I had been giving 2023 a lot of thought even before the new year began. Our world is in so much turmoil and people are so intent on getting what they want, without any regard for human life and the unbelievable consequences their decisions cost, that I was unable to see how any goals I set would help relieve much of the suffering. I am an older woman, who has only managed to make it because I don't believe in debt or credit cards since they can so easily become traps that require doing something unethical or even illegal to get out of. I was raised by parents who grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930's and we were taught not to spend money on anything we didn't need and to save every dime possible for the rainy days that would always come.
While those principles often seemed harsh, they have been one of the biggest blessings of my life. But they have also been a stumbling block because I never learned how to do special things for myself or purchase the niceties that most everyone else considers necessities, even my own children. I have hated watching them struggle over the years, and have helped whenever I could, but I know that we only learn by paying the debt our actions bring. At least that's the way it's always been for me, and I'm learning as much now as I ever have because I finally understand how much I can benefit from the wisdom of others.
Perhaps that's why I was so deeply touched during a talk given a couple of Sundays ago by a man young enough to be my son. His topic was how to make positive changes in the right way--very applicable for a new year. He began by saying he doesn't believe in setting goals because they never work for long. The enthusiasm of committing to lose weight, exercise more, spend less money or whatever else it might be soon dwindles as life goes back to normal after the holidays end and old patterns seem to come back like warm and comfortable friends. Even if those twenty pounds are lost, the satisfaction is soon gone because it simply means that another goal needs to be set.
He said he equated a new year with deciding what minor changes could make his overall life better. They didn't have to be anything noteworthy, and preferably not, because that would make them too hard to fit into an already busy life. Perhaps it resonated so completely with me because I have been thinking along similar lines for weeks. I was conditioned from early childhood not to believe I was worth much. It stemmed from my mother blaming me for the accident that nearly cost my younger brother his life and condemned him to a lifetime of disabilities, surgeries and the inability to do most of the things he really wanted. I was five and he was three when my father accidentally ran over him with a tandem disc while getting ready for spring planting on our farm.
Guilt is a horrid taskmaster and I wasn't the only one to suffer. But that experience was soon followed by many others that stripped what was left of my fragile self esteem. After recovering from six months in bed with rheumatic fever at the age of nine, I was molested by my violin teacher. When I approached my mother about it, I was told it never happened because he had been her violin teacher too and had never touched her. Two years later my father died and soon after that I went through two more bouts of Rheumatic Fever. One of them caused significant hair loss which was one of the worst things that could happen to a teenage girl because I became so self-conscious I could hardly look at anyone.
I ran away from home during my senior year after my mother came after me with a butcher knife but was lucky enough to get an academic scholarship to college--good for one year and more if I kept my grades up. Unfortunately, I found that boys could like me and I was so desperate for approval I let my grades slip and had to work even more outside jobs to complete my education.
In other posts I've talked about my marriage and how destructive it was to my soul. I won't rehash those things here, but like everyone else, I am a composite of everything that has happened to me in this life. And I would imagine what I learned in the life before we came here, because I have always believe in God and my Savior and that we have a specific reason for being here during this age of our world. I might not understand how everything is connected, but I do know I can turn to them regardless of what I am going through at any given minute.
That's why I'm taking a very different approach to what I want to accomplish during 2023. It took several weeks of praying to even know where to start before I was led back to an old therapy I found in a series of books that have helped me find clarity when everything around me was a jumbled up mass of confusion. It's the easiest exercise I've ever encountered, along with being the most beneficial and productive. It can only be done when a person has at least a half hour of silent aloneness when thoughts and feelings can run unobstructed. I begin by writing down the question I wanted answered with my dominant hand on a sheet of clean paper, and then answering with my non-dominant one. It often takes time to decipher what I've written, but is so worth it I try to tell everyone I meet about the process.
I have always believed that we have the answers to our most puzzling difficulties inside, we just don't know how to access them. I also know that there are many different dimensions to me--most of them children who just want to be heard. I've accessed my playful child, my soulful child, my frightened child, my spiritual child, my tempestuous child and many others as the need arose. They each have a very specific reason for addressing me; some with censure, some with information and some with nothing but love. This time, I approached them all and waited to see which one was ready to address me.
Here's what I said in my request: "I don't know how to move forward from where I am right now--not spiritually, physically, mentally or emotionally. I have no idea about what goals to set or what changes will be the most beneficial. But mostly I don't know how to focus and figure out where to start. What's standing in my way against the changes I need to make and how do I move past it so I can love and nurture myself like I want to do with others?"
Then I switched hands with my pencil and allowed the ideas to come. I was quite amazed at the response. I won't duplicate everything I wrote but will share the highlights in bullet points. I'm hoping that what I learned about change will help someone else because it came from a place where I was obviously ready to accept the deepest truths.Yours may be quite different, and much less disjoined, but my personal response seemed to be linked to learning to accept and love myself just as I am.
~ Stop acting like there is something horribly wrong with you
~ Your challenges are hard and life-altering, but not impossible to overcome
~ You're different than other women, but that doesn't make you bad
~ You feel for the less fortunate because you are one of them. Embrace that and keep trying to include the misfits that will never become one of the beautiful people because they hurt inside just like you do. Love them like you want to love yourself
~ Start looking for the things you do well, write them down and find ways to build on your strengths
~ Forget about all your sister's beauty and how many people love them. God looks on the heart and you want yours pure, not weighted down by how you look. That only breeds discontent and self-absorption
~ Keep trying to reach out to others. Succor the lonely misfits who, like you, have never felt they belonged
~ Look in the mirror and see with your heart instead of your eyes. Your body will continue to deteriorate, but your heart is just learning how to soar
~ Keep working on things you can leave behind to build and bring joy to others
It wasn't exactly what I expected, but it was definitely what I needed to hear. Since then I've been turning off the television after dinner so I can work on other things. I've been riding my stationary bike for at least 20 minutes while reading an edifying book. Then I work on some stitchery project for an hour or so while listening to some of my favorite music. I had stopped making things by hand because everyone seems to be more impressed by what can be purchased at a store, but I've already decided what projects I can do for family and friends for birthdays and other holidays.
The love and time involved never seems to cross their minds, but I no longer care. I'm doing this because it gives me time to really think about the individual I am creating something unique for. I also do fifty reps with five pound weights, read my scriptures, say my nightly prayer and even tried out a face mask I was going to give someone else. They're not huge changes, but they're ones I can live with and hopefully I will see some positive results by tweaking a few points in my nightly routine--like lowering my blood sugar and blood pressure and adding relief when it comes to aching joints and swollen ankles. There really is nothing uplifting about being glued to an entertainment source for four to six hours when there is no positive interaction. The only plus was bodily rest and feeling a little less lonely.
When I look in the mirror now, I am trying to study my face like God would if he was gazing at me. There would be no more despicable self-talk about being old, fat, wrinkly, ugly or unloveable. Someday I will be at my best again because my spirit body has never aged, and I want my insides to match what can be seen on the outside. I won't say that it's changed my life yet because I've only been viewing myself differently for a week, but my heart does feel lighter. And with that, I know the real changes I need to make will come eventually because I deserve being treated with kindness and love.
I wish all of you an epiphany of your own that will help you see the parts of yourself that could use a little tenderness. The best change comes gradually and is not rushed before its time. I will never be young again, nor will I be as fit and trim as I was when everything was working as it should. I want to be one of those older ladies who radiates beauty because she is kind, thoughtful, forgiving, patient and wise. After all, old age is a blessings if used the right way. It's a time for reviewing a life well spent and preparing for a glorious future.
If you like to read, you might enjoy my new series about one woman's journey from abuse to truly living and loving again. The last book in the series came out this week. THE TRUTH ABOUT STRANGERS in print and eBook formats is on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2BXNSdv As always, those with Kindle Unlimited can read any of my books for free.
We all have so much we can offer others, we just need to be brave enough to do it.