Life Does Not Have A Purpose

It’s Memorial Day weekend and my sons and I traveled to a place my ancestors helped settle. There’s even a monument honoring my great-great grandfather. This got me thinking. His life had obvious purpose. He accomplished something lasting. What about my own life? I was sitting in a doctor’s office several years ago devouring an article that told me the sure way to be happy was to figure out my purpose and not be distracted from it.

I defined purpose as one’s intention or objective and I set out to find my own. Mind you, I was already over 40 and had likely lived the majority of my life. It took me two and a half more years to figure it out. I did it through watching Ted Talks, and scouring libraries of self-help advice. I did it by honestly answering the soul-scouring questions:

  1. What am I passionate about?
  2. What did I dream of being before the world told me I couldn’t be that thing?
  3. What makes time fly for me?
  4. What are my natural talents?
  5. If resources were not limited, what would I do?

All valid probes. And once I had the answers, off I went like a lit firecracker. I chided my grown children for not getting on their own paths to purpose. I pounded out a book to help others find their purpose. I preached from pulpits that we’re all on this earth to follow a path that leads to our own happiness. It worked. The book sold. People told me they were inspired by the message. (My still-searching kids, of course, avoided me like.)

Looking back on that stretch of effort, I cringe. Because now I know that I was wrong. Life does not have a purpose. Don’t stone me for saying so. It’s true. YOU have a purpose. Life is not about finding the “right” road out of a zillion possibilities. It’s about traveling as many as we can. It’s about the journeys we take and not just the destinations at which we arrive. That means life has many purposes. YOUR life has many purposes and you decide what they are.

To prove this, I conducted a little field research. I talked with all kinds of people from all kinds of places and stations in life. The one commonality they had was that they were all living a life of purpose. That means they were happy. Fulfilled. And useful to humanity. Here’s where we get so confused and frustrated. We mistakenly think that purpose is what we do. It’s not. My definition of the concept was technically accurate, but far from complete. Purpose is about WHY we exist. WHY we create. WHY we do what we do.

Right now, as I type this fire is crackling inside of my soul. It’s true. It’s simple. And it will change your life if you just remember that your purpose is within and not without.

A half dozen things I learned from people who live purposefully include:

  1. Staying aligned with the Source who grants life. This is key. As long as you’re connected to that type of inspiration and guidance you can travel all sorts of roads without getting lost.
  2. Trusting that you’re not here by random selection. Your existence at this time and place is no accident. The omniscient Source of life doesn’t make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean mistakes aren’t made. It just means there is perfect purpose in all things, including you. So even if you can’t yet understand it, believe that there is One who does.
  3. Learning as you go. This allows for mistakes to become teachers and not punishers. Think about that for a minute or two. There is wisdom and growth in every experience if we are open to receive it.
  4. Life changes and changes us. What we do changes from day or day or hour to hour. WHY you do what you do should never change. If you’re here to learn and serve then let those motivations be your polar stars, so that no matter what you’re doing, you’re still living your purpose.
  5. Believe that your Source loves you. Einstein said that the most important question we will ever ask is whether the Universe if friendly. I promise you that It is. And when you believe this, you automatically connect to unbounded resources, a higher vibrational energy, and a sustainability that is beyond comprehension. You feel alive!
  6. Gratitude is awareness. Being grateful puts you in a place where other people’s opinions about your purpose don’t count. It keeps your thoughts, emotions and actions in harmony with your purpose. It allows you to come back when you detour. Gratitude invites that connection between you and your Source.

You can tell I’m stoked because I’ve finally learned something valuable. I no longer nag my son that he must figure out what he’s doing to do with his life. (Ha-ha—key word here is HIS life.) I no longer think every student has to declare a major when they’re freshmen. I don’t look at my chore checklist and say, “What did I accomplish?” I look at it and ask, “WHY did I do the things I did?” This keeps me living purposefully.

We’re all different. We all have worth. Every life has many purposes. And it’s not mine to tell anyone else how to live. But I do hope that you find something useful in my ramblings. I share these things because I really do love people, and if I can keep someone from making the same painful mistakes I’ve made, then chalk one up to our common, all-caring Source.

Do This Simple Trick To Elevate Your Mood

What a glorious day, friends! Hope the light is finding you. For over two decades I was a professional portrait photographer. I specialized in family and children’s portraiture. One of the things that set me apart and kept me in business was an ability to put people at ease. I learned some of my best tricks from a master: Marriott Smith. Presidents and movie stars posed for him. Together, we once photographed Bill and Hillary Clinton when Bill was first running for high office. That was memorable. But there’s something else that stands out in my mind even more vividly. He taught me to make people blink.

“It gets rid of that deer in the headlights look folks tend to get when they’re in front of a camera,” he said.

I’ve learned it does more than that.  A blink re-focuses our attention. It re-sets our brains. Science estimates that we blink far more often than we need to to keep our eyes lubricated. We blink 1,200 times per hour or 28,800 times per day. Your brain knows what it’s doing when it engages your occipital lobes. Try it if you don’t believe me. Blink right now. On purpose. Longer than you might. And with meaning.

It’s like a windshield wiper swipe over whatever you’re fixed on at the moment. Your problems don’t vanish, but your view becomes clearer. You’re able to think cleaner.

Yesterday was a brutal day for me. I was in a rare, dark mood. Maybe it was the weather. Last week temps here hit above 80 degrees. Yesterday brought a blizzard. Maybe it’s because I’m editing a novel that is so real to me the characters’ problems weigh me down. Or maybe it’s just life. You know. It delivers “those days” for no apparent reason.

My friend, Karla, picked me up around 7 p.m. She let me gripe for a good ten minutes before she pulled into a parking lot with THIS view in front of us. I blinked and suddenly everything changed. Darkness lifted. The neurotransmitters in my brain altered their distribution. I got out and snapped this photo with my phone, and instead of grumpy, I became grateful. I became aware that a return to winter can be a majestic thing. And whatever troubles had seemed so big, were dwarfed when confronted with genuine grandeur.

So, next time you’re feeling gloomy, anxious, or frustrated, try closing your eyes and letting the darkness come. Then open your eyes to welcome the light back. It works when you’re tired. It works in the middle of an argument. It’s a simple readjustment, but I promise that it works—all in the blink of an eye.

I’m Celebrating Mother’s Day Differently This Year

I must love and trust you all because I’m sharing something that’s sacred to me: a portrait of my mother. It is, after all, that time of year to honor those who gave us birth and those who’ve given us life. (think about that for a sec, will ya?)  I’ve always loathed Mother’s Day because I leave church as wilted as the little pink geranium passed out to the mothers in the congregation. I never measure up to the standard preached from the pulpit. I never will.

This year I’m in a mind to turn the whole thing upside down. Mother’s Day is no longer about my kids honoring me. It’s about honoring the women who have mothered me. They are legion. My own mother was my world when I was growing up. She was an alcoholic, so my childhood was mapped with all kinds of experiences: good and anything but good. Mom was gone long before I became a teenager, leaving me an orphan, someone in dire need of mothering.

John Updike believed, “It’s easy to love people in memory; the hard thing is to love them when they are in front of you.” I spent most of my life assuring myself Mom was a wonderful mother because to say anything less would be disloyal to her memory. But then I went to therapy. That’s where I learned I could still be loyal, still love Mom, and still tell the truth. That’s when I saw my mother as something more than a woman who had given birth. She was a woman with a past, a woman with dreams that came true and disappointments that devastated her. She had relationships. She had talents. She had secrets and desires. She had addictions and she had breakthroughs. My mother’s wild side led her to a long-term friendship with Judy Garland, a fur coat from Howard Hughes, and a catastrophic plunge from the top of a building.

Being able to admit that Mom wasn’t anywhere near perfect brought me blissful freedom. If I could love her—flaws and all—I could love my very imperfect self. That set me free to love others, and to celebrate the phenomenal mothers my daughters have become.

We don’t just love people for their strengths. We love them for their struggles. I suppose the lesson is in learning to trust that God trusts us. Flaws and all.

That means this Mother’s Day I’m celebrating unconventionally. I honor women who have never even given birth, but still they’ve mothered brilliantly. I honor the mothers who cry real tears, not over the messes they’ve had to clean up, but over the messes they’ve made for others to clean up. I honor the bruised, broken, battle-scarred women who are still in the fight. I honor the ones with the guts to present themselves genuinely. I honor those who sew and bake from the home front and those who march on the front lines. I honor those with stellar faith and those who admit God is foreign to them. I honor all their shapes and sizes. I dance in happy circles at the rainbow of their cultures and varying skin colors. Oh, how blessed am to be encircled by so many different women who mother.

This year let’s focus on miracles instead of mistakes. Let’s lavish love. Forgiveness. Joy. Let’s let go of the judgment and the self-criticism and simply celebrate that we’re partners with the Giver of life. That puts us, not on a pedestal where we can fall, but at an elevation where we can see clearly: we’re all in this together doing our best.

My friends, I love you. I love you because you try. I love you because you dare. I love you because you give it all you’ve got. I’m thinking of my friend whose child is incarcerated. I’m thinking of my friend who sings lullabies to the world’s babies. I’m thinking of my friend whose only daughter died this month, and another whose son is in his last days of cancer. I’m thinking of my friend whose child hasn’t spoken to her in a year. I’m thinking of my friend who desperately wants to bear a child, but can’t. I’m thinking of aunties, grandmothers, and an abundance of friends. I’m missing my own Mom. A lot. Maybe because I’ve matured enough to ache for a sit-down with her to discover who she really was: “How’d you get that scar? Why are you scared of the dark? What’s life like from your viewpoint, Mom?”

If you’re blessed to still have your mom available, please get curious about who she is as a person, not just a mom. Get to know her and to appreciate her for more than the resources she offers.

No judgment, no justifying, just loving. Celebrate those people who’ve managed to love you when you weren’t so easy to love. And do me a favor…please release the stranglehold you’ve held on your own throat. Inhale. Exhale. There. That’s better.

Now have a safe, memorable, peaceful weekend, celebrating love. Isn’t that what this day’s really all about?

What Your Inner Voice Has To Say

One night last year darkness refused to fall. I was on a bucket list adventure to Alaska and it was my first experience with daylight at midnight. Water sparkled like it was made of melted blue diamonds. That’s our forty-ninth state for you—brush-stroked a bazillion shades of blue. We’d been driving around, me with my camera clicking at wonder after wonder. But now every part of me was exhausted. I nestled the camera in my lap, laid my head back and shut my eyes for the duration of the ride back to camp.

Sometime later a voice inside my head commanded, “Open your eyes and see!”

I opened my eyes and saw only the road in front of us.

“Look and see!” the voice insisted.

I looked and saw a whale breaching right next to our little truck. A wonder indeed, one I would have missed if I’d ignored my internal instructor like I so often had.

Yes, I’ve heard voices. That doesn’t make me crazy; it makes me human.  Gandhi, who forged India’s independence from Britain through non-violence, relied on an inner voice for guidance. Carl Jung received advice from a source he deemed “neurosis,” yet his unseen guardian seemed “almost physically real” someone he referred to as a “guru.” You can call them auditory hallucinations, but they aren’t. Joan of Arc, Beethoven, William Blake, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Charles Dickens, are just a few people who’ve admitted to experiencing voices. We’re not always talking about audible voices either. We’re talking nudges, sensations, melodies to musicians, equations to scientists, and clarity to the confused. We’re talking inspiration from a source that isn’t seen.

Bottom line: We all came equipped with an internal gauge to guide and inspire us. Inspiration is ours when we tap into the Source that often manifests through voices. The more we recognize the various voices that speak to us, the more likely we are to stay safe, learn more, recall with keener accuracy and be inspired. In research for my brain book I talked with people who’ve been awakened at night by voices guiding them, kept safe from harm by voices urging them to move out of harm’s way, or informed by unseen sources of information they could have not have known.

I’ve learned that there are both benevolent and malevolent voices. The ones that remind us of our past mistakes and make us doubt ourselves are usually the shrillest and loudest. Unfortunately, they get the lion’s share of attention. Maybe the best piece of advice I’ve come across is this: Listen to the kindest, softest voice you hear because that’s the one you can trust.

For most of my life I’ve entertained voices I haven’t even been aware of—yet I’ve believed them, especially when they’ve been critical. But I’m learning to recognize and attend to the circus that goes on inside my own head. Now I want to pay attention to the whispers Ralph Waldo Emerson declared “affirmations of the soul.”

This one little practice has changed my life, and I want that experience for you, too. Heeding your inner voice might not reward you with a breaching whale, but I promise you a whale of an opportunity if you’ll silence all the voices that tell you who you are not, and learn to listen to the voice that reminds you who you really are. It’s the one that will bring peace, security, and love. So my wish for you today is that you’ll clear out the clutter in your own mind and trust your truest voice—your own.

The Wonder of An Imbalanced Life

I’m giving a speech in a few months entitled The Wonder of an Imbalanced Life.

Surely, that’s a typo.

Ellen DeGeneres knows the value of a balanced life: “…life is about balance. The good and the bad. The highs and the lows. The pina and the colada.”

Ha. The ultimate goal we all want is to live a balanced life, right?

I don’t think so. Not anymore anyway. The deeper I study of the life of Jesus Christ, the more I realize He was an extremist. He overwhelmingly tipped the scales in favor of love. Other extremists I admire include: Mahatma Gandhi, Socrates, Maria Klawe, Father Abraham, Joan of Arc, Mother Teresa, Buddha, Michelangelo, Nelson Mandela, and my friend Lisa, at least when it comes to her kids. I mean, injure one of hers and she’ll rip your head off your shoulders. I’m in awe of that kind of extreme devotion!

This past little while my tiniest g-baby has been in the hospital very, very sick. In order for the nurses or doctors to keep poking and testing the babe, they have to pry her from her mother’s arms. Literally. Taylor Lee won’t let go, not for a single second. She doesn’t leave that baby’s bedside. In those harrowing hours there is no balance in any of our lives. Every ounce of faith and every good wish we can muster goes to that child’s healing.

Does that mean someone or something else has to be neglected?

Maybe. Probably. Yes. Indeed. (Never fear…little Miss Adelaide is safe and spoiled with Grandma Sandy and Grandpa Bob).

Imbalance is part of life. I’ve got six kids and I tend to run to the one who is bleeding. I think that lets the others know I’d do the same for them. Anyway, it’s the best I can do in that moment, and I’m weary from piling guilt on my shoulders and carrying it around because I can’t be everything to everyone all at the same time.

So I’ve got a new take when it comes the theory of a balanced life—do it all, but not all at the same time. I mean love everyone you can. Travel everywhere you can. Learn everything you can. Be all you can be. But for heaven’s sake, from time to time pick something to go overboard about. Something or someone that makes you teeter to the edge and feel desperately alive!

My friend Sharlee has set our community on fire lately with her impassioned call for ethical government. She’s got people clawing to get on her life raft, sailing out into the high seas, rescuing refugees and causing mighty waves all the way to Washington D.C.

I live among a community of good souls who called, “Enough!” when they realized that over 60 percent of the gay kids here have attempted suicide. Now there’s a place for those kids to gather and feel safe and loved. All because someone went to an extreme.

I’m blessed with friends who taught me that going to an extreme in the wrong direction can be deadly. They’ve got me waking up before dawn to work out and to love the taste of kale and quinoa. That tells me how much we need each other to keep the balance.

Radical change requires radical action.

And yes, I understand the basics of balance. The majority of life is doing the mundane and working to pay bills and tending to the same chores again and again. Rote is a form of balance. Remember though, while everything and everyone has to be tended to, you can’t do it everything at once.

I also understand that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I know that a butterfly with just one wing never gets off the ground. I also know that everything is in perpetual motion. That means you’re always moving and changing. The foundational theory of quantum physics allows for particles to be in two states at the same time.  Guess what? You and I are made of particles. We are only beginning to glimpse our own existence, but we do know that we’re always in motion, even when we think we’re still. That means we’re always doing a balancing act.

I believe it’s how life was intended.

I met a woman named Gerda who is a high wire performer. She calls this balancing act rotational inertia. It means the wire beneath her feet is rotating all the time and only changes from the torque she applies to it as she moves forward.

Forward, friends. That’s our only direction.

If there are days you have to fall back, that’s okay too. Every good warrior knows when to advance and when to retreat. If someone has to be neglected while you tend to someone in need, that’s okay. If everyone has to set aside so you can tend to YOU, that’s more than okay. It’s only for a season. I know because the wisest mortal who ever lived, Solomon, said so: To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Please, friends, if you’re feeling stressed and overloaded, know you’re living through a season. It’s only a season. If it’s a good one, savor every second. If people are upset with you because you’re unable to give them all they demand, let it go. You’re walking a tight rope. You’re balancing all that you can. Drop something if you have to. But keep moving forward when you can. I love you. I believe in you. And I think you should celebrate every step.

Thanks for letting me rant. Right now I’m in a season of recuperation and reflection. My next season might be high adventure. Who knows? But while I’m trying my best, and you’re trying your best, let’s let our personal balancing acts be one step at a time, doing our best to do it all—eventually—but knowing we’ll fall, and that’s okay, because we know Who is holding the safety net to catch us so we can climb back up and start all over.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned

The photo is of my little Adelaide “wondering” what it would be like to jump into the Gulf of Mexico. I told her not to get wet, but she’s three and raging with curiosity. So I just stood in awe and took photos.

The etymology of the word wonder means of ultimate unknown origin. It also means to magnify or to be astonished. Have you ever wondered why your life has not gone as planned? I mean no one gets married planning to get divorced. No one drives to work planning to be broadsided by a semi. No one pencils “get cancer” into their weekly schedule.

Last week I heard a story about the Children of Israel’s plight when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took Jews captive. What business did “God’s people” have living in a land surrounded by idols? What business did they have living so far away from their beloved temple? The Babylonian king’s strategy was brilliant…let the foreign captives live among his own, and in time they were bound to adapt the Babylonian way of living and thinking, especially the younger malleable generation. The stunned and indignant Jews just knew that God would not leave them in Babylon for any length of time. So, they prayed and planned for their imminent deliverance.

I’ve read the Old Testament a couple of times yet I never realized that these good and faithful people wanted exactly what I want out of life—to live it according to plan. MY plan. The Jews prayed that God would vindicate them and return them to their rightful land. That was their plan, but God had a different plan. He told them to be patient, that their captivity would last up to seventy years, so they should settle in, build houses, plant gardens and eat what they grew. The people, especially the older ones, knew this meant they would never return home. Imagine how they felt. (Jeremiah 29)

For a lot of us, we don’t have to imagine too strenuously. We know how it feels to have our plans come undone. We live with ongoing disappointment. Well, after Sunday’s sermon I realized that faith in our Highest Power means having faith in divine unflawed love, a force that wants us to be happy and successful. Try telling that to the woman who desperately wanted a husband and children, but remains single. Tell that to the spouse who was faithful to an unfaithful partner. Tell that to my friend whose baby, the one they waited thirteen years to have, the son they hinged all their dreams on, was born with trisomy 21, an extra copy of chromosome 21.

My own life has known a lot more dead ends than long stretches of open road. I’ve learned that it’s better to be alone than in a toxic relationship. My friend who was initially devastated to learn that her son had Down Syndrome, now celebrates the fact that the kid manufactures pure joy. He’s taken his family on a wondrous detour they never would have chosen to journey. In the process, they’ve all evolved in a way their original plan could not have facilitated.

It’s fitting that a rabbi said: Man plans and God laughs. It’s time for me to stop complaining and start trusting that when I hit a brick wall there’s an unseen reason. Maybe it’s to make God laugh, the way a parent does when a toddler tumbles, only to spring back up to cheers. He knows that every time I get back up, I’m transformed. Maybe the wall is to stop me from making a mistake, or turn me in a different direction or protect me. No matter. I’m going to rewire my brain’s rutted circuitry and see it as a plot twist in the story that’s my life. What would a story be without an unforeseen plot twist? It’d be boring and predictable. I can hardly wait to turn the next page because the Author and Finisher I’ve come to know does not do boring and predictable. He does wonder.

Making Life Simpler

It’s happening. Every day I get closer to living my ultimate dream of what I call spiritual simplicity. What it really means is I’m getting rid of “stuff” and focusing on what really matters to me…people, service, experiences and learning.

Did you realize that U.S. consumers are parents to only 3 percent of the world’s children, but we blessed American dads and moms purchase forty percent of the world’s toys? That statistic boggled my brain. What toys do kids need these days to experience a happy, creative, rewarding childhood? We took baby Nellie to the park this past weekend and all she needed was the great outdoors. She played with a stick. She found joy in the swing set, the ducks, and a dog that happened by. When the malamute attempted to steal her stick, Nellie was having none of it. She became the dog and stuck it in her mouth and dared us to wrestle it from her. Nature and her imagination. You can’t buy those two things at any toy store.

       That got me to thinking how joyous life is when we keep it simple. The happiest people I know are people who pull the car over to look at a sunset, or weep at the budding of a flower, or roll up their pants to run into the ocean waves. People who aren’t too rushed to pay attention to other people. They have time to stop and “chat” with a neighbor. People who are curious. People who bend down to speak on a child’s level. People who sing along to the radio. People who dance when the music starts. People who create. People who take God at His word.

       I’ve been reading a lot about Thoreau and his quest to “live deliberately.” We mistakenly believe he went deep into the woods to get away from the din of society. Not true. Emerson’s little piece of property where Thoreau took refuge sat on the outskirts of town.

       We don’t have to go far. We don’t have to spend much. We don’t have to cave to advertisers telling us what will make us happy. We’ve got an inner voice that speaks the truth and guides us to true happiness. The problem is we’ve also got a crowd of other voices and they all speak louder. They all have opinions about how we should live.

       Silly us.

       We’re responsible for the quality of our lives. We’re responsible for our own happiness. Tomorrow I’ll make another bag of “stuff” and donate it. That makes me happier than going to the store and bringing another bag of “stuff” into our home.

       Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe the kids should take me seriously when I tell them to pick up their “stuff.” Whatever is going on, I’m glad life is getting simpler.