On Forgiveness and Thanksgiving

If gratitude is the wellspring of peace, love and joy, it begins with forgiveness and the willingness to let go of what’s past, to create new space for growth.

So often we hold on to the past, allowing our grievances and grudges to color our world and those people in it. If we’re not careful, we allow fear, bitterness and resentment to sneak into our lives, robbing us not only of our capacity for joy, but our ability to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and thankfulness for the many blessings in our lives.

The truth is that we all fail and fall short from time to time. And even when we feel above the fall of others, our very judgment of them makes us no better, and in fact, often worse.

As we move into this season of Thanksgiving, I think I shall adopt a new practice: Instead of simply counting my blessings, I will counter each one with a heady dose of forgiveness, too — weeding out and releasing those things I’ve been holding on to for far too long, and making peace with the gifts of my own imperfection.*

I’m curious…

What might you be holding on that is robbing you of your capacity to feel gratitude for the blessings in your life? In your experience, what is the relationship between forgiveness and gratitude? How has holding onto a grudge or grievance kept you stuck in your own life? What is the relationship between gratitude and our capacity for peace, love and joy?

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*Note: The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown, is an outstanding read on the power of courage, compassion and connection to enable us to find acceptance within and live fuller lives without.

 

 

A Thanksgiving Twist

Photo courtesy of Marynbtol

Photo courtesy of Marynbtol

This year I am thankful.

Not just for the usual things, like family, friends and a roof over my head;

Nor just for my children, food, or the blessing of good health (though I am immensely grateful for each).

No, this year I am thankful… not just for the things that went right; but also for the things that went wrong.

I am thankful for those challenges that pushed me beyond my fears and into my dreams, creating new pathways for learning, growth and personal enrichment.

For those daily struggles that remind me both of how far I’ve come, and how far I still have to go.

For the gifts of humility, resiliency and purpose.

For the gifts of hope, surrender, and joy.

This year I am thankful… not just for the things that went right, but also for the things that went wrong.

Despite the uncertainty of my father’s illness, I am thankful for precious time to be fully present; for the opportunity to grow closer and to learn things about him I might otherwise never have known.

I am grateful to those friends and colleagues from recent years and the distant past, whose collective belief in me continues to pave the way to new opportunities.

I am equally grateful to those who by closing a door, enabled others to open.

I am thankful for unforeseen ‘time-outs’ this past year, without which I might never have found the courage to live my voice out loud.

For out of despair, comes hope.

Out of struggle, comes perseverance.

Out of confusion and chaos, comes clarity of purpose, meaning and value.

I’m curious…

As you reflect on the past year and this season of Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for?

The Gift of an Open Door

In 2011, I wrote a blog post entitled, Mentors, Role Models and Other Ways We Learn – a reflection on personal mentors, role models and struggles along the journey — all of whom/which have helped shape and influence the person I am today. In it I wrote,

“The truth is that sometimes, we cannot know in the present moment how the people we are surrounded by will inspire our learning…we cannot foresee how our daily struggles may end up transformative in nature, providing us with fertile ground for growth and enabling us to step up and into real leadership.”

Beyond the lessons and role models; beyond those who inspire us or shape our thinking, are those leaders who go a step beyond by opening doors for others, creating pathways to opportunities that might otherwise remain closed or pass us by.   They are selfless, instead of self-serving; empowering, instead of power wielding; transparent and generous with their time and network, realizing that when others grow, we all benefit.

As I reflect back on the past few years in particular, I am reminded of those who have opened doors for me, creating connective pathways that have led to an intersection of head and heart, weaving my passion for both the world and leadership into current initiatives and opportunities that feed my soul.   Too many to acknowledge in the span of one post and more than I can repay in a lifetime, there is nevertheless one who stands out above the rest; one who has helped refine my thinking, support my writing, inspire my learning, coach my development, and open doors into the world of leadership that were once both closed and unknown to me; a world that beckons me to serve alongside others in the hopes of building a better world.

leaders-open-doors-blog-tour-square-300x300As part of the Leadership Opportunity Fest Blog Tour, hosted by Bill Treasurer, I am honored to acknowledge my friend S. Chris Edmonds — author, speaker, executive consultant with his own firm and the Ken Blanchard Companies, and guitar-wielding member of the band, Jones and Raine, who by taking a chance and opening a door for me, created a gateway of endless learning, engagement, connection and growth that continues to enrich my life beyond measure or words.  I am also grateful to Bill Treasurer and his open and fitting invitation to contribute this post.  Open, because Bill, like so many others in this world of heart-centered leadership, is both generous and inclusive.  Fitting, for it is through Chris and a mutual heart-centered friend, leader, and fellow door-opener, Becky Robinson, that I first came to meet Bill.

I am thankful to each of you and so many others who challenge and inspire me daily to reach and lead at a higher level, and in doing so, pay it forward by empowering and supporting others along the way.

I’m curious…

In the spirit of acknowledging and appreciating others, who has opened a door for you along your own journey?  Who inspires, supports and encourages your own learning and growth? Who has helped pave new pathways and create connection points, enabling you to expand the scope of your dreams or realize your potential?

The Great Sisterhood of Women

women-holding-hands1Prelude:  This evening I attended a program in support of a new friend, Sharon Lachow-Blumberg, Founder of I’m Not Done Yet – a consulting, coaching and training firm focused on helping women create purpose, power, and profit in their lives.  I was touched by the stories shared and by the degree of camaraderie Sharon and the participating women offered to one another, each seekers of joy, purpose and fulfillment on their own journey called life.

In honor of International Womens’ Day, Sharon, Whitney Johnson, and all of the other women who are working to inspire, encourage and empower women to live their voices out loud, I am reposting an oldie, but goodie.  Keep doing the wonderful work you are doing – helping women dare to achieve their dreams!

I love men.

Surprised you with that opener, didn’t I?  Admit it.  Weren’t at least some of you expecting me to start off this post with some anti-male feminist tirade about the wrong-doings of men, necessitating the need for the great allegiance of women?

Truth is, for as long as I can remember, despite the occasional rotten apple, I’ve loved men.  I like their company and I appreciate their charms.  I’m also woman enough to admit that I still like a man’s attention – to know that in a man’s eyes (as well as my own) I’m beautiful, articulate, intelligent, sexy and funny.  Who among us heterosexual women doesn’t feel that way?  Let’s at least be honest with ourselves.  After all, aren’t men the creatures we often give the full force of our heart to, at least before we become mothers?  We love them, honor them, cherish them, and sometimes even give our lives up for them.  Many of us blindly trust and follow them, sacrificing what we must for those men who capture our hearts.  Unfortunately, sometimes we go too far, often losing ourselves in the process.

That said, in recent months there has been a shift in my focus – away from men and their charms (as well as their complications), towards the great force and beauty of my fellow females.  No, I’m not switching teams, but I do have a growing appreciation for what is often referred to as ‘the great sisterhood of women’.  If the men in my life have been catalytic and occasionally heartbreaking forces that pushed me towards growth, it has largely been the women in my life who have journeyed with me through that growth and beyond — who have pushed, challenged, sympathized, empathized, offered an ear, shared a burden, wiped tears, set me straight, cried with me, and stood by my side.  They have not done so because they always agreed with me and my decisions, but because there is a common bond among us; because ultimately, we all want to see our fellow sisters succeed at this game called life.

As I have traveled across much of the world these last couple of years, women across cultures have reached out, opened up, and shared their own journeys with me.  I have even heard from many of you via this blog or through common virtual alliances.

All of you, like me, have your own story.  Heartbreaking stories of fear, pain, heartache and loss; but also beautiful stories of courage, love, and triumph.

Some of you, like me, have just gone through a major life transition…a painful, heart-splitting, oftentimes scary, lonely and difficult journey, but have come out the other side stronger, wiser, and more compassionate than ever.

Some of you have felt victimized by your circumstances, stuck in your anger and blame; but others of you have found strength and confidence in the journey, honoring your own voice, despite the pain along the way.

I’ve heard from women who have silenced their voices, afraid to be alone or to follow their dreams, yet courageous enough to at least admit it.

I’ve heard from other women who made the choice to turn personal tragedy into life-changing victory and who now inspire others by the force of their own example.

Some of you, like the brave women of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, have even assumed great risks to reach out to other women to be heard and understood, even if only virtually;

I’ve met women who, after years of being lost, finally found themselves – whether at 30, 50, or even 70 in the case of at least one woman I know.  Women who dared to journey within; who dared to dream, and in doing so, found their heart place.

My feminism is not of the Gloria Steinem variety, although I once took inspiration from her.  My brand of feminism is not about what is being done to us by others (though I am a strong advocate of gender equality), but about harnessing the power within; about listening to our hearts and honoring who we most authentically are.

I believe in the gifts women have to offer the world and each other.  I believe in the strength of our will, the courage of our convictions, and the beauty of our hearts.  I believe in our power to create lasting change for good in this world, starting with our own families.

We are many things to many people:  mother, sister, wife, lover, worker, leader, caretaker, survivor, daughter, friend; but most importantly, we are women.  In honor of International Women’s Day this week, I am indeed proud to be a part of the great sisterhood of women.

Note: This post is dedicated to my mother, an incredibly beautiful, smart, strong, and courageous force of nature; my first and most important example of what it means to be a woman in this world.  Through her example, I have learned to become the same.    

For You, My Tribe.

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The Labyrinth of Our Heart

(Note: Below is a post I wrote a while back, though never published. Still, sometimes our unpublished thoughts are still worth sharing, and this post is no exception.  It is the essence of what walking the ‘Heart Path’ is all about, the values by which I live my own journey and the vantage point from which this blog is written.)

Robert Frost once wrote,

 “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…Two roads diverged…, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

The poem came to mind this evening as I broke from routine and the predictable route of my evening walk, and in doing so, encountered the unexpected joy of running into a friend – a fellow Rotarian, who also happens to be our local priest.  As we walked and talked together, I found myself delighting in the discovery of new and heretofore unknown paths as well as a labyrinth he showed me, hidden among the trees at one of my favorite hang-outs, our local college.  He knew I would appreciate the beauty of this spot on a deeper, more spiritual level, and shared with me his own routine of reflectively walking to the center of the labyrinth…the figurative center of our heart.

As we continued our walk, we quickly found ourselves shifting from the casual talk of life and community, to recent decisions in my life.  We touched on the topic of servant leadership, then ultimately to the subject of God, surrender, and the wondrous joy (filled with the predictive ups and downs of life) that inevitably awaits us when we are finally willing to give up our illusions of control and give in to the mystery of Life.  As we parted ways and I headed home, I reflected on my own journey to this place of surrender over these past few years…the signposts along the way, the tests and trials, and ultimately, to the deep peace and joy that now fills my spirit.

On this journey to surrender, sometimes our heart and soul cry out in anguish, guilt or remorse – to be free from the pain and prisons of our own heart and mind, often of our own making. Sometimes, the heart and soul cries out in defiant anger, driven by a need for justice for wrongs that can’t be undone or for losses we cannot reclaim.

Sometimes, however, the heart and soul’s cry is about something different altogether…

Not a rallying cry out, so much as a calling within…to be (re)united with our purpose for being; to align our heart and soul and mind in such a way that we can better serve and love those we journey with, and in doing so, discover and live our own joy.  Increasingly, as I walk around the circles of my own life, each step leading me closer to the center of my heart, I find my joy increasing, and with it, the possibility for peace and love, too.  Every step taken in faith is met with deep gratitude for all that has come before and all that is still yet to be.

Just as in Frost’s poem above, I have chosen to take the road less traveled by…no longer the road of safety and convention, nor the road of self worth defined by external measures of success; but rather, I have chosen the path that leads us within, not without; the road of Faith and surrender; and the larger voyage that asks not how the world can serve me, but how I may best serve the world and those others I journey with.

I have chosen the heart path.

And already,

it has made all of the difference…

Acknowledgement and Appreciation

Recently a dear friend in my life and I were talking about the difference between and the importance of both acknowledgement and appreciation in relationship with another; how the give and take of a relationship is less about measurement and perfectly balanced scales than it is about taking the time to show appreciation for acts of loving kindness through the simple act of acknowledgement.  As I mulled these thoughts around in my head, I  kept silently see-sawing between what it means to selflessly give without expectation and our very real and human need and desire to feel acknowledged and appreciated, an endeavor that in some ways I excel at, yet in other ways fall well short of the mark.

Just this week, for example, I have been struggling to tackle the mounds of personal papers in my home office, stacked up and put off to be dealt with another day.  In the purging of all of this clutter, stacks of written, yet unsent cards were unearthed…the best of intentions rendered meaningless – for the intended recipient never heard my words, never received an acknowledgement, and never felt my thanks.  Worse still are the notes my children took time to write for gifts received, but which I failed to send on their behalf.  Yes, guilty as charged.

Recently, this topic of acknowledgement and appreciation has surfaced in other facets of my life, as I’ve found myself observing patterns of behavior, not just in my personal relationships, but in professional circles, too.  This topic, after all, is not only about what we do in response to loving acts of kindness, but in how we interact with others in our day-to-day lives.

I have one professional friend and ally, for example, who regardless of schedule, always manages to find the time to acknowledge emails within the day, even if only in a few words, though you may have to wait patiently if you’re hoping for a long conversation by phone.  Still, without exception, this friend recognizes, values, and finds a way to balance the need for honoring connection with others, while setting and maintaining boundaries in his own personal and professional life.  It’s a delicate balance, to be sure, but one I both admire and respect.

On the other hand, there are those others, who, despite their intellectual understanding of the importance of connection, fail to remember that influencing change does not just happen in a classroom or office setting or within the confines of ivory towers, but in our every day encounters with others; that real leadership happens in real life, through the values we live every day. While it’s true that not everyone is interested in establishing connection or building relationship with others, it’s equally true that we are nevertheless measured and judged by our interactions with others, and oftentimes these seemingly random and meaningless interactions can have a far-reaching impact, for good or for ill, extending well beyond what the eye can readily see.

Take the simple act of returning emails and phone calls as an example.  Sure, we all get busy with the business of life and need to set healthy boundaries with others if we hope to be productive.  Sometimes we even flake out, forget, or lose an important message; but the patterns of time reveal our true values, and when we consistently fail to do the simple things, regardless of intent, the resulting message is the same:  You are not important to me.   Ouch!  And yes, the bold is for emphasis, but isn’t that how we often feel when we are ignored?

Alternatively, the simple act of acknowledgement and appreciation, even if only expressed in a few words, creates opportunity for connection, builds bridges of understanding, closes gaps, heals wounds, and opens doorways to paths that might otherwise remain closed to us.  When we take the time to acknowledge and give thanks to another, we not only say, “I SEE you,” but by way of the gift of our time and attention, we communicate to the other, “YOU are important to ME.”

I’m curious…

Who and what do you invest your time in?  Do you take time to acknowledge and appreciate others in your life?  Are you better at acknowledging some over others?  If so, is it because you tend to take those ‘others’ for granted?  When you give of your time, talents or money, are you able to do so selflessly, without the expectation of reciprocity or acknowledgement?  When you are not acknowledged, what message do you receive?  What is one thing you could do today to show appreciation for others in your life?