The Blessed Life of the Un-Damned

The photo is of my son, Collin, flying over Lake Powell, doing something he’d never done. I hope you can feel the joy and excitement and life in this shot and that those emotions never leave you.

When I was a girl I tagged behind my grandpa as he irrigated a budding grain field. To my horror, he mercilessly whacked at weeds that I thought were pretty. He flung rocks out of furrows like they were mortal enemies. I watched him in wonder as he wielded his shovel. Then he stopped and explained to me how precious irrigation water had to reach all the way to the end of every furrow in order to nourish every little spout of grain. If not, the crop would wither beneath the sun’s scorch.

He then knelt and showed me how a single weed or rock “damned” the flow of life-giving water.

That’s when I realized that damned literally means: to be stopped from progressing.

Being damned is the worst feeling in my world. It’s harsher than fear or even rejection. And here’s the kicker I’ve discovered—damnation is self-inflicted. God doesn’t damn me. Satan doesn’t damn me. You don’t damn me. I do that all by myself. I do it by accepting life’s roadblocks as something that I can’t get over or go around. I do it by embracing my doubts as truths. I do it when I let fear freeze me in my tracks. I do it by staying stuck in my own muck.

Trust me, I’m not saying life doesn’t stop us. Disappointments bludgeon us. Trials thwart us. Health problems hobble us. I’ve been showered with my share, but I’m weary from the weight of damnation. I’m tired of feeling like I’m not progressing. I want to move forward and I want that for any of you who feel like you’ve been stuck too. So, here’s what I’ve learned in this journey:

  • Give yourself credit for all you’ve accomplished. You’re still breathing. Consider all the things you’ve learned in the past year. Reflect on the relationships you’ve built and the ones you’ve repaired. Think of the service you’ve rendered. The places you’ve explored. The work you’ve accomplished. Don’t discount your desires to do better. They matter. Nothing wrong with patting yourself on the back hard enough to jolt you into giving yourself credit where credit is due. Stop demeaning your own accomplishments!
  • Quit comparing yourself to anyone else. They haven’t lived your life. They don’t dwell in your physical body. Don’t let unforgiveness, or resentment or envy corrode your own happiness when you see that your Facebook friend just danced with penguins in Antarctica. It doesn’t matter that someone else got a promotion or the graduate degree that you so desperately want. Focus first on you. Move toward your goals and don’t get distracted by someone else’s success. When we learn to celebrate the accomplishments of others (especially those we don’t believe deserve all the good things that come their way) life has a way of paving the path for our own successes. What’s the saying? Success isn’t the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success!
  • Don’t you dare give up. Excuses are like feet: we all have ‘em and they all stink! Lack of resources like time, health, money are only excuses. People get what they prioritize. Don’t worry about pace as much as progress. As long as you’re moving in the right direction, you’ll get there. Love yourself along the way and savor the experiences along the journey. Learn to look for the good in every situation. Your end goal or destination isn’t nearly as important as the person you become along the route to get there.

I ramble when I get excited. I’m excited. I’m releasing myself. Forgiving myself. Finally moving forward as a risk-taker and an opportunity-maker. There’s wonder in not knowing how my best-laid plans will either come to fruition or come apart. That’s life, but staying stuck isn’t living, is it? So let’s get out there, by small steps or giant leaps, into a world I believe we agreed to enter to experience everything we possibly can cram into a lifetime. The love. The beauty. The truth. The faith. The mysteries. The stories. Oh, the stories! And stories, dear friends, are not cobbled with words as much as they are with freedom. Freedom to choose, to move, to feel, to learn and to grow. So let’s remove the weeds and rocks and clods that clog us from receiving our allotment of life. Let’s un-damn ourselves and help each other to be about the business of fully living!

My Most Authentic Job

Creativity is great for the brain and the heart. That made me realize that my lawn looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. Dandelions and weeds everywhere—in spite of some very expensive fertilizer stuff guaranteed to kill the bad and nourish the good. Truth is, my life sorta resembles a Pollock painting. There’s nothing linear about it at the moment. I’m circling in a lot of directions, splattering, and making a work of art that some people will love and others will judge as trash.

I’m good with that. So good.

That’s because it’s finally sinking in that I’m here to paint a life that God wants. That’s it. I’m not here to judge anyone—including myself. I’m not here to rant about the unfairness of the world.  I’m here to change my world. That means I love without borders. I give without thought of getting. I can’t worry what others think of me. Odd as it seems, that’s not my concern. My concern is to live a life that serves, restores, creates, appreciates, and grows the good stuff like love, forgiveness, laughter, joy, music, art, relationships, faith and loads and loads of hope.

Unfortunately, I’ve been brutal to myself. I’ve believed the worst that others had to say about me. Living in that deadly shadow has only made me feel insignificant and unwanted. It’s made me sick and weak on the inside, tho I might appear strong on the outside. Now I realize that I don’t have stop progressing because someone doesn’t approve of me. I especially realize that the self-judgement has to stop and the self-love has to flow.

Did you read the story about the teacher who took twin apples and secretly bruised the heck out of one, then set them side by side and asked her young students to speak kindly to one and cruelly to the other? When she cut them open, the apple that had been praised and loved was whole, crisp and juicy inside. The apple that had been mocked and judged and abused was brown and mushy and injured inside. That’s what bullying does. And don’t think it’s just kids who bully.

This Easter weekend as I reflect what it means to be a true Christian, I’ll focus on resurrection of the body and the spirit. I’ll reflect on a life that teaches me how to love and how to live now, so that death has no string. I’ll use my faith and the power of God to resurrect what’s bruised and broken and even dead within me.

I’m so far from the person I want to be. I’m so sorry it’s taken this long to learn that I’m not here on Earth to paint or criticize someone else’s art, I’m only here to create my own. (So sorry for the unwanted splotches I’ve flung at your canvases, my peeps.) I’ll be here if you need to borrow a brush or paint. I’ve got a lot of indigo to spare because that’s my favorite color. The Old Testament says it’s God’s favorite color too.

In the meantime, my hope for you is that joy sneaks up on you and hugs you tight. That sunshine warms your soul from the inside out. That whatever hurts within you begins to heal. I don’t believe I’ve ever been more grateful to be alive. Just alive. So get out there and paint the life that’s in you so you can share it with the world. Trust me, we need your beauty and creativity—every brushstroke matters.

Four Fun Ways to Keep Your Brain Young and Alert

Research is proving that what we thought was impossible is really possible. We can change our brains. Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity are real. In all of my efforts to learn about how to alter thoughts, I’m discovering ways to keep our minds sharp and our brains from degenerating. Here are my top four:

  1. Harvard Medical School suggests we hedge our future brain cell loss through cognitive stimulation. That means challenging our noggins every single day. Adding new information. Reading. Doing math problems. Hand-Eye coordination activities are best of all because things like drawing, painting, or crafting require that we use our hands in conjunction with our brains. People who play musical instruments have a definite brain advantage when it comes to aging. Engineer something that requires full participation. I’ve never considered myself smart, but Rosetta Stone and Duolingo have given me the chance to ask, “Where’s the bathroom?” in seven different languages! Anything to challenge lazy neurons to get up and move!
  2. What you feed your body, you feed your brain. As the fattest organ in your body and something that is made of 75 percent water, when your body in undernourished or dehydrated your brain does not function properly. People don’t realize that brain fog has a cause. Too much sugar. Not enough water. Lack of deep, healing sleep. Over stimulation. Under stimulation. Too many or too few calories. All of these factors contribute to your brain’s health and function. So…cut back or better yet, cut out alcohol and tobacco. Increase clean foods like fruits and vegetables and healthy fats that come from nature…walnuts, salmon, etc. If your body is suffering from high blood pressure, out of whack blood sugar levels, or high levels of LDS, you’re at higher risk for dementia.
  3. When you move your body you move your brain. Sufficient exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that help you “feel good” to do good things. Lab animals that exercise regularly increase the number of blood vessel that feed the brain oxygen, especially to the parts that are responsible for thought. Take a walk. Go for a hike. Run. Take an exercise class or sweat to an instructional video. The fitness level of your body correlates with the fitness of your brain. That’s plenty of motive to get up and get going! And to add to this motivation, nature itself has a decided effect on the brain. It’s easy to release stress when you’re sitting on the bank of a stream, the sun warming your back. Nature is heaven’s Great Physician.
  4. Your social interactions have a tremendous effect on your brain’s health. Remember that emotions are consequences of your thoughts. You think a thought. Your brain has an electro-chemical release. Emotion results. You feel what you feel depending on which chemicals your thoughts release. How you feel determines how you act. And so the cycle begins again. YOU can change your brain’s chemistry to a degree by changing your thoughts. So think the best of yourself. Give others the benefit of the doubt and have faith that things will work out no matter how bleak your current circumstances might be. That means being careful about the people you let into your inner circle, the ones who influence you the most. Make sure they bring light, truth and love and loads of laughter. Most of all, I have to remind myself that I’m supposed to bring those things to my friendships. Healthy friendships contribute to healthy brains. There are studies that prove when a person feels threatened, that threat is lessened in the hytpothalamus if someone they love holds their hand. Love and trust—no better medicine. The best kinds of people to associate with are those who stimulate your brain. Your conversations won’t be petty and redundant. Your exchange will never focus on attacking anyone else, because a part of the subconscious brain realizes that if a person is capable of tearing someone else down behind their back, they’re capable of doing that to you—so building trust is hampered and suspicion resides in your amygdala which helps process fear and emotional memories, and your parahippocampal gyrus, which helps process and store memory. Suspicion releases adrenalin-related chemicals that can do actual brain damage over extended periods, so hang out with people you can trust. A healthy friend will challenge you with new information and ideas. They’ll be concerned about nutrition…and won’t urge you to indulge in consuming what’s not healthy for you, even though you might share a decadent meal once in a while. They’ll move with you for strength and health. They go camping. Shopping. Playing sports and games and spending time together in nature. They’ll embrace you because there is no stronger force in the universe than the power of the human touch. The brain responds to sensory data, so when you get touched, it feels that connection and responds.

So there you have my top four ideas to help you think cleaner and clearer. It takes training to stop and “think” about what you’re doing to your brain. But once you make the body/brain connection—that one affects the other—then you’ll get into the habit of making better choices. And that’s all we can hope to do…improve and progress one thought, one action at a time.

Coan, J. A., Schaefer, H., & Davidson, R. (2006). Lending a hand. Psychological Science17(12), 1032.


And Then There’s Henry…

I’m a crappy neighbor. I didn’t even pass out neighborhood gifts at Christmas. I don’t precision mow my lawn or murder weeds with a vengeance like my neighbors do. If they have dandelions sprouting in their yards, it’s because of me.

That said, I’d like the world to know I love my neighbors and I think they’re great people. I especially love their kids and hope they always feel welcome in our home.

A few years back when it was just Eli and I living home while everyone else was away, I had some serious surgery to fix my broken leg, ankle and knee. I was in a full cast for several months. It wasn’t easy getting around, but I managed. Then one morning there was a big snowstorm and I drove Eli to school early. When I pulled back into our little circle I saw that four of my neighbors were out shoveling their driveways and sidewalks. I thought, “I better do that too.”

So I did. I hobbled out there in my pink cast, doing my best to maneuver the snow shovel. I smiled and waved, but the men were busy shouting greetings to each other and didn’t acknowledge me. No problem. They owed me nothing, and to be honest, I’m the odd woman out in our little circle. I’m divorced. I’m opinionated. I’m independent. But I sorta kinda felt stupid. And that’s when I came to the edge of our property and realized that one of my neighbors had beat me to it. He’d shoveled a precise line in the snow to make it clear where his property ended and mine began.

I can’t tell you why, but that clean line was like a blade to my heart. It was a statement of division and separation and it hurt even though it was a fair and accurate line. It made me think of what prompted Jesus to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. It started with a question, “Who is my neighbor?”

I vowed that I’d try to be a better neighbor. But not right then. In that moment I felt wounded and alone and very, very weak. I felt “divorced.” So I headed back toward the house. But the Universe had a lesson to teach me. It was one of those Utah winter mornings when the snow muffles far away sounds and amplifies nearby sounds. Over the words and laughter of the four men came the grrr of an engine. And then came Henry on his four-wheeler with his snow plow.

The man was his own blizzard, waving and barreling down the road, up and down driveways and over the entire circle sidewalk—both sides. By the time he was done, Henry had obliterated that precise dividing line and had taught me what kind of neighbor Jesus called good. First, Henry saw me. Second, he had compassion on me. Third, he bound up my wounds.

With one swoop of service Henry had put an end to my pathetic pity party.

And it wasn’t the first time Henry and his family had proven to be “good neighbors.” When my life first imploded and I didn’t know how I’d draw my next breath, Henry came over, plopped down on my front step and said, “If you want to talk…I’m here.”

Later, when they suspected I had no money, they bought groceries for my kids to have cereal and milk.

Then there was the night that the kids and I were cold and cuddled together in one room. We ran out of wood for the fireplace and that’s when Eli disappeared. He trudged over to Henry’s house to ask if we could “borrow” one of their logs for our fire. A little while later Henry and Diane pulled up with an entire wagon filled with wood to keep us toasty warm.

And how about the time my friend Cindy was toilet papering my yard at midnight to surprise me for my birthday? Since Henry is an officer of the law, he thought he’d have a little fun with her. He turned on his lights and siren and scared the celebration right out of her, telling her she was on her way to jail for vandalizing property. Henry laughed a lot harder than Cindy did.

And then there was last Christmas when we were in the middle of Hanukkah and Henry and Diane knocked on the door dressed and Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. Everyone got a chance to sit on Santa’s lap, whisper in his ear, and get a gift that Henry and Diane brought and paid for.

Yesterday Henry was back with his snow plow. He said, “I came to break up the ice in front of your house so it would melt faster and you could park your car easier.”

So yeah, I don’t want to forget this story. I want to remember it forever. I want to honor those who live close to me, and I want to be blind to dividing lines and see everyone as my neighbor. I want to be more like Henry.

I’ve got a LONG way to go, but my first act is to wish that you’re all blessed with a neighbor like Henry, and secondly, to share a quote from G.K. Chrsterton that gave me something to ponder: “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”

Love and blessings to all of you good neighbors!

Take A Mental Break Before You Have A Mental Breakdown

What are you guys up to right now? So far this morning I’ve been trying to prepare a speech I have to give this weekend while I’m babysitting my grandkids, trying on the new mascara I got for Christmas so I can do a photo shoot with my littles, cooking a turkey for my son’s birthday dinner, texting my peeps, recovering from this morning’s cross fit torture, reading a book, applying for a visa to an unfriendly land, nursing a couple of broken teeth, doing a batch of laundry, editing on my novel, flossing my teeth, decorating for the party, cleaning the house, driving Eli to school, shaving my legs to test a new razor, paying online bills, listening to my Adelaide sing Happy Birthday to Dallas over the phone, packing my suitcase, shoveling my car out from a continuing blizzard and oh yea, writing a blog post because I love you and love hearing from you all.

Seriously, I love you. If you’re reading this I mean YOU! I dreaded starting a blog, but the stuff I’m learning about the human brain is so darn fascinating I just wanted to share it. It’s not a big blog and I don’t promote it at all, but it’s connected me with lost friends, made friends out of far away strangers, and allowed glimpses into your precious lives. I love that! I really, really do.

I shared with you that my goal for this year is to be more spiritual. Do you think I’m feeling spiritual today when I’m frenzied with so many tasks? Yeah, kinda sorta. But here’s the neuroscience lesson—after a day like today, my brain is going to need some downtime. If I turn tomorrow into another today, my forehead is going to ache. My temples are going to throb. My vision is going to blur. And I’m going to write nonsense and miss the important things people tell me. I’ll have a toxic case of cerebral congestion. Don’t laugh. It’s a real thing brought on by built up of neruotransmitters (brain chemicals). Chronic fatigue allows toxins to accumulate in the brain and partly distribute through the body. If they don’t have a release, and continue to build, you get sick and anxious. You feel achy and lethargic. Confused. A pretty accurate description is brain fog.

There are lots of ways for you to clean your internal body. Two ways: you go to the gym and sweat or go to the potty and well…potty. But how the heck are you supposed to clean your brain?

Your Divine Designer provided a graveyard janitor to help clean away those toxins: Glial cells. Maybe you already know all about glial cells and all the wonders they perform, if not, please research their magical powers on your own. For now know that glial cells are always trying to clean your brain, but they work best at night when you’re in deep sleep. They can also do a “quick clean” during a power nap. They love the times you break away from your hectic days to snooze, meditate, wander through nature, or just plain rest and relax. You don’t just deserve a break—you need one. (The photo is of Christian’s adorable girlfriend, Lauren and her adorable niece Scarlet—their glial cells working hard.)

So that’s my contribution to your day. Take it easy. Clean your brain and find that balance between the “living louder and bolder and more brazen” days, and the days when you just “kick back and chill and relax and renew.” Here’s hoping you’ll find that balance and never feel guilty for resting when you’re weary. Me? I’m off to find where I put my mascara. Oh, dang. I think I might have absentmindedly stuffed it inside the turkey. No joke.