wednesday wisdom. rule of living # 10.

spring

Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older & think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.

what’s the meaning of life? what’s the purpose of life? how should we live?

all of these questions started rambling around in my head as soon as i read the dalai lama’s 11th rule for living. and i don’t have the one, correct answer to them. i don’t believe that there is one, correct answer. perhaps, it looks a bit different for each of us – but the core of how to live life is the same for each of us. perhaps living life is a life-long discovery and journey. well, i completely believe that at least.

along with these existential questions that never have a clear, real answer, i also thought about something i decided a few years ago – in those moments that i decided to change my life – to die to my old self, so that i could be born again into living an authentic life – true to myself. because, i had come to understand that, unless i was deeply true to myself, then i would never ever be of any true good to people. or perhaps i would be, but all i did was empty actions that exhausted me. i had come to understand that, in order to live an honorable life that makes a difference, i first had to fill my soul so that i had something to give.

me ego

and in order to live life authentically, i had to know who i was. i had to listen to my soul and follow my passions. i had to stop living for everyone else’s expectations, or society’s expectations, and learn to go against the norm, if need be.

so here’s the thought that changed my life:

i decided that when i am 85 years old, sitting in my rocking chair looking back over my life, i want to remember all of the amazing moments that i had, and not wonder “what if i had…” i don’t want the words “what if” to be part of my reflections when i look back over my life. i want to chase my dreams, take risks, make things happen. i want to look back and know that i tried – and even failed – instead of giving up.

when i got divorced in 2007, i knew that i had been settling – not necessarily with my husband, but i had settled for a life that was not big enough, did not reach far enough, and did not listen to my soul. during my year of separation before the divorce was finalized, i realized that i would never settle again. i spent almost a year writing in my journals and planning crazy, life-changing things – like moving to denmark.

for about 12 years, all throughout my first marriage, i knew that i had let go of a dream and i talked myself into being ok with that. i convinced myself that my “regular” life was just fine. turns out, that after my marriage fell apart, i had to reflect on who i am, on who i have always been, and reconnect with my soul. and i knew… this was the time in my life to make a change.

and i decided that i would not sit in my little rocking chair as an old lady and wonder “what if…”.

path in the woods

so, i spent a year preparing to move to denmark – a place where i already had connections and friends. i sold or gave away all of my things, including my house. i put in my notice at the church where i worked. i saved money. and i meditated every morning.

and then, after all of that preparation, i packed one bag, said goodbye, and took a plane to europe. i met up with lina in sweden (we were just friends at this point), and we moved to denmark together.

now, had i not listened to my soul and taken lots crazy risks, i would have never discovered the amazing love that i share with lina, my wife. i would have never lived in europe for three years, or moved to asheville and started writing, traveling, and creating a space to offer inspiration from my own experiences. had i not just believed in myself, i would have settled. i would have become that old woman with regrets and what ifs.

nickel creek risks

is this what a good and honorable life is? i am not sure. but, it is a life that is filled with peace, and one that i sincerely hope spreads the peace and love that i feel within me. if i am true to myself, living an authentic life, simply being who i am, then i believe that that, in and of itself, makes a difference in the world.

tapping into my inner self is tapping into the the universe within – and all of the energy that flows between us and all of creation. so, if i live from that energy-spirit-light within my soul, it only makes sense that i create and share that energy-spirit-light in my life. and that, is how i seek to live today. seeking to live like that guarantees that, as an old woman, i will be able to look back on my life, smile, and give thanks.

namaste, friends.

the next chapter from my memoir: 33 changed everything.

nature and me
canton home
the view from my front porch.

my husband closed the door behind him and i was standing in our, in my, home… alone.

it was the beginning of august in 2007, and it was as if the slate had been wiped completely clean. i was almost 33 years old and i felt brand new. perhaps i felt a little bit of fear, but mostly, i felt free. not free because my marriage was now over, but free because of what that symbolized.

i was me. only me. and all the dreams that i had dreamed, whatever they were, now seemed more possible than ever.

what had happened to me was that i had gotten to know myself. i had allowed myself to listen to my inner voice, to feel my own soul, to put away all of the thoughts and pressures of others’ expectations and just listen. i felt more me than i had ever felt before. ever.

now, what was i to do with my life? how was i going to go about making dreams come true? i most definitely would move from the small town in the mountains in north carolina where i had been living. and, if i could make it happen, i would move to denmark. after 12 years, perhaps my chance had come. i suppose i could have felt overwhelmed and confused, but i felt more calm than ever before.

on my first night alone, and for many nights thereafter for the next 4 months, i poured myself a glass of red wine, sat on my little front porch, stared into the starry night sky, and just let myself be me.

the next morning, i woke early, make a pot of coffee and snuggled into a big, round chair on my back porch to read, write, meditate, and pray. i repeated this morning ritual faithfully for the next year. almost every single day. i used these mornings to fill myself with inspiration and then to reflect on what i had read, what i had done, and where i was headed.  i wrote and wrote and wrote. i dreamed. i planned. i processed everything. my soul was my counselor. my guide.

max patch

i also headed back to work after the summer of 2007 with all it’s adventures and transformations.

i worked full time as a minister in a united methodist church. it was my seventh year there, surrounded by inspiring, amazing, mountain people from all walks of life. i loved my job. i loved my co-worker. i loved the youth. i had built strong, important relationships with some wonderful, inspiring people. i had created a position that allowed me to use my gifts & passions at the time.

but, how long would i remain there? that question rolled around in my mind daily. i began to realize that, as painful as it would be and as ridiculous & careless it may seem to others, it was time for me to move on.

central umc canton

at the same time i was working full-time, i was also beginning my final semester of seminary, my final four months of preparing to receive my master’s degree. the last few months of soaking up the information, knowledge, and spiritual development that was part of the process of becoming me in my professional role. however, throughout my entire seminary journey, i knew that it was not really a preparation for a job, but a preparation of who i am called to be… as an authentic, whole person, living out her dreams and using her gifts. seminary actually never was, for me, a professional endeavor, but a personal, spiritual one.

i recall the last assignment i had that semester. my final project was to write my spiritual autobiography. a look at my past, my present, and my future. what an appropriate assignment for this particular time in my life, i felt, as i began my life anew. i looked forward to getting my journey down on paper, in black and white.

but, we were also told that we would share our autobiographies with each other, and then take a day to discuss each person’s journey as a group. i was nervous. really nervous. i knew exactly who i was, who i felt i needed to be, but i did not know the answer to that age old question, “what are you going to do?” – an integral part of the last part of the assignment… to cast a vision for what we felt called to do after seminary, how and where we would work.

for me, that question was irrelevant. i had cast aside all pressure to answer that question in my life, after i had slowly come to understand that it is not about what i do, but about who i am. and if, and when, i am faithful to who i am, what i do will come directly from that.

nature and me

with that the guiding belief in this new life i was embarking on, i decided to mark myself. literally. i had a vine tattooed onto my right wrist as a reminder and a celebration of the knowledge that all i need to do is simply be. to simply stay connected to my soul, to the divine that is within. my job is to be. and just as a branch bears fruit simply because it connected to a vine, so will i bear fruit in my life, if i am connected to that which is true, light, love, and peace within me. my soul will lead me where i need to be. and what will i do? i will only focus on being me. and in being me, i will become someone who can be used wherever she is.

i wrote my spiritual autobiography for my seminary class. i illustrated with words the journey i had been on thus far, and the dreams i had for the future. and i did not list any plans. i did not say where i wanted to work, how i wanted to live out my ministry, like my classmates did. there were no specifics when it came to my future. there was only a certainly in my present, and the plan to seek to be true to myself, trusting that the details would come.

of course i was terrified at how my classmates and my professor would respond. but, it was a beautiful moment, filled acceptance and support, as they congratulated me on finding a level of peace within myself that some of them had not yet discovered.

me!

oh yes, the fall of 2007 changed me.

i was now legally separated from my husband. i was preparing to leave the church where i had been working for the past 7 years. and i was completing the last leg of my spiritual journey in seminary. it was a peaceful, slow, thoughtful, and inspiring four months. i felt safe. calm. hope. alive. peace.

it was during this time that i died to my old self. the final death came around my 33rd birthday in september. i sat one morning and literally said goodbye to my old way of life, to the old me. and yet, i appreciated all that the old me had given me. without those previous 33 years, would i have never celebrated the beginning of this new journey in life. though i let some things go, i held onto myself, because i had actually discovered that which had been within me all along.

and i was born again. life began again. i breathed deeper. laughed harder. sat in silence longer. wrote more. listened more intensely. communed with nature. lived more fully.

i had no idea what would come. but, come what may, all would be well.

*all photos taken in the fall of 2007

someone special in sweden.

our boat docked at the harbor, we disembarked, and were greeted by new, smiling, swedish faces and a cold, chilly swedish summer rain. everything happened more quickly than i could process it. we crammed ourselves & our luggage into the backseats of a couple of cars and were whisked off to someone’s home for a bbq.

our hosts here in gothenburg were all girls, or young women. some of them had been on the caravan the summer before. what that means is that they traveled to north carolina with others from denmark, norway, estonia, finland, & lativa, where they traveled and were hosted by americans, as we were doing this year in scandinavia. this exchange between united methodist churches in north carolina and scandinavia began in the 1950s. so it has been a long-standing tradition bringing people together for many, many years. once a “caravaner”, always a “caravaner”, i always say. and whenever you meet a fellow “caravaner” there is an instant and very strong connection.

after an intense 20 minute drive through the city of gothenburg, all of us drooling on the windows as we passed one european building or structure after another, we arrived in a suburban neighborhood. here, we were going to have dinner and just chill with our new hosts, since we’d been traveling all day. other than that, we had no idea what lay ahead – as it always was from day to day. that was part of the charm and the amazingness of this experience…. it required a willingness to face whatever came, flexibility, and an  adventurous spirit.

all of these young, swedish women seemed so kind, funny, & exciting. but there was one that actually took my breath away. when we walked outside to the back patio area, where the grill was, this one woman was quietly working to prepare the vegetables for the bbq. she greeted us quietly and sweetly, and i remember noting that she made me feel warm. she made me feel welcome, without even doing anything. there was something inside me that wanted to get to know her. i was intrigued, though i didn’t think much about it.

dinner was full of chit chat and getting to know each other, adjusting to the thought that we were now in sweden, and had left the first part of our journey behind in denmark. we would be together with some of these swedish women for a week, so it was time to shift gears and discover who they were. with full bellies and feeling a little bit more at ease in our new surroundings, we went inside to swap stories and  life experiences. some time passed, and the swedish chicks decided that we’d spend a little time singing. this beautiful blonde who intrigued me, sat down at the piano and began playing and singing. like an angel. i was mesmerized, drawn in by the softness of her voice. and the lyrics of the song… they filled me with emotion and peace.

shepherd of my soul. i give you full control. wherever you may lead, i will follow.i have made a choice, to listen to your voice, wherever you may lead, i will go.

the lyrics haunted me. her voice soothed me. i knew, in that moment, that i was doing the right thing. that i was here, on this trip for a reason. that the decision i was making to end my marriage & seek to find my soul, was right. that to abandon it all, to face all uncertainties and fears, to step out of the boat, was exactly what i was supposed to do. this woman was a messenger for me.

the days in sweden rolled on, and i found myself spending more time with this intriguing, beautiful, sweet woman… lina. since we were both leaders ( i, the leader of the american youth, and she, the leader of the swedish hosts), we had a lot to talk about. practical things. what we were going to do next, where we would go, how we were all feeling. but, it wasn’t all practical. not at all. lina and i laughed. hysterically. a lot. when we played games, we found ourselves near each other. hugging on each other. teasing each other. flirting without knowing we were flirting. we just clicked. we just fit. perfectly. something inside me felt so comfortable, at ease, and like this person just got me. i wasn’t attracted to her, and yet i was. it’s so hard to explain…

it felt as if this person knew me, even if i’d just met her. and i knew that she was something special. someone special in this world.

me & lina. june 2007.

the week came to a close, and lina & a few others took us to the harbor in stockholm. we were there to board a ferry for an overnight trip to helsinki, finland. after a week of laughing, joking, sharing, and just being together, i felt panicky as i approached the big boat which was going to sail me away from sweden.

this was a typical feeling when leaving each & every place we visited, because we always met such wonderful, hospitable people who took care of us and shared their lives with us. the goodbyes were heart-wrenching. especially because there was always a connection that was established and you had know idea if you’d ever see any of the people again or not. so, you said goodbye and just assumed you’d never meet again.

this feeling of never seeing lina again filled me with anxiety as i stood in line to board the ferry. i just couldn’t leave this special friend i had found. and we both acknowledged that it was a special friendship, even using those exact words. we had swapped email addresses on the train on the way to stockholm, so at least we had that. nevertheless, the time had come.

i lifted my backpack onto my shoulders, hugged lina tightly, made a little frown, made sure all of my youth were in front of me, slowly walked behind them, turned back one more time toward lina, waved, and said goodbye.

goodbye, sweden. goodbye, lina.

(click on the “from death to peace” category link just below to catch up & read the previous “chapters” of my story.)