Friday Favorite: Day 33 of 365 Days of Motivation

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.”  –Joseph Campbell

Whether your dream was the picket fence and 2 kids with the mini van and the handsome husband or the urban dream of living in Manhattan with  your lawyer wife or even living off the land after marrying a cowboy–this was never part of your dream.

Husbands and wives are supposed to raise children  and grow old together until old age silently steals one away from the other. This reality is far from that dream. It isn’t what you planned, but it doesn’t have to mean a life wasted.

This life is different, and probably harder than you had ever imagined a life could be. This life might be more of a challenge than you feel you can handle. Humans are resilient–able to meet intense challenges through dedication and hard work. Using their experiences, especially the difficult ones, to come back better, stronger, and more amazing than they knew possible.

This is where you are now: You can hold on to the life you had planned–the perfect life. Or, perhaps, you can accept that life is different, and allow yourself to see the new life that is waiting just beyond the fog.

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Five Ways to Help Kids Heal

Bad things happen at all ages. No matter how old we are when we lose a parent, it hurts. And as the parent left standing, the only thing you want to do is make it hurt less. I can’t speak to the technical psychological effects of losing a parent nor do I have absolute ways to change any of it. I can’t do that because I am not a licensed therapist and I don’t want to pretend to be one.

What I can do is give you some ideas. Ideas give you a starting point to work from. These are ideas that have either helped me or my kids grieve and heal. Hopefully they will help you too!

1. No Expectations
Each person grieves in their own way. It may be similar to the way you grieve or almost unrecognizable. Let them have their time to do it their way. Our normal plan of actions as parents is to see all the pitfalls and guide our kids through it through clear expectations and consequences or rewards. This time though, it’s different.

Forcing them into what we think they need or down a path we see fit might not only delay their healing, but also create more problems than they are already facing. Forcing their hand might create resentment and mistrust. This leads us to the rest of the list.

2. Don’t Be Afraid To Grieve, Keep Boundaries Intact
Kids are looking to you for advice on how to do this. Its okay, in fact important, to show them it is okay to be sad. Let them see you work through this, that’s how they are going to get through this, and the next loss, and the next. Keep in mind, you are still their parent. You are their rock they tie their lifeline to. If your foundations seems shaky, it leaves them uneasy also. It is hard for them to see you hurt and harder for them to see you struggle. We, as parents, have to be cautious in how much we let them inside.

When Randy died, Kayla was seven, Brendan was five, and Emily was only 7 months old. The first thing Kayla asked when she found out her dad died was, “How are we going to live? Will we have money?” She asked because she knew I didn’t work. Dad was the sole provider. At seven, she knew this was a game changer. She immediately showed signs that she wanted to take care of me. It was not her job to take care of me—it was my job to take care of me, and her.

I knew I wanted her to see me sad because I felt it was important for her to know that I loved him and missed him. I wanted her to know it’s okay to be vulnerable, to hurt like you have never hurt before—beyond that I wanted her to know she was not alone in that pain.

I hid the really dark times from her. I dealt with those privately and with the help of a counselor. I let the kids see a counselor when they felt they needed to and once in a while I took them to play with the counselor even if they didn’t feel like they needed to talk.

So, don’t be afraid to hurt openly. Make sure the kids know that you are okay. That this will be okay and that you will do it together.

3. Listen. Really Listen.
Kids may or may not have a lot to say. Emily obviously did not understand what was going on in our lives. Brendan and Kayla did, but on very different levels and they are very different people. Handling the same would have misguided, at best.

Kayla talked about it often. She wanted to see a counselor. She wanted to know what was normal and needed to hear it was going to be okay. Brendan was different. He didn’t understand, there was no way for him to fully process what happened. I listened and did what they needed me to. Sometimes I had to guess, and sometimes I guessed wrong. Other times, I nailed it.

Even though Emily was just a baby, I couldn’t discount her perceptions. She couldn’t tell me she knew something was different, but I knew she could feel if something was wrong. I knew she would never see her daddy again, so I just tried to love her more. So, I held her tighter, took naps with her on my chest, talked sweeter, played longer, and tried to keep my tears at a minimum.

Listening is more than hearing the words they say. Sometimes it is watching their body language or behaviors and deciphering what that means. Since kids don’t always understand the process and they don’t always have words to express the things they do understand. Listening requires figuring it all out–it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Paying attention to the way they talk to their friends. Analyzing their drawings. Deciphering the tones in their conversations.

4. Find Normal–Again.
The first thing the chaplain at the hospital told me was to get the kids back into the normal routine. It’s a long story, but there was nothing, and I mean nothing, normal about our lives at that point. I couldn’t find normal with a map and a compass. Our lives were that upside down and inside out. I also didn’t understand why. I couldn’t exactly sweep this under the rug and act like it didn’t happen. It just seemed counterproductive to me. Since I didn’t know up from down, I did exactly what she said.

When I got home from the hospital, I called everyone I could think of to get the kids enrolled in their own school since the first day of school was Monday (and this was Saturday).  As soon as I could, I moved back into our old house. I did not understand it. I did not know how to get it all done. And, it certainly was not easy. I did the best I could and once I was clear-headed, I understood why.

Getting the kids back to normal does not erase the event. Losing a parent causes their world to implode. One parent is gone, the other is a mess and nothing is what it is supposed to be. Putting them back in that routine gives them some resemblance of once was. It gives them a space in time when they can be who they were before that event–where they don’t have to be the kid who lost a parent, but rather just a kid. It keeps them from crawling under the covers and never coming back out. It slowly turns their world right side up and right side out. Nothing will bring back their parent, but they will learn how to live life the way they were meant to live it, even if it means with one less parent.

5. Family and Individual Counseling.
I know I mention this all the time, but there is nothing you could do that will have a more profound affect on their healing. As parents, we can do a lot for our kids, but maybe the very best thing we can do is teach them to ask for help when they need it. This is a time when everyone could use a helping hand.

Counseling gets a bad name. People attach it to this idea that there is something wrong with someone who needs counseling. That isn’t true.  If you hired a plumber to fix a pipe because you didn’t have the knowledge or tools, would you feel insufficient or like something was wrong with you? Probably not. Do you feel like the world is watching you if you take your car to a mechanic? No, because you know you didn’t go to school to learn about the complicated nature of an engine.

Counselors are armed with knowledge and tools to get you through this. There isn’t something wrong with you, there is something broken in your life and it needs to be fixed. A counselor cannot fix it for you, but they can bear some of the weight for you. They can give you tools to figure it out. They can be the temporary foundation until you create a solid permanent  one.

Counselors can be a tremendous help for kids too, for all the same reasons listed above. Beyond that, knowing that you are getting help lets them know that everything will be okay. It also shows them that it’s okay to ask someone to help. They see that they don’t have to hurt alone or carry this burden alone. Instead they see that people care, that everything is fixable, that they are never ever alone, and that if mom is acting a little off, they have a safe place to try and work that out.

Nothing is as simple as this list, but this gives you a great place to start and a nice road map to follow.

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Friday Favorite: Day 23 of 365 Days of Motivation

“God never intended you to go through something and get nothing out of it. He intended that every time you go through a test, for you to come out of it with something else on your boat that you never had before, so that when you run into your next test, you will say, ‘If God did that…'”   –T.D. Jakes

Every moment, good and bad, are meant to give us some tools–tools we didn’t have before. You might not learn these tools on purpose. You might not seek out these tools. Or you might do both of those things. Either way, you will learn. You might learn compassion or strength. It might increase your faith, break it, or both, respectively and then bring you back once more. You might gain wisdom and see the world in the different light. Even if you learn nothing else other than you can make it through something you once thought impossible– you have learned something impressive.

Now, like T.D. said,  if God can help you though this–if he can bring you out the other side of this–imagine what else He can do. If you can get through this, alive and happy once again–imagine what else YOU can do.

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Friday Favorite: Day 12 of 365 Days of Motivation

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”

–Thomas Merton

 

When something terrible happens, we want to know why.  That question occupies your days and your nights. It’s hard to have a thought without that question taking over.

It’s hard to understand why things happen. Why bad things happen to good people and why good things happen to seemingly bad people. It is a question that is beyond the scope of our understanding. Life is a series of event and memories– many storms and celebrations. One event does not, tell the whole picture. One event could never tell the whole story.

The fact is, some things will never make sense. Chances are, you will never understand why this happened. Instead, focus on doing the best you can with this particular storm. As devastating as this is, these single events are meant to shape our lives. This event might be the event that confirms your beliefs, ignites your passion, or solidifies your strength.

Losing your loved one is not the total of who you are; losing your loved one is not your legacy.  It is another piece in the puzzle of life. Let it plant something on your soul.


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Friday Favorite: I’ve Learned…

Preface: This was written just over a year ago. I have always liked this piece. For me, it is simple and to the point. When we grieve, we go back and forth between emotions (stages) and we get sort of lost and stuck. We have to take a little time to remember how to redirect ourselves. This is the way I stayed on the right path–this was my roadmap of sorts.
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I was 25 years old, thought I had my life figured out. I had dreamed of these days since I was young and now, after some hard times and a lot of growing pains, my dreams were coming true. Randy and I had the family we always wanted, his new job provided more than we had hoped for, and to top it all off, we were happy. Couldn’t ask for more than that. We knew there would always be challenges in life. Challenges that we couldn’t predict, but that was okay, because we always had each other. We never dreamed either of us would have to face life alone. 

I was thrust into a new life. This new chapter, unlike the first, came with no one to guide me. Growing up, I always had my parents guidance, this time, I was the leader. While sifting through the ashes of the life I once knew, I learned many things.

Life Doesn’t Knock
I learned very quickly that life doesn’t knock. This uninvited guest walks right in and makes itself at home. Sometimes, life brings wonderful surprises that we never could have imagined. Other times, it brings our worst nightmares to life. This time was worse than any nightmare.

Losing him in a car wreck ripped my future from my grasp. Every dream I had ever dreamed, gone in a flash. Everything I thought to be true was now under a microscope. How I felt about God, my future, and even my past scrutinized every single day. Nothing made sense anymore. I quite literally had to accept my past and redesign my future.

At first, I took life step by step. Often it felt like I was walking on tiny stones across a  wide angry river, hoping to get from one shore to another. One mistake and I’d drown. Over time, with help, the stones became larger and closer together as the angry river quietly receded. I made it to the other side. I built a different life, never forgetting the old.

 “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.”  –Joseph Campbell

Life is Undetermined
There is no way to know when our uninvited guest will show up again. All we can do is live the best we know how with whatever surprises have been thrown our way. There is no shame in falling and no absolution for standing up again. There is a time and season for everything.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, And a time to die;
A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, And a time to heal;
A time to break down, And a time to build up;
A time to weep, And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, And a time to lose;
A time to keep, And a time to throw away;
A time to tear, And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;
A time to love, And a time to hate;
A time of war, And a time of peace.

Life is Best Lived With an Open Heart
When life is full of happiness and rainbows, we let the world in. We live life outloud. We want everyone to share in our light. Maybe we even want to make sure they know our light is as bright as theirs. Living in the best of times is easy.

When life gets us down, we close ourselves off, sometimes we give up. We place blame and get angry. We shut down. No one likes to feel vulnerable and no one likes to be looking up to see someone elses light shining bright while their own barely flickers. Those gloomy, dark times are when we should open up. Open ourselves to possibilities and blessings.

When my grandparents started slipping mentally and physically, it was hard to reach out and ask for help. We wanted to close ourselves up, hide, and handle it the best we could. It came to a point where we felt like we were going to drowned if we didn’t get help. We hired a home helper. A friend of a friend. Recently, I learned that she was in a bad place before stepping in to help my grandparents. She was losing weight, had no money, and was slipping into a serious depression. We knew hiring her would help us. We knew she was in need of a job and it would help her. What we did not know was the depth our help would reach. She smiles now, she has gained some weight back, and she has found love. All of that might have happened without us. It seems from this viewpoint that both of our lights were flickering and when we combined them, it gave us both strength and our lights were shining brighter. To be honest, she would never have been my first choice, but we opened up and gave her a chance. Who knew the good that would come from that decision?

I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. –Maya Angelou

Life Continues
Our lives cannot stop because we have lost someone or something. We can’t quit going forward because we hurt or because it is difficult. We have to keep living. We have to face our fears, stare them in the eyes, and walk right past them without flinching. Once you have faced that fear and conquered it, what is there that can hold you down?

           You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really step to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

We need to keep living for the things we have lost and living for the people and things yet to come. Life is meant to be lived moving forward.  I don’t mean to make that sound easy, because it isn’t. It is something that is possible and things that are possible deserve a chance. There are amazing and wonderful adventures and wonderful endings for those who take a chance. 

“The great courageous act we must all do, is to have the courage to step out of our history and past so that we can live our dreams.” –Oprah Winfrey

So, take that step, keep moving. Day by day things will get easier, dreams closer. Life is definitely different now, but it doesn’t have to be over. Live life, heal your wounds, and reach your dreams. 

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Friday Favorite: Be a Tree

Preface: Every day, all day long, there a thousand things that come to mind–swirling around in my head. I wish I had time to write all of them down, but since I have a family and do things other than write, it just isn’t possible. So, I have to pick–it sounds easy, and sometimes it is–but usually, the topics pick me. I sit down on the couch or in my bed with my laptop and suddenly one of thos ideas pops out and I start typing. Sometimes it is a struggle to get it all out in a way people can understand and I have to drag every sentence from my brain. Other times it’s almost like it writes itself.

When I sat down to write this piece, trees had been on my brain. For days the ideas of trees kept coming back to me. Moments before sitting down to type, I remembered telling the kids to ‘be a tree’ and what that meant. I started typing from that and this is what fell out. This piece isn’t very old, but many seemed to enjoy it, so I thought I would put it out there again.
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Now that I have your attention, let me explain.

When my two oldest kids were still mini-people they were great kids (still are, just bigger now). They were generally kind and usually good listeners. It never failed when I needed them  quiet the most, they would go crazy. Rather than yell and scream or try to talk over them I’d say, “Be a tree”. That meant stand still and silent. Generally, they complied because it was a game. Don’t let life make you kick and scream. Sometimes even as an adult it is beneficial to stand still and silent; take a second to breathe. Life has a tendency to be complicated and messy, but if we can force ourselves to take a step back we can see a bigger piece of the puzzle. Be a tree.

While trees do stand tall and still, there is much more to a tree. Think about a tree for a minute. The roots steady the tree and collect nutrients so the tree might grow tall and mighty. It’s trunk wide and ever-growing. The trunk gives way to thick branches that ease into delicate boughs reaching for the sky; tender extensions that sway with the ebb and flow of the wind. For a tree to meet its potential, its roots must be planted firmly in the soil. If the roots are loosely planted the tree will lean and give way to turbulence. A tree needs sunlight; if it remains solely in the shade, it will never grow to its expected height. Does the tree just stay in shade, satisfied in its state? No, the tree will lean and even grow crooked to find the sun it needs to thrive. Don’t be afraid to lean in and find what you need, even if it means changing your intended path. Be a tree.

Trees don’t just wither and die when seasons change; they adapt to their new situation. In the summer, trees have bright green leaves that rustle in the summer breeze. As the season fades into fall and the temperature begins to drop, the chlorophyll production slows. Leaves turn colors and let go; the tree sheds its dead and weak branches. A tree lies dormant in the winter, no growth nor blooms. Eventually, the tree will see a renewal as spring pushes winter aside and the tree will once again grow and flourish. It’s okay to stray from the plan if it means you will be whole. A tree branches in many directions as it grows. Be a tree.

Even strong trees with flexible limbs experience storms or disease that leaves them broken and wounded. There are two possible outcomes: if a tree is not strong enough, it will die; if a tree is strong enough, it will heal. Sometimes trees do succumb to damage, but more often than not, the tree is strong enough to make it through. The interesting thing about a tree is how it heals. No matter how hard a tree tries, it will never be exactly the same. It forever wears visible scars. The scars fade over time, but if you look close you can see the old wound. The tree does not quit trying though. It doesn’t shrivel up because it wears scars–it still stands tall, it still continues to grow, and it still blooms. Sometimes that tree will even sprout new growths right in the middle of an old wound. Those scars are part of the trees history. They tell a story of a long life that was worth living, even through the pain. Those scars are not what we notice when we see a tree. When we think of trees, we think of its long branches, beautiful leaves and fruit, and its majestic stature. You do not have to wear the badge of pain. You are much more than this one awful event. This loss is part of you; it is part of your history and story. What you do with this terrible experience, how you grow from this, and who you choose to become is what will amaze people. Don’t be afraid to keep going; don’t be afraid to heal and flourish. Be a tree.

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Let’s Talk About Love

You were cruising around, enjoying life when BAM!–your life changed forever. It’s rough. The first year is a nightmare. The second year I was ready to move forward because I couldn’t live in that limbo anymore, but hadn’t quite figured out how to do that yet. Year three was the year all the pieces came together.

I didn’t just sit around hoping things would get better or easier for me. It was a very conscious growth pattern for me. I had to heal and navigate the waters of dating again. It was a juggling act, one that I definitely struggled with at times. Back then I certainly didn’t have all the answers and I’m not sure I fully understood what the problems were. Now, I have a difference perspective.

First, I had to let go of some baggage. I had to find away to make room in my life for someone new. Baggage makes you sluggish and slow to respond. It weights down your thoughts and your ability to connect with someone else. I dumped a lot of negative thoughts and feelings and kept with me the good things. I didn’t block the negative from my memory– never want to forget because that is where I learned a lot of lessons (the hard way). I took away their power though–no longer would those pieces leave me feeling guilty, ashamed, or neglectful. I quit shoulding and iffing myself to a slow death.  Know what? It felt good.

Next, I quit comparing my new life to my old. I could not keep looking back and saying, “well, if this would have happened then that would have worked out because …” or “there is no way Randy would have….” That was hard to do! The first thing I want to do when things went wrong was to find someone to blame it on. And when you have a past where you and your spouse or partner parted on good terms (or great) it is easy find refuge in those sweet memories where you felt safe and loved.  A new relationship is the land of unknown. There is a little fear of being left again. It’s hard to let someone all the way in–that just isn’t fair, to anyone.

It was as if I expected Tim to just step into Randy’s spot and keep going in the roles Randy and I had created for ourselves in our relationship. What a ridiculous expectation! Tim wasn’t Randy. Tim was different from Randy. I didn’t start liking Tim because he was like Randy. I liked Tim for Tim. It was hard for me, and caused many arguments, to find a way to relate to Tim like Tim instead of like Randy. Every time I would go off and pout, in my mind, about how Randy wouldn’t have done this and how he never would have made me feel like that. It was lies I told myself to justify my own skewed view of this relationship. Tim couldn’t live in Randy’s place. I had to set Randy aside (not forgotten, but to the side) and let things fall into place with Tim.

I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy. We don’t like change, so falling into old patterns feels much better than putting ourselves in the open, especially when the painful loss is still fresh in our hearts. The only way to get through this part is to work on it. Every time my mind would start to head for the comfort of the past, I had to reel myself back in. I had to be conscious of my expectations for Tim and holding back my feelings.

I wanted to make sure Tim didn’t feel second best, because he wasn’t second best–he was a different relationship, not a second class relationship. It was (and still is) important to be very aware of subtle ways that I might inadvertently make him feel second. I put away some pictures of Randy. I had to find a way to balance my conversations with Tim. He shouldn’t have to hear about Randy every other sentence, but I refused to never talk about Randy. I never wanted to forget that time and I never wanted the kids to forget either. Hearing about how amazing Randy was, from everyone, probably left Tim wondering each time if he was good enough– how could he compare. It shouldn’t be about that. Tim never should have had to feel that way or have those questions. And, had he not been dating a widow, he probably never would have felt that way. It just meant I had to keep working on thinking more and behaving better.

I kept these battles inside. In fact, I’m not sure that Tim knows to this day what was going on in my brain. If I am telling the truth, I am not so sure I completely understood this 12 years ago either. I actively and consciously tried to reign myself in, but I am not sure I understood then that I was trying to force Tim into someone else’s role in my life. Tim probably thought I was being impossible–and maybe I was. I was just trying to find my way. Good thing Tim is patient.

Tim is an amazing man and I didn’t want to lose him or push him away because I couldn’t navigate my own thoughts and feelings. It is hard in the beginning because you miss companionship, yet you haven’t worked through all the stuff floating around in your heart, nor have you put all the pieces of your heart back together. If you have found someone you adore, it’s best to be honest with yourself, be conscious of your new love’s feelings, and be willing to build a new relationship instead of filling in the gaps of an old one. You both deserve that.

 

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Day 57: 365 Days of Motivation

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”  –Maria Robinson

I like to have a map of where I am going and time frame of when I will get there and sometimes when there are twists and turns in my path, it throws me for a loop. I feel out-of-place, lost, and chaotic. I know I can’t start over though. I can’t go to where I was before it happened and do it over a different way.

There are paths that take us places we never thought we would be. Some of them are because we made bad choices, some of them are because someone else made bad choices, and yet some of them are because someone made good choices. And there we are, left in the open, standing on our heads in the middle of nowhere. There is one thing to do–turn yourself upright and start moving. Your ending might be different, but it doesn’t have to be labeled a tragedy. It can still be a success story. Start today. Stand up, brush yourself off, and take the first step on a new journey.

 

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Friday Favorite: Day 16

“Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.” — Bern Williams

Life can’t be lived in reverse; we can’t change history. All we can do is the best we know how with what we have been handed. It may feel like you are completely broken and you don’t know how to fix it. Though you may feel broken, you are not. You are wounded, so deeply wounded–the wounds will heal.

This is a process, a journey. Give yourself time to go through the process fully. Life will never be the same, but it will get better. One day, when you look back at the day your life was shattered, you will see how far  you have come. There will come a day when life will be good again.

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Friday Favorite: Mantra, War Cry…Same Thing

Most who know me, and many of you who read this blog, have noticed I find, create and live by different words, poems, or quotes. I don’t go around looking for words to live by. Instead, they seem to find me. They find me when I am unsure how to make the rain stop or the wind subside. They jump out of movies and books. Sometimes a friend’s story or blog makes me think in a way I never thought before. Those are words to live by.

I have my favorites. Typically, it is what ever got me through the most recent storm. There are storms so deeply personal or intense that no one else’s words seem to fit. In those moments, one has to look deep inside and muster some sort of reason or logic to survive. See, in times of trouble, I often do a lot of thinking and analyzing. I run through scenarios and possible answers to my problems. It’s in those times, I create my own mantra. It’s my war cry.

It’s the words that say, “You will get through this.” It’s the words that remind me this crisis will not last forever. There will be an after. Bad things don’t only happen to bad people. Good people see plenty of trouble, sometimes more than their share. And, often, when good people suffer, there is no logic or reason to the suffering. No way to explain it away or change the outcome. It’s those times that I know I couldn’t make it without my mantra, my war cry.

Until recently, I have always kept my mantras quiet, my war cry more of a whisper.  I protected myself because I was afraid. Afraid people would view me as stupid, simple, or naïve. I am not afraid anymore.

I realized long ago, I am average. If something has benefited me, chances are it will also benefit someone else.  No one gets through this world unscathed. No one can effectively navigate the rough seas alone. People need other people to survive. People need their own ideas to fill in the gaps where logic and reason fail to explain devastation. Everyone needs a mantra. When life leaves us feeling like wounded soldiers, we need a war cry.

Be listening for those unexpected words. Often, they are as much as one knows how to give. Allow them to seep into your heart. Let them be the mortar, holding the pieces together until you can heal. Find your mantra, your war cry.

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