First Words

The first words we choose to speak in a day, give insight into the state of our hearts and minds.

I was watching the sun rise through the window of our living room this weekend, and it was as if something had lit the sky ablaze. The sky changed from soft gray to a blazing orange surrounded by purple, and I felt blessed and encouraged once again as I do with each sunrise. A sunrise greets the day with hope, the promise to rise again holds true each day. As I sat in the orange glow, it occurred to me that how we choose to greet each day can have an immense impact on those around us as well how we choose to view the day ahead.

Most of my days starts with silence, as I am usually the first one awake. In this silence I get a chance to choose my state of mind. Will I greet the day with a grateful heart, or will I choose a less positive path? In these times of silence, we are formulating the trajectory for our day, and choosing the lens through which we will see the day ahead. Entitlement or humility? Compassion or hate? The line that separates these dichotomies can be very thin at times depending on our filter for the day.

I want to be as committed and steadfast as the sun. It does not matter if the skies are clear or cloudy; the sun will arrive and shed light to the best of it’s ability.

When my oldest daughter wakes, she is usually greeted with kindness and calmness. We have a mellow morning before she is off to school and I am off to work; and the days with each other start pleasant. As we part ways I feel peace, because I see and feel the reciprocation of that positive attitude that I put forth. But there have been times when I had chosen to see the day through a lens of self centeredness or grumpiness, and in those times I could see and feel the reciprocation of what I put forth; and as we had parted ways, I felt restlessness rather than peace.

As the day goes on, I will continue to have first encounters with people; I have a choice as to what my first words to each person will be. Will I choose to encourage and inquire on their well-being, or will I choose to say something unimportant and somewhat negative like? There is not a need for the first words to be deep wells of wisdom or philosophy, they can be as simple as good day or how are you doing today? There is weight to those first words, because they can set the stage for the direction of our attitude; and they can set a trajectory for someone else’s day. If we put forth negativity, we will likely receive negativity; and we negate our responsibility to this life to be a source of light and hope.

As with most areas of life in which we want to succeed, there needs to be a goal or mission that you are working towards that guides our decisions. Whether we simply choose a few words (compassion, hope, inspiration, etc.), or have a declaration that states our intentions; there needs to be something in place if we wish to be intentional about our impact. I would like to end this article with some words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. regarding this idea of a blueprint for life.

Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.

I want to suggest some of the things that should begin your life’s blueprint. Number one in your life’s blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you fell that you’re nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.

Secondly, in your life’s blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You’re going to be deciding as the days, as the years unfold what you will do in life — what your life’s work will be. Set out to do it well.

“And finally, and finally, in your life’s blueprint, must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love, and justice….However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live. You have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody. And so you must be involved in the struggle of freedom and justice.”

This is an example of intentional living. Value yourself, work hard, and be committed to beauty, love, and justice. What will our blueprint be? What words will guide our days? What story are we choosing to write? Be as committed and steadfast as the sun, and rise to greet each day, as well as the people in it, with an intentionality to make the day a little brighter.

Hope

I love the Christmas season. I love the smell of pine, the chill in the air, the good food, the merry gatherings, and the music all around. The songs range from reindeer on the rooftops to declarations of the glory of God, and in that space, there is a story. Whether we long for Santa or God (or both), our hearts ache for someone or something greater than ourselves; a story of grandeur.

When we hope, we are longing for that which we do not have; we are reaching for something that is beyond us. We dream of a life that we want, yet sometimes that life is out of our grasps in our current state; but that dream, that hope, can fill us with such passion and drive that the life we desire will not be out of reach for long. We all have something to hope for, because we are all in need. We are in need of kindness, love, peace, and a better world.

Where there is a need, there is a need for hope.

We should always be challenging ourselves to grow, and pursue that which makes us come alive. The hope of the world, is that people will come alive and bring the healing that the world needs.

Hope is the campaign slogan that won Barak Obama his first term as president. He spoke to the very core of all of us as he laid out a vision of a country that can change the trajectory of this world. He called us to become the people that we dream we can be, and embrace our role in the future of our world.

Lou Holtz says that for someone to life a fulfilling life they need to have something to do, someone to love, something to believe in, and something to look forward to. In other words, we need a purpose, and hope is a pillar of that purpose.

Hope has always been a guiding force in my life. I have had to remind myself time and time again that we are not at the end, and that no matter how many times I fail; there is always a chance to make things right and try again. This expectation becomes even more important as I get older. If I believe that my best chance to accomplish something great is behind me, then dreams lose their power to inspire and purpose fades; the moments, days, and years ahead seem meaningless. On the other hand, when you believe that your chance for impact and accomplishment is ever before you; purpose and inspiration will abound all around.

When hope thrives, the future is bright.

While I was looking back through one of my journals today, I was reminded of my fundamentals in life. The words I saw on those pages were written over the past three years. The themes I saw were love, faith, creativity, perseverance, and hope. There were many struggles and disappointments on pages, but they were met with words of hope and strength; the words I have written in the past were speaking to me in the present.

Each day is a building block in the tower of who we are, and if the days are the structure; then our decisions are the mortar that hold the building together. We choose hopelessness or hopefulness constantly throughout our days, we can see the cup half empty or we can see the chance to fill the cup.

Hope is a fundamental of life; do not lose it, and if it is fading; seek it fiercely.

The Upside of Being Down

“You Change Your Valley Into A Peak When You Find And Use The Good That Is Hidden In The Bad Time.”

– Spencer Johnson

The following post has been written over the course of the past week, and is a journey through understanding and responding to sadness. It transforms and grows as you read through it, and my hope as always is that it connects with each person who reads it

I have felt downhearted more times in the past few years than I can recall. Some of the loneliest and saddest times have peaked as well. Be it a form of depression, feeling meaningless, or just feeling unimportant and ineffective; Today though, I find myself in a space of reflection and insight. While currently in the middle of this struggle, hope is also present.

This post is not intended to discourage, on the contrary, the intent is to encourage through transparency. Being transparent with our struggles is the only way to have a meaningful conversation about the inner workings of our heart, the feelings we experience, and the impact it has on our life. Therefore, I will be as honest as I can with the state I am in, in the hopes that it connects and empowers you the reader as I seek to connect and seek empowerment as well.

The theme of this article will be about the effects of sadness, and the power it has to teach us. At the core, sadness may be the greatest indicator of our purpose. You cannot be sad without trying to identify the source of it, because we desire joy and peace; and once you find the source, you find a choice. A response is needed: do we just lay down and accept that things just are what they are, or rise up and choose to do the work that must be done to climb out of the muck and the mire.

Sadness is necessary to move forward. In Disney’s movie Inside Out there is a scene where the character Sadness has to step in and help another character (Bing Bong) come to grips with the change that has taken place in his life.

Sadness-with-Bing-Bong

He cannot go on, and the character Joy has done everything in her power to help cheer him up. Sadness steps in, and instead of trying to cheer him up; she simply sits with him and acknowledges that his sadness is justified. In this simple act, she helps him accept that what has happened as the past, and she helps him get through the feeling of giving up in a way that the character Joy could not. He finds a new strength at this point of the movie. He finds the ability to move on, and team with Joy once again.

Sadness has it’s place in our life, and it has an important role in our growth and our purpose.

A common theme and open struggle that I’ve shared in previous blog posts, is my current inability to be comfortable being alone. I have come to understand that this longing for constant community comes from deep inside of me. I grew up as what I thought what was an introvert, and it turned out that I was actually just a shy extrovert; so the feeling of being torn when alone has been in my life since my adolescent days. I developed a habit of wanting to be involved, but being too scared to step out and join. I eventually became more comfortable with stepping out, but the habit of longing for more connection and involvement has stuck around. So there are times I find myself in a state of sadness because I feel disconnected, but I can see sadness as a teacher.

Here are five things sadness has taught me:

1. Aloneness is a part of life; so there must be a level of acceptance in those times. There are opportunities to grow in knowledge, strength, or creativity. Whether it is reading, writing, playing guitar, exercising, or being still; all of these activities are beneficial for me and ignite hope within me. I have written about loneliness and solitude in previous posts.

2. Sadness is a window into the soul. If you want to know what you desire, be attentive to your feelings. Just as energy and excitement in a station let’s you know you like what’s happening, sadness shows you what you need.

3. Take the time to grieve an unfortunate situation. There is a time for sadness, and we do need to acknowledge when a situation arises in life that brings heartache. Whether it is the death of a loved one, a personal injury, a missed opportunity, a feeling of failure, or the state of our nation; take the time to process that feeling inside.

4. Do something about it. If feeling disconnected from community, put forth the effort to connect. If grieving a death, remember that life and ask what they would have you do in this time. If you don’t like the state of our nation or environment, take baby steps toward making a difference. Do not let hopelessness take over.

5. Sadness calls us to be intentional, and that is why I choose to write about it today. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is a quote that holds a lot of truth. We can blaze a path through this life, we can even choose which path to follow; but if we are unintentional about our decisions, we forfeit ownership of the direction of our life.

I have learned so much while writing this article over the past week. I started in a state of despondency, hoping for insight to move toward meaning; and today, I find myself hopeful. There is a fine line between heartache and hopelessness, and we must recognize the difference, because there is always hope. I thank you for reading this article, and that it brings hope if you are in need; or in the very least, it will challenge you give sadness it’s place when it comes to you.

 

The Movement of Meaning

There is a movement taking place.

It is growing each day, yet it has always been a part of who we are. It is a part of our human story. Each day we wake into the question of “who am I to be?“; and each day we make a choice. Longing for insight, and looking for inspiration; we breathe purpose.

Is there a greater ideal to set our minds on than our meaning in life?

The question of our meaning leads to a lifelong answer because we discover it with each new day. It’s a common theme, and it is a timeless theme. It is at the core of philosophy, and begs our attention. In some of my favorite stories, the protagonist has to decide who they are going to be, and whether or not they will rise up to their calling. Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, Neo, or Peter Parker;  each character had to decide whether or not they would take up the tasks laid before them. Likewise, some of our greatest tragedies and greatest villains, both in reality and fiction, have come from a purpose twisted or misunderstood.

When it seems as though there is no meaning to a life, despair takes the throne; and in that reign there is little hope to carry on. Yet a glimpse of hope, a glimpse of our purpose, can provide room to breathe again and carry on. Sometimes it takes only a spark of an idea in our mind, or a fluttering inside of our heart to wake us from our slumber, and open us up to the possibility of a big life.

“To be awake is to be alive…We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.” – Henry David Thoreau from Walden

It is our duty to pursue purpose, not only to become alive for our own good; but to become alive and become a beacon for others.

Inspiration.

If we accomplish nothing else, may we at least find ways to inspire. Inspiration will find it’s way into our lives through books, blogs, movies, speeches, plays, songs, interviews, and so on; we must look for it, listen for it, and relay it to those around us because it is our duty to inspire. It is the movement of our time. The positive thinking/self development movement is nothing new, but is booming right now; and I believe it is because the world is rapidly changing, and opportunity is abounding. Those who have found peace or success can now reach millions with their story with an ease that did not exist before. Those who have found healing can lead others down the path of healing through sharing their own journey.

If we are willing to put in the work, if we are willing to read and listen, we can find inspiration all around; and in doing so may we catch a glimpse of our purpose in this life.

 

To Be Yourself

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

The quote above is from Ralph Waldo Emerson; and I often turn to it when I need motivation or need to be reminded that there is a whole world taking place as I walk through my days.

What is it to be yourself? Is this a form of destiny combined with ambition? The truest form of who we are is somewhere in our soul, and that part of our soul speaks to our mind; and in those words, we hear whispers of what we need to do. In our soul, we can feel the rumblings of purpose.

Purpose. Our purpose can be found by asking what does life expect from me? This is a question that I have mentioned before as it comes from one of the most influential books I have read titled Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl. This question was raised as he observed not only himself, but other men who had lost everything as prisoners in concentration camps during the Holocaust; and had been stripped of their very humanity, yet found the strength to rise again each day and believe that there was a reason to persevere in the face of their great suffering.

We can learn from their perseverance, and find strength from their strength. So I ask, what does life expect from you?

Another of my favorite quotes that I have shared before is from Howard Thurman about coming alive:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What moments in your life did feel truly alive?

To be truly alive is akin to being yourself. When the task at hand can be done with joy amidst struggle, or the process becomes  more enjoyable than the product; perhaps you have glimpsed your purpose. This is found in the space where your skills or talents align with what you enjoy doing. This is a sacred space when you discover that your passions and talents also align with what the world needs.

I ask you these questions as I ask them myself. Perhaps together we can find our true self, our purpose, come alive, and in turn provide the world around us with what it needs.

 

Wake

Death it comes and it leaves a hole, and it takes it’s toll on us. 

There are few experiences in life that hit like the death of a friend or loved one. It is finite, and that is hard to come to grips with. It is hard to see someone’s face in your mind, yet be unable to see them in person.

 

The aftermath of a death cuts deeper than the news of the loss itself. You slowly begin to realize the ripples created by the loss, and your heart breaks for those caught in the wake. It is interesting that “wake” is a funeral term used when you view the body before it is buried.

When you are rowing in a lake and a motor boat goes by, you get caught in it’s wake; it gets hard to paddle and you have to stop and catch your balance so that you don’t tip over. Death has that same effect it seems. It is expected to some extent, as we know that we are finite creatures; yet we find ourselves tossed in the waves when it happens, trying to stay afloat.

In an instance, a life is gone.

In an instance we find ourselves in deep reflection, and possibly receive epiphany or clarity. The course of our life, and our priorities are brought to the forefront of our minds. How do I respond? How will you respond?

My daughter asked me how the death of a friend compared to the death of my dad. I told her that each person is unique, and each death is different. Each life affects another. We are intertwined, woven into the same story of this world; and those connected to us are impacted by our actions…even our death.

To those who are hurting: If you find yourself feeling helpless, please cling to hopefulness. If you feel defeated, fight to endure. If you feel alone, embrace your relationships. Do not listen to the voice inside that tells you who you are not and what you can not handle; seek instead the voice that reminds you with every breath that you are valuable, and you are meant to be here.

To those who have lost: May peace find you; and may your tears be a pathway to beauty.

 

The Struggle is a Privilege

Have you ever found yourself impacted by a quote or statement?

“I love a good quote.” – Me

I am constantly looking for tid bits of wisdom in blogs or books, or listening for them in conversations and presentations. Whether it’s inspiration or insight, I find that words can have a great impact.

I was downtown with a friend at a local coffee shop, just talking about life’s happenings; and we got on the topic of how much change takes place in middle schoolers as the journey of identity and physical change takes place. There is such an internal struggle to understand why we are the way we are, who we are supposed to be, how we want to dress, how we want to be perceived, and so on. That was a long time ago for me, but my daughter is just entering that phase of life.

As we discussed the struggle for self discovery, he said,”The struggle is a privilege.”

He went on to explain that our society and culture allow for us to have these teenage years to fumble through finding our identity. There are kids around the world who do not get the time to figure things out, because necessity draws them into work or affiliation to survive. There are many kids in America even, who do not get a chance to complete high school before duty and survival calls upon them.

“The struggle is a privilege.”

I have not been able to kick this phrase since I heard it, and I do not want to forget it. These words bring perspective. These words flip the world upside down. This phrase has been challenging me lately, because I have been struggling and stressed. I have felt like somewhat of a failure in some regards, feeling like I am mediocre at best in all parts of my life; instead of focusing in on each opportunity to the best of my ability.

Yet in the midst of the whirlwind, I remember “the struggle is a privilege.”

I can now step back for a moment as I remember this phrase, and I can see that though I feel spread thin; I am spread thin over opportunities, beauty, love, investments, and chosen commitments. Each one is something to be thankful for. So, can I put these words into action? Yes. I can, I am, and I will.

Complaining about what needs to be done, is time wasted; time that could have been used to actually accomplish something. This time could be used to establish a positive mindset about the path before me. The minutes and hours spent in downheartedness; I believe they were necessary to get me here, because it was a real feeling. It is usually when we get close to the bottom, that we finally reach out. Like in the movie  What about Bob? I am starting with baby steps towards who I need to be, and what I need to do.

So, if you find yourself weighed down with the expectations laid upon you; stay true, stay focused, and realize that “The struggle is a privilege.”

 

 

 

 

 

Of Death and Life

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”Marcus Tullius Cicero

I was listening to some Harry Belafonte the other day, and this silly song came on about an ugly dad whose kids are ashamed of him because he is ugly (Mamma Look a Boo Boo);  and I started laughing, because it is a song that my dad would have loved. My dad was not ugly, but it was something that he loved to joke about as he got older and lost more teeth; and he loved it when me and my brother would razz him about it.

I had my bro listen to the song when he visited and he loved it (I’m pretty sure my mom would love it too). We started reminiscing about our dad, his life, his death, and his strength leading up to death. Since that visit, I’ve been thinking more about death and how we respond to it.

We are surrounded by people affected death, though we don’t always know it. Most, if not all, who cross our path daily are not too far removed from a loss of some sort; whether it be a family member, a friend, or an acquaintance. Maybe some folks are supporting a friend who has just lost someone.

Personally, I have friends where death has hit so close to home, that it has formed who they are, as well as how they care for others who suffer a loss. There are others in my life who have had to brush up much too close with the looming fear of death, that it has also shaped their framework for life.

Having lost, as well as grieving with others who have lost; I have learned a few insights that I would love to share.

Dealing with it

There is not a specific way we are supposed to deal with death. The important thing is that we deal with it. We must face it and we must accept it…we must let it ruminate in our hearts and our minds. If we try to be overly optimistic, or minimize our lost because it is not as extreme as someone else’s loss; we miss the beauty and importance of the impact it can have in our life, and we can minimize the memory of that person.

Many problems in our life can be fixed, many of our situations can be changed; but death is finite. The defining line that death draws, draws us in to a reflection of life.

Here are some of the ways I dealt:

  • I cried. I let it happen when it needed to happen. If the tears would not come, I would make time to cry. This may sound silly, but it helps.
  • I wrote. My blogging started with my dad’s death. I had to let his passing be known to  as many people who knew him as I could, so I wrote an online eulogy that sparked something inside.
  • I got counseling. There was other stuff going on in my life that moved me in this direction as well, but it opened me up in a way that I didn’t know I needed.

The balance between acceptance and hope

Once you have lost someone to an illness such as cancer, or any rare disease, the reality of our fragility and mortality becomes more apparent. Moving forward, we are more sensitive to the possibility of the worst case scenario; though we need not succumb to it. There is a line that must be walked in face of illness, injury, and unknown; and it runs between acceptance and hope. Acceptance is our ability to see the face value of the potential reality, and hope is optimist that clings to what our hearts desire. If we can float in this space, then the lives around us benefit from it; We learn and we teach at the same time.

Hope helps us make the most of this life, and the time that we have. It allows us to persevere and endure, though all around may be crumbling.

The Response

I was looking up the origin of my last name Grayum, and it all goes back to Graham. It must be the americanized version of the name I guess. The Graham family crest has the house words on it, which are: Ne Oublie, which translated means “Do not forget.”

Therefore, I do not forget. I remember and respond; and I allow the memory of this man to feed my life moving forward.

Wherever you are in you journey, do not forget those that have gone before us. Be with those who are here now. Remember… in all things, there is always hope.