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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.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Let it go!

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.

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