Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I have always wanted to be independent. I longed to be the girl that could thrive all on her own. Needing no one, happy and capable alone. This ideal isn't supposed to sound lonely or sad... it has just always been my desire to cut loose the ties and stand on my own. To feel truly independent. I was never sure when I would get there, what it would feel like or how I would know.

Just over a month ago I moved to Chicago. I went with a hope that this adventure in the big city would make me feel truly independent. That walking down the busy streets and taking public transportation and living in an apartment under my own name would confirm to me that yes indeed, I, was truly an independent woman. Well, there have been a few times that the city life seemed to convince me of my independence... but until a few days ago... I was really never sure.

A few days ago I found myself alone, on a train, feeling terribly nauseous. I seemed to have picked up some sort of flu or food poisoning over the weekend in the suburbs, and it started to hit on my trip back to the city. I remember sitting on the train holding my bags and trying to figure out where the most appropriate place to vomit would be if that should become necessary.

Finally, I made it back to my apartment. The rest of the night was spent lying on the bathroom floor... alone. This is when I realized what it means to be on my own. Goodbye ideals and hello reality. As the hours slowly crept by and I did my best to take care of myself, I remembered the days of being sick at home. The days when my mom would hold my hair and rub my back and try to make everything seem okay. The days when my sister would play nurse and I would drink tea and eat homemade soup. The days when being sick meant just lying still and being completely dependent on those around you. Then, I wondered why that was something I was so eager to get away from. Why did I want to try and live all on my own?

I called my mom that night around 3:00am. She was hours away and there was nothing she could do... but in that moment, I just needed to know someone was there. In that moment, the last thing I wanted was independence. I wanted someone to take care of me, to whisper softly and hold me close.

As I recovered over the next couple of days, making my own soup and disinfecting my own bathroom, I started to reevaluate my desire to live independently. I began to realize the deep need that I have for people in my life. I thought about how unnatural it is to rely only on myself. I found my perspectives shifting. In my low days of being sick, I was finally aware of how silly it is to want to be on my own. I also realized that it isn't just when I'm physically sick that it is better to have others to lean on. Life isn't meant to be lived alone. Though I may be capable of getting around by myself or taking care of myself or being completely on my own... why should I want that? Why not surround myself with people who will be there when I'm dragging, run with me when I'm energized and make memories with me along the way? No longer will I pride myself in my independence. Instead, I will be thankful for those who enrich my life... hold me up... take my hand... show me the way... and help me live life as it was intended to be lived. Together.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Highlight of the day

I don't know what kind of day you had. I don't know what is on your mind as you read this. You may be cheerful, excited or content... or you may be tired, anxious, lonely or down. Whatever it may be... I want to challenge you to choose joy.

Notice, I didn't challenge you to "be happy." My words were to, "choose joy." John Neafsey writes, "It is possible, for example, to experience a sense of quiet joy in our souls about the overall direction of our love or work life even if things are not particularly easy or pleasant at any given moment" (Neafsey, A Sacred Voice is Calling, 43). Too often we confuse joy for the happiness we may or may not experience in the present moment. Life is hard. People are complicated. Situations are frustrating. Yet... joy can be found. The task of seeking and choosing joy is not always natural. We have a human tendency to focus on our temporary troubles fooling ourselves into thinking there is nothing to celebrate. Nothing worthy of bringing joy. Throw out those lies! Join me in a life-giving, truth-expressing decision for joy.

In my most current journal, there is a designated box on every other page that says, "Highlight of the day." When I first started writing in this particular journal, I remember thinking that this box was unnecessary. I figured that anything worth writing I would have already written within the pages of the journal. It would be redundant to write it again in the box. However, I shortly realized that some days I really hadn't written anything that day that I would consider a "highlight." Some days my journal entries were simply factual, whiny, and just plain uneventful or dismal. On those days, there seemed to be nothing worth highlighting. It was this realization that prompted me to dig deeper for joy. I had to come up with something to write in the box... so I thought a little harder about what was right about the day. What was one thing worth celebrating... worth remembering. During these moments I was able to push aside all that went wrong... all that hurt... and think only of the pleasantries. I can't tell you what a blessing this has become! By consciously choosing to acknowledge at least one good thing from my day, I'm affirming that life is indeed rich with blessings... that joy is all around me... I've just been neglecting to notice.

Ending my journal entries and my days with a "written box of joy" lifts my spirits and lets me truly live. Live as I was meant to. A lot can go wrong in a day. For some reason the wrong is easy to find and remember... but I challenge you to make the effort and seek joy. I've surprised myself by the hints of joy that come to my mind when I take the time to notice. For me, joy can be as grand as getting to see family or friends after way too long... or as simple as the perfect cup of hot chocolate on a cold day. Try it... and once you do, you'll find that joy is all around you. That there is much to celebrate. That the little things are shouting out proving worthy to be called joy.

Highlight of the day: Sitting on the counter top with my roommates talking about life and eating spoonfuls of peanut butter. Sipping a delicious caramel machiato at a bookstore while reading and watching the snow fall quietly on the city. Singing "Just around the riverbend" in public with a friend. A text message that made me smile. Phone call from a faraway friend. Feeling like I belong here. MnMs. The sunset. A pair of new shoes. An old pair of jeans.

But those are just a few of mine... Now it's your turn! Look for joy -- name it -- live it!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Be Still

A few days ago, I began to read Robert Ellsberg's book, "The Saints' Guide to Happiness." Of the many "guides to happiness" out there, this one is definitely worth your time. Chapter four of the book focuses on the theme of being still. Something we know little about. Ellsberg illustrates how important it is to learn to be content and to be quiet. Very few people have mastered the art of silence. We constantly fill our lives with noise and business. We hate to be still. Even when our surroundings are calm, our minds are working overtime. Ellsberg calls this, "inner noise." He writes, "Even when it is quiet outdoors, we are filled with internal voices and alarms, reminding us of what needs to be done, what we have done poorly, what has been done in the past" (Ellsberg, 61). Throughout the chapter, Ellsberg pleads with us to follow the example of the saints by eliminating distractions, learning to be alone, embracing the present moment and listening to the inner voice. If we seek these goals, we will be on the way to a fulfilling and lasting sort of happiness.

The section of chapter four that particularly struck my interest was the concept of living in the present. We are given the present, but hardly anyone truly knows how to approach it. We are burdened by or long for the past and we fear or anticipate the future, meanwhile, we are wasting the present. The gift of today. Pascal says, "We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future... thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so" (Ellsberg, 65). That is a powerful statement full of wisdom. We need to stop focusing on the past and the future in order to embrace where we are and truly live. Buddha instructs, "It is the way of deep observation to see that the past no longer exists and the future has yet to come, and to dwell at ease in the present moment, free from desire" (Ellsberg, 67). We are giving the best life to the self when we remove the thoughts of the past and the pressures of the future. When we simplify our mindset and find fulfillement in the here and now.

Towards the end of the chapter, Ellsberg talks about the many frustrating and annoying situations that often make up our daily lives. Ellsberg writes, "Life inevitably supplies us with tedious situations: sitting in traffic, standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, returning books to the library... God's will is present in these moments, no less than in occasions of comfort and joy, perhaps calling us to greater patience, humility and compassion" (Ellsberg, 72). This concept of choosing to be happy even in the tedious happenings of life is something I've thought about quite a bit lately. On Saturday, I spent over two hours waiting at the CVS pharmacy to get a simple TB test done that was required for my internship. I went in to the minute clinic thinking that this would take only a few minutes. Apparently, when they say "minute" they mean "hours." At first when I noticed that my name was number seven on the waiting list, I felt myself get really irritated and annoyed. Then, as I looked around, I noticed the ugliness and anger on the faces of those waiting around me. Nobody wanted to be there. Nobody was happy. It was then that I thought of the foolishness of that mindset. We were all going to wait, so why wait with a scowl on our faces? I had to make a conscious decision to find the good in the present moment and hopefully, spread some of that cheer on to others. I found that my waiting experience was much more enjoyable when I wiped away my frown and tried to celebrate the moment. This idea is something that I've taken with me to my internship as well. I work in a counseling office, and am involved with lots of menial administrative tasks. While I'm stuffing envelopes or shredding paper, I try to enjoy the moment. To stop the feelings of discontent as soon as they arise. As a result, my day goes faster, my coworkers seem friendlier and I am much happier. There is joy to be found in the present, all we need to do is be still, acknowledge it and let it flourish.