Have you ever had one of those days when you just felt “off”?
That’s how my day started. There was nothing wrong, but I felt lethargic and emotionally low. Maybe it was the overcast, gloomy morning. Whatever was going on, I had to fight back or it would derail my day.
After a battle with a misaligned zipper on my jacket, which didn’t help my sagging spirits, I stepped out into the cool morning.
As I walked, I prayed for God to speak to me. My thoughts were surrendered to Him as I awaited peace, or guidance, or focus – something to help me reconcile the apathy enshrouding me.
A diversion on the pathway caused me to cross a grassy area. Glancing at my feet, I noticed the grass had different colours in it. Did it always change colours like the leaves did? While focusing on the golden and browning leaves carpeting the ground, I had missed what was happening right beneath my feet.
I stopped to take a picture. A few steps later, I was back on the path beside the creek and paying more attention to my surroundings. The beauty of the grasses along the creek bank compelled me to stop several times to take more photos.
Further on I admired the incredible workmanship of a beaver dam. I veered off the path and waded through some taller grasses to get a closer look. I almost didn’t take a picture because there was what I considered garbage in front. Then I realized these pieces had been incorporated into the structure. Everything had a purpose. Nothing was wasted.
As I returned home, my thoughts went to my earlier prayer. “God, I’m so sorry. After asking you to speak to me, I became distracted and didn’t listen for your voice.”
In my spirit I heard, “My precious child; I spoke to you in a language you could easily understand. You find me in the beauty of nature I’ve surrounded you with. Today you were reminded it is there even when the sun is not shining. You listened well. I observed you express gratitude for things you normally don’t notice. That’s what I wanted for you today. When you get past your preconceived ideas of what you need, you are then able to appreciate what you have. Thank you for opening your heart to receive the blessings and love I have for you – today and every day.”
I arrived home humbled and in awe. The knowledge I carried in my head had made the journey to my heart. No experience in my life is wasted. Everything serves a purpose.
My focus had shifted to all the blessings in my life. My off switch had been turned back on and I was fully illuminated.
Crisp, golden leaves rustled in the breeze and scattered on the path as I headed towards the park. Up ahead a man was walking his black lab.
Suddenly, the dog started to bark loudly and strain at the leash. Hidden from sight in a backyard bordering the path, another dog barked back. The lab growled and pulled even harder towards the yard.
Now I understood why such a thick leash was needed. I felt intimidated by the show of aggression and was grateful to be able to pass by while the dog was distracted.
A few days later, in the center of the park, I came up behind what looked like the same man and dog. The distinctive thick, red plaid leash affirmed this but this time the lab was calm and meandered along, sniffing the grass beside the pathway.
A boy zipped past on a scooter and the noise caused the lab to look up. Ahead, where two paths intersected, were three separate families, walking their dogs.
The lab quickly began to bark, growl and strain at its leash. The owner tightened his grip and did his best to hold his dog still. It was quite a task as the docile dog of moments before changed into an aggressive, snarling beast. The sudden change was remarkable.
On my way out of the park, I figured out the reason for the personality change. A sign stated that coyotes had been seen in the area. It also detailed what to do if you encountered one of these wild animals.
The lab was obviously intelligent enough to read the sign. It was now honing the new skills of being loud and making yourself look bigger. This practice on other dogs would ensure it was prepared, should an encounter with a coyote be ahead. Clever dog! I’d say it’s ready!
Snippets of overheard conversation can sometimes have a profound impact on my life. Such was the case when a young boy and his dad cycled past me. The boy said, “The ground is really hard if you fall.” His dad agreed and told him that was why they had worked so hard on balance, so he’d be less likely to fall. That is all of the conversation I heard, but it was enough.
The thought of balance stayed with me. Not balance on a bicycle, but in life.
My life consists of many good things. The problem comes when I focus on a few of them and neglect the others. Without a proper balance, I become unstable. This may not be evident right away, but eventually, my quality of life is affected. If I don’t pay attention to the warning signs I’m headed for a fall.
Like the young boy on the bicycle, I have fallen and experienced some hard landings. Getting back up can be difficult. The bumps and bruises remind me to be more careful next time.
The simple wisdom I overheard was timely. Fall is typically a season of new beginnings as activities resume and days get busier. In the past, I have been known to take on too many commitments. Time and attention are taken from other areas in order to keep up. This creates an unbalance physically, emotionally and relationally.
I’m getting too old to pick myself up easily after a fall. For that reason, I’m working hard to keep balance in my life. I know I can’t be the only one who struggles with this.
How are you doing with maintaining balance and do you have any tips to share?
In my youth, I earned spending money in the summer by picking strawberries and raspberries. How much I earned depended on the weight of berries I picked.
Most of the times, the rows I picked on were assigned and I had to take the next one available. When I did have the opportunity to choose, I would look for the one I could easily see the most fruit on. I figured that would enable me to add more weight to my basket for the same effort.
Looking for the best place to start didn’t always work in my favour. I often looked over with envy at the row beside me where it seemed plants had an abundance of hidden fruit.
The lesson I learned was to stop wasting time looking for something better. If I wanted to meet my goal, I had to just get started.
Many years later, this lesson still holds value – when I remember it. I shudder to think of the time I’ve wasted, looking for more advantageous starting places. How many projects have been abandoned because I didn’t find the perfect time or place to get going on them? How many opportunities lost?
On the other hand, when I have decided to put my mind to it and just do it, I’ve found unexpected hidden fruit along the way. These treasures would still be undiscovered if I’d waited for the elusive “perfect opportunity.”
I’ve taken a leap of faith into a few projects lately and can speak from experience. When looking for a place to start, it doesn’t get any better than right where you are.
“Your garden is beautiful,” I told her. “People tell me that,” she replied. “But I think they’re just being nice. When I look at it, I see areas that need more mulch and it’s definitely overdue for a weeding.”
Her front yard was a riot of colour from all the flowers in bloom. The peonies alone were spectacular!
This woman was focusing on a few flaws and missed the colourful display everyone else saw.
I realized that most of us, myself included, do the same with our lives. It is difficult for us to accept a compliment because we are always thinking of our less than perfect aspects. We try desperately to hide the weeds in our lives. “Don’t look too closely,” we think.
Another friend and I had recently had a discussion about the need to celebrate our accomplishments rather than focus on what didn’t go according to plan.
In essence, we tend to neglect the flowers and tend to the weeds. There is something very wrong with this picture.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to let our weeds grow strong and tall. They need to be kept under control, just not at the expense of enjoying life’s fragrant blooms.
I’ve had a productive couple of days and choose to celebrate by spending time with a cold drink and a good book. What are you doing to cultivate the garden of your life?
One of my long-term goals has been to have a story published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. In order to achieve this, I would regularly check their website for upcoming titles I could submit to.
I would find a suitable topic, write something, second guess myself and finally step out of my comfort zone to actually submit it.
After several warm-up attempts, also known as submissions that didn’t make the cut, I came up with the right story for the right book.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone was the perfect place to tell of an experience I’d had with my granddaughter, Faith.
For this fun-loving girl’s nineteenth birthday, I suggested the two of us go on a water-water rafting trip. It sounded like fun and we were both excited as we made our plans. Little did I know the fear this would induce and how I would react to it.
What happened? My story, titled I Feared for My Life, can be found in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone.
The book released this week, and can be ordered from Amazon. You can also get a signed copy directly from me!
I’m thrilled to be a contributor to this amazing book. I had no idea that fighting fear and getting out of my comfort zone could also help me achieve one of my dreams.
So, when you have the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, my advice is to just do it! The results could lead to more than you expected.
Something as simple as a walk in different surroundings caused me to reflect on the journey of life.
I left our campsite and headed to the wide, paved walkway I’d taken the previous day. This was a safe, predictable route, and I had confidence in where I was and how to find my way.
Set on a slight rise, I was able to have a good view of my surroundings. Off to one side I could see streets and houses. On the other was a river which disappeared into a forested area.
My goal was not a destination, but exercise and enjoyment. Was predictable was enough or did I want more?
I made a decision and headed for the trees. On the heels of that decision came another. Before me were several paths, leading in different directions. Which one should I choose?
Since the area was unfamiliar, I chose the one running parallel to the one I’d come from. With the paved walkway in sight, I wouldn’t get disoriented or lost.
I thought of a sign I’d seen earlier that said Adventure Awaits. What kind of adventure did I want this morning? Was it one to keep me feeling safe and secure or one to help me experience something new?
More choices of paths presented themselves. I decided to explore the unknown and ventured deeper into the woods.
My first obstacle came in the form of a large tree, fallen across my path. I could turn back, find a way around it, or climb over. Feeling quite pleased with myself, I chose the latter.
The next bend caused me to catch my breath in awe. Silvery green leaves glimmered on both sides and in front of me. I couldn’t even see the path ahead until I moved forward. This beauty would have been missed if I’d turned back at the first challenge I faced.
After a few twists and turns, I came to a steep hill. Could I climb it? Yes, but it would take me back to the main walkway and I hadn’t finished exploring. I turned and headed in the opposite direction.
Every fork in the path (and they were frequent), caused me to make another decision. So many options were available. I followed my instincts, knowing if it didn’t work out, I could go back and alter my route.
A clearing ahead led me to a large, flat area beside the river. I took time to savor the vision of trees from the opposite bank, reflected in the calm, crystal clear water. My body and mind refreshed; I followed the river until I reached the bank taking me back to the main walkway.
As I returned to my campsite, I reflected on the times I’ve struggled over which path my life should take. Some have given me the security of familiarity. Others have taken me over more scenic routes. There are also the ones that provided challenges, thrills and excitement. Often, these paths intersected at unexpected places.
Every path I’ve taken, even the ones I thought were mistakes, have led me to where and who I am today. They all served a purpose. I am aware that in order to keep moving forward, there will be more decisions ahead. It’s my choice to either make safe, predictable ones or explore new possibilities.
“Did you see that?” my husband said. “No, but I heard the ding, and wondered what it was for,” I replied.
We had picked up our rental car a few hours earlier. The car was so new, it only had eleven miles on the odometer and we were the first to rent it. There were several features we’d never seen before and the ding and accompanying message were among them.
After driving for a certain amount of time, the tone would sound and a message flashed up on the dashboard. It showed a picture of a cup and saucer with steam rising from it. The words, Driver Alert and Take a Break were printed above and below the image.
The car was advising us to stop for rest and refreshment! We soon discovered that if we ignored the friendly advice, it would be repeated with increasing frequency. After taking a break, the timer seemed to reset for 1.5 -2 hours before reminding us again of the need to take the necessary steps to stay alert.
Along with Lane Assist, that physically moved the car back if we ventured too close to the side of the road, this car was providing added protection so we would reach our destination safely.
I thought about how useful these features would be in my everyday life. When I’ve been working on something for an extended period, I can become complacent. My focus starts to blur and I’m not as productive. A break or change in activity refreshes and restores my ability to concentrate. I know this but since I don’t always do what’s best for me, a reminder would be helpful!
I don’t know about you, but I have been known to drift off course. Distractions abound and before I know it, I’m not where I wanted to be. The trick is to catch myself soon enough that no damage is done. Something to assist me in staying on course would be wonderful.
Maybe it’s as simple as scheduling breaks to stretch my limbs, change my focus and appreciate new surroundings. By doing this I will better be able to reassess my direction and reach my desired destination.
I was at my second airport of the morning, heading to my next departure gate. This was going to be a long day of travel.
Most people we saw looked tired or stressed as they speed-walked between gates.
This young girl was holding her dad’s hand, skipping and carrying on an animated conversation. She was obviously happy and excited. I watched her tug on her dad’s arm to get his full attention. Once eye contact was made, he was rewarded with a huge smile.
Out of the thousands of people we saw in four airports and sixteen hours of travel, this young girl is the one I remember. Maybe it’s because I saw so few smiles that day.
The excitement of travel and new adventures is lost on most of us. We tend to set our sights on our final destination and forget to enjoy what is between point A and point B. The joy of the actual journey is nowhere to be found.
In travel and in life I am often guilty of this. Distractions that slow me down are seen as inconveniences and not as pleasant diversions. Unfortunately, this means my enthusiasm for everyday life is sadly lacking.
I hope the memory of the young girl in the airport stays with me to remind me to experience joy in my journey.
Nervousness and excitement competed for prominence in my mind as I arrived for my first day of classes. The school, in the small town of Chicxulub in Mexico, had an open-air courtyard with classrooms around the perimeter. It was nothing like the modern schools we have in Canada.
I waited outside for a few minutes and entered together with my fellow teaching volunteers. The crowded room was set up with six tables. Each could seat four students and two teachers.
Before the children arrived, we spent thirty minutes getting acquainted, reviewing the lesson plan and distributing supplies for the day.
The students were led from their regular classroom into our room. They entered to our greeting of, “Good Afternoon” and chose where they wanted to sit. Of the 28 registered in the class, only 17 were present that day; 5 boys and 12 girls. This number varied from week to week and we never had a full class.
The first task was for the students to make nametags. They wrote, I am and their name on a card that was placed in a lanyard around their necks. Along with the students and other teachers I stood in turn, held up my nametag and said, “I am Tandy.” This was our first lesson and the way each class would start.
The children were polite and extremely reserved. It was a challenge to get them to speak loudly enough to be heard. Over the next two months, this shyness persisted for most of them.
Each component of the lesson plan was explained in English and Spanish from the front of the room. Some phrases were written on a white board so they could be referred to.
Then we would work with the students at our table to help them learn necessary words in this foreign language. Over the weeks we taught them through the use of flash cards with words and pictures. They learned: I am, I have, I want and I need. As we added: I am not, I do not have, I do not want and I do not need they were able to form simple sentences with the flash cards. Colours, people, animals and simple objects were incorporated into these sentences. To understand the correct meaning of the words and sentences they formed was quite an accomplishment.
Numbers were also taught. They knew the numerals, but the English words for them proved difficult. We played games to make it enjoyable. In some cases, like when we played Snakes and Ladders, they were having so much fun, it didn’t seem like learning!
Our hour-long classes passed quickly. Each week, the happy students would line up, a table at a time to leave the classroom. They were handed a simple snack and would say, “Thank you” to which a reply of, “You are welcome” was given. As well as a treat, this provided another opportunity to practice English words.
After two months we came to our last class. These students were in grade 6 and this is the final mandatory year for attending school. Most would not continue their education. We were in an economically challenged area and families could not afford to keep their children in school. We hoped the little we’d been able to teach them would be of benefit to them in the future.
As the class ended, the children surprised each teacher with handmade cards of thanks. Some even contained a few of the English phrases learned. I received my cards and hugs of thanks with tears of gratitude. The opportunity to have been part of this important program was a highlight of my time in Mexico. I look forward to returning to volunteer again next year.