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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas on the Half-Shell

I received one of the best gifts ever this year.

I must be living fearlessly to embrace such a thing. Embrace it I did, squealing joyfully as I peeled away the protective tissue - an oxymoron of sorts - carefully unwrapping it. As I held it aloft for all those gathered around the tree to see, I admitted that it was rivaled only by the Baby Alive I received when I was 7 and possibly the Big Wheel I got when I was 8, maybe even the BB Gun placed in my hands on my 9th Christmas. Otherwise, I couldn't think of many more gifts that ever came close to bringing me the same glee, the same awe, that the spectacle raised above my head did at that very moment.

An armadillo. A stuffed armadillo. Not a plush armadillo, but a taxidermied armadillo mounted on a board. Its shell, sleek and shiny, reflected the light from the chandelier. Its segmented tail curved around in front of its hind legs, and its head tilted slightly to the right with its tiny black eyes staring fixedly. And it had a wonderful color, like deep, rich brown leather. Had anything so perfect ever entered my hands before this? It was hard to say.

Like the dad in A Christmas Story I knew the ideal place for it - atop the rabbit pelt on the sofa table behind the loveseat in the den, where its presence alone will prickle the hairs on the backs of necks and upper arms.

Perhaps you squirm at the thought of this animal gracing my decor, but I tell you no southern girl should ever be without at least one taxidermied specimen. For certain, my admiration of preserved animals, all within earshot of my husband, plus my demand that he fill my need for collecting them, keeps my hunting husband home on a lot of Saturdays: 1) Why go if I'm urging him out to the woods, and 2) The pressure to bring home a trophy is paralyzing.

But that's not why I love my armadillo. You may not realize this, but it is in mint condition, bearing not a ding nor a dent. And someone went to a great deal of trouble to find me an armadillo that doesn't sport tire tread imprints and isn't squished on one side, the other, or straight down the middle. I've been given something rare and irreplaceable indeed. I can buy another Big Wheel. I can feed my daughter's Baby Alive. My sons will let me shoot their BB Guns. But how many more times in life would one perchance to happen upon preserved roadkill of these proportions and think to give it to me?

As with every gift, it's the thought that counts.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly in the New Year

Every [woman] should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Take up one hole more in the buckle if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances; but on the first of January let every [woman] gird [herself] once more, with [her] face to the front, and take no interest in the things that were and are past.
~Henry Ward Beecher

As January 1st approaches, I have to assess if I really accomplished all that I set out to do this year - get organized, manage my time better, read more books, focus on the truly important things in life . . . live fearlessly. Then I must put it behind me. Face forward and meet the New Year head on. Because if I'm seriously honest with myself, I have to admit that the only thing organization ever did for me was create a clean slate for new chaos.

Instead of making the same-old-same-old safe resolutions like travel, lose weight, spend more time with family and friends, get in shape, eat healthier, I'm going to accept that I've probably done the best that I can with those tried and true standards over the years. In 2009 I'm stepping out on a limb and taking a chance on a new approach to evolving into a better person:

  • Say "No" - I will say "No" to doing anything - joining a club, leading a group, organizing an activity - that I cannot or will not give my best to. I will not allow a guilty sense of obligation back me into a corner.
  • Make no comparisons- No matter what the talking heads in the media try to get me panicked about this year, no matter what my friends and neighbors do, I'm going to spend my time and my money only on things that are important to me and my family.
  • Live life as a work of art - I will cherish experiences over things. I will collect beautiful memories instead of stuff.
  • Foolish versus Fearless - I will remember the difference between foolish and fearless and will not do anything to compromise my life or my dignity. This includes skydiving and skinny dipping and other sundry activities of that nature.
  • Change is not just the coins jingling at the bottom of my purse - It is an uncertain world in which we live. I will accept change in my circumstances as God's way of offering me a new opportunity or His desire to alter my life's direction.
  • Be a light of this world - I will speak kind words, make charitable contributions within my means, and engage in behaviors that build my community regardless of recognition.

Happy New Year!

May you and those you love embrace all the possibilities it brings at the stroke of midnight.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly in the Holidays

Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.
- Mary Ellen Chase

The holidays, despite all their bling and the joy they bring, can also be STRESSFUL. We run the risk of releasing our resolve to live fearlessly and, thus, spiraling into Christmas chaos. Don't lose your presence of mind.

Five Ways to Live Fearlessly for the Holidays
  1. Travel Light - Remember, every decoration that goes up must also come down. Don't be afraid to simplify your yuletide.
  2. The Book of Lists - Doubtless, you've got a list as long as Santa's of things that must be done by midnight on the 24th, or before. Accept that some things are not absolutely necessary and catapult Make cookies with the kids to the top of the list. Be happy that some stuff doesn't get done. It means you spent time on the truly important things.
  3. Summon Your Tunnel Vision - Keep in mind the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Don't let glitzy advertisements, glossy magazine pictures, or persnickety perfectionists convince you that you need more, more, more to have a satisfying holiday. Be confident that you've already got all you really need.
  4. Gather the Girls - Friends are one of life's greatest gifts. Take time out of the busyness to spend time together.
  5. Fake It - Feeling bah-humbug? Say "Merry Christmas" robustly to everyone you meet. Your Christmas spirit will soon swell.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 31

Expect good things to happen.

It's an emotional risk to always expect the best. I risk being let down. I risk other people calling me naive. I risk getting less than what I'd hoped for. I risk having to cope with disappointment.

It's an even greater gamble, however, to expect the worst. When I expect the worst, then I look for the worst. Naturally, I seek to confirm my expectations. And more than likely, the worst, in some form or another, will occur. If I expect my children to misbehave, then I begin to look for all the things they are doing wrong instead of appreciating what they are doing right.

Likewise, when I expect the best, I'm primed to notice good things in a situation. If I expect my husband to come home from work in a good mood, I'll notice how he didn't slam the door, or how he greeted the kids, or how he tossed his keys into the basket. If I expect a party to be fun, I'll mingle more, I'll engage in lively conversations, I'll compliment the hostess. In essence, I will ensure that I attribute my husband's behaviors to a good mood. I'll go to the party intending to have a good time.

Will there be times when I expect good things to happen and they don't? Of course. But living fearlessly means that I am willing to take that risk and to accept (which is very, very different from expect) that bad things will happen, too. And when they do, I deal with them without ever giving up on the expectation of better things to come.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: In your BOOK OF LISTS write down three good things that you expect to happen in the coming week. Fearlessly believe that they will. At the end of the week examine whether or not they happened, how they happened, and how your expectations influenced those good things.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 30

Right Lane Must Turn Right.

--Or must it?

I turned 40 earlier this month. And I started thinking about what I have done with my life. And I realized that I've made a lot of right turns just because the sign said so; not necessarily because it was the direction I wanted to go.

I've found myself caught in that right turn lane a lot, doing what other people expected me to do, doing the "proper" thing, making other people happy by going with the flow. Not that other people always imposed right turns on me. I usually imposed them upon myself. I have always been a pleaser.

Not that it was always the wrong decision to go right. It brought me here, of course, and there are many, many things I like about my current parking space on my journey of right turns.

I guess what bothers me is that I've never fully considered all my options when I've found myself inadvertently stuck in the RIGHT TURN ONLY lane:

1) Do the predictable, comfortable thing and turn right.
2) Ease beyond the right turn, into the intersection, and try to unobtrusively sneak back into the left lane.
3) Put on my left blinker, turn the steering wheel in the direction I want to go, and wave my way into the left lane; even stop traffic in the right lane, if I have to, until someone lets me move over.

So what if horns honk. I've got choices! We've all got choices, and it doesn't mean that we're impolite if we take a moment to consider them. It doesn't mean we're unladylike if we choose not to turn right.

I'm 40 years old. I don't intend to travel the next 40+ years going around the world to the right. I want my course to meander, to zig left, to zag right, to make U-turns (even when the sign says I can't), to merge, to travel divided highways, and to take me places I'll never arrive at if I always make right turns.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: On a yellow or white Post-it Note, write your own sign and post it on your dashboard or your steering wheel.

My sign for today says: CAUTION CURVES AHEAD

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 29

So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
--Matthew 25:28-29

On Day 6 of Southern Girls Living Fearlessly, did you find your passion? Did you discover your talent? Are you still struggling to admit to it or find it? Are you fearful, like the servant who received one talent, of taking a risk with it so you've buried it in the ground, held it back, resisted developing it? Or have you multiplied it like the servants in the parable who received 2 and 10 talents from their master?

Who has the more complete life? Who is fully engaged? Who is living each day, week, month, year to its very limits? - The woman who finds her passion, capitalizes on her talents, and fails? Or the woman who plays it safe and never uses her gifts, justifying her reluctance by saying that the world is a cruel, unwelcoming, and unpredictable place and that she will not put herself at its mercy?

Our gifts, talent, passions, whatever you choose to name them, are freely given to us, and we are free to do with them as we please. The master chose to give his servants talents and left them with the responsibility of wisely investing them. Like the servants in the parable, we too have a responsibility to invest our gifts in this world. The greater our investment, the greater our returns, the more abundance we will experience.

As a school child, Thomas Edison was told he was stupid. Yet, as an adult, he discovered he had a passion for inventing. He took a risk. In fact, he took approximately 10,000 risks and failed approximately 10,000 times in his effort to invent the electric light bulb. Had Edison believed his teachers, had Edison not accepted his talents, had he not been willing to invest in his passion, he would never have brought light to the world.

We can bring light to the world as well. In fact we have a responsibility to overcome our fear of failure and earn returns on the talents we've been given.

Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, said success lies on the other side of failure.

If we have not used our talents, we have not failed. If we have not failed, we have not lived fearlessly. If we have not lived fearlessly, we have not lived. If we have not lived, we have not succeeded.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Read the entire parable of the servants and the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Then read Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 6 again. Find your passion. Next, in your Book of Lists, write down your talents and ways that you can use them. Finally, act.

Know that you too have been given talents according to your ability. Multiply your talents and gain abundance. Ignore your talents and lose what you have.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 28

Set the world on fire without burning it up.

My older brother and I performed many, many experiments throughout our childhood. We spent long hours hovered over a microscope lens trying to identify the pond water bacteria swimming on our slide. We verified, as many of you already know, that cats, when dropped, almost always land on their feet. And we set a few fires in the name of scientific discovery.

Since he is two years my senior, and I blamed him for most everything else, I will just go ahead and say that most of our devious laboratory plots were his idea. I went along as his impressionable, and intensely eager to be persuaded, Igor. And this next tidbit I share from our history is only but one example of many:

Where my brother came up with this idea, I'll never know. I doubt he even remembers. But he sent his Igor out to gather supplies: a large piece of Styrofoam from a recently delivered appliance box, rubbing alcohol from the medicine cabinet, and matches from the kitchen drawer. Naturally, he sent me because who, after all, would suspect a blond, curly-headed girl of any hidden agenda?

When I returned to him with the loot, he swore me to secrecy or death by noogies. I chose secrecy and have confessed to no one, until now. But the story has relevance to living fearlessly and must be told. Anyway, he carefully poured the alcohol on the surface of the Styrofoam and stepped well away from it. Then he told me to prepare to be amazed and struck a match. I was prepared to run for help, but he interpreted my wide-eyed stare as one of awe and respect. Which prompted him to flick the match at the Styrofoam.

Whoolfsh! A blaze shot up and burned hot, traveling the path of the alcohol. It was absolutely brilliant. I couldn't believe we were about to burn down our house in this most impressive way. Our parents were going to kill us for sure this time. We whooped and hollered to get as much out of the moment as we possibly could before meeting our end.

Just as my brother suspected, but I did not, the blaze burned itself out, leaving the Styrofoam slightly melted, but no other damage. "Let's do it again," he conspiratorially whispered.

The point of my story is not that we were wickedly sneaky children. Nor is my point that we had no remorse, because for the next week I rode under the radar, sure that my mother knew what we had done and was waiting for the perfect moment to inflict enough guilt on my young shoulders to hunch me over like a real Igor. The point is that we, you and I, can set the world on fire without taking other people down in our ascent to the top.

It is the person afraid of failing who steps on the backs of others to get where she is going. It is the person afraid that she can't make it by her own talent, who betrays those who trust her. It is the person afraid of how she compares to others that gossips and backstabs and sneaks in back doors. This kind of woman, the one who is afraid, still sets the world on fire, but she leaves a blackened, burned path behind her.

But the fearless woman believes in herself and she values the people around her. The fearless woman knows how to set the world ablaze without burning her bridges. The fearless woman never gossips to get ahead, never compromises her integrity, never offers false friendship, never portrays her motives as something other than what they are. She is not afraid of not getting to where she wants to go.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Try the experiment (using the proper precautions that we didn't). Prove to yourself that it can be done on a small scale. Then apply the lesson to your life.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 27

Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go on.
--Andrew Jackson

I sure hope he credited his mama for those words of wisdom. I know that's where he heard them first.

Life is the sum of small decisions. Everyday, I face choices, some of which I would rather avoid. But even when I skirt around them, or delay them by agonizing over the details and possible consequences, or ignore them, I'm making a decision.

I love my mother-in-law. She is organized, kind, deliberate in her actions, conscientious about making her house a home even though her children are grown and married. She has difficulty making decisions, however. For example, she will shop every store in town looking for the perfect curtain rod. Not because she can't find anything she likes, but because she fears leaving unexplored options on the table. Meanwhile, the bare windows provide no privacy.

We are the decisions we make and the ones we let other people make for us and the ones we refuse to make and the ones we can't make. Where we end up when all is said and done greatly depends on all the little choices. Finding the balance between deliberating our options and taking action says a lot about who we are and what we value. Certainly, curtain rods won't throw off the course of my mother-in-law's life, but is thinking a little longer worth its weight in time she could spend doing something else more rewarding?

Southern ladies don't necessarily leap into things, letting their skirts fly over their heads for the whole world see their foundation garments. But they certainly don't sit around wringing their hands about the little stuff, either. Because, it's up to us to model lives well-lived, time well-spent, for those who are watching our every step.

So, what are you going to do? Are you going to sit around and think about living fearlessly, or are you going to get up and go do it?

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: It's about making a choice of course! Have you ever watched an old movie in which a character approaches the bar and the bartender asks, "What'll it be?" The hero or heroin responds, "The usual, Wallace," and the bartender says, "Sure thing. A strained Tom Collins, no ice, two olives, and a dash of V-8 coming right up."

Okay, I ad libbed quite a bit, but you get the picture. Our character in question is known by his/her own personal drink. I think you know where I'm headed with this. Today, you've got to choose your drink; the one that says who you are, the one that friends and family know you by, the usual. Is it chocolate milk on ice? Is it Diet Coke with a twist of lemon and a dash of leftover coffee from the morning brew? Is it an Upside Down Southern Belle with a parasol?

You decide.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 26

" . . . live life as a work of art, rather than as a chaotic response to external events . . ."
--Mihaly Csikszentmehalyi (Bet you can't say that name 5 times, fast.)

There are days, like today, when I wake up overwhelmed by my life; burdened by a daily schedule that allows no time for silently standing still to take a breath and appreciate just where I am in the course of things. No, I've got to get four kids out of bed, make sure they're wearing appropriate school clothes, hustle them downstairs to make lunches and eat breakfast, herd them out the door to school, get them there on time, and get myself to work. Then work, work, work. After that, I run children to soccer practices and games, ballet, the store to get supplies for oh-my-gosh-mama-I-forgot-about-it-and-it's-due-tomorrow school projects, dentist appointments, orthodontist appointments, youth group, etc. etc. And somewhere in the mix I've got to find a minute to cook dinner, help with homework, and have meaningful conversations with the people I love.

My husband and I often look at each other, in that rare instance when we can pull our heads up from the task at hand, and ask, "When did everything get so crazy?" Sometimes I feel like the only thing I can control is the pages of my calendar where I write down all of our obligations. After that, I just bounce from one thing to the next, trying my best to survive the unpredictable chaos that so often defines my existence.

Survival mode, however, tweaks the garden club member in me, who knows that life is more than just responding to turmoil, both inner and external. It's more than checking off days on the calendar. She makes herself known, rising to the top of my psyche, reminding me, "Lucy, you can lump it or like it, BUT sugah, you chose it. So suck in that bottom lip and learn to enjoy it. No one likes a complainer or a whiner, so make your day the best it can be."

That's when the poor, poor, pitiful me, who was ping-ponging through the afternoon gets her come-uppence. It's no way to live. The business of daily life is only an excuse for not living a beautiful, better existence. And the fearless woman is always living better than anyone else.

I was not meant to be a frenzied carpool mom. I was meant to be fearless. I fearlessly make my life a work of art when I take the kids to the drive-through car wash and we ooh and ahh like we did when they were little. I make art when I ask them to tell me one good thing about their day at school instead of nagging them about homework. I create beauty in my life when I light a candle, or brew a cup of green tea, or read excerpts from literature to my children, or write down home decorating ideas, or even smell that clean fresh scent of my children's clothes for the next day.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Buffer yourself against the hard knocks of daily life by living today as work of art. Listen to your garden club persona. She's trying to tell you that you are bigger than unexpected dips, dives, and detours in the day. You control the beauty of your life just by the attitude you express toward it.

Take time today to decorate your home for the season. Make it a warm, cozy retreat that pleases your senses and expresses your creativity. Light a candle, place a pumpkin on your doorstep, place an arrangement of fall flowers on the kitchen table. These simple acts allow you to embrace the day, rather than fear the havoc it may bring.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 25

Accept that bad things will happen.

When my oldest son was 3 and my second son was 1 and I was pregnant with their younger brother, the oldest child stood on the side of a shopping cart and pulled it over on himself, slamming his head to the asphalt parking lot. As I lifted his body, his eyes rolled back in his head and he lost consciousness. At that moment my maternal instincts kicked in. I scooped his limp body into one arm and grabbed the baby in the other arm then ran to the front of the store, shouting at a woman headed in the same direction to call 911. I know the voice that came out of me must have sounded like that of an animal.

Miraculously, my son recovered without even a hospital stay, and for the most part appeared unscathed by the entire incident. I, on the other hand, was profoundly changed. I couldn't even talk about it in the days following, until one morning I was on my hands and knees cleaning the floor under the kitchen table, a daily chore with two young boys, and had a revelation.

These are not my children. Never were. Not mine to cling to so desperately. I have been given the gift of stewardship over them. We were selected for each other with the understanding that we supply what the other needs, AND that our creator can take either of us back when it pleases Him.

This experience prepared me for the morning, a little over two years later when my daughter, only one week old, spiked a very, very high fever. I will never forget the ambulance ride from our small county hospital to the MCG Children's Medical Center. Or the commotion that surrounded us in the emergency room. Or the tears that kept welling in my eyes, quietly trickling down my face, and my fruitless efforts to fight them back. Or standing in the hall listening to the pitiful wale of my tiny infant as residents whisked her away to a small room to perform a spinal tap. And I will always remember the prayer I said, standing there alone, time completely stopped:

Lord, I know she is yours and not mine. If you need her back, I will try to understand and I am so thankful for the week you gave us. But I also want you to know that I really would like to have more time with her, please. Amen.

I have tears in my eyes right now thinking about how he has given me seven years.

You might think that these experiences set me free to enjoy without fear the time I've been allotted with my family. But try as I might, I still held too tightly to my children. I tried to protect them from every threat to their happiness and health. I refused to go away on trips with my husband, because I didn't want something to happen to us and our children to be orphans. For me family trips were an all or nothing deal; we all go or we all stay home. I stood by that, even after a friend said, "So you'd rather that you all go down in a fiery crash together, than for your children to miss you but live long fulfilling lives?"

Last winter my husband made me face my fears. He planned a week long trip to Costa Rica for the two of us. When I tried to worm out of it, he took it as personal rejection. In the last few days, while making final plans and lists for my mother-in-law who stayed with our kids, I had to come to grips with getting on a plane without my children and leaving the country.

I had a little epiphany that not only enabled me to go on that trip, but was truly the first step of my journey into the fearless life: I had to accept that bad things happen. They just do. Events, tragic or otherwise, for the most part, are beyond human control. I have been given stewardship over my children, but I cannot protect them, or myself, from every potential heartache.

What I can protect my children from, however, is the sorrow and regret over life not lived.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Accept that bad things happen. Hug your children, your spouse, your parents, your friends. Then do something you've avoided because of worry over "something bad" happening, such as letting your husband buy that motorcycle he really wants, taking a summer sabbatical to sail up the Atlantic Coast, letting your child go out of state to college, etc. and etc. Something bad might happen, but you've got to do it anyway.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 24

Well, I won't back down. No, I won't back down. You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won't back down.
--Tom Petty

Tom Petty channeled his inner southern matriarch when he recorded that song. Every southern lady worth her salt in the silver-topped crystal shaker has convictions; strong beliefs deeply rooted in her heritage, passed down over generations. And she stands by her convictions no matter the challenge. She may politely change the subject so as not to make her company feel ill-at-ease, BUT she will nevah back down.

A southern girl who doesn't stand for something will fall for anything. Swaying with every breeze, adrift on the wave of opinion and trend, does not become the fearless woman. It's those core beliefs that hold her spine straight and help her mind her posture. Fearlessness requires us to honor our beliefs.

Backing down from our principles, because of worry over whether or not a friend, or, worse, a man, will like us if we disagree, ruffles the petticoats and unhems the hoop skirts of all those proud southern women who came before us. Not only that, but we leave ourselves open to shamefully saying and doing things that we'll regret. (And if it means anything, fearless living means no regrets.)

So start channeling your inner matriarch. And if you can't channel her, channel Tom Petty and his inner matriarch.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Download Tom Petty's Won't Back Down as your new ringtone on your cell to remind you of who you are and where you come from.

Then take out your Book of Lists and write down at least three core beliefs/convictions that you will stand by, come hell or high water, in this wired and wacky world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 23

Start with a clean slate.

Some days I think to myself, If I could just start all this over again, I would do the whole thing differently. I've often thought about how, if I could go back in time and get a re-do on my college years, I would break up with my high school boyfriend before getting there, I would major in journalism or math, I would study harder my freshman year, I would get to know some of my professors better. If only, if only.

But, I'll never get a do-over on anything. Not really. Nevertheless, today I got as close to a do-over as anyone gets and it wasn't initially as blissful as I thought such a chance might be. At work on Monday, our computer network contracted a permanent flaw and lost all the data everyone in my division ever saved on the netshare. Today we were informed that it is irretrievable.

I lost years of work. Plus, I lost all my documents, spreadsheets, and power points generated from intense research over the last several weeks. There is no record of my accomplishments, other than a few printouts. The data I am supposed to analyze has vaporized.

It tweaked me today, when I found out that I now have to re-create all the spokes on my wheel that will keep rolling forward whether I'm prepared or not.

At home tonight, however, when that little knot in my chest started to unravel and I had a moment of clarity, I realized what a rare opportunity I have - a chance to start fresh. I can redefine my job and how I execute it. I can take risks with it that I never did before. With no comparisons of old to new in existence, no point of reference, I can conduct a total re-do.

Oh, sweet euphoria. I've got a clean slate and the possibilities are exciting and endless. And it leaves me asking, Why wait until fate gives me a second chance? Why not give myself the gift of a do-over here and there? And while I'm at it, why not give permission to my friends to start over, too?

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Today all you have to do is accept my permission to start over tomorrow, regardless of what you did today. You are relieved of your obligation to any path you've chosen that no longer suits you. Today is the day that you quit the volunteer committee that has become a burden to you. Today is the day you tell your spouse you want to make a career change. Today is the day you take the first step on your course to fulfilling a dream. Today you are throwing off all the burden of trying to live up to the expectations of everyone else and you're starting anew as the authentic YOU. It's the do-over of a lifetime. All you have to do is accept my gift.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 25

Accept that bad things will happen.

When my oldest son was 3 and my second son was 1 and I was pregnant with their younger brother, the oldest child stood on the side of a shopping cart and pulled it over on himself, slamming his head to the asphalt parking lot. As I lifted his body, his eyes rolled back in his head and he lost consciousness. At that moment my maternal instincts kicked in. I scooped his limp body into one arm and grabbed the baby in the other arm then ran to the front of the store, shouting at a woman headed in the same direction to call 911. I know the voice that came out of me must have sounded like that of an animal.

Miraculously, my son recovered without even a hospital stay, and for the most part appeared unscathed by the entire incident. I. on the other hand, was profoundly changed. I couldn't even talk about it in the days following, until one morning I was on my hands and knees cleaning the floor under the kitchen table, a daily chore with two young boys, and had a revelation.

These are not my children. Never were. Not mine to cling to so desperately. I am their chosen earthly steward. We were selected for each other with the understanding that we supply what the other needs, AND that our creator can take either of us back when it please Him.

This experience prepared me for the day, a little over two years later when my daughter, only one week old, spiked a very, very high fever. I will never forget the ambulance ride from our small county hospital to the MCG Children's Medical Center. Or the commotion that surrounded us in the emergency room. Or the tears that kept welling in my eyes, quietly trickling down my face, and my fruitless efforts to fight them back. Or standing in the hall listening to the pitiful wale of my tiny infant as residents whisked her away to a small room to perform a spinal tap. And I will always remember the prayer I said, standing there alone, time completely stopped:

Lord, I know she is yours and not mine. If you need her back, I will try to understand and I am so thankful for the week you gave us. But I also want you to know that I really would like to have more time with her, please. Amen.

I have tears in my eyes right now thinking about how he has given me seven years.

You might think that these experiences set me free to enjoy without fear the time I've been allotted with my family. But try as I might, I still held too tightly to my children. I tried to protect them from every threat to their happiness and health. I refused to go away on trips my husband, because I didn't want something to happen to us and our children to be orphans.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 22

Just as long as I'm in this world, I will be a light of this world.
- Joan Osborne, on the CD Little Wild One

It's a terrible habit we women develop of criticizing people. We can see flaws from miles away.

In a confidential whisper, during a recent funeral service, a woman sitting next to me on the pew leaned over and confidentially whispered, discreetly pointing toward a female down the row, "Can you believe she wore flip-flops to church? I guess at least they are black," she chuckled.

To my ears, nothing sounds worse than a scathing remark about another person spoken in a conspiratorial accent. Whether we're framing our negative comments with "bless his heart" or "bless her heart" or not, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we're not being very nice. Didn't our sweet southern mamas always tell us that if we didn't have anything nice to say, we shouldn't say anything at all? Didn't our sweet southern mamas teach us to love our neighbors as ourselves?

Sticks and stones might break bones, but words can rip the soul.

Living fearlessly means changing the world. We can change the world. Our words, spoken in that lilting southern drawl, can be a light in this world.

Why did that lady next to me at the funeral feel the need to speak out loud her assessment of our fellow mourner? Was she trying to add humor to a tense situation? Was she attempting to establish herself in my opinion as someone who knows her etiquette? Did she have a brain tumor that caused her to randomly rattle off every thought that came into her head? Had her mama never told her not to talk in church?

Whatever the reason, she didn't intend for her comments to make the world a better place, even if she didn't consciously seek to make it worse. But had the victim of the comments overheard, she would have been hurt and embarrassed, not built up.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: As long as you're in this world, be a light to this world. Fearlessly use your words.

  1. Give an honest compliment to a total stranger.

  2. Give an honest compliment to a person you love.

  3. Give an honest compliment to yourself.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 21

Remember that fear lurks behind perfectionism.
--Dr. David M. Burns

And perfectionism paralyzes.
--Mrs. Lucy B. Adams

No woman who lives perfectly . . .

Okay, let me start over. There are no perfect women, so I must rephrase. No woman killing herself to have the perfect wardrobe, perfect hair, perfect nails, perfect home, perfect children, perfect husband, perfect meals, perfect landscaping, perfect hostessing skills, perfect time management, and perfection all-around will ever know the joy and pure freedom of living fearlessly.

She would never spontaneously jump in the neighbor's pool with her clothes on. She would never roll down the car windows to feel the first crisp fall air rushing in. She would never say to hell with the grocery list and buy ice cream and fruit for Sunday dinner. She will forever be too busy checking to see if her perfect son made the highest grade on the chemistry test, if her perfect baseboards are dust free, and if her perfect China is displayed perfectly.

She is paralyzed by the fear that someone might find a chink in her perfectly polished silver armor and see inside to who she truly is. What those of us living fearlessly know, however, that the perfectionist doesn't, is that who we truly are is not so bad, even if not so perfect.

And I'd rather spend my energy on really living than on hiding behind a perfect facade.


Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 20

There's no problem that a long sit on a front porch can't solve.

"Nobody thought much about the front porch when most Americans had them and used them. The great American front porch was just there, open and sociable, an unassigned part of the house that belonged to everyone and no one, a place for family and friends to pass the time."
--Rochlin, The Front Porch, in Home, Sweet Home

When builders deleted the front porch from construction of Dixie homes and replaced it with big white garages, with mouths that open in the evenings to gobble up the residents and open again in the mornings to spit them out, they did us a huge injustice. Now, not only do so many of us miss out on chatting up our neighbors about the weather, the creek water rising, and a cup of sugar, but a lot of people can't even call their neighbors by name.

And I've got a theory about the demise of the front porch and its affect on modern life. When the front porch disappeared from southern architecture, folks got so distraught that they either sped up, too deeply burying themselves in hurried busy-ness to ruminate on the glaring omission, or they went inside, plopped on their sofas, and distracted themselves from the trauma by hypnotically watching one television show after another.

And if you ask me, that's when people altogether quit talking to each other in that slow drawl that indicates a good story will shortly roll off the tongue. That's when folks forgot how to wave at just anybody, just because. That's when making money became more important than making memories or making friends. That's when we started fearing our neighbors, suspiciously eyeing, from behind blinds, the fellow walking down the sidewalk.

Most of all, that's when problems started brewing and people started ignoring them instead of solving them. Back when family members and friends gathered on the porch on a long afternoon or after the evening meal, they hashed out everything from which team oughta win the pennant race to how America should respond to Cuba to giving Little Jimmy the what's-for about his grades in school. And everybody slept better at night having shared the burden of carrying the weight of the world.

Although we have one now, and spend many an hour there, my husband and I haven't always had a front porch. But throughout the years we have managed to carve out perches on the public sides of our many different homes; conversational venues for ourselves, where we share an evening toddy and our views on local politics, world affairs, or the grass that needs cutting. We wave to passing drivers or shout "Hello" to a jogger or invite a friend out for a stroll to sit and jaw awhile. And sometimes we simply let the crickets talk it out for us.

Since I discovered the power of the porch, there hasn't been a day I can't face knowing that my front porch, in in all the forms it has taken - lawn chairs in the grass, the tailgate of my daddy's truck, a blanket on the lawn, the brick steps - awaits me at the end of it.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Find, create, claim your front porch. A place to sit, to slow down, to share, to reconnect, to watch the world go by, and to wave at just anybody, just because. A place to fearlessly face problems, big and small, with a soul mate, your children, your friends, the neighbor down the street whom you've been meaning to meet. Because there is absolutely no problem that a long sit on a front porch can't fix.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 19

Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.
- 1 Samuel 3:9

Listen carefully. See the signs. Feel your gut. Follow the path.

Last year, my old boss retired and a new boss took her place. My new boss is young, handsome, articulate, but, bless his heart, not from the south. Through no fault of his own, he's neither schooled nor skilled in the decorum of southern, gentlemanly ways. Still, we got along well. Or, at least, I thought we were getting along well. Relatively sheltered from Yankees for most of my life, their ways are a msytery to me.

Anyway, toward the end of the 9 month school year, he and I had a confrontation of gargantuan proportion. Not only was it massive, but it thunked me on the head like a foul ball out of nowhere. Surprise! I should've been paying attention!

Summer couldn't have come soon enough. I walked out of my classroom on the last day of school and didn't look back, determined to get over it and get centered again during my break. Yet, as the days of summer dwindled and I faced returning to my classroom, my anxiety increased. I dreaded the coming year.

I found myself reading an on-line story about writing jobs. I obsessively followed every link, making a list of writing careers in my Book of Lists. I resolved to follow-up each one and give it real consideration.

The next day, my boss called and wanted me to come in to his office for a meeting. My stomach turned over. I knew it couldn't be good.

At the meeting he offered me a "newly created" position that I would be "perfect" for. A writing position. You might think I jumped for joy, kissed his face, thanked him profusely, and accepted on the spot. I did not. Instead, I engaged in frivolous polite conversation, took the job description, and told him I would call after the weekend.

For two days, I brooded about the real reasons "why" he offered me this job, his hidden intentions and motivations. I knew full well this was not an olive branch and feared that I was being set up. But after that I tried to recall any signs that directed me to follow this new course:
  • Sign 1 - The confrontation toward the end of the last school year.

  • Sign 2 - I was miserable in my old position by the end of the year.

  • Sign 3 - I was dreading returning to work.

  • Sign 4 - I had been, just the day before, researching writing careers.

I called the following Monday and accepted the job. I realized it didn't really matter "why" he had created it or wanted to give it to me. I had to let go of the fear that he would think I didn't know what he was up to or that he would "win." What mattered was whether or not I would be better off sticking with my job from the previous year or taking a new position. In which situation would I win? I fearlessly trusted the signs.

It was not a mistake. It's been more than worth holding that cat by the tail.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Making a big decision? Making a small one? Having a hard time? Fear over making the wrong choice holding you back?

Say a short prayer: Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

(Lucy Adams is a freelance writer, syndicated weekly newspaper columnist, educator, wife, mother, and the author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 18

Don't put up your umbrella until it starts raining.

A lot of us are standing around under opened umbrellas because it might rain. Although we southern belles are the queens of big hair, we recognize the difference between a big do and puffed up frizz. The latter mane is one to avoid. Yet, if we always agonize over rain ruining our locks, we've constantly got one hand holding up the umbrella, leaving only one to work with; thus we're only half as productive in life.

Like a good southerner, I'm using a metaphor to explain a common hindrance to living fearlessly - worry. And I myself am not immune to it.

Tomorrow, my husband leaves for a hunting trip to the arctic circle wilderness of northern Alaska. He and three other men will be dropped by a float plane along a river bank with the understanding that the pilot will return in 10 days to collect them at a designated point 50 miles down river. They will have no guide, no roads, no hotel rooms, no grocery stores, no doctor, no pharmacy, no wives with common sense. Just them, the grizzlies, the wolves, the caribou, and the packs on their backs.

Even though I laughed when the three other men intimated that their spouses won't need to fret about the bears because my beloved is the slowest runner, to say that I am worried is an understatement. It creeps across my mind on a daily basis that there's a chance he might not come back. There's a chance he might meet up with a grizzly bear. There's a chance his pilot might not return. There's a chance he might get hopelessly lost. There's a chance he took all the wrong supplies. There's a chance he and the others will run out of food. There's a chance a terrible accident might happen. There's a chance the pilot might crash.

When I think all these nagging thoughts, I start reaching for that umbrella - Where are his life insurance policies? How will I manage the business on my own? What are all of our loan and bank account numbers? Who manages our investments? What will I tell the children? - and I hold it over my head just in case the sky starts falling.

But holding up that umbrella won't stop the rain from coming down. It won't stop my husband from going on his oh-my-gosh-I'm-almost-40-and-what-have-I-done-with-my-life adventure. And it won't alter any possible consequences or outcomes. I have to have faith that God has him in His hands. And I have to keep telling myself that one midlife-crisis excursion to the Alaskan backcountry beats buying a motorcycle.

And if it does rain, well then, I'll wash my hair a fix it again, knowing God has me in His hands. Until then, I'll leave the umbrella hanging on the hall tree so I can enjoy each day as it comes, take care of what I can, and let go of what I can't; which also allows the people I love to go out and do the same.

Some parades get rained on. This doesn't mean there shouldn't have been a parade. It's time to quit worrying and start living the fearless life.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Get out a map of the world. Mark everywhere you've been in your life (since birth), then look at how far you've traveled.

Next mark three places you would like to go. Think about how much faster you'd get there if you just closed up that umbrella and used both hands.

(Lucy Adams is a freelance writer, weekly newspaper humor columnist, and the author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny, available for purchase from Amazon.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 17

What's on you list today?

My list says:
1) Oil Changed
2) Seamstress
3) Blog
4) Copies of papers
5) Mail Package
6) Dry cleaners
7) Sears
8) Start Column
9) Prescription Renewed
10) Make Orthodontist Appt.
11) Grocery List
12) Grocery Store
13) Price Software
14) Organize Bathroom Cabinets
15) Wash Clothes

And believe it or not, I'm still adding things as I sit here. Your list is probably as long as mine and is similar in tasks of the daily grind. And like me, even though you likely know you cannot accomplish all these duties, after chastising yourself this evening for not getting enough done you will transfer unfinished items to tomorrow's to-do list.

Lists like these emphasize how routine our lives are; how we move forward putting one foot in front of the other, doing the same menial obligations again and again. Granted, these objectives must be met. I can't very well let my kids grow up with crooked teeth and dirty clothes just because orthodontists and washing machines don't rev my motor. And I expect I will find a gold mine of Ivory Soap in the back of my linen closet when I straighten it up.

BUT, what if I threw in
16) Paint the kitchen sunshine yellow
5) Schedule an October fall leave tour of North Georgia
1) Send in my resume for that dream job advertised in the paper

What is the worst that could happen? - I feel blinded at breakfast, I accidentally schedule a get-away on a UGA home game weekend, and my resume gets laughed at and thrown in the trash.

What's the best that could happen? - My kitchen refreshes me each morning, my husband gets a twinkle in his eye, and I land that over the top position I've always wanted.

We categorize our lives down to lists because we fear losing control of our day-to-day. Lists keep us focused and progressing. Crossing things off of our lists is a way to prove we have accomplished something in our 12 hours of daylight. When our husbands walk through the door and ask, "What have you done all day?" we can produce the list. Lists give us an illusion of safety from the uncertainties of life.

I would never suggest abandoning THE LIST. It has its place. Besides, we can use THE LIST to our advantage. We can use it to overcome our fears.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: First, buy a beautiful journal to replace those random scraps of paper or that spiral notebook you've been using to write your lists. THIS is your new BOOK OF LISTS.

Next, write today's list in it. Yes, write down the list that says to get your brakes checked, make the kids' dentist appointments, and clean out the silverware drawer. From here on out, write every day's list of tasks in your BOOK OF LISTS. ***Somewhere in each day's list write something unexpected to do, such as kiss the dog, call your mother-in-law just to chat, or roll down the hill in your backyard. AND make sure you check it off by the end of the day.

Finally, keep all of your other lists in the BOOK OF LISTS as well. Write down all of your creative ideas for home improvement, all the professions you would like to do when you "grow up," every type of dog you think you might ever want to own, restaurants you want to eat at, vacations you want to take, and, of course, 100 things to do before you die. Then get started crossing things off these lists. Time is shorter than you think, and when you get to heaven and God asks, "What have you done all these years?" you want to be able to show Him your list.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 16

Change - it's not just those coins floating around in the bottom of your purse, gathering in the corners of the seams while you try to shake them loose, hoping to find enough money for the Coke machine so you can buy that Diet Co-cola you will most assuredly die without.

Change is scary. Change happens without our permission. Change is what we resist when one door closes and we put our backs up against the door that's opening and brace our legs and push for dear life. And the whole time we're keeping our eyes locked on the door that shut and praying that it will stay shut.

Change busts through, anyway, saying, "Hey y'all. I'm here. I sure could use a cool glass of that sweetened iced tea." Before we know it, change settles in, makes itself at home, and we can hardly remember when things were different (or we wonder why we didn't invite it over sooner), until, of course, it comes around letting itself in the back door.

We fear change, because we feel like we have no control over it. We fear change because it requires us to put effort into adjusting. We fear change because as bad as things are right now, we sure hate for them to get worse. We fear change because we don't think we can be any happier. We fear change because it doesn't come at our convenience, when we're ready and waiting.

To live fearlessly we must -
1) Have faith that change works for our greater good;
2) Accept the change that comes and flow with it;
3) Actively make change.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Take control of change.

Make a change for the better. First, think of one behavior that you would like to QUIT. It could be smoking, it could be drinking soft drinks, it could be gossiping, it could be buying stuff you don't need, it could be watching TV, or any number of things. Give it up, today. And then wake up in the morning and give it up again tomorrow. Give it up again the next day. And keep giving it up, keep making that change, until it makes itself at home on your front porch like an old dog you've raised since it was a puppy. Have faith that this change, as difficult as it is, is working for your greater good.

Second, choose one behavior you would like to ADD to your life. It could be saving a certain amount of money each month, it could be exercising a certain number of times each week, it could be writing a letter every day, it could be getting a job, it could be making time to write poetry, or, again, any number of things. Add it today, add it tomorrow, add it the next day, and add it every day after that, until you're doing it without thinking, without effort.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 15

Go take a leap - I don't mean that as an insult. It's my very best advice, reserved for people I truly care about. Taking a leap means having faith, going with our gut, acting without all the information.

My parents raised my four siblings and me on a small farm in rural Georgia. Down in one of our pastures we had a swimming pond with a wood dock anchored out from the shore. I don't know how far out it really was. It seemed a mile from shore to me when I was 6. If I was standing on the dock, it was at least a mile and a half back to shallow water.

On a sunny summer afternoon in July I kicked my inner tube out to the dock alongside my mother, who swam. We sat out there for awhile basking in the afternoon sun. I'm sure my mother was happy to cool off and have a diversion from housework. I was happy to be alone with her. (Back then, I wished my parents would put my brothers and sister up for adoption, especially my older brother, leaving me to get all the attention. They never did it. They knew I would die of boredom without anyone to argue with.)

Without announcing her next move, my mama stood up and dove into the water, doing the American Crawl to the shallows. I panicked. I didn't want to get left out there all by my chicken little self. So I tossed my inner tube into the pond right next to the dock, then jumped into the center of it; only I didn't have good aim. My right food caught on the edge, propelling the rest of my body forward into the water where I paddled with all abandon, yelling for my mama to help.

She did not come to my rescue. Instead, she shouted, "Swim! You know how. You can do it." And since I saw her toweling off on the bank, I knew she didn't plan to come get me. "Swim!" she yelled again. It was up to me to save my own self. I stroked with my arms and kicked my left leg harder than an electric egg beater.

Obviously, the scene ended well for me, BUT, contrary to what you might think, I didn't learn not to jump. All I learned was that jumping without thinking is survivable, and exhilarating, and gratifying. And that I could swim from the dock to the shore just fine.

Later that same summer, playing around with a bunch of other kids out in the barn, my older brother (the one my parents refused to put up for adoption) suggested that we jump out of the hayloft. Everyone got right on the bandwagon of sprinkling hay we scraped from the loft floor onto the ground below. But when it came time to see how cushy of a surface we had created, no one stepped forward. So I volunteered my 6 year-old self.

Putting my toes on the very edge of the wood planks, I leaned out to take a look. My knees got weak. All the other kids chanted, "Jump, Lucy, jump! Jump, Lucy, jump! Jump, Lucy, jump!" So, what the heck, I jumped and landed on a bed of hay about 1 millimeter thick. Uhmph. It knocked the breath out of me. Needless to say the kids in the loft scattered and some ninny went and told my mama on me. In reality they had no idea what they missed out on.

It was that summer when I was 6 that I first learned courage and learned that I had it. I wore it like a county fair blue ribbon across my chest. But my lessons on taking leaps did not end there. In my early driving days at age 16, my mama had more to tell me on the subject. Specifically, she barked at me from the passenger seat, "If you mash the gas to go, don't you get out into the road, have second thoughts, and hesitate. You go!" She said this as I tried to make a left turn at a busy intersection and got a cold pedal-foot right in the middle as another car bore down on my mother's side of our auto at great speed. I didn't think I could make it but my mother urged me on. "Commit. Once you make the move, you follow through. You can't go back. There are cars behind you. Now go!"

I went.

Living fearlessly requires taking leaps. Taking a leap requires doing what you don't think you can and never looking back once you jump. I never want to miss out on life because I'm afraid to jump right out there into it; even if it means getting some bumps along with the triumphs.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Say "Yes" to something that scares you, even if it's as simple as answering "Yes" to "Would you like an apple pie with that?"

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 14

Talk the talk. Walk the walk. Look the look.

My mama always told me, especially when I was a teenager, that even if I didn't feel happy or have anything nice to say I better do my level best to look happy. Appearances are everything in a southern girl's world. "Put on a pretty smile and pretend," she would say. And over the years I found that simply smiling often brought about a change in my attitude.

One thing we southern ladies do very well is fake it. Lord knows we can ooh and ahh over Emily Ann's 4 carat diamond engagement ring with sapphire baguettes, only to gather on the balcony with our confidants to discuss how gaudy and overdone it is. But Emily Ann will never know the difference, because it is in our genes to pull off such things. In fact, faking it well is why folks from the south are considered to be the politest in the union. When we remark to a traveler from above the Mason-Dixon how lovely a white Christmas must be, he doesn't know that what we're really thinking is, Heaven help us, that accent will be the death of me if he doesn't move on here presently. Then we offer up another glass of sweetened iced tea.

Our generosities of word and deed never cease.

Two keys to living fearlessly are putting on the proper face and a little make-believe. Some of you may not have guessed it yet, but I am interminably shy. Not just a little shy, but SHY. For me, standing in a bookstore greeting total strangers and asking them to purchase my book (If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny) is a monumental task wrought with worry and angst. But since I'm living fearlessly I make myself do it anyway.

I dress the part, wearing a smart skirt, crisp blouse, and precious shoes. That way if someone can't think of anything nice to say about my book, she can at least comment on how much she likes my ensemble. I put on a smile. According to my friend Heather, if a girl smiles and says pleasantries, the worst anyone can say or think about her is that "she's sweet as she can be." Finally, I maintain good posture - shoulders back, chin up - projecting the confidence that fearless women possess.

By the middle of every book signing I believe it myself, I'm fearless, chatting up random passersby and insisting they stop and take a gander at my heart's work. Looking the look transfers to walking the walk and talking the talk.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Plan a day of pampering with a purpose. Looking fearless tranlates as looking our best. So, a manicure and a pedicure are a must. Freshening and updating your hairstyle, both cut and color, cannot be skipped. A massage will loosen all the worries from your muscles and a facial will bring out that girlish glow.

Then you're off to purchase one perfect outfit. You do not have to go on a $5000 What Not to Wear shopping spree in New York City. Puh-leeease. Target, TJ Maxx, Kohl's, Ross Dress for Less, and Marshall's all have what you need. You'll know you've found the one when you put it on and your back straightens and you've got an overwhelming urge to run right down to the shoe department.

Double the fun and go with a girlfriend or two. Then go out and live fearlessly together. By all means, fake it, if you have to, until it comes naturally.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 13

Sticks and stones may break my bones but "No" will never hurt me. Say it to yourself until you believe it. We southern girls have to remind ourselves of such simple things as this, because we behave as if "No" is a fatal flaw, detracting from our inherent beauty and diminishing our ability to attract praise and gratitude from family and friends. We fear saying it and hearing it to equal degrees.

I'm here to tell you, today is the day we liberate ourselves; and we don't even have to do something tacky like leave the girls out in the cold and burn our bras. All we have to do is embrace the power of "No."

Yesterday I e-mailed this note to a newspaper editor whom I had corresponded with since the Friday before Memorial Day about placing my column. I finally decided that I needed an answer. "Yes" and we moved forward. "No" and I could go spend my energy on another project. In the end I found that she needed me to give her permission to say "No." And still she couldn't bring herself to say the word:

Dear Sally Jane,
Let's face it. Time and tradition have both proven that it is much easier to say "Yes" than it is to say "No." How else does a PTO president get elected every year? Even the Good Book advises, "Ask and ye shall receive."

Will you please (please, please, please) make the decision to place my weekly newspaper column somewhere (you can even put it next to the obituaries if you want to) in your pages? You can either run my humor column or my advice on living fearlessly; whichever you think appeals to your readers more.

Can we partner up and do this? (That's your cue to say "Yes." It rolls off the lips so much easier than that other nasty word.)

Lucy Adams
Weekly Humor Columnist
Author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny
Distributor of Chocolate Chip Grit Biscuits (They're good if you're hungry.)

Her response:

At this time I do not have budget funds available for another family columnist.

She probably knew that in May. She felt so uncomfortable even writing something that said "No" without coming right out and saying it (a skill honed by all southern belles), that she didn't even sign her name. What a shame that she does not know she gave me a gift. She freed me from putting that issue on my to-do list every week and empowered me to at last go out and seek another opportunity. Thank you Sally Jane!

I do not mean to imply that I took any pleasure in getting the "No." Of course not. It hurt my fragile feelings. It was scary. It made me feel uncertain and unsure of myself. But what service would I have done me or this editor had I avoided ever pressing the issue and getting a real answer? We would have both ended up fully annoyed with the other; her because I constantly called and pestered and me because I felt strung along.

When responding to someone's request that you cook 10 cakes for the church rummage sale, babysit her five children for a week while she flits off to Hawaii, or that you chair the committee to run the snakes out of the downtown sewer drains, remember the old adage, No means no, and the quicker you say it, the sooner she can ask some other sucker who will say "Yes."

Likewise, go out and ask for all the crazy things you need or want from other people, without worrying that someone might (probably will) say "No." Because, No means no. It does not mean, "You're stupid. You're ugly. I think you stink. No one has ever asked me something so ludicrous in all my born days. Get yourself back to the farm," or any other insult you can conjure up in your head.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but "No" can never hurt me, because all no means is no.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Repeat it until you believe it. Then repeat it some more for good measure.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 12

One of the things a good southern mama teaches her daughter is to always look out for others. Always ask about everybody else's mama at the end of every conversation, take casseroles to folks in the event of birth, death, and illness, and go to great ends to never inconvenience another person just for little ol' you. In addition, my mama always advised that I should nevah, nevah, nevah make a spectacle of myself.

Which is why I didn't quite know what to do on Saturday night at a lightly attended gala to cap off the Author!Author! Book Festival in Shreveport, Louisiana. My husband and I arrived at 8:15p.m. to join a sparse crowd. Quite discomforted, I realized I would have no chance of blending into a throng of bodies. We walked down the stairs onto the expansive auditorium floor, and though not a soul flinched, my insecurity blinded me like a hot spotlight.

We stayed simply because I feared we might hurt the organizers' feelings if we departed so soon after arriving. Around 10p.m. I looked around to discover that somehow my beloved and I had missed the mass exodus of ALL the other attendees besides ourselves. It was now the two of us, the band, and a handful of hosts and hostesses. We were the ONLY guests still in residence.

My spouse turned to me and said, "We should go. There's no one here but us and I bet these folks would like to go home." The rational, do-what-your-mother-would-have-you-do, don't-wear-out-your-welcome side of me agreed. Besides, I didn't want the coordinators to think I was a loser who doesn't get out much. And so we walked toward our table to gather our things.

Suddenly, on impulse, I turned to my beau (or beaux, as we were in Louisiana) and said, "No. I'm not going. We came a long way for this. All the way from the GA-SC border to the LA-TX border, and I'm going out on that dance floor. Look around. Someone is throwing a private party just for us in this magnificent building (The Municipal Auditorium - Home of the Louisiana Hayride, where Elvis got his start) and I'm gonna soak up every last second of it."

I am married to a great and patient man. He stared at me like he did not recognize the woman in that little black dress and the pink, feathery boa. But he nodded in compliance.

And I danced the rest of the night, alone on the vast wood floor but entirely fulfilled. And I left there determined to keep on dancing, because that's what fearless living is all about; grabbing those moments of discomfort, obligation, uncertainty, fear, and sucking them like sweet watermelon from the rind. God loves me and he's giving me these moments as part of my total allotment in life. But he leaves it up to me to decide how to use them.

I plan to dance like the band is playing just for me. I hope you will, too.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Turn on your stereo, radio, i-pod to your favorite music and dance in the living room, across your office floor, in the dressing room at Macy's, wherever you find yourself. Let loose and dance. The band is playing just for you. Hear the music. This is your life to live fearlessly.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 11

Are you on the fearless living program because you're seeking happiness? If so, I have some very disappointing news. Living fearlessly won't make you any happier than you are right now.

Why? Because happiness is not something you can search for and find like a pastel colored egg in an Easter Egg Hunt. Happiness is not a destination. It is not around the next corner or in the driver's seat of that flashy red convertible you've been coveting.

At the same time, happiness doesn't just happen. It can't fall out of the sky, hit you on the head, and change your life.

What fearless living and happiness both have in common is that they are each choices. A person has to CHOOSE happiness, just like she has to choose to live fearlessly. The difference is, once we choose happiness, there we are. It's done.

Once we choose to live fearlessly, however, we have work to do. Living fearlessly requires not only a change in how we think, but also a change in how we live. It is a lifestyle; a new way of waking up and facing the day ahead, without reservations, worries, or meaningless restrictions on behavior.

So even if you choose the fearless life, there is no guarantee of happiness. It is a separate issue altogether. But what you are guaranteed is a life fully lived, a life without regrets, a life of action and of adventure, a life that is always moving forward and is authentic to YOU and who YOU are, instead of who you think other people want you to be.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: CHOOSE. Make it your choice; not what your mother would choose for you, or what your sister would want you to do, or what you think you have to do to fit into a certain social niche. CHOOSE. Then write it down in your own words and post it on the refrigerator, your computer monitor, the bathroom mirror, wherever you will see it everyday as a reminder of your choice.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 10

Today's lesson - travel light.

I just returned home from what turned out to be a wonderful trip to Orlando, Florida. Despite my trepidation about taking my four children to amusement parks, we ended up having a fabulous time. And I would like to note that I took living fearlessly to a new extreme: I rode The Hulk roller coaster at Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure.

But the important part of the trip is what happened at the very beginning. We arrived in Orlando on Saturday afternoon. We did not purchase tickets ahead of time, have an itinerary planned, or even make ourselves fully knowledgeable of all of our theme park options. As my husband put it Friday night, packing the car, "We've never been so completely unprepared for a family vacation."

So Saturday, shortly after checking into our accommodations, we went on-line and looked for ticket deals. Wow! We could buy combined 7 day passes to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for only $84 a person. A better deal than going to Disney for one day.

Sunday, I gave my husband my credit card to slip in his wallet and left my purse at our rented condo. We drove to the City Walk/Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure parking deck and paid our $12 parking fee. Then we walked the mile or more to the front gates of Universal Studios and waited in line to buy our tickets. The kids nearly popped with excitement.

After 30 minutes, it was our turn at the ticket window. Guess what. That great deal we saw on-line was only available for purchase on-line. We could buy two-day passes to both parks for about the same as the 7 day passes or we could buy six 14 day flex passes to 6 theme parks for $1400; twice what we had originally planned to spend. In a moment of insanity, my husband ordered up the 14 day multi-park passes.

He handed over my credit card. The lady in the booth looked at it and asked him if he was Lucy Adams. She needed to see I.D. I kicked myself for not bringing my purse and explained to her I had no I.D. but suggested that she call the credit card company and let them verify my identity over the phone. Surprisingly, as long as the ticket line was, she agreed. Meanwhile my husband and I were getting cold feet about the ticket price.

But, before we could make a decision to back out, the ticket lady passed the phone receiver through the hole at the bottom of the glass divider. "Hello, yes, this is Lucy Adams. I'm at Universal Studios trying to purchase tickets. Can you verify that I am who I say I am over the phone. I don't have any identification with me."

"Why certainly," the customer service agent replied. "Hold for just one minute while I pull up your account." While I held, my husband and I again discussed the pros and cons of what we were about to do. We looked at our children's faces. Would we be horrible parents if we brought them this close to paradise, only to drag them away without crossing the threshold?

That's when I heard it. A dial tone. Somehow the customer service agent and I had gotten disconnected. I looked at my husband and said, "We can't do this. All I've got now is a dial tone. I think it's a sign." We walked away and surprisingly, when we explained the situation to our kids, they didn't nut up. They handled it quite well, in fact.

On the way back to our condo, like a little yellow and black oasis of happiness on the side of Highway 196, was a small building with a sign that read Florida Visitors' Bureau. We pulled into the parking lot. My husband hesitantly went in, not making any promises to the kids.

He came out with 7 day passes to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Wet'N Wild for which he paid almost the same as the on-line deal we had seen for only two parks. A happy turn of events.

Here's the message: Travel light. Give chance a chance to happen. Simply because I didn't have a bag packed with my wallet, wet wipes, sunscreen, cell phone, insurance cards, water bottle, ibuprofen, hand sanitizer, and a can of fix-a-flat, something better than what we originally planned happened.

If we're always perfectly prepared, we don't leave ourselves open to adventure. Chance events that actually make our lives better can't happen.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: It's time to travel lighter. It's time to ruthlessly clean out your purse. Take out the nail polish you carry in case of a chip. Take out the zip-loc baggie of toilet paper you've been toting around anticipating a shortage. Take out the loose change from the bottom that you keep in case you're really thirsty one day and it's all the money you have to buy a drink from a machine.

Take out everything you pack in your purse for unforeseen emergencies. I know you put most of that stuff in there because you secretly believe that the most prepared woman is the most perfect. Well, I'm here to tell you that's a myth. The most prepared woman is the one most burdened by worry. She's the least flexible. Life is passing her by while she tries to predict every disaster and avert it with a pack of gum and a nail file.

Leave in your purse only the things you really NEED every day: wallet, car and house keys, one (only one) lipstick.

Travel light. Leave room for chance. Good things will happen.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 9

Be strong. Summon your tunnel vision.

I may as well break it to you now, before you find out on your own. There is a downside to living fearlessly. And since you're coming off a sushi, Saki, Sex and the City Girls' Night Out, you're in the right frame of mind to hear it.

So let me lay it on you: There are people you know who do not want you to live fearlessly. They do not like the changes they see in you. They feel threatened by your new-found confidence. That attractive glow you have of late has taken them off guard. As you gain control over yourself, your life, who you are, and who you're meant to be, they are losing their grip on you.

Of course, now, being of gentle southern breeding and knowing their manners, these folks won't overtly express their displeasure. They will disguise it in statements like, "What's going on with wives these day? Embracing their girlfriends instead of their husbands. Scandalous, if you ask me." Or people might say, "That's an interesting shade of red," when you arrive at the Watermelon Fest wearing a fresh fearless pedicure.

Don't get discouraged. Think like Bonnie Raitt, who sings, Let's give 'em something to talk about. And if all you've given them is a girls' night and some perky polish, then you're doing this living fearlessly thing right. (If they have more than that to discuss, then please refer back to Day 5, living fearlessly v. living foolishly.)

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Summon your tunnel vision. Hold your course. Focus on living fearlessly and block out the nay sayers. Repeat the promise you made to yourself on Day 2. Say it OUT LOUD, LOUDLY:

Today and every day, I will live fearlessly. There is no excuse. This is my life. This is all the time I get on this earth. I will not live forever. Today is my day! I will do it now.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Something for Fun - The Fearless Living Quiz

Do we love to take a quiz or what? I have marked up many a magazine finding out if I'm a Queen of Clutter, Diva of Design, Princess of Passion, Whale of a Wife, etc. etc.

Want to find out where you are on your journey to fearless living? Follow the link:

Fearless Living Quiz

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 8

Gather the girls. No southern belle is complete without her girlfriends. We count on them to listen to us gripe about our mother-in-law over a box of chocolate and a glass of wine, to tell us we're too old to wear a skirt that short, to stay up with us waiting for a teenager to walk in the door well past curfew, to dish on the cousin who brought her boyfriend to Grandmother's funeral and nuzzled him graveside, to hug us when the sky is falling, and to help us put all the pieces back in place when the storm is over.

So who better than our girlfriends to support, and join us, on our journey to living fearlessly? No one else will understand quite like they will.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Plan a Girls' Night Out. Call up the ladies for an evening of sushi, Saki and Sex and the City.

If you're turning your nose up at sushi and thinking of playing it safe with cheap Mexican and Margaritas, then you've got a ways to go until you're finished with the living fearlessly plan. Sushi - got it? Saki - for a new experience. Sex and the City - I don't think I heard one whimper on that one.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 7

Shall I compare thee to a . . . No, thank you, please do not. I do enough comparing myself all on my own. And make no mistake, there are no comparisons . . . at least that's what I try to convince myself.

Why do we do it? We compare our china to our sister's. We compare our camellia's with the state fair winning gardener's. We compare the lines on our faces, the pudges on our waistlines, to the non-existent ones on the model smiling on the cover of Glamour. We compare our wardrobes, our children, our hair, our oriental rugs, our curb appeal to everyone else's, as if theirs matters and ours doesn't.

No one has weeds in her flower beds like me. My weeds have grown as tall as much of my landscaping. Every time it rains, I pull some, as time permits. I have more weeds than time, however. And by the time it rains again, another weed has grown again in the place of the one I pulled.

Just because I'm the only one on my street that has weeds, does that make my weeds bad? unsightly? inferior? ugly? No. Just weeds. My weeds. They are unique to me and I am one-of-a-kind. You and your weeds are also yours to own and embrace.

Admitting I've got weeds doesn't mean I can't or shouldn't pull them, or at the very least minimize their intrusion in my flower bed. But most likely, they're only obvious to me. I am my own worst critic, which means every other person who passes by my house is his or her own worst critic . . . which means he or she is probably spending so much time focused on his or her own weeds he or she doesn't even notice mine; and therefor, isn't noticing yours either, at least not to the degree that you do.

Let's, you and I, resolve today to quit comparing ourselves to others. Let's pull the weeds that are truly invasive and call the others wild flowers and let them bloom. The weeds we pull we'll put in the compost pile and use as fertilizer later.

Whatever I choose to do, I will call it mine.


  • Full length mirror
  • white paper
  • pencil
  • pen
  • markers
  • paint
  • tape
  • glue
  • old magazines
  • newspaper

Stand in front of the full-length mirror. Look very carefully at yourself. Not just at the image reflected back at you, but look at your whole person. What are your unique qualities? Do you have a mole over your right eye? Are you unusually skilled at boccie ball? Do bees seem to favor you over other people at picnics? What makes you different from every other person in the whole world?

Use the art materials you gathered to construct a self-portrait. Highlight and exaggerate your unique qualities, weeds and all. From now on, whenever you feel the need to make a comparison, instead of looking at other people, look at your own self-portrait. Remind yourself, when the comparison urge comes on, that women who are truly living fearlessly compare themselves to no one, because there are no comparisons.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 6

Today is the big day - the day we find passion. Now that we understand the difference between fearless and foolish (Day 5), we must turn our sights to passion. Not the kind of passion we feel toward our men, but the kind we find for ourselves.

Before your mind slips under the surface of that gutter of sludge, thinking all kinds of illicit thoughts about giving yourself passion, STOP. Let's talk a little about religion. We southerners know a thing or two about good old-time religion and can easily quote a few verses about it:

  • You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalms 16:11)
  • By standing firm, you will gain life. (Luke 21:19)
  • Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12)
  • What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul. (Matthew 16:26)

We sing songs like The Old Rugged Cross, Just as I Am, Amazing Grace, and How Great Thou Art. We lift more folks up in prayer at one time than Lou Ferigno could lift over his head with both arms raised. And when it comes to casseroles for the home bound, we've got 'em in the oven.

Why is it, then, that we're always trying, through bible studies, women's groups, Christian couples classes to get closer to God? Continually seeking, yet, each time, somehow coming up short, disappointed. Why?

Most likely because we haven't found our passion. Nothing brings a woman (or a man, for that matter), closer to God than finding and following her passion, because it is her one intended purpose, who she is, why God put her in this place in this time, how she will fulfill her calling, her conduit for changing the world. It is her destiny. It completes her. It defines her. It brings her ultimate joy.

A passion is more than a hobby. A hobby keeps our hands busy, fills our time, like knitting or crossword puzzles. But a passion is something a person does because she can't help it. And the reason many of us haven't found our passion yet is that we know how powerful it is. We fear giving ourselves over to it, being swept away by it, being consumed. It's inconvenient to our neat and tidy plan for each day.

But to truly live the fearless life, we must give in to it, whatever it is. And it could be anything - bee keeping, bird watching, decorating, organizing, sewing, selling, sorting, furniture rearranging, fashion, rock climbing, cleaning, writing, reading, cattle roping, snorkeling, cycling, flower arranging, gardening, kick boxing, bottle collecting . . . the possibilities are endless.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Find your passion. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 until you have identified it - that one thing that is THE THING for you! Answer the following questions to get yourself headed down the path of self-discovery:

  • What are your natural talents?
  • What are you driven to do?
  • What are your interests?
  • If you had to give up all activities but one, which one would you keep?
  • If you were alone on a deserted island, what's the one thing you would want to have with you, other than your toothbrush or lipstick?

Now review your responses. You should have a good variety. It's time to sort through them to flesh out your passion. It is NOT your passion, IF

  • You want to do it because it looked cool when someone in a movie, TV show, or book did it.
  • You think you should do it because your husband or children expect you to do it.
  • You feel guilty, like you let someone else down, if you don't do it.
  • Your mother told you to do it.
  • It feels like a burden when you're doing it or thinking about doing it.
  • It embarrasses you.
  • It feels cumbersome and unnatural.
  • You do it because a friend(s) does it.
  • You do it to fit in with a particular group.
  • You do it for shock value.
  • You do it to prove something to someone else.
  • You do it because it's easier than doing anything else.
  • You do it because you can't think of anything else to do.

When you've found your TRUE PASSION, you will know because

  • You get in a bad mood when you can't do it.
  • You lose track of time and place when you're doing it.
  • You feel your brain shift to a more creative side when you're doing it.
  • You would do it, even if your mother disapproved.
  • You think about it all the time.
  • You seek ways to do it better.
  • You want to share it with the world.
  • It challenges you.
  • You feel like you've accomplished something when you do it.
  • You almost feel like you're bragging when you tell other people about it.

Get started. You're almost there. Good luck!

Day 7 - Making Comparisons