Do You Believe In Second Chances?

If I take any credit for the way my kids have turned out, it is because I modeled for them a love of continuous lifelong learning. And each of them, by choice, has followed suit. Now as adults if they’re curious about something, they investigate. If they question something, they look into it. If they doubt something, they search for the truth.

They don’t wait around for others to tell them what to think or do. They are self-motivated because they see the direct correlation between cause and effect; action and result; cowardice and regret; wisdom and reward.

They think for themselves and develop their own opinions yet have learned to play nicely with others. Few things are more disturbing than to see people “express” themselves at the expense of someone else or, to “be themselves” in an obnoxious way.

While none of us are perfect and we all learn from our mistakes at our own pace, some of us learn more easily than others. It took my brother, as a little boy, only one time of jumping off a stone wall with an umbrella to learn that cartoons weren’t a reliable source of reality. A broken heel reminded him that, unlike our mouse friend, Jerry, an umbrella would not break his fall. It’s a good thing he learned quickly, otherwise he might have jumped off a cliff like Wile-E-Coyote with drastically different results!

And yet, many of us jump off the proverbial cliff over and over, expecting a time-lapsed float instead of the free-fall that plummets us to earth. We get hurt by a person or situation, and yet we return time and time again.

A friend of mine recently told me she always seemed to choose the wrong men. She ended up with the ones who needed to be rescued and she wondered where all the good men were. It wasn’t hard for me to see why: Her radar was set on men who needed rescuing while emotionally healthy men passed by without her notice. Now well into her third miserable marriage, she recognizes the problem but can’t find the solution.

I’ve made similiar mistakes. Because of my lack of self-identity, or rather, a reluctance of sharing the real me for fear of rejection, I married men who saw potential and thought it was their duty to change me. And later when I resisted, to control me. Two failed marriages later, I see why. Because I was open to the idea that someone else might know what was better for me than I did, I attracted men who were more than willing to take on the job. Except that, it wasn’t their job or their responsibility. It’s only one person’s responsibility to fix me, and that person is me.

Most of us are more comfortable trying to fix others than to work on ourselves. It’s easier to see their problems than to see our own. And we think our problems are their fault. “If only he would treat me with respect ….” Maybe if you respected yourself, he would either follow suit or leave. “If only she wouldn’t spend so much money ….” “If only he wasn’t so lazy ….” “If only she wasn’t so moody… ” “If only …..” The list goes on and on. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we see how the behavior of others trails directly back to us.

“Do I respect myself enough to not allow someone to mistreat me? But how do I do that?” you might ask. “Are you really saying that if he mistreats me, I should remove myself from his presence? Not take his phone calls? Not answer the door when he shows up unexpectedly? Go to safe places and hang out with safe people? But …. but …. but…. You don’t know what you’re asking!”

Yes, I do. I’ve done it. Remember the whole lifelong learning thing? If what you’re doing isn’t working, well, we’ve all heard the definition of insanity coined by Alcoholics Anonymous: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If what you’re doing isn’t working, by all that is good and holy, stop doing it!

In her book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Julia Cameron discusses the two main hindrances to our recovery from whatever is not working in our lives. Crazymakers are external barriers to an emotionally healthy life, and skepticism is an inner enemy that sabotages our efforts to make improvements. While Ms. Cameron is writing specifically about recovery from blocked creativity, what she says can be applied to all areas, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. In my own life, I apply her insights to my recovery from being stuck in unhealthy patterns of living.

She also refers to the crazymakers as poisonous playmates. Other authors use different words to describe them: Unsafe people, toxic people, narcissists.

You know who these people are in your life. They’re the ones who make you feel like you’re the one going crazy. When you catch them in a lie, they accuse you of not trusting. When you ask them why they are so grouchy, they accuse you of being negative. They put a spin on every situation that makes no logical sense and then somehow turn it around to make you look like the bad guy. They leave with a smug grin that says they won the argument, and you’re left wondering what happened. You had logic on your side and yet they seem to have come out on top once again. Things just don’t add up.

She also refers to skepticism as, the secret doubt. Just when we start seeing some improvement, skepticism jumps in and says, “Whoa. This can’t be true. Nothing ever goes my way. I must be imagining it.” This thought gives us permission to give up without looking bad. After all, we’re just being realistic, right? Getting our heads out of the clouds like we were admonished as children? The temptation here is to step back, give in to what is, and once again accept things the way they are. “After all, it’s not all bad,” we console ourselves. “It could be worse. I need to be thankful for what I have. No one’s life is perfect. We’re suppose to be content where we are, right?”

Ms. Cameron sums up our struggle with our two main enemies to recovery, crazymakers and skepticism, this way:

“One of the things most worth noting in … recovery is our reluctance to take seriously the possibility that the universe just might be cooperating with our new and expanded plans. We’ve gotten brave enough to try recovery, but we don’t want the universe to really pay attention. We still feel too much like frauds to handle some success. When it comes, we want to go.

“Of course we do! Any little bit of experimenting in self-nurturance is very frightening for most of us. When our little experiment provokes the universe to open a door or two, we start shying away. “Hey! You! Whatever you are! Not so fast!”

“I like to think of the mind as a room. In that room, we keep all of our usual ideas about life, God, what’s possible and what’s not. The room has a door. That door is ever so slightly ajar, and outside we can see a great deal of dazzling light. Out there in the dazzling light are a lot of new ideas that we consider too far-out for us, and so we keep them out there. The ideas we are comfortable with are in the room with us. The other ideas are out, and we keep them out.

“In our ordinary, pre-recovery life, when we would hear something weird or threatening, we’d just grab the door knob and pull the door shut. Fast.

“Inner work triggering outer change? Ridiculous! (Slam the door.) God bothering to help my … recovery? (Slam.) Synchronicity supporting … with serendipitous coincidences? (Slam, slam, slam.)

“Now that we are in … recovery, there is another approach we need to try. To do this, we gently set aside our skepticism – for later use, if we need it – and when a weird idea or coincidence whizzes by, we gently nudge the door a little further open.

“Setting skepticism aside, even briefly, can make for very interesting explorations. In … recovery, it is not necessary that we change any of our beliefs. It is necessary that we examine them.” (pp. 41-51)

Ms. Cameron’s last statement is key: “In recovery, it is not necessary that we change any of our beliefs. It is necessary that we examine them.” (p.51)

Often times we feel trapped; like we’re stuck with no way out. That’s a lie. Reality is, we all have choices and there is always something we can do. It may be a small, seemingly insignificant step in the right direction, or it may be a big one-time move. It doesn’t matter. Figure it out and do something. Stop feeling helpless or victimized, and stop expecting some kind of brownie points for being a martyr. There aren’t any. There’s only more suffering ahead if we choose to do nothing.

Those of us who were raised with a strong sense of right and wrong are often the most plagued with a sense of misplaced duty. Showing unconditional love and being steadfast in the face of adversity are admirable qualities. But when our sense of duty is hurting us and those we love, it would be advisable to step back and evaluate where our true duty lies. Is it in sticking with the crazymaker and letting her have her way, thus sidetracking us from our other responsibilities?

We’ve all heard the old saying that the squeaky wheel is the one that gets greased. This is never more true than with crazymakers. They are always squeaking because things are never right and we are never doing enough. Their needs are endless.

Thus, crazymakers eat up an inordinately large portion of our time and energy to the point where we simply cannot take adequate care of ourselves and those we are truly responsibility for. Skepticism, as the evil twin, joins right in and says, “What’s the use of fighting it? She’s my mother so I have to do what she says, even though I’m an adult. She has to come first,” or, “He’s my brother-in-law so I have to keep peace in the family,” or, “I married her so, that’s just the way it is.”

Enough with the excuses. It’s time we get off our fearful hinnies, make some tough decisions, change what isn’t working, and create a life worth living. We’ve wasted enough time and energy on those who don’t appreciate our help. It’s time we looked around and saw what’s been in our faces all along: those who truly deserve our time and attention. It’s like a person petting a stuffed animal while his dog looks up expectantly. We waste our lives on what we can’t change, and make no effort to change what we can.

I love this prayer written by Reinhold Neibuhr in the 1940’s: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (

When conflicting thoughts come, and they will, ask a safe person for help. Now is not the time to put on an invincible facade. We’re not fooling anyone other than ourselves when we claim to be OK when it’s obvious we’re not. It’s time to admit what everyone else already knows. We’re human. We’re vulnerable. We’re afraid. Now, let’s do something about it, together.

When all is said and done, we each have a choice. Stay where we are, stuff down the disappointment and frustration, maintain the status-quo, delude ourselves into thinking there’s virtue in suffering, and die unhappily at the end of a miserable life. It’s up to you.

But, if I were you, and I was, I’d do something and get back on the right path. There’s no better time than the present.


The Queen Of Weird

Sometimes I feel like the Queen of Weird. Things that never happen to others inevitably happen to me.

For a few years now, I’ve been receiving text messages from a group of people I don’t know. They are obviously friends with each other, which makes it odd that my phone number made it into their group. Regardless of how it came to be, here I am, a complete stranger, privy to all their closed conversations.

Have you ever eves dropped without intending to? That’s what happens every time my phone chimes indicating that I’ve received a new text. Sometimes this message truly is intended for me, but at other times it’s from someone in this group of strangers.

I must say, they sound like interesting people. Their ongoing conversations go something like this:

“Hey. I have a week off next month. Thinking about flying to Nashville or something. Anyone game?”

“Sure,” comes a reply. “What dates? I’ll check.”

“Nashville? How about Vegas?”

“Been there, done that. Thinking about someplace new.”

“Third week? Works for me.”

“Me, too. I’ll book my flight.”

“Anyone find good rates?”

“This time of year? You’re crazy.”

That’s a typical conversation when they are planning their get-away. Then there are the ones when they start arriving at their destination.

“Just landed. Where are you guys?”

“At the hotel. Traffic is a bear so it may take you awhile to get here.”

“Got it. On our way.”

I disliked receiving these texts for two reasons. Maybe three. First of all, do you have any idea how many texts a group can make trying to arrange a vacation that works for everyone? Not to mention how many it takes for them to find each other once they arrive at their destination? I’m afraid my phone will over heat with all the chiming.

Secondly, they are vacationing in Nashville in March and I’m watching the snow cocoon me in once again here in Michigan. I’m jealous, pure and simple.

Thirdly, it’s creepy. I’m uncomfortable knowing intimate details about people I don’t even know.

So, on one particular snowy spring day when I had just had it with all their merry-making while I was buried under a foot of snow, I decided to put an end to it. Their endless texts to each other and the inevitable chiming on my phone were driving me crazy. So, I texted them. “Hey, guys. You sound like you’re having a lot of fun, but you don’t know me and yet I know where you are and what you’re doing. So, for the comfort of all of us, would you please delete my number from your group?”

Their surprised responses came immediately.

“Who are you?”

“Who’s that?”

“Do I know you?”

“That’s my point,” I wrote back. You don’t know me and I don’t know you so please get me out of your group. I’ve tried from my end with no luck so maybe you can do something from your end.”

One of them said they’d try. Another one invited me to join them in Nashville!

My point is this: This conversation thread had annoyed me for years. But when I finally took action to do something about it, I discovered that they were a very nice group of people and I actually enjoyed the back and forth banter I had become a part of.

We never figured out how my number made it into their group. They did tell me, however, that a friend of theirs, an NFL football quarterback who I knew of because I had met his parents and brother at my church, was always left out of the thread while I was included. He and I both had Jacksonville phone numbers since we lived there around the same time, but other than that we couldn’t figure out the connection. We may never know how it all came to be, but what I did find out is that I actually liked being a part of their group once I started communicating with them.

When someone finally found a way to remove me from the group, or perhaps they just started a new thread, I was sad. I knew an awesome group of people were in Nashville, Tennessee, having a wonderful time together, but I no longer knew what they were doing. I felt left out.

Isn’t that the way it is with much of our lives? What irritates us for years, when given a chance, actually proves to be an opportunity. And once that opportunity is gone, we’re left feeling sad and full of regrets. We don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone.

It also proves something else. I am still the Queen of Weird.

Dorsal Fin Alert

I was treading water off the coast of Honeymoon Island Beach, Florida when two dorsal fins off to the right caught my eye. They were swimming parallel to shore a few yards from me. I froze.

Carefully slipping my air mattress between them and me (yeah, like that’s really going to help), I headed for shore. As a Floridian, I knew better than to frantically swim – churning water excites sharks, reminding them of injured fish ripe for the picking. I also knew enough not to jump on my air mattress and paddle. I would then resemble a turtle and sharks love turtles. Becoming a tasty afternoon snack was exactly what I was trying to avoid!

In the split second I had to decide my best course of action, I knew the safest route would be to slide onto my air mattress and lie absolutely still. I also knew I couldn’t do it.

So, I continued walking toward shore as calmly as possible, trailing my mattress behind me. Noticing me, my two unwanted guests changed direction and headed directly for me. I cried out, “God protect me! God protect me! God protect me!”

Not more than a body’s length from me at that point, I thought, There go my legs. It was nice having them. I’ll miss them.

Then, just as quickly as before, the would be predators changed course and headed north.

As they left me behind, I realized with regret that they weren’t sharks, but dolphins! I had it within my reach to touch them and because of fear, I missed a once in a lifetime experience. How sweet would it have been to touch two dolphins in the wild?

I will never know because fear clouded my vision when I should have stayed still and observed the signs – straight, pointed dorsal fins for sharks, slanted, curved dorsal fins for dolphins; vertical tails swishing back and forth for sharks, horizontal tails flipping up and down for dolphins; gills on sharks (because they are fish), no gills on dolphins (because they are mammals). Granted, some of these signs would not be easily seen while the creatures were under water, but still, a little attention to detail would have been helpful.

So, then I thought, How many times in the circumstances of my life have I seen sharks when God sent dolphins? How many blessings have I missed while blind-sided by fear? I may never know. But, of this I am certain: From now on, I’m looking for dolphins!