Saturday, February 21, 2009

The "C" Word

"The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating-in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life."
~Anne Morriss, Starbucks Customer, New York (The Way I See It #76)

A Starbucks cup. It's a paper cup, nothing special really. The only thing that distinguishes it from any other paper cup is the iconic logo on the front and the delectable goodness inside. A while back (I know not how long ago), Starbucks had the brilliant idea to invite their customers to submit their thoughts for consideration for publication on the back of one of these unremarkable cups. I thought it was great! I've read some amazing quotes over the years, and some that should just be tossed in the trash along with the rest of the rubbish. So it goes with opinions. But one day last week, as my husband and I sat down to enjoy some cinnamon dolce lattes, I stumbled upon the gem which you read above. I read it again. And again. It really struck me as more than opinion. This was wisdom, deep seated and spawned from experience. I enjoyed my latte and took the quote home with me in my head.

Three days later: I'm alone, going to Starbucks to write a bit before heading home. I order a cinnamon dolce latter (it IS my favorite). I sit down at my too small cafe table and begin to type. Suddenly, I glance over at my grande paper cup and I see a suspiciously familiar word: commitment. No. There's no way! I pull of the cardboard skirt that surrounds my cup and blocks all the delicious warmth from burning my hands and thawing out my fingers from the biting cold of another Georgia cold spell. Sure enough, printed in indelible black ink, is my quote. Well, not mine, but you know what I mean. How could this be? The same quote, twice, in a row? Hmmmm. It got me thinking.

This thinking produced a rather interesting bucket of thoughts. I tossed out most of them and kept just what stuck to the sides: the realization that I am afraid of what people think. So afraid, that it has governed my decisions for the past 31 years. O sure, I've made strides in this war on fear, but not enough. No. And it took a quote on the back of a Starbucks paper cup to point me to the truth.

What does commitment and fear have to do with each other? Everything. You see, we all have dreams, yes? We all have things we long to do, dream of doing, places to go, people to meet. But unless we commit to doing them, commit to seeing them come to pass, we will succumb to the first tremor, the first storm that blows through that tells us "NO!" or "YOU SCREWED UP" or "I DON'T LIKE THAT". *Gasp* Dare I do something that no one approves of? Dare I stand up to the "no" that holds me back? Dare I yell back, "I DON'T CARE!!!"

Yes. Because if I don't, I die. And there's not one bit of good a dead person can do. Not. One. Bit.

I know how it feels to die. How, you ask? Have I physically died? No, my soul has not left my body and returned. But I have had my dreams shatter before my eyes. I have had someone tell me, under no circumstances can your dream come true right now. In that regard, I know what it's like to die, to have a piece of me cut out, trampled over, and left bleeding on the ground. I know what it's like to hold my dying dream in the palm of my hands and have no idea how to resuscitate it. I know what it's like to hold my husband in my arms and hear his sobs because the word NO meant the end of our deepest desires.

But you know what? I also know the freedom that NO can bring. I know the freedom that, after you scrape yourself up, after you dry your tears and call the "powers that be" all manner of names and curses that what matters is that you are still there. That God is not finished with you yet. That there is still something left for you to do. And you know what? That something is what you desire with your every breath. How do I know that? The Bible says it. You may not believe in the Bible. That's your decision and your right. But I do. And I ask you to hear me out: "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart". It's in black and white. And it's stood true for over 2000 years. Why don't more people see their desires? I blame our Puritan ancestors and their restrictive, manipulative, Calvanistic beliefs. But that, my dear children, is another post entirely.

Something else that came to light: I survived. I lived through the worst possible thing I can imagine right now. And I'm here. And I have nothing to lose. NOTHING. Because I've heard the word "NO" for my deepest desire, and I'm still standing. It makes me wonder? What else dare I try? Dare I step out and open my own business? Sure. What do I have to lose? Someone telling me "No, you can't do that?" Ha! Watch me. Dare I finish all the novels and screenplays in my head? Yes. What do I have to lose? Someone tell me "You're Not Good Enough"? So. That' s what 70+ publishers told Dr. Suess. That's what several recording companies told the Beatles. That's what 10 years of rejections told Madeleine L'Engle and she turned around and won the Newberry Award for Fiction with that "unpublishable" book after a decade of "failure".

What separates those who are told NO and die and those who plow forward, towards their goal, stubborn as mules? Commitment. When you commit to something, you are in it for the long haul. You are there until "death do you part". I'm not just talking about marriage, although there are plenty of people out there who should realize this BEFORE they say "I do". I'm talking about anything. If you have an idea, commit to seeing become a reality. That means exhausting every possible resource, ability, talent, connection, etc. you have to making it happen! The Bible says with God NOTHING is impossible! That says to me that God does the impossible. If that's true (and I believe that it is) then that means it's up to us to do the possible. When you've exhausted the possible, then (and ONLY then) can God step in and do the impossible. He's not going to carry you to the door if you have two perfectly functional legs. But he will make a door where there is none if you get your lazy butt off the couch and make your way over the crap, and through the mess, to get to the brick wall.

I say all this to get here: what are you committed to? What is it inside you that you know you are here to accomplish, to see into reality, to birth into this world? Have you been told no? Have you? Has someone come to you and said, "Nope. Bury that dream. It ain't gonna happen." Guess what? That last thing you should do is that. You need to look them in the eye and say, "You're wrong." Exhaust your every option. Call the president of the company. Write to Congress. Demand to speak to the manager. Once you've exhausted every option, if the answer is still no, you have two options. You either do the next best thing, and know you've done your best and wait for the right time and ask again, or you can die.

I don't' know about you, but I'm not through asking; I'm not through fighting. And when I am, if the answer is still no, I'm go to suck it up, thank God I'm still alive, put my self in plan B and work my butt off there. Then, when the time is right, I'll strike back out at plan A. And I have a funny feeling, it will pay off.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Taking Care of Business...and Myself!

Since I was 13 years old, my favorite author has been (and will forever be) Madeleine L'Engle. I was first struck by her imagination, then her lyrical prose; what has stuck with me through the years, however, has been her candid truth and deep wisdom.

I read and re-read several of her books each year, delighting in them each time anew. I have read them so many times, almost every page has underlinings and most margins have my chicken scratch somewhere to be found.

One of my favorite places to take notes is on the end pages at the front and back; those crisp, blank pages just seem to beg for someone to write on them! I enjoy going through my humble notes and observations, all inspired by the wisdom within the book itself.

This past weekend, I cracked open the next L'Engle book in line to be re-read and I flipped to the back to skim over my past reflections. One in particular caught my eye and I paused to read it. I paused longer still when it struck me what i twas about. In black in I'd written these words: "I do not take care of myself." My first thought was, "O, I wrote that years ago." (I checked the date: November 2003.) I read them again. And again. The third time was, proverbially, the charm. It stuck. I don't take care of myself.

At first I bristled, became a bit defensive as we all do when confronted with our short comings. I made excuses. "I can't," I argued. "I live in a garage. There's no place to work out. I can't relax in a bath tub or curl up in front of a fireplace with a good book and a cup of tea" or any of those other things I took for granted before I took up residence here. And any one who had ever shared an abode with another family knows there is precious little privacy to be found.
Once the excuses dissipated, I realized that maybe the issue ran a bit deeper than that. All of those things are true and they do play a starring role in the whys and why nots of the situation, but am I really so limited that my well-being must be compromised until I have room to stretch out, room to live?

Then I thought about others, those I know and those I've read about. People with homes, yards, bathtubs and kitchens, fireplaces, and real, honest to goodness beds. These people, in possession of those things for which I long, are in the same boat as I. Why is that? I pondered this for a while, and I believe i have come up with some speculations.

For the sake of argument (and the simple fact they are MY speculation), I will use myself as prime example. one reason I don't do what I know I should to encourage positive growth and care is, quite simply, I tell myself I'll binge now, be lazy here, until we are out and finally in a world of our own. That's all well and good if you're on a week's vacation and allow your diet and exercise to lapse and you decide to spend all your spare time reading Harlequin Romances and drinking red wine. You have a set time limit -Sunday through Saturday- and then it's back to the pursuit of dreams and goals. And I'll be the first to tell anyone that taking a break here and there is healthy for the soul.

The problem with that, for me, is I am unsure how much longer before my current situation changes. Confession time: I've grown lax with the excuse of "O, when I have my own space I'll take care of myself physically, emotionally, artistically, spiritually."

Forgive me Father for I have sinned.

Perhaps another reason is (again, quite simply), we are grossly limited with space. It is quite challenging to do a marital arts workout in a 4 x 6 foot space. I trip over air! Can you imagine the damage I could cause in that small a space with a kick-punch combo? There is no available space to leave unfinished art projects out, eagerly awaiting my return. Heck, there's really no where to do the projects in the first place! The floor (remember: 4x6 feet!) or coffee table must be sacrificed. Frustration of knowing I must clean up after every, single step or use tiny movements where my body (and the DVD instructor) require full motion is usually enough to persuade me to plop myself on the couch and play solitaire or Sudoku until my eyes cross.

Lastly, and I feel this is true for many others than myself, I must admit to feeling just a wee bit guilty when I take time for myself. "You should be writing, creating, washing dishes, clothes, the Jeep..." All manner of excuses barrage me. Though I'm old enough to know the wisdom in taking care of oneself, the excuses drain energy which could otherwise be used to chop up some veggies for a salad or some firewood in the woods for a bonfire. And perhaps-and here comes that pure speculation-this is just another case of being conditioned by a society which almost requires one to be busy and frowns upon those who pause to take care of themselves or, even worse, to do what they want to do to ;push themselves closer to their own, personal goals.

To that excuse (speculation, truth) I say -SLOW DOWN! I find myself rushing to work, rushing home, rushing through a work out, rushing through a chapter, a project...could it be I'm too concerned with quantity and not quality? Could it be while I'm doing one thing, I'm constantly thinking of another? To really be in the present, to fully BE in what and where and with who at the moment I am there, that is something I sadly have a problem with. Something i am committed to working on.

Could the simple act of slowing down, physically and mentally, be the key to not only taking better care of myself, but to actually get more done towards goals and dreams and enjoy them more in the process? That's definitely something to think about.