Fear is a funny thing. It seldom makes sense. It certainly isn’t the strongest emotion we feel. I like to think of it as our most persuasive emotion. While others are stronger, fear sure is the best at convincing us that we are completely in his power. Sometimes the things we are afraid of are real and actual threats; sometimes there is no reason to be afraid. Yet fear so often holds our soul captive and we feel powerless to act. Overcoming fear, especially irrational fear, is one of the biggest challenges we face in life. And yet, if we want to live our lives to the full, it is something we must do.
Most people perceive me as one of the bravest and toughest people they know. What they don’t see is the inner struggle. I have wrestled with deep, almost paralyzing fear since I was – well I don’t know since when. As long as I can remember I guess. Unfounded, irrational fear. Overcoming fear is a familiar feeling for me. And yet, perhaps that is true courage. To look fear in the eyes and to still keep on doing what needs to be done. Not the absence of fear, but the defeat of fear. Or maybe that’s just the coward in me talking, trying to make me feel better. I don’t know.
There are 3 things that are stronger than fear. Three ways of overcoming fear. The first is anger. This is the easiest way, but it is also temporary. Unless it is possible to always be angry, but I don’t think it is – nor is it advisable. I have plenty of experience with using anger to beat fear. It is good in extreme situations, but will never be a permanent solution. Another way of combating fear is through willpower. For strong-willed people like me, this is a good option. Or at least, it has served me well for years. I also have a contrary streak, which probably doesn’t hurt. It’s like daring myself to do the things I’m afraid of. Every day, I push the limits of my fear, making my comfort zone ever bigger. But the best and strongest adversary in the war against fear is oh so simple: love. When we love deep and pure, fear dissipates like smoke in the wind. And suddenly, overcoming fear is an anthill instead of Mt. Everest. It is a beautiful, amazing, incredible experience.
This is harder than I thought it would be. I mean, I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize how difficult this could actually get. I considered giving up on this blog and my writing dream when Mama died. She believed in me and my writing before anyone else did and I didn’t know if I would be able to carry on without her support. Then too, there would be the issue of trying to write without being overwhelmed with thoughts of her. I ultimately decided that continuing on with this and every other aspect of my life is what she would want me to do. But it sure hasn’t been easy.
It’s like the words are stuck. It’s weird, because writing has always been easy for me. The words would just flow with little effort. Quite often, it was a struggle to get them to stop. Mama always said that I have a gift. Now it’s like I’m groping in the dark to find what I want to say. My hope is that by putting this down in black and white, maybe I can beat this. I may not even publish this; I don’t know yet. Writing has always helped me work through problems I needed to solve or decisions I needed to make. But I’ve never had trouble writing before. How can writing save me this time, when it’s a fight to even put this on paper? I feel like I’m lost. Maybe I’ll try telling a story.
It was almost a year ago that I first started this blog. It was her idea of course. “Have you ever considered doing a blog?” Out of the blue, her question jolted me. I had never thought of blogging before. “Just something to think about,” she said and that was the end of the conversation. So I did think about it for several weeks. Even as I went about my normal life, it was always in the back of my mind. Every once in a while, I’d ask her a question. What would I write about? Would anyone read it? Who could I get to help me set it up? Could I do any good with a blog? Every step of the way, she was there to help and encourage. When I finally launched in May of ’15, I think she was more excited than I was. And when I had to give it up a few months later, she was so disappointed.
Between work, life, and taking care of her, there just wasn’t time for extras. So I did what I had to do. And I didn’t mind, not really. We would talk about it every once in a while. She encouraged me to keep writing as I had time. Even if I didn’t publish what I wrote. She didn’t want me to give up on my dream. The re-launch in January was her idea too. Life was stabilizing and she seemed to be doing okay. “New year, new start,” she told me. So I did. Three weeks later she was gone. And this blog is all I have left of her. So no matter how hard it is, I won’t let go. As long as I have this, it’s like she is still here with me. And I think I’ve worked through my writer’s block. Thanks, Mama.
These past few days have been gray, dreary, and rainy. And there’s nothing better on a rainy day than hot tea, music, and a good book. Tea is amazing. No matter the mood, there are teas to match. Lady Grey or Earl Grey pairs best with rain and a book. English Breakfast and Chai are my usual morning choices, while evening requires a gentle herbal. Green tea with lemon and honey does wonders for a sore throat. And of course fruity iced tea is the official beverage of summer.
I take my hot tea in the “British” fashion, with cream and sugar. Strange, isn’t it? Iced tea is as true-blue American as it gets, but hot black tea (especially when served with cream and sugar) is considered almost exclusively British. Yet at one point in our history, tea was as common here as it is over the pond. I think we can blame the “un-Americanization” of hot tea on a single pivotal event: the Boston Tea Party. Why, oh why, did it have to be tea that they dumped in Boston harbor? Why couldn’t it have been beer? Or coffee? If it had been anything else, we might all still be drinking it with every meal. Maybe we’d even still have the custom of taking tea as a fourth meal. Now there’s a custom that merits reviving. Tea and a snack midafternoon? Oh yeah! About 2 or 3 o’clock when the day gets a little draggy, it’s the perfect pick-me-up. And it’s so customizable – hot tea in winter, iced tea in summer, and the snack part can be whatever you want. The rest of America may continue their coffee craze if they please; as for me, I will be a lifelong drinker of tea in all its forms.
P.S. To make the perfect cuppa hot tea, steep 1 teaspoon loose black tea or 1 teabag in 6 ounces of almost boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Stir in a small spoonful of turbinado sugar and a splash of cream or milk. Voila! British-style hot tea.
The sunflower is my flower. I love many flowers of course, but sunflowers and I have a special connection. Bright and cheery and energetic, they and I share several personality traits. Flowers don’t have a personality in the literal sense of course – and yet, somehow, they kinda do. Seems to me that sunflowers, if they could talk, would say things like “Oh, what a beautiful morning! Good morning, sun! Good morning, birds! Happy day!” Don’t you think so? Standing tall, drinking in the sunshine, cheering all who see them – if I were a flower, I’d be a sunflower.
I remember the first time I saw sunflowers up close. My best friend’s mother planted a few rows of them in her vegetable garden. I was only about 3½ feet tall and they seemed huge. We’d play in and around them; had a grand old time. It was especially fun to play tag amongst the tall green stems. I tried to play “Jack and the beanstalk” once – the poor sunflower didn’t survive. I was in pretty hot water for that particular escapade. It was still a lot of fun.
Now I have sunflower wallpaper on my laptop. Lots of sunflower wallpapers. Each one always makes me smile. They’re so happy, that I can’t help being happy too. It’s hard to frown when a sunflower is smiling at you. Sunflowers not only look like a small sun, they also turn to face the sun (which is called heliotropism). Perhaps they are attracted to sunlight because of their own cheery disposition. Or perhaps it’s the sunshine that makes them so cheerful. Either way, sunflowers are both beautiful and happy; and they make people happy too. People have all kinds of goals and dreams, and so do I, but what I want more than anything is to be like the sunflower. To be a ray of sunshine wherever I go.
Knitting, after reading, is my all-time favorite hobby. I love the click of the needles and the feel of the yarn in my hands. There is something inherently calming in the simple activity of knitting. And there is something immensely gratifying in taking a ball of yarn and 2 sticks and making something beautiful and useful. Knitting soothes my soul in a way few other things do.
Not to say I’m an expert knitter – far from it. Though no longer a beginner, I don’t even look at knitting patterns that are past intermediate skill level. I recently started my first full-size afghan. It is also my first project that includes cable knitting. My prior experience has been limited to small projects such as headbands and baby blankets. My biggest challenge is finding time to knit. As much as I love it, it seems there is always something else to do. Then, too, it’s more of a cold-weather activity. Knitting is the last thing on my mind when I’ve been out working in the heat all day. Although I do not like the cold, it does put one in the mood to knit – and I do love that. Add a little music and maybe a cup of hot tea, and I’m practically in heaven.
One of the reasons I love knitting so much is that my grandma taught me how. I was maybe 8 or so when she put my first pair of needles in my hands. She even created a simple knitting pattern for me – which, of course, was super-special. I was knitting something that no one else had ever made. Pretty cool. I did not recognize at the time that there was something else super-special about this experience: she’s not really my grandmother. She’s my step-grandmother. She married my grandpa when I was about 3. Growing up, I had no idea she wasn’t my “real” grandma. I called her grandma, she loved me, and I loved her. What more did we need? Turns out, nothing. She is a remarkably open, generous, loving, beautiful person and she took us and loved us as if we had been her own flesh and blood. And she has, by her example, helped teach me what it means to love – to love knitting, to love life, to love people. And I will always love her for that.
Sometimes it feels like life don’t fight fair. But when life knocks me down, I have to pick myself up and remember one thing: life’s not a fight, it’s a journey. And while there may be a few fights and struggles along the way, that’s not the point. The point is how we react and grow and develop. And that’s the hard part. It would be so much easier to shake my fist at Heaven and scream out “Why?!?!?!” Or to roll up in a ball in the corner and cry. But you know what? Life goes on, regardless of what I’m going through.
Not quite a week ago, my Mama went home to be with Jesus. We are all devastated of course. She was far too young to be taken from us so soon. I’m still a bit shell-shocked. I’m especially concerned for Daddy and for my baby sister. It’s really, really rough. Even though we knew it would come eventually and even though she had been sick for a while, her death has hit us all really hard. Continuing with the mundane things of everyday life is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted. But it’s what she would want, so that’s what I’m gonna do.
I have no regrets for the past. I was blessed to have the world’s most wonderful mama. And I really did have a beautiful relationship with her, especially the past few years. I have many, many sweet memories to cherish. The only regrets I have are for the future. That I will never kiss her good night again. That she won’t attend my wedding or hold my children. That she won’t be there to give me parenting advice or say, “See, I told you that you would understand once you had kids of your own.” That I will never again be able to say, “Let’s go to Mama’s house.” I regret the many more years we should have had together. And yet, it’s not all sorrow. It is tempered with the peace of knowing that she’s in Heaven, but her spirit is also still here with us. And in a way, she will always be with me.
Some people say that I’m shallow, consumed by trivial things. Partly because I am one of the easiest people to shop for in the history of, like, ever. Ask me for gift ideas and I can give you a 5-page list – mostly of items that can be bought for $20 or less. Another reason would be the fact that I am a packrat. Things that have no value to anyone else are special to me. And then, too, I tend to chatter on mindlessly about anything and everything – but seldom about the deep stuff. I don’t open up easily. Very few people have ever bothered to look past my trivial exterior to see the soul beneath.
And yet, the pieces aren’t too hard to put together. I find pleasure in simple things because of my joyfully exuberant personality. I attach value to certain things because they belonged to someone I care about or because they are associated with a treasured memory. I ramble (almost incessantly) because it’s hard to talk about the things that I really care about. Triviality and a certain roughness in my demeanor serve as my armor, a protection against feeling too deeply. And when that doesn’t work, they do a fair job at playing levee and holding in a flood tide of emotions.
But this is not a healthy way to handle deep feelings. Enjoying trivial stuff is good, a natural extension of an abundantly alive soul. But building a wall between my emotions and the world around me – that’s not good. Deep emotions are a blessing, not something to be ashamed of. I admire people who wear their heart on their sleeve – that takes a special brand of courage. The more deeply we love, the more agonizing the pain when that love is betrayed or rejected. And yet, if we turn away from experiencing the good to avoid the bad, are we truly alive?
So this year, I am resolving to work on that. To strip away the tough façade I’ve built for myself and to learn what it means to be truly vulnerable. It’s a scary thought, you know? That others will see the real me, the girl behind the mask. This will no doubt be a process, however. It would be absurd to think that I could drop the mask overnight, but I’m sure enough going to try. Maybe you’d like to join me and be your real self? Be abundantly alive?
Last week, I wrote about my dreams being put on hold. I learned something about myself through writing that article. Those old dreams have been on the shelf collecting dust for so long, I had almost forgotten what they were and how much they once meant to me. For me, it has always been easier to push hard or painful things so far back in the closet of my mind that I can almost forget about them. In order to write about those old dreams, I had to pull them down, clean the dust and cobwebs away, and take a good hard look. They and I had to become reacquainted, as it were. And in that process, I realized something.
The girl that put those dreams on the shelf so many years ago is gone. She has vanished, leaving only her memories to remind me of her. I stand here today as a totally different person. I’d like to think a better person than I was then, but certainly a completely changed person. Putting myself back in her shoes and seeing the world through her eyes was not an easy thing to do. For a brief span of time, all her deepest fears and insecurities and longings and dreams became mine again. And I realized that I am glad that I am no longer that girl.
I also realized that as I have changed, so too have my dreams. They have grown and matured right along with me. This period of waiting has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not only has it made me a better woman, it has also given me better and more beautiful dreams. So I will not be putting all those old dreams back on the shelf – they are dead and need to be buried. It is time for new dreams, new plans, new purpose. And I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
My days in high school seem so long ago. Back when I was young and full of dreams. Dreams of a successful career, of making a difference, of changing the world. I was going to do something big with my life and I couldn’t wait to get away from the people and places I’d always known. I worked hard to graduate at the top of my class – even after skipping 11th grade. I made an almost-perfect score on the ACT and applied to my dream college. I was on my way to the life I’d always dreamed of. Funny how God has a way of changing our plans.
After my first year of college, I needed a summer job. My dad offered me one in his company. By the time fall semester rolled around, my dreams of college and career were gone. A number of circumstances had come up that forced me to put my life on hold. No, I shouldn’t say forced – I could have chosen to leave anyway. I could have put my needs and desires first. Most will say I should have. But here I am, almost 8 years later, still in the same place with the same people and doing the same things I wanted so desperately to get away from. Do I wonder what might’ve been? Of course. Do I regret walking away from what I’d always wanted? Not for a minute.
I’m not saying it’s been easy. Far from it. Doing the right thing always comes at a high price. Just because I turned my back on my dreams doesn’t mean that those dreams were dead. I’ve struggled numerous times with that decision. Did I make the right choice? Am I crazy? When will it be my turn? I always come back to the same answer – I am where I’m most needed. For now, that is enough. I wonder if life will always pass me by, if my day will ever come. Maybe so, maybe not. Either way, I will continue to live my life by the only creed I know: to do as much good as I can wherever He places me. Whether the rest of the world applauds or condemns me, even if I walk alone, I know in my heart that I have done the best that I could. In the end, that’s all that matters and I believe He will honor it.
Another year has slipped into the past. As each of us says goodbye to 2015 and greets a brand-new year, what thoughts are in our hearts? Is it regret for all the things we didn’t do last year? Maybe for a few things we did do? Relief at a chance to begin again? Anticipation of what the future brings?
It’s quite common and perfectly normal to step back and take a good hard look at ourselves and our lives at the beginning of a new year. A good chance for self-evaluation. It’s easy to lose focus in the everyday hum-drum of life; now is the time to refocus and redefine. Who we are, where we’re going, what we want. To get back on course in this tempestuous sea of life.
I always ask myself a list of questions around this time. The answers, though some may be difficult to admit even to myself, invariably point me in the direction I need to go. Perhaps they will help you as well.
- What did I do right last year?
- What did I do wrong last year?
- Am I the person I want to be? Why not?
- What is my biggest weakness? How am I going to beat it this year?
- How can I treat the ones I love better than I did last year?
- What specific things do I want to accomplish this year?
- What do I want to accomplish in the next 5 years? 10 years?
- How can I be moving toward those goals right now?
- What am I doing that is not bringing me closer to where I want to be?
- How can I make a difference in the world around me?
The only way to answer these questions is with complete, even brutal, honesty. Only when we are honest with ourselves can we see progress. Getting specific with what is wrong and how you are going to fix it will put you on track for a great year. With determination, clarity, and more than a little help from above, there’s nothing we can’t do.
Happy New Year to you and yours from Dirt Road Princess! May your days be filled with peace, joy, contentment, and above all, love.