How to Stop the Mixed Messages of an All-or-Nothing Society

I was lied to. So were you. We were told we needed gigantic homes, supersized food, and tons of shirts to place in our already overflowing closets. We were told to purchase purses for every occasion, and own plates for every holiday. We were told that the more we had, the wealthier, more esteemed, we would be.

But that is a lie. A lie that has been passed to our children.

One day, long ago, I first discovered that lie. My youngest son had been playing at a friend’s house. He came home, walked into our house and looked around. With large, innocent blue eyes, he looked up at me and asked, “Are we poor?”

“What?” I was shocked, and more than a little confused.

We didn’t own a ton, a loveseat, sofa, and coffee table sat in the center of our living room. At the far end was a piano, and by the entry were two small chairs. No knick-knacks were placed on the table, except for one small vase that held a few roses from our garden. On the walls were two pictures.

“No,” I said, “We are not poor.” I didn’t understand why he was asking. But I do now.

One day, I had the opportunity to walk into his friend’s house. It was filled, every room contained oodles of toys, framed pictures, tiny vases and piles of books. Every room was a masterpiece of consumerism.

But here’s the irony. Consumerism works the other way as well. There are groups who tell us not to buy, that purchasing products places stress on society, makes us unfulfilled and unhappy. That we are creating a world reliant on junk.

But that’s a lie as well.

Because the truth is, somewhere between all-and-nothing is a middle where happiness lives.

I don’t think happiness rests in owning too much, that we can find joy in a closet overfilled with clothes and boots. But I’m honestly not sure happiness rests in owning nothing, either. Some things make us happy, like paints and a canvas, or a book read over and over again. Sometimes it’s okay to buy a little happiness.

I wish we could find that happy middle, that we didn’t have fight so hard against mixed messages. But the fact is, we are an all-or-nothing society, and it’s each person’s right to feel as they will.

It’s also our right to not listen.

I think it’s time we fight back, and listen to ourselves. It’s time to stop buying everything to show our worth, and time to stop throwing it all away to erase our guilt.

It’s time to be who you are, and stop the mixed messages of an all-or-nothing society.

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A Simple Way to Give Thanks All Year Long

Sometimes, I swear there’s a little cloud floating above my head, just waiting for the most blissful moment in my life to burst open and let the storms come tumbling down.

I bet it feels that way for many of you as well, unceasing storms that last for days, weeks, months, or even years.

Cars that fall apart, accidents, death, job loss. It happens to all of us, usually when we’re not ready. And when it happens, the last thing we want to do is give thanks.

But it is in those moments we most need to, and in those moments I least want to. I’ve been working on having a thankful heart. But sometimes, it’s just so darn hard.

My story begins a few weeks ago. Actually, I think it began as a series of events building over the last few years.

My husband’s company (and his job) was (and still is) in limbo; my writing has fluctuated between good and bad; changes have happened, some of which I was ready for, and most of which I wasn’t; and, well, nothing was as it should have been (at least in my unthankful eyes).

I tried to be thankful about what I had, but usually, I came up with nothing.

A couple weeks ago, I decided I needed a change of heart. I’d read about gratitude journals, and wondered if they really worked. It was time to do my own experiment.

I went to bed that night and closed my eyes, determined to think of something I was thankful for. I had nothing. Finally, I came up with one thing: air.

Okay, not a good start. Silly, perhaps even stupid, but still, it was something. I fell asleep.

The next morning, something strange happened. When I woke up, I immediately thought about my very short gratitude list, and smiled. Air meant I was alive, and for that, I was thankful.

The next night, I came up with two items: Life and Family. And the following morning, family was the first thing that entered my mind, and how thankful I was to have each and every one of them.

Every night before drifting to sleep, I give thanks, and each night my list grows. Better yet, every morning I wake up and give thanks once again. I guess there really is something to those gratitude journals.

My thankful attitude is spreading throughout my day. I find myself giving thanks for many things, even goofy, inopportune events, like these:

I give thanks for:
A body that sometimes aches,
For feeling pain,
For feeling life.

I give thanks for
Failing recipes,
And food on the table,
Albeit not always the best.

I am thankful
For flowers with tiny buds,
That blossom and float through the air,
That make me sneeze,
And cough,
And itch.
Reminders that I am alive.

I am thankful for a husband,
Who doesn’t fall apart,
Even as his company does.

I am thankful for
Broken windshields,
Ants that raid our kitchen,
Air conditioning that doesn’t always work,
Clothing that rips while I’m at the mall.

I am thankful I can experience it all.

I can’t say I am always thankful. That would be a lie. Truth is, I’m still working on it. I am a day-by-day work-in-progress, and for that, I truly am thankful.

There will always be storms, and of course I will be most thankful when they pass. But I’m learning to accept them, and give thanks in the midst.

I encourage you to start your own thankful list tonight. What’s the first thing you will be thankful for?

Please feel free to share this article with others.

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What if There Were No Dreamers?

I once was a dreamer, an imaginer, a creator of all I envied, ripping old photos from magazines, making books of rooms I wanted: bedrooms with castle-like beds, covered in feathery blankets on white ivory sheets; teal pillows that sparkled beneath romantic chandeliers; wispy curtains billowing in the wind.

But I’m totally over that now. Can you tell?

Okay, maybe not totally, but I’m trying to be.

But the problem is, I can’t stop dreaming. I dream of colors, of vintage green cabinets and soft yellow walls, cream-colored sofas covered with flush rose blankets. I dream of red wooden stools and tall metal lamps. I dream. And I dream. And I dream.

I try to stop my dreams, but I can’t. They run with the wind, chasing things I’ve never seen, and even some I have – flowery bowls to set on a stand, antique lighting to hang in my study, tables holding flowers in large ceramic vases, large round mirrors in romantic bathroom havens.

I am a cloud-in-the-sky, head-floating-high, dreamer.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my home, my office with my collection of books, the big soft chair in the corner of the living room, the large cozy blanket, the quirky pictures on the wall.

But my house is bland, beige walls left by painters nearly four years ago. Subdued, quiet, unpolished. The beige of brand new house.

So I imagine, and dream of walls that fizzle and sparkle and pop, of laughter sprinkled across a room, of a child’s personality tucked between cracks in the floor. A house tinted with character, washed in life.

Is it wrong to dream? To imagine? To create?

What if we had a world without dreamers, where would be? Would our world ever change, ever alter, ever grow? Would our world be as lifeless as beige colored walls in a newly developed home?

Much of our home remains beige. Only three small rooms have been given life. But our home is still vibrant, filled with humor and laughter, covered in dreams and personality, if only because it is our home.

I will keep on dreaming, imaging, creating, because I am a dreamer, imagining a home with a kaleidoscope of color.

Always dream, create, imagine. Without dreamers, where would our world be?

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Five Simple Ways to Discover Joy

I am not always happy. And sometimes, I am not filled with joy.

Wait a minute, aren’t those the same thing? Not exactly. Let me explain.

Happiness is based on external factors, like getting a raise at work, or buying that new shirt you’ve been eyeing at the department store. It is temporary, dependent on the world around us. Happiness rises like the sun, and sets like a moon on a stormy night.

But joy, that is deeper. Joy is a thread that runs through the soul. It is the feeling (or emotion) that says no matter what course life takes, all will be okay. Joy is contentment and assurance, a security beyond people, things, and ourselves. Joy is there, even when we are sad.

We can always find happiness, in a movie, a book, a restaurant with a friend. But joy, that requires a lot of searching.

When I was first married, I searched for joy, in my husband’s moods, our children’s obedience, and even when we bought our first home, I thought joy would arrive with our new furniture.

But it never did. Yes, I was happy, but joy didn’t arrive until much later.

I don’t remember the exact moment I discovered joy. I think it slowly leaked into my life, like many good things do. I know I worked on it often, until one day, I think I grasped so hard, I decided to never let go.

But how, you ask, do we keep joy? More importantly, how do we get it in the first place?

Acceptance:
Joy arrives with acceptance. Accepting feelings for what they are. Anger. Frustration. Sadness. Know that life is always filled with emotion, and you will not always be happy. Stop relying on other’s moods to give you joy.

Gratitude:
It’s an old cliché, but it’s true. Gratitude is the best attitude. Be thankful for what you’ve given. Every day. Give thanks for crazy moments and unfinished work. Give thanks for crying children and scattered toys. Give thanks for family, friends, and life itself.

Help Someone:
Helping someone is an emotional high. It is joy. It can be simple, like holding a door open for a struggling mom, letting a car slip in line in front of you, or buying a coffee. Or it can be as grand as mowing your neighbor’s lawn. Helping others brings us joy.

Help Yourself:
This one is hard. It was for me. Giving time to ourselves seems selfish and inconsiderate, even a bit narcissistic. But it’s not. Allowing ourselves to spend time on only us shows that we care and love who we are, who we created to be. Give yourself a manicure, a quiet soak in the tub, an hour to read what you want to read. Take time to take care of you.

Smile:
Smile a lot. Smile often. Smiling releases happy endorphins, which slows breathing, reduces stress, and relieves pain. Smiling makes others happy, which, in some weird way, brings us joy.

There you are. Five simple ways to find joy, and keep it forever.

I hope you find your inner joy.

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The Simple Secret to the Perfect Body

The girls on television stare back at us, perfectly placed shadow enhances their eyes, lashes bat effortlessly. Their skin is flawless, every inch a perfect display of artistry.

Women on the screen in tight-fitting gowns, every muscle toned, every piece of their body perfectly tan, skin that glows beneath the sun.

Men with bulging arms, shirt buttons threatening to pop. Neatly trimmed beards. Incredible blue eyes.

We watch them. We see them with jealous eyes. Then we turn to ourselves, and wonder why we aren’t the same. Our skin is crinkled, damaged, not like the ones on the screen. The bodies on the screen are smooth, we are scarred; they are perfect, we are blemished.

There’s a simple secret to those perfect bodies and that flawless skin, and I’m going to share it with you. But before I do, I want you to do something. Make two lists. In the first one, list five things you don’t like about yourself. In the second list, list five things you do. (The second one is harder, isn’t it?) Done? Okay, let’s discover the secret.

The secret to the perfect body and beautiful skin? It’s this: It’s a lie. It’s all One Big Fat Lie.

Because the truth is, every girl on the screen, every woman behind the make-up counter, every man with the perfect beard, is a fabrication, a deception, a lie based on lies.

Those men and women are camouflaged, masked behind bandages and lighting, hidden behind insecurities as deep as yours and mine. And the ones in the real world? Get close, get personal. Look at their faces, layers of colors and chemicals mask their skin, a beauty invented by society.

Society, consumerism, wants us to believe we are not perfect the way we are.

And you know what? It’s true. None of us is perfect. Not one. Even the girl on the screen, she has a crooked nose, misshapen eyes, uneven toes, knocked knees.

We all have imperfections, some we were born with, some we created through decades in our lives. And each of us is insecure about them.

Because we’ve been fed a line, by ads that tell us we are not good enough, by Hollywood that claims we should all be free of jiggly arms, sagging skin, wrinkly faces.

But the fact is. We are flawed. I am flawed. You are flawed. So beautifully, wonderfully, amazingly flawed.

So I think it’s time we celebrate. I think it’s time we lay our imperfections out for all the world to see. Let the world see us as we are, scars that tell our stories, wrinkles that fill the chapters of our lives.

It’s time to fight, for the right to be imperfect, because no matter what we do, how many creams we rub across our faces, how many sit-ups, push-ups, or weights we lift, we will never, ever, achieve perfection.

Perfectionism doesn’t exist.

So celebrate.

Celebrate your flaws.

Beautiful imperfections.

Perfectly perfect scars.

Celebrate the crooked ear,

The one eye that sits lower than the other.

Celebrate thin lips and crow’s feet.

Celebrate you.

Wonderfully made.

Scraped.

Bruised.

Tattered.

Torn.

Beautiful, damaged self.

Remember the lists? I’m not going to tell you to tear up the first, because that’s where your life lies – that’s where your story lives. Tape the first page next to the second, right on that mirror you look at first thing in the morning. Be happy about your second, but celebrate the first. You are a perfect imperfection, a beautifully flawed creature. And you, my dear, have many stories to tell.

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