Your Morning Cup of Inspiration

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“We are our choices.” J.P. Sartre

There is a lot of life that is outside of our control. We can’t dictate how other people act.  We can’t control the economy or our job opportunities.  We can’t decide who our parents will be or our genetics.  But there is one very important aspect of life that is under our control – our choices.

In fact, I would argue that our choices dictate our quality of life more than any other factor. For instance, so many kids respond differently to their parents’ divorce.  Divorce is an unfortunate and all too common event in our society.  And for the children involved, it is profoundly disappointing.  Some kids turn to drugs, alcohol and bad behavior as a result.  However, when my parents divorced, I had the same reaction as some of my closest friends from divorced homes.  We hit the books and studied hard.  We walked the straight and narrow, lest we jeopardize our ability to go to college (our escape from the chaos created by our parents).  And ultimately, we succeeded – in spite of our circumstances.

I know two women who lost their mothers at an early age. One decided to be bitter and difficult due to the experience.  The other decided to be loving and warm.  She is extremely maternal, in spite of not having had a role model for motherhood.  They have had the same circumstances, but they have made different choices.

I’m sure you know folks who were given everything, and they chose to squander all their opportunities. And I’m sure you know individuals who came from limited means and yet did great things with their lives.  Circumstances don’t dictate our success.  Instead, our success or failure is dictated by our choices.  Do we choose drive and ambition, or do we choose complacency?

If there was one thing that I would tell every young person, it is this: We are the sum of our choices. So, at every opportunity, make good ones.  You would be surprised how far you will get in life simply by choosing hard work and kind behavior.

In fact, the biggest tragedy is when people don’t have choices. In this respect, I think in particular of children from poorer countries who don’t have access to education.  I also think of the young girls who are forced into marriage at a young age.  I also think of the children and young women who are sold into slavery.  What are their choices?  They have none, and that is a tragedy.

For most of us in the Western world, however, we do have choices. So please don’t take your choices for granted.  We each have the choice to work hard, be kind and give generously.  Conversely, we can choose to be lazy, unkind and stingy.  And ultimately, we become our choices.

This week, think about the choices you’ve made thus far in your life. Like everyone, you probably have made some good ones and some bad ones.  Consider how those choices have taken you on a certain trajectory in life.  Then think about where you want to be in the next 10 days, 10 months or 10 years.  If you make the right choices today, you will get to where you want to be in the future.  So be sure that your choices are good ones.

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Forgiving someone who has wronged you is hard. It is hard to let go of the bitterness, anger and resentment that we naturally feel when someone has hurt us.  Of course, we know that we should forgive.  We know that carrying around all those negative feelings is bad for us, both mentally and physically.  But how do we forgive?

Below, I offer some thoughts on how to get yourself on the path to forgiveness. I’ve had had a bit of life experience and some people to forgive along my journey.  These are the approaches that have worked for me.  I hope and pray they help you as well.

  1. Forgive Yourself First: The hardest thing about being hurt is forgiving ourselves. Very often we kick ourselves for having permitted someone to hurt us. Perhaps we put up with bad behavior for a long time that we shouldn’t have. Or maybe we trusted someone who was clearly untrustworthy. Or maybe we didn’t stand up for ourselves. If that is your situation, I beg you to please forgive yourself. Sometimes, we put up with crummy behavior for very good reasons. We do so to save marriages. We do it to preserve our relationships with our families or with our friends. There is nothing wrong with that. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Sometimes, unfortunately, we’ve put up with bad behavior because we weren’t in a position to stop it, or we didn’t know how to do so. Again, please forgive yourself. We simply cannot control other people. You aren’t responsible for the bad behavior of another human being, nor are you the cause of that behavior.  So, always forgive yourself first.
  2. Succeed at Something: Frank Sinatra said, “The best revenge is massive success.” Now, I’m not condoning revenge, but success is a good antidote to being hurt. When we are hurt, our confidence takes a hit. Having some successes will help your confidence rebound. So, if you are struggling to forgive someone, take your focus off that person. Instead, give your mental energy to doing something well. Attack a project or a goal. Once you have some successes under your belt, you’ll find that the offense that initially bothered you won’t seem like a such a big deal anymore. You will have moved past it, and forgiveness will come much more easily to you.
  3. Don’t Get Mad, Get Humble: One way to respond to someone hurting you is to get mad. But being mad doesn’t get us anywhere. It is far better to respond by “getting humble.”  When I got divorced, I didn’t feel mad. Instead, I felt humbled by the experience. I realized that like everyone else, I am neither perfect nor invincible. Like all other human beings, I am vulnerable and can be hurt. In fact, we all can be hurt and each one of us can hurt another person. When we become humble enough to realize our own imperfection, it becomes easier to forgive the weakness in the other person that led him or her to hurt us.
  4. Regain Your Power: Being hurt makes us feel powerless against the bad behavior of others. And when we feel powerless, it is hard to forgive. We resent the person who took advantage of our vulnerability. So, we need to regain our power and stop the “victim talk” that goes on inside our heads. “I’m someone people hurt.” “I’m not able to defend myself.” “I’m someone people take advantage of.” All of that may have been true when you were hurt. However, that isn’t true today. Today you are a wise, strong individual. Perhaps before this experience, you were innocent or too trusting. But now you are alert to the signs of someone who isn’t trustworthy. You’ve gained insight and wisdom from your experiences. Forgive the person who wronged you and assume your power. You are no longer vulnerable to the poor behavior of that individual.

Forgiveness is neither easy nor simple. It isn’t something that we do naturally.  Instead, we each have to develop our own approach as to how we will let go of hurt feelings and forgive others.  Consider using some of the above approaches to release any resentments that you may be carrying.  Taking the path to forgiveness most assuredly will benefit one very important person – You.

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No one goes through life without disappointment. We all have painful experiences.  We all have situations which don’t turn out the way that we would like them to.  It is an unavoidable part of the human experience.

Now lots of people will tell you to let go of disappointment. They will tell you to forgive the person who wronged you.  They will tell you to forget about that time when your hopes were dashed.

However, I’d like you to take your reaction to disappointment one step further. I’d like you to appreciate your disappointments.

That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Who in their right mind would appreciate disappointment?  However, we are the sum of our successes and our failures.  In fact, we are more defined by our failures.  Anyone can respond graciously to success.  But it takes mental fortitude and courage to handle disappointment.  We show what we are made of when life doesn’t go our way.

For instance, what if your marriage ended? Would you get depressed and decide that one person’s opinion defined you?  Or, would you shed some tears, forgive your spouse, and then dust yourself off and attack life as a single person head on?  What would you do if you lost your job?  Would you become bitter and hold a grudge against your employer?  Or, would you tell yourself, “This is my opportunity to get the job of my dreams”?

I’ve been through more disappointments than I can count. I’ve had jobs that I applied for and didn’t get.  I’ve had a marriage that ended in divorce.  I didn’t have the perfect, Norman Rockwell upbringing with birthday parties, beautiful Christmases and a lovely home.  Instead, I grew up in a household that at times was fraught with dysfunction.

But those circumstances haven’t defined me, except in how I’ve responded to them. My response hasn’t been to get depressed and give up.  Instead, I’ve learned that the really good things in life don’t just land in your lap.  Instead, they are the product of tenacious drive and hard work.  I’ve learned that life is imperfect.  So, there naturally are going to be disappointments.  However, there is also a great deal of joy.  I’ve been blessed with a daughter, a wonderful second marriage, and a lifelong, continually growing relationship with God.  My list of joys goes on and on.

My disappointments, in fact, have been springboards to greater insight about life. Without them, I would have the emotional maturity of a 4-year-old, falling apart at the first sign of any obstacle or imperfection.  Instead, because I’ve faced disappointment head on, I am resilient.  I don’t take my blessings for granted.  And I certainly don’t judge anyone whose life has been imperfect because mine sure has been.  I now appreciate my disappointments because I know that they have matured me and have given me wisdom.

If you are struggling with past or current disappointments, consider changing the way you view them. Think about how those experiences likely have changed you for the better.  Even if those experiences were hard, you are probably a wiser and more compassionate person because of them.  You probably cherish your blessings so much more because you know how hard life can be sometimes.  So, appreciate your disappointments.  They truly are blessings in disguise.

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“BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy. But with sound self-confidence you can succeed. A sense of inferiority and inadequacy interferes with the attainment of your hopes, but self-confidence leads to self-realization and successful achievement.” ― Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking

So often in life, when we are facing a problem which we don’t know how to solve, we allow the problem to overwhelm us. And we end up feeling stuck.

“My spouse and I are fighting. I feel so stuck in this marriage.”

“I can’t pay my bills this month. I am stuck in debt.”

“My boss doesn’t appreciate me. I feel stuck in this job.”

And this feeling of being stuck paralyzes us. And then we feel even more stuck!  When we feel stuck, we feel incompetent to solve our problems. So in order to attack whatever problem you may be facing, you need to regain your confidence.  The best way to do that is to do what you know.  We become confident by doing what we are good at.

What do you know how to do? What are you good at?  You don’t need to do anything fancy to regain that feeling of confidence.  If you feel stuck with a problem, and you are good at organizing closets, then take an hour and organize your pantry.  If you happen to be a topnotch baker, bake a pie.  Do something well and get that lovely feeling of accomplishment for a job well done.  Remind yourself that you are capable!

For instance, when I was getting divorced, I felt incredibly overwhelmed at times. So, I threw myself into the two things that I knew how to do: Work and be a mom.  I gave those two jobs my full attention.  And with every success at work and every positive moment with my daughter, I felt more confident.

Sometimes, if I am having a frustrating day, I’ll do something small to bring my confidence back. I might send a card to someone, just to remind myself that I am capable of brightening someone’s day.  Or, I might tackle a home project, so I can enjoy the fruits of my labor when I am done.  Generally, a small confidence boosting activity is enough to get myself mentally back on track.

If you are overwhelmed by a problem this week, for the time being, just do what you know. Do something that you are good at to remind yourself of how competent you really are.  And know that with God, you are well able to handle any challenge that life presents to you.

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