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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?"