The Reality of Death Should Change You

Consider the following quote by Frederick Buechner.  “Intellectually we all know that we will die, but we do not really know it in the sense that the knowledge becomes a part of us.  We do not really know it in the sense of living as though it were true.”

I’m not a fan of trite expressions, but how do we really start to live like we’re dying? Or how do we absorb the knowledge that those we love will die, possibly tomorrow?  This has been on my mind over the last few weeks.  It started when I received one of those dreadful phone calls that most of us have experienced at least once.  A former student of mine had tragically died at the age of 20.  I have never known a more joyful young man, yet in his short life he faced an onslaught of troubles unfathomable to most people.  He had the ability to instantly improve my day with his incredible smile and amiable personality.  He was so charming in fact that one day he convinced me to postpone a test for the entire class.  I simply adored him.  This past December I received an email expressing how much he loved college and how he planned to follow his dreams until they came true.  When I heard the news of his passing three weeks ago I instantly burst into tears. For the next several days I would just start crying in random places.  My eyes welled up at the grocery store, the gym, and Starbucks as fond memories of him flooded my mind.

I concluded that I want this painful loss to have a lasting impression on me.  I want it to make a permanent, visible change in how I live my life.  After unexpectedly losing a loved one most people make a few temporary changes.  They might call someone they care about, try to have a better attitude, or even chase a distant dream.  For other people, the realization that life is short might cause them to abandon all responsibility, travel the world, or jump out of an airplane.  As for me it’s all about relationships, being there for others, and living with no regrets.  I’m only on this earth for a brief moment in time.  I want to live as though I have no problems, and instead live to help others with their problems.

The hard part is putting this realization into action and “living as though it were true.”  By no means do I have it figured out.  Making any significant change requires constant work, moment by moment.  Here are some tangible things I have done in the last few weeks:

  • I called a friend who was tugging on my heart.  This person is very special to me, and I managed to wreck our friendship last year.  I said I was sorry.  I said I love you.  While our conversation was painful for me and did not make any progress toward restoring our friendship, at least I know there is nothing left unsaid on my end.
  • I mended my heart with an old friend.  Not that we were on bad terms, but we deeply hurt each other when we were young and it had a significant impact on my life.  Last week we saw each other for the first time in over a decade.  The result was one of the most uplifting, heartfelt discussions I have ever had.  It was eighteen years overdue, but I am truly thankful!  It’s seldom that people have a chance to reach the type of closure that ends on a heartwarming note.
  • I opened up to a new friend.  As women, we oftentimes care so much about what others think that we put up barriers and never really let people get to know us.  We want to appear perfect, like we have it all together.  Life is too short to keep our friendships on this surface level.  I only met her a few months ago, but this person already knows me better than friends I’ve had for years.  During our coffee dates we dive into real life issues.  We talk about how we’re actually doing, not about what’s for dinner or items on our to-do lists.  We have connected on a deeper level, not because we have everything in common but because we are intentional and genuine.  She holds me accountable to live a better life for others and she keeps me encouraged.  Her friendship is good for my soul.

Will you live a fully engaged life? One of the best basketball coaches of all time said this when he was dying of cancer:  “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” – Jimmy Valvano

Posted in Life | 6 Comments

Wait, You Don’t Like to Bake?

Cookies from the Danville Bakery

In my current season of life I’ve been struggling to find the sweet spot.  The transition to stay at home mom has been difficult for me.  I wouldn’t choose to work during these precious developmental years, but I have to be honest.  I hate doing arts & crafts, scrapbooking, playing hide & seek, and Sesame Street.  Many of the activities you’re supposed to do as a mom of small children just aren’t my “thing.” The left side of my brain dominates my existence, so the mere thought of walking into a craft store gives me the shakes.  Play dates with toddlers fighting over the same toy give me panic attacks. I don’t like volunteering in my kids’ classrooms, which sounds strange given that I’m a teacher.  I can’t stand being around large groups of children who can’t tie their own shoes. It must have to do with the age, because I do love being in a middle school classroom. I also get irritated and feel insufficient when my friends decorate cookies or do craft projects for every holiday known to man.  And while we’re on the subject let me be very clear about something:  I do not bake.  Can you feel my pain?

I have made the conscious choice to stay home with my children, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.  (To say “stay home” just sounds stupid, though, because I am rarely ever actually at home).  While I do enjoy many aspects of my current job description, I feel like a fish out of water when I look around at other women in my peer group.  They seem to love these things that I can barely force myself to do.  Am I the only one who feels this way or the only one willing to admit it?  Either way, it can be very isolating.

I decided it was time to make some changes or I was going to lose my mind.  I started by going through the process of evaluating my gifts, my passions, and the needs of others in my circle of influence.  I joined the board of directors for a local non-profit organization with an incredible cause.  I was also invited to serve as an executive mentor with an international non-profit and have been growing tremendously as a result.  Both in my  Sweet spot. The former competitive athlete in me made exercise a priority again.  I started kickboxing and playing in a men’s basketball league.  Sweet spot.

Most importantly, I started letting go of the guilt I feel when others expect me to be someone I’m not.  I will never be that mom who brings in baked goods for the fundraiser. I will never complete those gorgeous scrapbooks that other moms put together for their kids (I tried it.  I suck.  This OCD perfectionist, bean-counter’s daughter took hours to pick out which papers to put on a page, so I had to stop).  I will volunteer for things that line up with my skills and passions, and feel ok that I don’t fit into the SAHM mold.  All of this adds up to a better, happier, more helpful me.  And it makes me a better mom.

When have you felt like a fish out of water, and what have you done about it?

Posted in Career, Life, Parenting | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Living in your Sweet Spot

Going into a new year I have been thinking a lot about the phrase, “You can be whatever you want to be.”  We’ve all used it, either to encourage a friend, a child, or loved one.  But is it really true?  Is it something we should say?  I just started reading Cure for the Common Life by Max Lucado and he would disagree with the use of this phrase.  Think about it.  Can we really be anything we want to be in life?  We could certainly try, but depending on our choice it would not necessarily lead to the most fulfilling life or best use of ourselves.  For example, I could never be a singer/song writer.  Anyone who has ever heard me belt out a tune will attest to that!  I can dance, lip sync, and I’m arguably very fun at a karaoke bar.  But I do not have a good singing voice.  Sure, if I really aspired to be a singer I could hire the best voice coach in the world and make a go at it.  But it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense.  So how do you decide what you want to be when you grow up?  This can change many times throughout our lives, especially in this day and time when the average person makes several career changes before they retire.

There are three keys to determining your ideal pursuits and how you spend your time.

  1. What are your God-given talents?
  2. What do you love to do?
  3. What are the needs of others?

The place where these three things converge is what Max Lucado calls your “sweet spot.”  Incorporate one without the other two and you will find yourself unfulfilled and wasting your time. I’ve discovered this the hard way in my own life.

In college I had no idea what I wanted to study.  I chose Industrial Management as my double major before I declared my primary major, because it was the most general and would allow me the most flexibility.  Halfway through sophomore year my Statistics professor wrote a note on my final exam encouraging me to major in the subject.  “You really have a knack for thinking like a statistician, Tracy,” he said.  So I met with him and the next thing I knew I was a Statistics major.  I was really good at it.  I was born with a very analytical, left brain dominance.  The problem was, I never stopped long enough to think about whether or not I loved it.  I liked it ok and it made me feel successful, but I definitely lacked a passion for the subject.  While it gave me a great skill set, I obviously did not end up choosing a career in Statistics.  This is an example of what happens when you pursue something you’re good at, but that you don’t necessarily love to do.

It also doesn’t work when you try to pursue something that you love, but that you aren’t born to do.  God designs each of us with a certain set of talents and skills. I hesitate to even use this example, because it was such a rewarding part of my life, but I am going to have to say that basketball falls into this category for me.  Let’s be honest, I was not born with a ton of natural athletic ability.  One would say I am the “short & slow white girl,” for lack of a better term.  But man did I love it!  I worked my tail off and was able to play Division III ball in college because I had a lot of heart and determination.  The fact remains, unfortunately, I was never going to play at a higher level because of obvious physical limitations.  Those years were some of the best of my life, and I certainly don’t regret playing a sport that I loved with all my heart. I do stop and wonder sometimes what could have been if I had pursued a sport that I had more God-given talent for, like golf.

Last, and arguably most important, is the consideration of the world’s needs.  In order for our society to be a decent place, we need to share our talents with others and meet others’ needs through unselfish giving of our skills.  When this third factor falls in line with the first two, amazing things will happen!  You will find what you were truly put on this earth to do.  The first time I experienced how much joy this could bring was when I quit my job in the business world and became an Algebra teacher.  Are you living your life in the place where your talents, your passions, and the needs of others converge?  If you’ve ever hit a golf ball on the sweet spot of the club head, you already know, it feels great!

Posted in Career, Life, Sports & Fitness | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments