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As wonderful as sleepy, soft, cuddly newborns are and as hysterical and challenging as the toddler experience was, my favorite moments have come farther along on this parenting road.  Today, my oldest turns 17.  There are 3 more behind her that are 15, 12 and 10 so I have a distance still to travel on this journey, (that really never ends) but it still seems impossible to me that I have a child this age.  I don’t feel old enough, I look at her and remember so clearly being 17 that it brings tears to my eyes.  When she describes her experiences to me, a friend letting her down, a first date, I can feel them because they still feel so fresh in my own mind and heart. I’m grateful that I have such a good memory. I am mindful that we have a mother daughter relationship, she isn’t my friend yet…one day I am confident she will be. And although she teaches me things everyday, today I collected the 17 thoughts that I hope she will take with her on her journey.

  1. know that you have been unconditionally loved from the day you were born, through our faith and from my heart.  Nothing you can do will change that. 
  2. know that you are unique, there is no reason to conform to anything that doesn’t feel true to who you are.
  3. never forget what you learn through life experiences, but always forgive. it’s the only way to live freely.  
  4. your road to success isn’t measured in medals, scholarships or report cards but in the process you engage to make each day a little better for yourself and those whose paths you cross.  (You are winning on this one for sure already.) 
  5. there are few problems that can’t be fixed by a long solo drive, windows down with the right music playing really loud.
  6. let the lyrics of Zac Brown’s Remedy and Roots and Tim McGraw’s Humble and Kind take hold in your heart and even through the twists and turns, things will turn out alright. 
  7. listen to your voice first, it is strong, wise and trained in the right ways. Consult only a trusted few in times of trouble so that your voice is not drown out by others opinions. 
  8. to whom much is given much is expected.  never stop counting your blessings and being grateful for the many gifts God has given you in this life. 
  9. always, always, always look for the silver lining.  it’s there, some times not as shimmery as others, but no matter what can make you smile through the tears. 
  10. love the little things and seek them out,  they make up the biggest parts of your day.  a sunrise, a bike ride, a swim, none of these cost a dime and bring so much joy. 
  11. your heart and mind are trainable. train them to love, seek optimism and altruism. 
  12. let your motivation be intrinsic, not extrinsic.  there is no limit to what you can manifest from inside your heart and there will always be a time when the outside encouragement cannot be heard even when you are on the right path.  
  13. pay attention to what you attract, it can help reveal your purpose in life and guide you on your journey. 
  14. sometimes all you need is a new day.
  15. nothing will work unless you do.
  16. in seeking advice or good role models, look for people who rise to the pinnacle of their craft and pay attention to their process. How we do the small things is how we do the big things. 
  17. slow down and make decisions with intention. it limits anxiety, regret and always shows you the choice that is true to your heart. 

Happy 17th Birthday Lauren! You are amazing and so loved. 

Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if we all realized the power we each have to do good, to make choices to challenge each other to be the best versions of ourselves and see what results.  In the past, I could get myself so excited about human potential and then so quickly be let down when that potential wasn't realized.  The truth is though, everyone grows at their own pace and in their own way, not the way I would always say it should be done.  Accepting that people have the same freedom to make their own choices and live their lives as they (not I) see fit, leads to a lot more freedom and happiness for me.  In the past, when people, particularly those I loved, didn’t make choices the way I wanted them to, I got upset and tried to convince them that my way was right.  That action plan takes a lot of energy and slows me down in my own process of fulfilling my own goals and living an independent life. It also gave other people so much power over the energy in my day.  Some days, people brought me great things that revved me up, like a child with straight A’s and some days those same people brought me heavy problems, like sickness or relationship problems.   I would take these things on, even though they were not mine, rolling them around over and over in my head and diminishing my potential to efficiently focus on my own life and what was actually within my scope of choices. 

 

Today, I make it a point to focus on a live and let live mentality that leads me away from needing to pass judgement and rather focus on my own creative path that I work on intentionally every day.  It leads me to create connections with people who have different ways of seeing the world, but similar ways of communicating their vision.  In the end, the best relationships are not about being like minded, but authentic in their communication and discovery of their differences. There is infinite room for growth, connection and intimacy in relationships like these, not the case when everyone is just trying to conform or operating out of a sense of obligation.  Judgement happens, its a natural part of being human, but both how we communicate it (or don’t!) and take it when it comes at us is a choice that I am getting better at making.  My actions today are the ones that matter, my confidence in taking action on my path is what I am building.  Join me, I’m excited to see where it goes from here. 

Writing brings so much clarity to life circumstances that seem so overwhelming before putting them down on paper, virtual or otherwise.   I started The Optimists Journal at a time when I was seeking connection with like minds, to know that there were people out there like me, who were interested in deeper meaning, not just making a list and checking the boxes, but figuring out what makes us all tick and connecting all of this human potential to make a better world.  But there was something so foreign to me about global sharing, and worse, global attention seeking, that I have continually struggled with the blog concept from inception. I am not an attention seeker and honestly one of my worst fears is being seen as boastful, better than or like I have it all figured out…because I don’t, not by a long shot. My daily discovery though is that life’s journey is so fulfilling when I am transparent, real and vulnerable. In approaching my relationships this way, as scary as it is, the freedom and beauty that is unleashed makes conquering my fear worth every deep breath that it takes to get there.  I have lived with the fear of vulnerability my entire life. It's based on fear of failure, confrontation and judgement and also my nature of being a straight up people pleaser for most of my life. This (maybe not so unique) combination of personality traits has made me spend thegreater part of my life purposely trying to stay small and unnoticeable, surrounding myself with people with bigger, louder personalities than me and mastering the art of exiting a room as quickly as possible. I pushed other people around me forward, helping them on each of their journeys from behind the scenes and I was perfectly happy about it. I still don’t regret having lived this way for 40 years because I learned some very valuable lessons. I learned how to listen without responding or judging, I learned to watch for patterns that expose the universal truths in the circumstances that we encounter and that connect us as human beings, and most recently I learned, while going through separation and divorce, that when you expose a struggle to the world, you find connection not condemnation. 

Today, I am grateful that I have learned these things but there are so many more lessons that present themselves everyday, challenging me to master them. The trick seems to be staying present so that I don’t miss them as they come my way.  I’ve started practicing this on a daily basis and have realized once you are on the journey to knowing yourself, there are practical steps like yoga, books, podcasts, and healthy lifestyle choices that keep you on the journey of being a life long learner.  There is always room for growth and improvement in this beautiful life.  There has been a shift in my thinking and here I am sharing my writing.  Today I thank God that the voice that He put inside me is turning out not to be as weak as I had once allowed myself to believe. 

Over the last almost 20 years, I have had the joy, challenge and privilege of loving and parenting 4 amazing kids, the youngest of whom is on the autism spectrum.  I have encountered the near drowning of that same mystical little boy, felt the pain of watching loved ones with addictions fight major battles, and experienced the break up of my family through divorce, a word that still feels bitter in my mouth. And yet, as major and course altering as all of these things have been, they have taught me that adversity provides the building blocks of of a beautiful life if you respond properly. Contrary to how I thought I would handle the bumps and brusies, I learned slowly to lift my gaze to the beauty, not the tragedy of any situation and in this I began to rise and attract like minded people doing life in the most beautiful, conscious way. People who are embracing challenge and turning it into human capacity, exploring their own limits and always seeking to become better at the game of life. As a lot of smart people have said before me, its not what happens to you, its how you handle it. I’ve learned that I can smile through just about anything, but even more importantly, I have learned that my capacity to sustain, to connect and endure life's hardships, still filled with optimism and gratitude, is far stronger than I ever believed. 

So herein lies the bigger message of the Optimists Journal: Our connection is found in our broken stories, not our perfect ones.  We are the storytellers of our lives and I’m just learning how to tell mine.  I invite you to share yours too, its where all the best connections in life are made.

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