more special by the 30 or so people dining outside at Jines, directly across the street. They seemed to offer a collective gasp at my fall. I was on the sidewalk with a skinned knee and a bleeding elbow. I heard concerned voices from across the street “Is she okay? Is she okay?” Total humiliation for the clumsy girl nicknamed Grace. I popped back up onto my feet and nervously looked across the street. Everyone was looking at me. Good God, could this get worse? All I could do was laugh and announce (in my best Chris Farley voice) “I’m okay!”. Everyone laughed with me, and there was a smattering of applause. And then I did the only thing I could do at that incredibly humiliating moment…I put my shoe back on, picked up my phone, hooked my purse back into the crook of my arm and I took a very theatrical bow. My audience at Jines was most appreciative with their applause and cheers. It was fantastic!

It wasn’t very long ago that I couldn’t have pictured myself handling such a humiliating experience with such humor and grace. I’m sure I would have scurried off without looking up, and then after lunch walked all the way around the block the other way so that I wouldn’t have to pass by those tables again on the way back to my car. But I didn’t do that. I didn’t even consider it. I just got back on my feet, brushed off, laughed, and kept on going. It was awesome! It was funny, and it was silly. Sometimes silly is the only way to go.

So I realized something this morning as I was inspecting my banged up elbow. I may not always be graceful, but I am always full of grace. And sometimes grace looks like a humiliated woman laughing and taking a bow after a spectacular splat.

I realized something else this morning, too. I fall down a lot while I’m experiencing life – professional disappointments, a broken heart, or just a heel stuck in a sidewalk crack. I fall down and I get scraped up, sometimes a lot worse than others.

And I get up every time.

I’ll probably get kicked out of the girl club for this…

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shaking a stick at someone makes you a bully, not a leader

Any chance this is satire – women actually laughing at themselves for how ridiculous this has become?

So – I’m probably gonna get kicked out of the girl club for this – but I’ve had it up to about freaking HERE (hand sweeping across the top of my head) with this bossy girls = leadership skills nonsense. I’ve seen this picture with the little girl shaking the stick at the little boy all over Facebook and Pinterest for the past 2 weeks and every time I see it I just shake my head in disbelief.

Where do I even start?

As I so often like to, I’ll start from my heart – my mommy place. As the mother of a son, I’m so offended by the picture of a little girl shaking a stick at a little boy. Why is that okay? Why does a little boy deserve to be on the business end of an abuse of power?  Why does ANYONE deserve to be on the business end of an abuse of power? If it was a picture of him shaking a stick at her he’d be (rightfully, in my opinion) labeled as abusive, dangerous, and despicable. She gets to be expressing her leadership skills. I just see her as a bully.

Professionally, I’m mortified. I’m mortified as a woman, and as a professional who has led successful teams for many years. Here is the thing – whether you’re a man or a woman – if you’ve got to use a stick you’re not a leader, you’re just a bully. Yep, you’ve moved right past bossy into bully. If you’re using a stick, you don’t have leadership skills.  If you’re using a stick, you’re driving from behind the team. You’re bullying them to the finish line. Want to know if you’re a leader? Look behind you. If your team is following you, you’re a leader.

Maybe I’m just taking this whole thing too seriously. Maybe this cute little picture is actually just women making fun of themselves – a little self-deprecating humor at how we’ve gone too far to the other side. A smart-alecky little look at the ways in which some women have excused their questionable behavior by trying to give it a more positive label. The pendulum has swung so hard to the other side that we’re trying to laugh our way back to the middle. Maybe. Maybe not. But a girl can hope, can’t she? Its my sincerest hope that women are looking at their behavior and starting to hold themselves accountable when they label their questionable behavior as “leadership skills”.

humility lesson

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humility lesson 2

There but for the Grace of God go I.

How often have I thought this when witnessing another person’s misfortune or suffering? Grace keeps me humble. Grace is also foundational to my ability to work at the bedside in hospice. God’s Grace has allowed me good health, physical strength, and a heart for hospice.

Last week I was providing late-night care to a woman who is near the end of her battle with her disease. She’s near the end of her battle with a life that I will never know. A life of poverty, drug abuse, prejudice, and pain. As I was gently providing care it occurred to me that this woman and I were the same age, born in the same country, less than 100 miles apart. How could it be that my life has been so rich with blessings, and her life has been….this? How the hell does this happen? Why her? Why not me?

And then I realized Grace has not kept me humble. Every time I’ve said “there but for the Grace of God go I”, what I’ve really been saying is “oh thank God that’s not me”. That’s not humility. Humility is looking into another woman’s eyes as they look back at me with a combination of shame and gratitude and saying to myself “This could be me.”

Humility lesson received. Loud and clear.