Bucket List, Will Travel

Some call it a “bucket list”, some make a “dream board”, and some set “personal goals.” Whatever you want to call it, the practice of articulating what you want to see, get, and do in your life is a good habit to have. Having a bucket list helps me think about the future instead of getting completely caught up in the present. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for living in the moment. We have to enjoy the here and now because it’s all we’ve got. But we still need to find a little time to daydream about and plan for the future. If we don’t figure out where we want to be or what we want to do down the road, how will we know which road to take?

My bucket list is so random; it almost seems like more than one person made it. Places I want to go, things I want to do, stuff I want to own – it’s got everything on it. From holding political office to living on a houseboat. There’s the obvious ones, like successfully publish at least one book, build my dream house, and own at least 10,000 books. The castle-in-the-sky-pretty-much-impossible-type daydreams like owning my own island and a yacht to go with it. And no bucket list is complete without a few travel goals: visit all 50 states, a motorcycle trip through South America, an African safari honeymoon. And the list goes on.

Some of it will never happen; hopefully more will work out than not. Even if I only accomplish a few things on my list, I will have done more than if I just drift along letting life happen to me. I don’t want to be a spectator to my own life – I want to grab hold of my life and mold it into what I want it to be. And what I want it to be is an unconventional adventure. My bucket list is the first step in that direction. Of course it’s completely useless unless you actually use it, so that’s my next step. Have bucket list, will travel.

Imperfection Is Beautiful

Imperfection is beautiful. Read that again. Think about it for a minute. I don’t know where we came up with the notion that something or someone has to be perfect to be beautiful. Perfection is not beauty. Perfection is just a lack of flaws. Perfection is also unattainable. Nothing is ever perfect. And if we spend our time chasing perfection, we miss out on the beauty.

Beauty is a sunrise – red, orange, gold, and pink splashed across the horizon. Beauty is laughing till you snort and tears run down your face. Beauty is running free in a field of wildflowers. Beauty is a woman in childbirth. Beauty is the newborn baby, red and squalling. Beauty is a faded, worn-out pair of blue jeans. Beauty is a lovers’ quarrel. Beauty is jagged cliffs by the sea. Beauty is the wrinkles of a face that has seen a full life. Beauty is a mismatched pair of eyes. Beauty is the artwork of a preschooler. Beauty is the limp of a soldier. Beauty is the awkwardness of a first kiss. Beauty is the ruins of an ancient temple. Beauty is all these things and so many more, but it is never perfection. Because real life is messy and chaotic and hard and unbelievably beautiful.

When something or someone is real and genuine and true, there is the beauty. When we allow ourselves to each be who we truly are, we are each of us beautiful in our own way. One is tall, another is short. This one is blonde, that one is brunette. Some are outgoing, some are shy. One may have beautiful eyes, another a stunning smile. Some are smarter or more talented than others. This one is sweet and gentle, that one is rough and tumble. All are beautiful. Our imperfection makes us beautiful.

Think of a diamond, perfectly cut and polished. Completely free of flaws. It possesses a certain beauty to be sure, but it is not truly beautiful. It is hard and cold and completely without life. When we chase perfection or demand it of others, we become like the diamond. Cold and dead inside. And we miss out on the beauty of a life lived to the full. Don’t waste this precious gift. Embrace your imperfection and know that you are truly beautiful just the way you are.

imperfection is beautiful

Optimism – the Better Way

There are very few things I truly hate. Cynicism is number one on that list. According to Mr. Webster’s 1913 dictionary, a cynic is “one who holds views resembling those of the Cynics; a snarler; a misanthrope; particularly, a person who believes that human conduct is directed, either consciously or unconsciously, wholly by self-interest or self-indulgence, and that appearances to the contrary are superficial and untrustworthy.”

To constantly see the world in the worst light, always suspicious of the motives and actions of others – sounds like a living hell to me. Most cynics mask their cynicism under the guise of “realism.” And, yes, I realize the world is full of dreadful things – crime, hunger, oppression – but that doesn’t mean we only have two options: cynicism or naiveté. Either extreme is undesirable. Why not choose the middle road? We call it optimism. Optimism is “a habitual tendency or a present disposition to take the most hopeful view of future events, and to expect a favorable outcome even when unfavorable outcomes are possible.” To always hope for the best, while still seeing the world as it is; to see the good in others and the world around us – that is the better way.

And who knows? Perhaps if there were more true optimists in this world who stood firm in what they believe, perhaps there would be fewer things to be cynical about. If the optimists would all get up and do something, we could change the world, make it a better place. A happier, brighter place for everyone to live in, cynics and optimists alike. And we don’t have to start by making big changes – we don’t have to solve world hunger tomorrow. A good place to start is in the lives of those around you. Can you make someone smile today? Can you do something nice for someone else? Say a kind word? Encourage someone who’s feeling down? If you cheer someone up, maybe they’ll make the next person smile, and who knows how far your one kind word can spread? Let’s change the world, one seed of hope and joy at a time.

Anger – A Plea to Be Loved

Do you know someone who seems to be overly sensitive? Someone who gets angry at things that wouldn’t bother most people? Chances are they weren’t always like that. Nine times out of ten, a “prickly” person has been made that way. Did you know that anger is a defense mechanism? We don’t feel pain when we are angry. Those who lash out at the drop of a hat, as the saying goes – it’s not the “hat” that made them angry. Something touched an old wound and the anger is a reaction to the reawakened pain. And of course that only makes it worse each time. They are often perceived as unpredictable. You never can tell what will set off their anger until it’s too late. But you can bet your last dollar that there is an old, deep hurt there that never really healed. And you better believe that underneath that prickly exterior is the softest, gentlest, most loving soul you will ever meet.

So what do you do? How do you act around someone like that? They say that time heals all wounds. I disagree. There is only one thing that can break through their defenses – love. Unconditional love will reach past the anger and touch the pure but damaged heart inside. Only love has the power to heal the hurts of the past. Only love can mend the broken and make them whole again. Pure, true, steadfast, unshakeable love. So, whoever you know who is like that – whether it be a son or daughter or sibling or parent or spouse or friend – whoever it is, just love them. Love them when they are unlovely. Love them when they are angry. I’m not saying you should be a pushover; sometimes tough love is needed. But, please, do not ever let them doubt that you do love them. People like that have to be convinced that they are worthy of being loved.

anger defenses

And those of you who are the prickly ones, don’t let your scars define you. Don’t wait for someone to save you. Having been hurt in the past is no excuse to mistreat the ones around you. Are you a victim or a victor? A victim crawls away to nurse their wounds; a victor keeps on fighting anyway. A victim blames the world for their faults; a victor overcomes the things that should destroy them. We are each responsible for our own actions. So if you are carrying around old scars, do something about it. Don’t lash out at those around you when they aren’t trying to hurt you. And when they do, just forgive and let it go. Forgive for the past too. Forgive the one who hurt you; forgive yourself. Love yourself. Let others love you. Accept love when it is offered. Let go of the burden you are carrying. Let go of the anger. Build yourself into the kind of person you want to be. Most importantly, accept the love of Christ. He will heal every broken piece of your heart.

Smile List, Smile Life

Everyone has something that never fails to make them smile. Usually a few things; some simple, some specific. A few years ago, I was going through a rough time. Confused, slightly depressed, lonely – my life was a mess and so was I. I didn’t know what to do. And then, quite by accident, I stumbled across something that brightened my whole world. Something that made me completely forget all the things that had me down. At least temporarily. But you know what? Each time I came back to reality, the world didn’t seem quite as gray as it had before. And I realized something: it takes no more effort to be happy than it does to be sad. It’s as simple as making a decision and we only have two choices. One option is to let life get us down, the other is to be happy in spite of the problems and quirks of life. Once the right decision is made, it becomes easy to find things to smile about.

I keep a running list of happy things – my “smile list.” Some items on this list are images, like dogs, the vintage car I dream of owning, the beach, a smiling baby, daffodils, a beautiful gun. Just a look is enough to make me smile when I’ve had a rough day. Then there are the sounds: a revving engine, my dad singing, bacon sizzling, my sister’s laugh, the thunder of the waves, a favorite song. Some are activities, things to do when the stress starts piling up. Cooking, playing on a swing set, driving fast with the windows down and the music loud, swimming. Reading a good book – real, not digital. E-books have no therapeutic benefit. A trip to the shooting range. Wearing a plaid shirt. Eating high-quality chocolate. Wearing cowboy boots. Cuddling in a blanket with a nice cup of tea. Some things on the list are experiences: the wind, lightning, and dark clouds just before a storm; the magic of dawn; the stillness of a forest; the warmth of a hug.

But there are two things that have a bigger influence on my happiness than the whole rest of the list combined. The first is smiling at everyone I meet. It’s not hard, it’s just easier to forget. After a while, though, it becomes habit and I don’t even think about it anymore. I think it was Dolly Parton who said, “If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.” That is a beautiful way to live. The second is doing good for others, helping someone whenever I see an opportunity. That brings a joy that nothing can match. So if you’re feeling down, look for little ways to brighten your day and for ways to make others happy too. For when you give happiness away, it always comes back to you. And don’t forget: it’s the little things that matter most.smile

Audrey Hepburn, Radiant Beauty

Audrey_Hepburn_and_Gregory_Peck_on_Vespa_in_Roman_Holiday_trailerConsidered by many to be one of the most beautiful women who ever lived, Audrey Hepburn was beautiful inside and out. She was never afraid to be herself. While other iconic beauties of the day were of the more voluptuous goddess type, her charming elfin-like beauty and inner glow has made her more enduringly beautiful than many of her contemporaries. Part of her radiance stems from the purity and beauty of her soul.

Born in Belgium in 1929 to a British father and Dutch mother, young Audrey divided her growing-up years between these 3 countries. She studied ballet from the age of 5; dreaming of one day being a prima ballerina. The hardships and hunger of WWII in the Netherlands forever destroyed that dream. The horrors of war would remain with her forever, making her a passionate advocate for starving children, and working with UNICEF in particular. This is the beauty of Audrey Hepburn’s soul: to have survived what she did, yet still retain a serene joy inside that nothing could take away. The things she saw and experienced made her sensitive and caring, but not bitter or cynical. She saw to the full the ugliness mankind is capable of, but still chose to see the good in humanity too.

Ranked by the American Film Institute as the 3rd greatest female screen legend in the history of American film in 1999, Audrey Hepburn left a legacy equaled by few. Although certainly not the most prolific actor in Hollywood, she is one of the most universally well-received. Even in films panned by critics and audiences alike, her performance was almost invariably praised. Her first starring role in Roman Holiday (with already-a-star Gregory Peck) won her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA Award. This made her the first actress ever to receive all 3 awards for a single performance. She went on to appear in a number of movies with a number of famous actors and actresses. One thing remained constant: Audrey’s fashion style. Even today, Audrey Hepburn is considered a fashion icon – perhaps because she never followed the latest trends. Instead she opted for a style that suited her perfectly, a trend that’s always in style.

As the years went by, she appeared in fewer films, devoting more and more time to humanitarian work with UNICEF until her death in 1993. It is this which, I believe, she would most like to be remembered for. Audrey Hepburn chose a legacy, not of fame or stardom, but of loving and caring for the “least of these.” Those are footsteps we should all try to walk in.

What Is Honesty?

What is honesty? We tend to think of honesty as what it’s not: not telling lies. And while yes, this is true, there is a much bigger picture here. So what is honesty? Telling the truth is the simple answer. But that’s really only another way of saying that it’s not telling lies. Is there a deeper answer? A more powerful meaning? A hidden truth? To utilize an over-used cliché, honesty is like an onion, with layers of meaning that need to be understood individually to grasp the whole truth of what honesty really is.

So let’s start with the simple answer: telling the truth. A statement that is deceptively simple. Ironic, right? But what is truth? If you say, “The sky is blue,” you are telling the truth. Some days the sky is gray and overcast, or even black with storm clouds. But still, the blue sky is up there, we just can’t see it. Lies are like those storm clouds, hiding and obscuring the truth. How many people can honestly say that they always tell the truth? No one. Even those who so seldom tell lies that they have a solid reputation for honesty are few and far between. Why do we tell lies? To avoid getting in trouble? To impress our boss, or our coworkers, or our friends, or our girl/boyfriend? To get something we want? Basically, we tell lies for 2 simple reasons: fear and desire.

But let’s go a little deeper in our study of the honesty onion. What is the next step of being honest? Doing the truth. How can one do the truth, you ask? Are you telling me that you never did something to cover your tracks so no one suspected what you had done? Even if we never actually say a falsehood, doing something to throw another person off what we’re really up to is a lie just the same. Think of the kid who hides in the pantry with the cookie jar. While our methods may become more sophisticated as we grow up, deceiving another person through our actions is every bit as wrong as telling an outright lie.

The third layer of honesty is living the truth. This one is less about deceiving those around us and more about being honest with ourselves. Every single person carries a truth in his or her heart that no one else can hear. The truth of who you really are and what you can do. Most of us can’t even hear our own truth and even when we do, we talk ourselves out of believing it. We convince ourselves that we’re not pretty enough, not smart enough, not talented enough, not good enough. That we don’t deserve that or can’t do this. So we settle for less than what we deserve, for less than who we are. We give up, stop trying, let life carry us where it will.

And now we arrive at the core of what honesty really is: being the truth. When we find our center, we also find the center of truth. And when we do that, then living, doing, and telling the truth just kinda flows naturally. And there is no longer any room for phoniness, either in ourselves or in the people around us. When we are real and genuine and true, we walk in a light and peace that no one else can touch. We can also see right through the phony charades deceitful people play. Even if we can’t clearly articulate it, we can sense when someone is not real or genuine. And real people don’t have time for deception. Some of us are blessed with inherent honesty; some of us have to work for it. Either way, I have one piece of advice for you: trust your gut. It is always honest, even when your head is not.light of honesty

Overcoming Fear

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.overcoming fear with love

In Defense of Hot Tea

hot teaThese 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.

Sunflower, Ray of Sunshine

450px_Sunflower_2007The 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.