awareness

Listen Again

Sometimes KT writes a line that really sticks with me. To be clear, many of her posts make me think differently and many prompt me to make a change in how I approach life or how I act. This is a little different…here’s my take on her recent post about listening and what a gift it is.

Here’s the line (and I encourage you to read the whole post): Listening is the greatest gift you can give to another human.

Being a more intentional listener found its way into my goals this year. A series of conversations made me realize that I don’t sincerely listen to people as often as I should. I reflected on the fact that although people ask me all the time “how are you?” and I answer, I don’t often ask them how they are. I’m often so caught up in what I’m doing I don’t even look up. I may make a brief comment but not much else.

What am I telling people as I just let them walk by? I don’t look them in the eye. Sometimes I don’t look up from what I am doing. Sometimes I probably seem annoyed at the interruption.

I’ve been trying to reverse since since it caught my attention. When I think about it, I take the time to put down what I am doing and ask the person how they are. And then follow up with another question.

What I have noticed is that more people than I realized are hungry to share. Excited to connect. They want to tell me a bit about how they are.

I thought I was a decent listener. Now I see that I need work. The invitations to listen are everywhere. How many have I blown off because I didn’t make time or was just too into what I was doing to notice them? From my friends, my co-workers, members of my family?

Among the other unfolding lessons, the pandemic has taught me that people matter more than pretty much anything else. We can’t replace people or the opportunities we have to share with them. I have missed many, but I am committed to doing better moving forward.

I’m also on the lookout for the people who are dropping out of sight. Who haven’t I heard from in a while? Different schedules and limited opportunities to be out and about make those happenstance meetings less frequent. Who is telling me through their silence that they may need a friend? Who can I text to check in with? Who can I lift up with a funny post, a quote, a kind word? Who can I (re)start a conversation with? As KT often says, hope is free.

The motto of the StoryCorps podcast is: listening is an act of love. Who can I love today by listening to them? Who can you?

friendship, giving

Listen Up!

I often talk about active listening skills in professional settings. I often challenge many participants (especially males) in those environments to engage in activities that test their ability to actively listen.

It may not be every male who can’t listen but it is definitely a higher number than women by far. I often think about the why of this…

Listening is the greatest gift you can give to another human. Anyone can give quick advice when somebody has a problem but those who are actively listening can hear your emotion, feel your pain and generally connect with you. Listening takes time. Listening requires one to be patient.

When I think of my own life and frustrations, I think of how my spouse doesn’t listen a lot of time. Doesn’t engage or empathize with anyone who has an issue or struggle. This makes me think back to something my mom taught me at a young age. Never pass judgment on somebody until you have walked a day in their shoes.

In order to be supportive or helpful one has to be willing to set their own feelings to the side, get down on your level, listen and really relate to your issues or struggles. This doesn’t even have to occur face to face!

If you are struggling and you text your life partner, one would hope they could read your words and really listen to your hurt. Unfortunately, I have seen first hand that many close to me are grossly incapable of doing this. 

I think this honestly comes down to their inability to get down on your level. Feel the hurt. It’s a lack of genuineness. Ask yourself, who do your reach out to when you need to talk? Is it your mom? Your best friend? Your sibling? Your spouse? Who?

Then ask yourself who will listen to you when you feel troubled? Is it the same person? Maybe it’s more than one person. The point is you are never going to reach out to the person who lectures you, passes judgment on you, or just brushes you off.

In order to be a better listener you need to give of yourself. You need to put the phone down and listen to the person in front of you. Maybe you need to stop playing a video game to read the words of a loved one.

Today more than ever our words are powerful. In today’s digital world words are a big way of communicating. Sending a note of praise. Sending a text of good will. Even sending an emoji with a smile is positive communication. We are all capable but not everyone does it.
Positive communication opens the door for building trust. One day somebody may need you. They may need you to hear or read their words. They may need you when they are struggling.

If you are not capable of using your active listening skills you may never hear or read those words. It’s unfortunate that many I know struggle in this area. This why I am opting to write this post.

If one person can make a change based on this blog, I feel like I have made an impact. Listen up. Turn on your antennas. Today’s world is hectic and crazy. We are all busy. We are all trapped in a digital world. But we are all capable of listening to words spoken or words written or even emailed / texted if we just slow down, pause and think about what another is saying. 

Remember “tell me more” offers the one person with words hope that somebody is there to listen to them. Offering hope is free.

I know I am making it a point to listen more listen to all around me and I encourage you to do the same. It’s a new year. Why not make it a goal to be a better listener?

Listen up!

family, friendship

Hello Sunshine

Hello sunshine was on my mind this Christmas. Why? Because that’s what my dad would have said to me on Christmas. Unfortunately this is the first of many Christmases without my dad. 

Instead of being down in the dumps about missing him, I’m opting for spreading sunshine around. A little joking means laughter. Some games mean smiles. New memories and adventures mean giggles and excitement. A new way to honor his memory while making memories each and every year. 

Today I awoke to a dusting of snow. I immediately captured the spirit of the season on my camera as it doesn’t snow often in my area. For today I’ll call it an angel dusting from above. Later in the day I got a pack of gum as a random gift. You are My Sunshine it was called. No big deal to some but a universe whisper to me. A heavenly smile from above. Even when skies are grey from the snowy mist, sunshine is around. The warmth of the rays.

There were many heavenly winks this holiday season. Blessings of new friends to celebrate with. New firsts with my mom. New places to enjoy the festivities. Adapting to the change that has been lingering in 2020, all with a smile as best we can. Different was good this year.

Family meals that had everyone busting at the seams to erecting the most crazy looking gingerbread house covered in sweet treats. Each sugary piece placed on that gingerbread house by my tribe. Whether in spirit or in person. It was named Nana’s house. The crazy year was summed up with an array of sugary treats. A hot mess of sorts like the year of 2020.

To the unexpected text I received on Christmas morning from a new friend I met in 2020:

Merry Christmas! Thank You for making me laugh every morning you are a special person and thanks for your friendship

The text above was an unexpected blessing but one that made me smile ear to ear. As I live my life to the fullest I want to spread joy to others. Laughing, smiling, joking and having a fun spirit is one of my ways I like to spread sunshine each day.

Hello sunshine. A good morning of sorts or just a peppy greeting while I working on a special holiday gift for my mom. Hello sunshine from a new friend in a message. He would never have known those were the words my dad spoke to me often. He made my day. Was it a heavenly wink or an angel kiss from above? Either way I got the message. I felt the message.

My dad is with me in spirit. Now it’s up to me to spread joy to others one smile, one giggle, one joke at a time. Somebody is watching. Somebody is listening. Somebody might just need that joyful pick me up.

If you need a pick me up today, I hope the rays of sunshine are coming through this blog. You deserve to be the sunshine in the day today.

Hello sunshine!

friendship, giving

Longest Night

When became an adult, got married, moved into a house and had kids (not necessarily in that order), I joined a Methodist church. I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school, so this was a big change. One of the first new traditions I embraced was the Longest Night. Each year, on Winter Solstice, the Methodist church had a service that focused on the darker times of the past year. People came who had experienced loss, depression. grief.

At that point, I had recently lost my mother. I had a new baby, a new home, and was overwhelmed and heavy-hearted. I joined the bell choir and played for that service. That first year, I remember just crying through the whole thing.

As you can imagine, the service is not just about loss. Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. Once Solstice is over, brighter days are literally ahead. So the service is also about finding hope. About persistence. About the triumph of good and light.

I love symbolism so this service always meant a lot to me. I like the idea of things getting better. Of marking time. The cycle of increasing light. And it always comes just before Christmas, a time of frantic preparation. It is a moment to just be still and reflect.

I don’t attend that church these days, but I still take time to reflect every Solstice and remind myself that lighter days are ahead.

This year the Solstice seemed both especially poignant and especially necessary. COVID has wreaked havoc on many lives. So many in my circle have lost loved ones this year. Some due to COVID, others for other natural reasons, but COVID took away our ability to gather and mourn in the way we all want and need to. Still others are hunkered down at home to protect themselves and loved ones, which brings all the pain and challenge of isolation, disruption of routine, and more.

It has just been a heavy year.

I started hearing about the “Christmas Star” (or Great Conjunction) a few weeks before Solstice. Again, the symbolism of Solstice, this unique astronomical happening, and the stars were literally aligned.

I also had it in my mind to go caroling this year. I say every year I want to sing for people more (and not just the poor people at the gym who have to hear me sing along to the soundtrack when I’m squatting). I don’t know why I expect opportunities to be a backup singer for Yacht Rock Revue to fall out of the sky. This Solstice I see I need to create those opportunities.

Who could I bring some light to? We decided to visit two special Moms who have had challenging years, each in their own ways.

I loaded my car and started the night by going out to see the Christmas Star. I went to a parking lot in a remote park about 15 minutes from my house. I was surprised to find about 25 other cars in the lot, all there to view this planetary wonder. I just took some time to quietly look and think about this year and its gifts.

Then, it was over the river and through the woods to the first grandmother’s house. A couple of friends and family members joined in. We dressed silly, I brought my sleigh bells and song books, and off we set to spread some cheer. Our living room concerts brought laughter and tears, smiles and singing along. We took requests. We flubbed the lyrics and stumbled over melodies. We jingled our bells, giggled, swayed and twinkled. In the end, we brought cheer and good tidings and light. On the way to grandmother two’s house we saw lights and so many other holiday sights.

Both these women have lived through this challenging year. They’ve made the most of it. I hope we brought some light and hope to their lives this December. I know their smiles and delight lifted me up. As one of them put it, when we said our goodbyes, “same time next year!”

It’s a date.

perspective

Artistry

Capturing the beauty of a person, place or thing via a photo is amazing. I personally love looking at photos as well as taking them. Capturing true artistry in photos is another level of wow.

Recently I looked at some photos and noted the true artistry within the photos. The way an object was captured. The lighting. The magnification. The placement of surrounding items. The background. The fine details. They all collided.

I saw vision. I saw clarity. I saw depth. I understood the artistry of the photo. It didn’t happen just once. It involved multiple amazing shots. What I learned was how so many enjoy photography for not only its beauty but for its depth and artistry. For some a hobby. For others a professional career. For some it’s just capturing moments in time.

The ability to look through a lens and paint a picture for others who may not be able to live the moment. Through a camera lens one can allow others to share in the beauty of the person, place or thing. Sharing their artistry one photo at a time.

What I like to do is let my mind drift or wander through photos, through life, through experiences. How can I see the artistry of life through another lens. Maybe a picture. Maybe a painting. Maybe another’s eyes.

Oh the journeys we can take if we immerse ourselves in the beauty of the environment and allow artistry a chance. Look beyond the ordinary of today. The mundane of today.

Find the beauty of a fall leaf. The color in a butterfly’s wings. See if you can look at the beauty of your environment through a different lens. You may have looked at the same window view a thousand times and never see the glimmer of light that has hit a flower in a magical light at a certain hour each day. However the camera lens may have caught it. Another’s view of your ordinary.

There is a beauty in the lens of others. An artistry of life that can be observed by others when they are free in mind and spirit to enjoy. Soak in the beauty of today vs. the worries of tomorrow. 

We can all look at things in life and cast shadows or doubts. We can all look at the same things in life to see beauty. Choose wisely. Life doesn’t last forever.