Perhaps life is not about having all the answers, but about the journey of discovering them.
Martha Beck, nationally renowned life coach, said, “No part of your experience is wasted. Everything you’ve experienced so far is part of what you were meant to learn.”
When life is messy that’s a darn good thing to remember.
Stories are our lives in language. Welcome to the Love Your Story podcast. I’m Lori Lee, and I’m excited for our future together of telling stories, evaluating our own stories, and lifting ourselves and others to greater places because of our control over our stories. This podcast is about empowerment and giving you, the listener, ideas to work with in making your stories work for you. Power serves you best when you know how to use it.
Last week we talked about how we make big things happen and this week we are going to talk bluntly about the messiness of life, and how that messiness is perfectly right.
When I was really young, a child, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I couldn’t picture myself doing any one particular thing, but I did know that someday I would meet the love of my life and we’d create a family. I had no idea then that 36 years later I’d find my life potentially half over, my youth gone and have 3 ex-husbands, 2 great kids, and that I’d be doing it all alone playing provider, nurturer, home manager, video game monitor, yard maintenance woman, house repair, cook and so on and so on. I didn’t know anything about porn addicts, love affairs, emotional abuse, abandonment, betrayal, heart-break and utter exhaustion.
Sometimes, okay, most of the time, life doesn’t turn out how we expect, it’s generally a lot messier, but that’s just the way it is. If you’re feeling picked on, you don’t know enough people intimately. Life is just messy. There may be meaning in my mess, or God may just make the best of a bunch of people’s various decisions, or perhaps shit just happens and we live, try to learn, and move forward. Honestly, I don’t know which it is, but these are the reasons I’ve decided our messy stories are okay.
- It’s okay because that’s the nature of the beast.
- It’s okay because we can learn from our mess.
- It’s okay because from our mess we gain empathy and understanding for other people’s messes and suddenly we are able to plug into the human condition.
- It’s okay because Christ, through his atonement, offers us forgiveness, offers to help us carry our burdens, offers to give us extra strength and ability as we flex our muscles and overcome. John [10:10] “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly. There is a way to erase the parts that aren’t working and try again.
- It’s okay because from chaos comes the beauty of creation. Chaos is the fuel from which the fire starts.
- It’s okay because each challenge holds an opportunity in its hands for us to become—to behave better in each struggle. To learn something.
- It’s okay because the side trails we find along an unexpected path often hold more for us than a plan of our own making.
- It’s okay because with a mess comes experience and from experience comes wisdom.
- It’s okay because it has to be. It is what it is. Some of it we can control, some of it we can’t, and like it or not we’re along for the ride. Sometimes we will sit up and take notes. Sometimes we will curl up in a ball. Sometimes we will dance with wild abandon. And, although curling up in a ball is not the ideal place any of us want to be. It’s okay to be there when we need to be there.
- It’s okay because God designed the plan and things are playing out as he knew they would.
We are in good company.
What if we looked at someone as sacred and revered as Christ? That’s a jump to the top, but he is noted for living a perfect life, and yet his life is one of the most heart-wrenching of stories ever recorded.
Christ created chaos wherever he went. He turned over the tables in the temple when the money changers were disrespecting the temple grounds. He turned water into wine – I’m sure that was a shock. He healed the sick, which caused people to congregate, causing their own forms of chaos as they followed him around. And what about when he healed folks on the Sabbath – the religious leaders were none to happy about that. He talked to women who were shunned in the community. He associated with sinners and cripples. He rebuked religious leaders who were too caught up in the letter of the law. He upended people’s lifestyles changing fisherman into disciples. His friends fell asleep when he asked them to keep watch at the most crucial time of his life – in the garden of Gethsemane. His best friend denied knowing him 3 times in the heat of the moment. He was betrayed by another of his closest friends. Of course there is his call to atone, to die on the cross– he asked repeatedly if that cup might pass from him – that was not part of what he wanted to go through. Christ, the greatest of us all, knew intimately what a life of chaos and mess looked and felt like.
A revered personality from out time, Oprah Winfrey: Billionaire, American television host, actress, producer, philanthropist and entrepreneur. Oprah Gail Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954, to an unwed mother in Mississippi. After a troubled adolescence in a small community where male relatives and friends of her mother all sexually abused her, a pregnancy at age 14 after which she lost the child, and severe poverty, she moved to Nashville to live with her father. If anyone could have found a list of stories to show why she didn’t have a chance, it was Oprah. She rose above her difficult childhood of poverty and abuse to be lauded as the most influential woman of her generation. She knew what messy was, but as she stated in an interview, it was her ability to be real, to understand real, that made her the media icon that she became (I’m paraphrasing again).
A national icon: Abraham Lincoln was raised in humble beginnings. His story started to stray from his plan when his mother died when he was 9. A woman he loved in his early 20’s also died before they could be married, and he was heartbroken. Eventually, he married Mary Todd and they had 4 children – 3 of which died before they made it to adulthood. And then, if you know anything of the intense struggle Lincoln had during his political career as he stood up against one of the most trying times in the history of the United States. His entire life was messy and filled with great loss, risk and bravery. He had to be exhausted by the time he died. These are the heroes – the ones who rise above the mess and soldier on. The great ones who change the world.
We could pick any hero, any public figure that we revere, and with even a cursory look into their past, we would find the messiness and trials of being human. We are all in good company with our messy lives.
So let’s get personal. When it comes down to it, your peace, with whatever life looks like to you, is between you and God (whatever God looks like to you.)
Let me tell a story:
When I was a young child my siblings and I would toboggan down the back three-quarter acre of our snow-covered alfalfa field. The hills rolled in the crystal white blanket, the sun sending a million shards of crystal glitter to blind and delight. I would pull my bright blue toboggan, one slow step at a time to the top of the field where I would tumble in, my bundled body ready for the thrill of the down-hill. One day a storm started to blow in and my mother called us all into the house. I left by blue toboggan out in the yard and only as the wind picked up did I realize I was about to lose it forever. The fields were wide open and stretched for miles, once the wind caught her I wasn’t going to see her again. I stood at our sliding glass door, still a bundled little girl, staring hard at the toboggan, willing it not to move, but the wind picked up and so did my only sled. I prayed then, like only a child really can, and begged Heavenly Father to stop the wind. “Please,” I begged, “I don’t have another sled, I want to be able to play, don’t let me lose it.” And the wind stopped. I ran outside as fast as my legs would churn, pounded across the yard and out into the field where it had blown, grabbed the rope on the front end and pulled it back and into the back door safe and sound. As I closed the door the wind started back up in a frenzy, and suddenly God became real to me. I know there are those who say, “that was a coincidence” but often the things we know spiritually are small to others, but large to us because we felt them spiritually, while outsiders do not have that insight into the experience. It was not coincidence.
It was the start of what has been an authentic relationship. In the years that have followed, I have been afraid of him. I have loved him. I have gotten to know him better and refused to be afraid of him. He and I have shared jaw-dropping landscapes, views from the top of mountain peaks. We have sat next to streams and lakes. We have talked in my car, in my sleep, on my bike, on my couch, and a hundred other places. We have cried together the tears of the broken, tears of utter sadness, tears of loneliness. We have not spoken for days and weeks at a time. He has waited on me, and I on him. I have called and he has not answered. He has called and I have not answered. I have pouted and demanded I be allowed to do things my own way. He is always okay with that. He’s always been there to pick me up at the end when I find myself face down in the mud. But he’s never removed the experience. We’ve argued over principles, discussed things that I don’t think work. I’ve begged for help and he’s left me on my own sometimes and other times he’s instantly given help. He’s warned me, directed me, comforted me. He has whispered in my waking hours to remind me he is with me. I try to find my way around the commandments that don’t make sense to me, and certainly, the ones that don’t seem to work. It’s an on-going, sometimes tumultuous relationship, but it’s our relationship, and that’s what counts. Maybe it’s a little messy too. But it’s all between me and him. Sometimes I’ve felt my problems were so unfair. I mean I try really hard to live a good life. And I, like many a God-fearing folk, have exclaimed “why me,” when we are doing our best.
Scott Peck said, in The Road Less Traveled,
“Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.”
Did you hear that? Mess is part of Creation. Embrace it. Love your mess. Love your story! It’s the only one you have. And, let’s not forget the whole point of this podcast…the idea is that we get to decide how we interpret, use, and accept our own messy stories. Maybe even celebrate the Pollack style canvas of our lives.
A predominant backdrop to my life story is nature! In nature I find peace, beauty, meaning, but also a crazy messiness of death and birth, the ruthless and heart-warming, the raging wildfires and the sun-dappled meadows, the ice-encrusted mountain peaks and the blue water and white sand beaches. There are droughts and earthquakes, storms and tidal waves, and there are Giant Redwood forests and migrating whales. There is supreme organization and ruthless destruction. Let me end today’s podcast with an essay and a few lessons from nature:
I washed my face with a Kleenex this morning. Strange as it sounds this is one of the things I like best about outdoor living – wiping my hands on a rock, or on my shorts because they will inevitably get dirty anyway. I can farmer hanky (which I would never do at home) and if it’s not exactly clean I can wipe it on my sleeve. I wear a hat or bandana because doing your hair out here would be ridiculous, and my only make-up is sunscreen. Of course, there is also the reflection of the sun on the water, the heat on my skin, the prickles across my legs on a cold night, the smell of campfire in the air, the mesmerizing stars and the utter chaos of nature itself.
Deep in the marrow of my bones I am connected to the land. It is something I could not remove even if I wanted. Quality of life is dependent upon this tangible intangible for me. It is required for peace of soul, like food and love. Sometimes it requires time to understand this type of connection, and some people never will, but for those of us who are drawn back to caress the face of the rock, to hold the trees against our own bodies, to give our sweat on the next ascent, wilderness always calling us back, it is as if all that mattered so much before we came, no longer matters and we are suddenly home. It is the beauty of nature in all its raw uncaring, it’s crazy chaos, it’s death and birth in the same place at the same time, its colorful pallet of textures and colors, and the way that so much of what we try to recreate was first created here. Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “Earth is crammed with heaven.” Amen to that!
Riding in a hot air balloon over Park City, Utah I got the unusual view of looking down upon a river. I studied its crazy path as it scooped, hooped and meandered forming odd mushroom spire shapes as it found the path of least resistance down the face of the land. We do that too sometimes. Man’s general tendency to avoid pain, find the easiest way forward, and to minimize energy output effects our decisions and we wind our way through life creating crazy designs with our life path.
Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at, but what you see.” On some occasions I see nothing but the river, the tree, the flowers, the stars and the underbrush; they are nothing but what they are. At other times I look at the shining mirror-dimples the sun spreads across the surface of the water, and hear the rumble as it runs toward the ocean and I learn lessons – life lessons.
After climbing the Grand Teton without stopping, one agonizing step at a time, I came to realize first-hand the oft-used metaphore that life is like climbing a mountain. When things get tough you just keep lifting one foot after the other. Even if you have to use your hands and manually lift your leg; just keep moving and pretty soon you’ll be sitting at the top, signing in at the register and looking at the sunrise and the view. The reward for the journey is not only the rich flow of life on the way up, it’s not just the reward of the summit, it’s also the things you learn about life such as ‘keep on truckin’, and ‘sometimes you have to wait it out in the rain,’ then there’s: ‘preparation is NOT overrated’, and ‘life is in a constant state of deconstruction and rebirth’.
Because of my time in nature I have a healthy understanding and respect for it. It is perfect in its systems of growth, sustaining, regulating. If you carve out a path and don’t maintain it, the plants will reclaim it. If you take some life form out of the food chain, out of the circle of life, you upset the whole. It doesn’t matter how much you love nature, if you’re out on a mountain top caught in a storm it can kill you without remorse. It is a space of utter chaos and utter organization.
Here’s a thought. Our lives have these same aspects – moments of ruthless chaos, and days where you’ve got it under control. Nature is perfect in its brutality and beauty. I suspect life is also – and if today isn’t the day you can see the big picture, don’t despair, trust the process, embrace the beautiful horrible mess of your life, and love your story. What’s your other option?
Thanks for tuning in today. Love to hear your thoughts and comments on today’s podcast. Go to www.loveyourstorypodcast.com and share. This week’s challenge is to choose one aspect of your life that is particularly messy and write a list of 5 reasons why it’s okay. An exercise that may help is to determine one of the things you are most grateful for and then step by step go backward into why you have that blessing in your life. Almost always you find that it was something difficult or messy in your life that eventually brought you to a beloved blessing.
Have fun telling your stories this week and I’ll see you back here next week on Love Your Story podcast.