Improvements

Today’s journal prompt is a weird one, but I am going to go with it anyway: “What was an improvement?”

As I was watching the sunset tonight, I was thinking about how I’ve had three very good days in a row, three days of joy, three days of being affirmed, three days of love and fellowship. Beginning with Indy Pride parade on Saturday right up through the most beautiful sunset this evening, I’ve experienced so much joy the past few days, that I have nearly had to pinch myself to make sure I am still living this life.

On Sunday, as I sat in church with my brother and one of my best friends, I heard a sermon that I needed to hear 27 years ago when I first came out of the closet. If you know me, you know I have a lot of things that I need to work on my life, and one of the biggest things I’ve been working on is self-love in regards to my queerness. So, on Sunday when the priest spoke about his experience at the Pride parade on Saturday, I couldn’t help but tear up a little when I heard these words:

“Within the parade, in the gauntlet between the barricades, I saw a constant movement of people, back and forth, to and fro. People darting out from the crowd to hug people they knew. We were walking in joy. But not walking for us. Walking for them. For all those people whose faces were bright with smiles or shiny with tears…and all because they heard someone say, ‘God loves you. No exceptions.’”

We all need to hear these words: “God loves you. No exceptions.” Because God does love you, no exceptions.

I have to think that three days of joy in a row is a vast improvement over the past few months where I’ve found myself not being able to see the good in this world, and the past few months have been a vast improvement over the past few years where I found myself not wanting to live to see the sunset each night. In fact, for so many days each week, just trying to find the energy to live, to leave the house, to make it through the day was a struggle.

In this past week, I have learned some pretty gut wrenching news, and I was able to work through intense anger, sadness, betrayal, disgust, and other emotions. After wrangling with God for a few hours while I meditated and prayed next to a lake, I was able to reach deep inside and extend compassion to the person who I perceived had wronged me. I was able to put myself in her shoes and think about how I would have handled the situation in a different scenario, and I was able to have my heartbroken and repaired and broken and repaired, until I was able to give grace.

The great improvement for me, right now, is being able to live in joy, recognizing all of the other emotions as they show up, feeling them, then moving through, and not dwelling in them. In short, I don’t feel like I am drowning every day, and I will take that as improvement every day of the week.

Three in One

In the interest of catching back up with the prompts, I am offering you a three-in-one exercise. Because I tend to be rather wordy in my responses to these prompts, I am going to answer three of them to catch back up to today’s prompt, but I am allowing myself only one concise paragraph for each prompt. Let’s see what happens!

“What Good Are You Doing for Yourself or Others?”

I try to live every day better than the last one, which is really difficult sometimes. I try to listen well to those around me, and I try to help when I can, and simply listen when I can’t help. Currently, I am working on trying to allow others to help me and to listen to me. So, I think the good I am doing is putting kindness and love and grace out into the world for others, and I am trying to accept kindness, love, and grace back in return. The first comes pretty naturally for me, because at the end of the day, I perceive my calling as a Christian to be to love others and to give them the grace that I have been given. The second does not come naturally for me, because I have a hard time accepting others into my world more than superficially. By working on the second part, letting people into me, I am finding that the first part, helping others, is becoming easier.

“A Thing Your Life Has in Excess”

Right now my life has an excess of absurdity and an abundance of women (and my brother) who love me. Like I feel like I am inside a simulation, particularly this week. My week went from having a colleague be a passive-aggressive monster at a meeting, to having an old friend completely shun me, to having someone I barely know tell me his whole life with every sordid detail in the matter of 15 minutes, to having my whole world turned inside out by one piece on information, to my dog being bitten in the face by an off-leash neighborhood dog, to being able to share all of the most painful and strange parts of my life with the women (and my brother) who are closest to me.

“What Is A Top Priority This Month?”

My top priority this summer is to work through all of the things of my life, or at least to get a good start on it, before school starts again in the fall. My top priority is to go vacation with my love and our children and our grandchildren and to have the best time I’ve had in a long time, to go with an open heart, and an open agenda, and an open mind and to just shower them with love and grace and kindness. My top priority is to be free.

A Movie That Makes Me Happy

The prompt for June 3 is: “A movie that makes you happy & why?” I generally watch movies that are serious, but I do have a few that I watch for the sheer pleasure they bring me. Most people who know me well, know that one of my favorite movies is What Dreams May Come with Robin Williams, but it isn’t a movie that makes me happy. In fact, the movie is very sad, and depending on how you take the ending can either leave you feeling despair or hope.

One of my favorite happy movies is Inside Out, and I think it’s the one I will talk about here. Let me begin by saying that my two favorite characters in the movie are Sadness and Bing Bong, for obviously different reasons. The scene *spoiler alert* where Bing Bong dies is probably Gen Z’s Artax drowning in the swamp of sadness, and I imagine many, many therapists in about ten years will have people spilling out to them how traumatic watching Bing Bong die was for them.

What I love about Bing Bong, though, is not that he dies, but that he exists. As I watch more and more students come through my doors, I wonder where their imagination has gone, I wonder where their curiosity has gone, and I wonder why they don’t just play as much anymore. Intellectually, I know the answers to all of these questions, but in my heart of hearts, I wonder why we as people have allowed ourselves to get to a place as a culture where having fun, being creative, using our imaginations, and playing have become something that we encourage people to grow out of as quickly as possible. So, Bing Bong’s mere existence, and the fact that every single student cries when he dies, makes me hopeful that we can, in some way, sense that we need innocence, we need playfulness, and we need rockets made out of wagons and silly songs to power them.

My other favorite character is Sadness, and I love her because, in much the same way that we drive play out of people at a young age, we also drive the ability to be sad, to lament, to be sorrowful out of people. Have you ever watched a small child mourn something? The emotions are deep, the sorrow is full, and the tears are real. Now have you ever watched an adult interact with a child who is mourning? Many, many times, because the adult is uncomfortable with their own sadness, they will project that onto the child, telling the child to dry their tears, telling them that everything will be okay, asking them why they are making such a big deal out of such a small thing. We are robbed, at a young age, of our ability to be sad. We’ve lost our ability to, the art of, sitting in sackcloth and ashes with each other.

Feeling Sadness is essential to feeling Joy, as the movie illustrates. Emotions, in many ways, are dependent upon each other to work. Brene Brown has a great quote where she talks about how drugs and alcohol don’t just dampen the emotions that we don’t want to feel, but they dampen all of our emotions. In much the same way, only limiting ourselves to one set of emotions, leaning toward happiness, dampens out ability to feel happiness, joy, and all those other positive emotions. There is also a lot of pressure in trying to keep that smile on, when our bodies and brains are telling us that we should be sad, or thoughtful, or frustrated, or any other “negative” emotion.

So, Inside Out makes me so happy, because in the end, we learn that we need all of our emotions in order to thrive as humans. We need to feel deep sadness, we need to feel anger, we need to feel disgust, we need to feel fear, and we need to feel joy. All of them are valid, all of them should be expressed and supported, and all of them help us interact with the world around us.

Also, here’s an emotion wheel to help you describe the emotions you’re feeling in a more precise way:

What is One of My Best Traits

Today’s prompt is: ” What is one of your best traits?” Anyone who knows me knows that this will be a very difficult thing for me to write about.

I’ve written here before about the public shaming I received from some people at a Bible study when we had to go around the room and name our strengths. When it was my turn, I named my intellect as my strength, and they all laughed big hearty belly laughs, and one person even said, “And humility, clearly.” I was really confused, because the whole purpose of the exercise was to name our strengths; it wasn’t an exercise designed for humility, and it took a lot for me to put myself out there like that, so being shamed, then, for participating was a really difficult experience.

Anyway, a few days ago on the sobriety app that I use, the quote or challenge had something to do with looking at yourself in the mirror and telling yourself three things you love about yourself or that are good about yourself. And they can’t be physical. I still have yet to look at myself and tell myself the three things. There are things about myself that I love, for sure, but the act of looking myself straight in the face and telling myself what I am good at or that I love about myself is really difficult.

So, to answer this prompt, one of my best traits is that I love people. All people. So much.

I do my very best to look at the person in front of me as a person who contains a divine spark, who is created in the image of God, who is loved by God and who should be loved by me. I try my best to make sure that I don’t make people feel like they have to earn my love, to let them know that they can’t avoid or break my love, and to let them just exist in love and light without expectation.

And, even in this, as I write this down, my brain is racing through all of the times when I haven’t achieved this in the way that I would like to achieve it. I think of all the times I’ve fallen short, all of the times when I’ve encountered someone while bringing my own expectations to put upon them, all of the times when I have had to set a boundary around a person for my own safety or well-being (physical or mental), and all of the times when I have walked past someone who needed my love. Whether my excuse was that I was too tired, or they were too much, or I didn’t want to be bothered, or I didn’t they fit my agenda, these were just excuses, and bad ones at that, to shy away from what I know is the right thing to do.

I know that I am human, so I am bound to get love wrong sometimes. I am thankful for grace when I do mess up. So many times I have had to circle back with people and make things right, and I am so grateful for second chances and the opportunity to learn from mistakes.

Even when I don’t always get it right on the first try, I will say that one of my best traits is loving people. And, when I do get it right, loving others is the very best thing I have to offer.

One Piece of Advice

I am going to continue to use the journal prompts from this website, because I really enjoy them, and they make me think about a variety of topics. Today’s prompt is: “If you could offer yourself one piece of advice for the next month, what would it be?” I have a couple of bits of advice for myself for this next couple of months of summer. As a teacher, I really use the summer to unwind, regroup, and heal before starting again in August.

First piece of advice: Live in the moment. No, really live in the moment.

Living in the moment doesn’t mean that you can’t plan, it doesn’t mean that you can’t look forward to other things or back to previous times. What living in the moment means is treating each moment with respect and gratitude. Living in the moment is listening to learn; living in the moment is recognizing the beauty if your current situation; living in the moment is seizing opportunities to make a difference in the life or lives who are right in front of you.

Second piece of advise: Be open to whatever comes your way. If what comes your way turns out not to be for you, that’s okay, but don’t send things away without really considering them.

If you had told me a year ago I would be where I am today, I would have laughed in your face. Sober, vegan, moderately happy, attending a church and a Bible study, regularly going to therapy and having days that are more happy (content, joyful, okay) than sad (angry, depressed, anxious), running again, setting healthy boundaries, and knowing when to say yes and when to say no. For real, a year ago I would have just belly laughed. But if you seize what comes your way, you may find that the unexpected leads to something you never imagined could happen for you. And that something may be the absolute best thing.

Third piece of advice: Live by a consistent ethic. Living by a consistent ethic doesn’t make you better than anyone; I don’t feel better than others, but I can look at myself at the end of the day and feel good about the choices I make.

Most people don’t know that I am pro-life. They don’t know this because I don’t really talk about it much. I am pro-life in a way that is consistent for me: I do not believe in taking any type of life, unless absolutely necessary, and even then, is it really necessary? My pro-life status extends even throughout species, as I am vegan, as I try to use organic products, and as I don’t kill insects. And it extends throughout humanity, as I don’t believe in the death penalty, as I don’t think abortion should have to be a thing because I think we should provide services to eradicate the necessity of it, as I am not a fan of firearms because I’ve never been in a situation where a gun would’ve made me feel any safer, and since I don’t eat animals, I don’t need to hunt, and as I try to love the person who is in front of me.

Last piece of advice for today: Love and grace and truth and more love and more grace.

When I think about how many times in my life loving someone, giving grace to someone, being honest with someone has hurt me, I don’t come up with many examples, if any at all. When I think about how many times being hateful, spiteful, condemnatory, and dishonest with someone has come back to hurt me, I have countless examples. I firmly believe that how we treat other people is, at the end of the day, how we treat ourselves. What we sow, we reap.

I guess summer is time for slowing down, for thinking deeply, for meeting myself in the mirror every morning, and reflecting on who I want to be and who I really am. What piece of advice do you have for yourself? What piece of advice do you have for me?