Where Does Strength Come From?

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“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”  ~Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum LP

“You’re a strong woman,” I’ve heard too many times. I honestly don’t know what strong means. People are people. We are all making our way.

I don’t see strength or weakness. I see humanness.

I don’t see broken people. I see moments of falling apart before the coming together begins again for the zillionth time.

I see life.

Perhaps what I have is a unique perspective? Maybe we have the same one?

Some say that strength comes when you believe…in God, a Higher Power, etc. I possess that knowledge, but that alone doesn’t strengthen me.

I believe my strength comes from a Knowledge of God’s character…at least the beginning of an understanding: I have a desire to know why things are the way they are and what’s LOVE got to do with it anyways? I have found a way that makes sense to me and makes sense of life.

I no longer feel like life happens to me or even for me as if my job is just to show up and make the best of it.

In other words, I’m not a victim.

Believe what you will about your life, but that’s my truth.

I believe we were all given the opportunity to see the intricate patterns of intersecting lives before we were born. I believe we understood what we were coming to and saw how the perfect people and situations would come into our lives to be our teachers. We knew they would  give us opportunities to practice the many faces of love. We saw how so many people’s choices would appear random, but would actually be miniscule and necessary parts of a larger tapestry that was, is, and always will be a beautiful work of art. We agreed that experiencing a life was the only way to understand. I believe that we also understood completely that even though there is one goal – understanding and growing into the love of God – there are as many paths as there are people.

I’ve come to the conclusion (aka  “the truth”) after watching patterns outside of myself trigger patterns inside of me that I’m the author of my life. I’m a co creator of it with God, and it’s creation started long before I was born. My life is the manifestation of sacred agreements designed out of my awareness of my desire to understand how and why God thinks and acts as a god thinks and acts, and to put myself in situations where I could figure that out. My only weakness is my humanness, and my only strength is found in my ability to find love (God) everywhere.

Love is an incredible subject to study. Everyone has issues with many parts of it. But we can all be masters of it when we use our life’s moments of uncertainty, disappointments, cruelty, meanness, as well as moments of joy, happiness, ease, and peace as tools to learn more about this enabling power. I have found that ofttimes that is the only good choice I have – the only one that frees me from despair and cyclical blame and complaining.

My lessons in love have taken me down paths mostly of self-love.

The prerequisite to that course is coming to terms with how your life choices reflect the amount of self-love you’ve mastered. I can love (see the godliness) in anyone. That’s not hard for me. What’s hard is understanding the strength of love for self  that is required to walk away from anything and anyone as a gift (of love) to them as well as myself – when too much collateral damage stares you in the face and refuses to move – when you have to stand in that place that can’t deny any longer that this is one of the faces of love that  God has mastered and patiently waits for all of His children to understand – boundaries.

Sometimes love isn’t all that pretty. But it’s always kind. I’ve learned that I’ve made excellent choices to put myself right in the middle of what I refused to believe was true. I say I had no idea because of my innocence or ignorance, but the truth is I have needed the experiences I’ve been through to know what I now know. So, I’m kinder when I look back now. I say, “Good job! Now move on!”

In all of my experiences I’ve learned a basic truth about love:  I truly feel stronger and like a better version of myself when I know I’m loved for the person I am in the world. I don’t mean the generic love that’s cast like a wide net over humanity. I mean the looking deep into my soul kind of thing that says, “I know you. You’re cool. I wouldn’t change a thing about you because I know you have that handled. Wanna go for a walk?”  kind of love. Lao Tzu put it plainly:

“Being loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Yes, I’m all over the place with this one. I know. But if you take anything away, take this: you are not a victim. You are a student. You chose your curriculum and teachers. Have fun with it and don’t forget lunch and recess. Find someone to love because it make the journey better.

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Good Morning, Sunshine!

“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” ~James M. Barrie

“The strangest thing just happened, ” he said as I was transplanting the Morning Glories. “I was spraying the grass with the hose and a hummingbird came and drank from it for about a minute.”

What a precious gift. Simple occurences, unexpected and beautiful, are refreshing and almost magical.

This morning, like most mornings, I stopped at the gas station. It just so happened that my oldest son pulled up at the same time. He didn’t see me yet. It made me smile to see him. I carried that joy with me as I approached the door and a man held it open for me, letting me pass through, smiling and greeting me with a “Hello.”

“Good morning, Brodes!” I had to say it twice before he heard me. He grinned from ear to ear and said, “I always see you here in the morning.”

“I know,” I admitted.

We both waited at the check-out as a new young man was being trained, my son standing two people behind me.

“Did I do it right?” I asked as I swiped my card and waited for the transaction to be approved.

“You did, Sunshine. Have a good day!” said the young man’s trainer who stood off to the side of his trainee.

Simple occurence.

Unexpected.

Beautiful.

Refreshing.

Almost magical.

And one more….transformative.

I climbed into my car and headed home, walked in the front door, and smiled.

“Good morning, Sunshine!” I said to Kenny. “Rise and shine.”

My mom used to say that every morning, now that I think of it.

It is the most wonderful phrase in the world to me, and needs to be said more often. 🙂

What If Today…We Chose Kindness?

“The ideas that have lighted my way are kindness, beauty and truth.”

~Albert Einstein

We’ve all heard the story of the man on the bus with his unruly children. His children were misbehaving and upsetting the other travelers, one of whom asked if he could help the father settle them down.

“Thank you,” the father said in response to the stranger’s offer. “We were just at the hospital. Their mother died  and they’re having a hard time.”

What if the stranger had been cruel with his words? What if he only thought about himself and took the role of spokesman for the other travelers, and demanded that the father do something about his children?  Can you imagine the outcome? Or how much worse the father would feel?

And what about the ripple effect of our kindness and cruelty?

The opportunity to be kind instead of cruel presents itself every day. Sometimes we don’t know it was there until we see and understand how our cruel words would have fallen on someone and we breathe a sigh of relief because we never let them fall from our lips.

I watch my children’s’ behavior a lot and look for signs of the negative ripple effect…a day void of kindnesses. When they lash out at each other I know that they’ve had a hard day. It would be easy for me to jump into the flow of negativity and let it consume me to the point that I send it back to them or the next unlucky soul to cross my path.

But when I stop and consider the needed healing that a smile, a hug, or a listening ear can make room for, I absorb the bad and do my best to carry their burden with them instead of turning my back on them simply because I don’t like their behavior.

And then the magic happens: the splinter rises to the surface. Then the tears start to flow, exposing the pain and cruelty that was inflicted.

The burden and darkness start dissipating, and love starts making its way in soon after.

And the ripple starts flowing in the opposite direction.

I hope to do that more often.

When I was in my 20’s I worked for a bit at a French pastry shop on Main Street. I always worked alone and I was typically overwhelmed because there were a lot of business people who swarmed in for an hour every day.

One day, as I stood behind the counter, I watched as the front door opened half way and an older disheveled woman poked her head in and viciously called to me,” DON’T look at me with that CAT smile!” And then she walked away returning a little while later. This time she came all the way in.

The customers who’d witness the strange confrontation said nothing. I was dumbfounded to be blind-sided with such rudeness, but I kept smiling, hiding the hurt. I instinctively knew something wasn’t right.

She slid into a chair and sat. I asked her if would like something to eat.

No, she had no money, she quipped.

So I paid for her lunch. And she came back for the next two days for more until she asked for money for a bus ticket home and disappeared out of my life. My friends chastised me for being so gullible and such an easy mark for “someone like her” to take advantage of.

But I knew exactly what she was doing. The way I saw it I had three choices, maybe four.

  • Ignore her.
  • Feed her, but nothing more.
  • Do what I felt was right, no strings attached.
  • (here’s where you give me another option…)

Nobody backed me on my choice to “let go and let God”. And I didn’t really care.

She may have walked away laughing at my gullibility. But I walked away with a memory of a friend that I had for a few days who chatted with me as she ate food that I’d prepared for her. She shared some of her stories and brightened my days. Her life was rough.She didn’t ask me to fix it, and I wouldn’t have known how to or where to start anyway. I was just so happy to see her smile every day as she learned to trust me. I really felt connected to her. I didn’t pity her. I didn’t judge her. My motives were all about friendship and showing up as myself for the brief time we shared.

I will never forget her smile and kind eyes.

I’m pleased with the choices I made. And I’m pretty sure that the Man Upstairs is, too.

  • Do you think it’s important to be kind always?
  • Is it hard for you to be kind with no strings attached?