It’s so easy for me to look behind me. To look at past experiences and conversations and replay them in my mind, wishing something had gone different, or yearning to relive a special moment. Looking back can be euphoric, but it can also become obsessive and drag me down. I’m sure we all look back and replay regretful situations until the outcome is what we would prefer. I look back with regrets, in not having been brave, in not taking risks. I’ve lived a very comfortable life, a safe life, and I sometimes beat myself up because of it.
In recent months, my looking back has been a reflection of time passing me by. It’s been centered around feelings of being left out, of being left behind, of riding straight through a stage in life where others stop to find love and grow familes. Through this time of moving through my struggles, the Lord has shown me the word ‘forward.’ Move forward. Look forward. Look to Him for life and love. God holds my past, but I don’t have to live there and constantly look back at it. It’s ok to stop and rest and reflect and be, but even if I’m not physically moving forward, I can still LOOK forward.
It’s hard to not turn around. Looking back sometimes warps my view of the past. I remember what I want to remember. I hold on to bliss-filled fuzzy thoughts, with a bit of fairy tale sprinkled in. My memories sometimes become what I want them to be, not what they actually were, and I am comfortable living there. But, when this happens, I stall. I miss reality. I’m not being present. My thoughts are directed inward and I live in a space inside myself.
This concept of not focusing forward happens in many aspects of my life. Conversations that didn’t go the way I wanted them to, situations I would have approached differently, things I held on to and should have let go of. Looking back brings up hard-on-myself feelings of having ‘not done it right’ and thoughts of how I should have approached a situation differently…better. Of course I would have done things differently. Looking back gives me 20/20 vision. I’ve taken the test and now have the answer key right in front of me. I can see where I messed up and what I would do differently next time. That doesn’t mean I have to keep reviewing the ‘right’ answers. That unit is over. The lesson is finished. It’s time to look forward, with new insights and experiences and more tools in my toolbelt than before.
Faith is moving forward even when things don’t make sense, trusting that in hindsight…..everything will become clear.
There’s something about facing forward that directs my eyes to look up and my posture to straighten. I anticipate what’s now and what’s next. Just holding a physical stance of looking up and out brings me optimism and peace. I live in the present and see God’s glorious gifts before me. No regrets. No wishing I could take back what I said…or didn’t say. What I did….or neglected to do. What’s in the past is done. It’s finished, and if need be, it’s been forgiven by our awesome God. I yearn to approach every day with this type of clarity. To carry with me memories of what was, but not turn around and be stuck there. Looking forward helps me live in a stance of ‘now’ and I don’t want to miss it.
In his TED talk, Cloudy with a Chance of Joy, Gavin Pretor-Pinney talks about how clouds get a ‘bad rap.’ That they’re beautiful and to be appreciated. It’s true, isn’t it? We don’t usually think of clouds in a positive way. His insights are inspiring.
I love to look up at the clouds. There’s something so calming and magical and optimistic about staring up at the heavens. I often stare up at the clouds when I’m enjoying my ‘adirondack chair time‘ on my back patio. This place is a screen-free zone. Well, it’s free from social media, email, texts, etc, but I do capture my reflections on my iPad while I sit out here and I also take pictures of the sky. I love watching the clouds drift by. They change moment by moment. I’ve taken some pretty awesome pictures from my little corner of the world.
My view out here is different every time. The way the light dances across the clouds and sky. The way the sun paints the clouds with pinks and purples and yellows and blues. The way they drift by so effortlessly. They’re not hiding the sun, they’re reflecting the sun in a beautiful and unique way. Clouds enhance the beauty of the light. They don’t get in the way; they’re part of what makes the light so majestic.
After all, when you’re looking up at the clouds, you’re looking up. Isn’t that symbolic? I participated in a labyrinth discipline last spring. A labyrinth isn’t a maze, it’s a journey through a winding path that offers time for silence, reflection, and prayer. Right up my alley, huh? I participated with a group from my church and we took several turns through the labyrinth and reflected as a group after each experience. During this time of sharing, one of the ladies commented that she looked up the whole time. She didn’t look down at the path below her feet, but looked up and out . . . into the faces of the rest of us walking through the labyrinth and looked out of the beautiful windows at the trees, the sky, and the clouds. I loved this imagery. Keeping our eyes lifted up and our perspective toward the heavens. I tried this on my next time through the labyrinth and it was totally different from my previous experience. Looking up filled me with joy. It filled me with hope and encouraged me to dream.
Clouds are ever-evolving. If you blink, you may miss something spectacular. When I watch the sky, I am totally present. It’s a space to dream. I feel like every opportunity is before me and that God is there and aware. Sometimes, the rays stretch from the heavens to the earth, as if God is reaching down to us. These are my favorite moments. As Gavin Pretor-Pinney says, it’s good for your soul to live with your head in the clouds.
August and I don’t get along. For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreaded turning the calendar after July 31. I get the ‘blahs.’ I feel sad and lonely. Year after year it’s always the same . . . I just don’t like the month of August. The person who journeys through the month of August is a sadder version of myself. I equate it with those individuals who suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in the winter months.It may have to do with my body’s biorhythms and that I’m just naturally in a period of ‘lowness’ during this time every year. I want the days to hurry along to September when activities begin again and I see those who I’ve missed over the summer and football games are on and cooler temperatures usher in and leaves are changing.
Why August? What is it about August that turns me into a grumpy puss? At the start of the summer, I am ready for a break. It feels good to rest and take time for me. But, by August, I’m eager for my busy routine to begin and I look forward to those weekly interactions with so many special groups of people in my life. Aside from my assumption that this is just my own body’s natural ‘low time’ of the year, I’ve reflected on some additional conclusions of why the other 11 months of the year rank higher than this month:
- I’m feeling the burn-out of going through a very hectic few months at work.
- I yearn for my extracurricular activities that go on hiatus in the summer.
- I miss consistent interactions with church and social groups.
- I don’t feel productive in my personal life.
- Let’s face it, it’s just plain hot outside.
Now, I’m not one to wish time away. I strive very much to live in the present. After all, just like the seasons of our lives, each season on the calendar has ‘a time and purpose under heaven.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1) So, a couple of years ago, I decided to embrace August, instead of wallowing for the whole month. I use the negative energy and channel it into something positive. Instead of wasting this precious time of year, I’m now more intentional about filling my calendar with summer activities I enjoy, like swimming and bike riding. Joy from my childhood comes through in these activities and I bask in my favorite summertime memories.
A few years ago, I started taking a week of vacation during the month of August. My job keeps me very busy during the summer months, so giving myself permission to be lazy and relax during these summer days does wonders for my soul. Most of my August vacations have sent me out of town for the week, but this year, I’ll be enjoying a ‘staycation.’ Time at home; time with family and friends; time for me. . . . and I can’t wait!
I’m a goal setter and a list maker. I like to be productive; it makes me feel fulfilled. The summer affords me more creative ways of filling my time since my regular weekly obligations are on break until fall. Two Augusts ago, I started the discipline of reading the Bible every day for 90 days. It’s hard to wallow when you’re in the Word everyday. Last August, I focused on home improvements and decorating around the house. Painting, shopping for accessories, and combing the Web for decorating ideas was so enjoyable and gave me an outlet in which to channel my icky feelings.
So, what would August 2013 bring? What project would bring focus and joy? I love to read and many of my fondest memories are wrapped up in books. I remember reading at the pool and reading on my bed as a kid. Visits to the public library were routine for my family and my mom always encouraged my reading choices. I may not have read the classics or the most ‘scholarly’ literature, but I’ve always found great escape and adventure tucked inside the pages of a book. This August, I’ve decided to re-read my favorite books from my childhood. I made a list, checked some books out of the library, combed my own personal bookshelves, and began this literary journey down memory lane. I’m spending my August with Margaret, Charlotte, Nancy Drew, and the Sweet Valley High Twins. I’m reliving the stories of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Phantom Tollbooth, Of Mice and Men, and The Great Gatsby. I’m rediscovering these treasures from my past and receiving tremendous blessings in the process.
I wouldn’t say that I now look forward to my Augusts, but I am thankful for them. I’m grateful for this time set apart when I can focus on something so personal and priceless.
Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
So, I talk about wanting to be in love and feeling left behind. I’m certain that my 20-year-old self wouldn’t believe that I would be at this point in my life and haven’t found ‘the one.’ I guess I haven’t been brave. I haven’t put myself out there. I’ve been too shy. Well, that is, until a little over a year ago. That was when I went out looking for love. Intentionally looking for it. Last month, I ended my one-year journey with an online dating service. ‘Why would you cancel now? That seems like the perfect way to meet a guy!’ many people would ask. I joined because I was always curious about it and have had countless conversations with friends and colleagues who said they knew someone who met their boyfriend or husband online. I joined because I wanted to take a risk; I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. I didn’t want to look back later in life and regret not giving it a try. So, I signed up.
It wasn’t an awful experience. It was exciting to meet someone new and see where it might lead, but I honestly learned more about myself than through my connections with my ‘matches.’ This was an unexpected result, for which I am grateful. My experiences saw three categories of guys: those I reached out to, but who didn’t reach back; those who needed an instantaneous connection with me and wanted to hear wedding bells within the first few dates; and those who were so socially awkward, I was embarrassed for them. I will say that with one guy in particular, I caught a glimpse of how I want to be treated in a relationship; how I should be treated. To be the one who’s chased, and not the other way around. It felt good. It made me feel special and wanted.
Even still, I had total peace about clicking the ‘cancel membership’ button. It was without a doubt the right decision for me at this time. I can define the reason why in one word – – authenticity. Online dating lacks the authenticity I desire. It feels so forced. I have no idea who these guys are. We don’t have any mutual friends; we weren’t friends first; we didn’t see each other from across a room or share a smile or conversation that drew us to each other. We are complete strangers who are brought together because a computer thinks we’re compatible. I just don’t think it’s for me.
Maybe I’m analyzing this to death. It really is just a way of meeting new people. I can choose to be as involved as I want to be. I can make it what I want. But, the time I spent trying these guys out was precious time taken away from the already-strong relationships in my life. Do I really want it THAT bad? Do I want to feel like I am consistently on the hunt for that perfect guy? I honestly don’t think I do. I want it to be an authentic experience. I want to be friends with a guy and then fall in love. I want it to feel natural and not feel like a dating service is in control of setting expectations for what it should look like. So, even though I bawled like a baby after clicking the ‘cancel’ button, I felt relief at the same time. I was sad that the journey did not produce the results I was hoping for, but I gained a deeper understanding of who I am and where my priorities lie. For now, I’m done with that time-consuming process, but not done with being open to finding love.
So, this summer, I’m focusing on those in my life who I already love and care for so much. Pool time, bike rides, coffee talk, dinner, movies with my favorite peeps. Giving up online dating is not a forever decision; just a right now decision. For now, I know that being present with my friends and family is what I need. That’s me being authentic, and it feels right.
I recently caught an episode of Oprah’s Next Chapter featuring the coaches on The Voice – Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Usher, and Shakira. I love the show The Voice. Instead of most reality tv shows that seek ratings based on drama or negativity, The Voice emphasizes encouragement of budding singers hoping to become stars (and, of course, seeing Adam Levine week after week is a definite highlight for this Maroon 5 fan). In this interview, Oprah told Usher that he has a way of making the person he’s with feel like they are the most special person in the world. What a wonderful compliment! It really resonated with me. I think it’s the perfect description of being present. To be wholly in this place – body, mind, and spirit – as the rest of the world melts away.
It got me thinking. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone is not present with me in conversation. When they’re distracted, consistently aware of things going on around them, and not focused on our time together….it hurts my feelings. Maybe it bothers me so much because my love language is quality time. Spending time together is the way that others show me that they care about me. To be physically present, but not mentally and emotionally available is worse to me than not showing up at all. It’s a sure way to put me in a grumpy mood. I shut down quickly. Over the past few years, I’ve taken a step back from people in my life who do this to me. If you don’t value time with me, then I don’t want you to be part of my life.
Being present is not something that comes easily to me. I’m a daydreamer. My mind wanders. I would be in a constant state of reflection if I let myself. It is difficult for me to be truly present. My pastor opens worship each Sunday with the phrase, ‘let’s move from getting here to being here.’ Beautiful. Simple. Forget how I got here; be present in this place; don’t think about what’s to come. It’s not about ignoring or being in denial about what’s before and what’s beyond, it’s about living into THIS moment. God gave me this moment and this time and it’s precious. I’ll never get it back. It’s easy to be present on Sundays, but what about the rest of the week? If I let them, the weeks melt away and time seems to accelerate. I decide daily to live each day for the individual moments and not fall into the rut of ‘just another manic Monday.’
To look people in the eye. To engage in relevant, meaningful conversation. To listen with intention. To recognize answered prayers. This is my definition of being present. What a gift!
I’m in the moment
the one where nothing matters
and everything’s alright
I’m seeing things so clearly now
and you’re the reason why
I’m in the moment
and I’m alive
– chorus from the song, In the Moment, by Sister Hazel