Assessing Your Strength and Building a Stronghold

Photo by M.A.D.

I wrote this blogpost as a second part to the previous post.

After a devastating life event, how do you come back to living?

A devastating event will be different for every person, as well as its lasting effects, physically, emotionally and psychologically, as well as materially. When your life has been uprooted and turned upside down and around, how do you recover? During a life storm, everything is taken out of place, including your center, your sense of self and well-being, especially, your sense of self in relation to your Creator.

The recovery and healing process and timeline, assuming that you want it, will be different for everyone, but there are key steps that you can take to start and continue on your way up.

  • First, acknowledge the situation, what has happened, how it happened, but don’t linger on the why looking for blame. Just acknowledge it for what it is at the moment. Know that stagnation or the present condition are not forever unless you decide so.
  • Decide that you want your life back. You want to own your life again, and not be a victim of the circumstances.
  • Acknowledge that you need help, and that help doesn’t equal weakness or handouts. Help can come in many forms: as faith in a higher power, help from above, from a friend or family, from community resources or private resources …
  • Assess your strength. What is good right now? What do you have that is an asset to your healing and recovery? Whether it is in character, spirituality, people, or material resources, make a list of each blessing and look at it. You are not alone. You will feel better.
  • Start visualizing your stronghold, your safe place; it is unique to you. See it in your mind, but also in your heart, no matter how impossible or far away it may seem right now.
  • Start building your stronghold one brick at a time.
    • Brick 1 – Faith, in God and yourself. You need to strengthen it because this block will be the foundation to build over it.
    • Brick 2 – Velocity. Take it one step at a time. Learn to manage the little things first. When you are hurt and vulnerable, anything seems like a huge crisis, unsurmountable, and sometimes it is; however, when in pain, smaller issues are magnified.
    • Brick 3 – Strive for balance. When the weight is out of place, it is easy to feel off balance. Know that a sense of balance will come back as you start managing smaller issues and details one by one. It will strengthen you to keep on going and feel equilibrium. During this time, talk to God; He listens.
    • Brick 4 – Live with intention. By now, you feel a new sense of purpose and desire, even if that is only to come back to the living. Make your days count for you and your loved ones. Live intentionally each day. After all, each brand-new day is a gift the second you open your eyes. Do the best you can with what you have.
    • Brick 5 – Use any resources available to you wisely and carefully. Plan the application of these resources in your life. Don’t waste or overuse these. Develop a sense of responsibility in their inception.
    • Brick 6 – Become selective. Choose carefully the things and people you will give your full attention. This might seem common sense, however, how many times have we placed our attention on things and issues that will not benefit us, whether it relates to time management, frivolous pursuits, unfruitful projects, toxic people, toxic behavior or habits, unhealthy thoughts … Actively choose what enters your space, your sanctuary, your new stronghold. But also, what you will go after from now on, your pursuits.
    • Brick 7 – Build your financial security. This starts with an honest appreciation of your everyday blessings, whether material or immaterial. Be grateful for what you have now and learn to manage it well. Not until that will you be able to define financial health (or any other type of security) for you. However, during that time, you should be working on a few simple skills.
      • Keeping your expenses as low as you can so you can do as much as you can with what you have.
      • Managing your money/resources better. Budgeting.
      • Being intentional with every purchase and on/or below budget.
      • Eliminating your debt one step at a time. It will take time. Stay away from new debt.
      • Building savings slowly. Set an amount, even if low, to start. Savings never stop.
      • Defining your standard of living according to the needs of the stronghold you set out to build. That is why your definition of financial health is important. It will help you discard anything that does not fit in your safe stronghold, whether expensive habits, behavior, or unnecessary purchases. You cannot build a new stronghold while living in an old one that crumbled.
    • Brick 8 – Don’t focus on other people’s strongholds, mind your own. Their blessing is their blessing, yours is yours. It is easy to become distracted by other people’s wants and achievements. It is good to celebrate those and admire, even having someone successful as a mentor. However, when you take your eyes off your stronghold for too long, you will end up neglecting it and even devaluating it. Focus on continuing to build your safe place. Admire others, dream, but don’t neglect your own. This ties back to gratitude.
    • Brick 9 – Realize that stuff and money do not make you rich or more valuable, and it certainly does not make you secure. You do and are with the help of God. When you realize where your true sense of security comes from, that is when you will have built your stronghold. You might have started building it from the outside, in the material, little by little, one small step at a time, one small achievement at a time, however, you will continue to build and improve it on the inside, inside of you, and that is a lifetime’s endeavor.

You are your stronghold and in it reside God’s strength, love, and blessings, because you placed Brick 1 as the foundation.

Disclaimer: I know because I’ve been there.

Falling Up While Looking Down

Photo by MAD

The title of this blogpost may seem a contradiction, however, it is not. This blogpost is about when one experiences a life changing event, a sort of “life crash” that changes not only your life, but everything around it. A life crash might be different for every person. It is that event that touches your core, your inner being, and it can make you or destroy you. It usually comes in the form of a loss, whether of health, possessions, relationships, finances … It turns your world upside down.

In the midst of mourning your loss, and while you are still falling, it is then when you will make the most important decision. On that defining moment, when you feel that you have reached rock bottom, you will decide whether you will continue to fall up while looking down or you will stay down and never look up. If you decide to mourn your loss on your way up, you will still feel the fall and hurt, but you will be on your way to regain your balance, and later on your strong footing. With every small and unrushed decision that you make, your stance will become stronger, even when you are still hurting from that fall.

During that time of healing and recovery, faith will surely provide a foothold and a stronghold; however, still looking down on your way up is not easy but requires trust in other than yourself because you are broken down and vulnerable. Faith in a higher power and force will be the bridge that will make a big difference in recovery. Recovery of what, when your world is broken and upside down? Recovery of your self-esteem, your “feeling again,” your courage, your values, your determination, your self-knowledge, your humanity, and ultimately, your heart and soul.

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Martin Luther King

“I shall walk in a wide space, for I have sought your precepts.”

Psalm 119:45

Looking Up to God

Photo by M.A.D.

Have you ever felt so discouraged, disenchanted, challenged to your maximum breaking point, and ready to quit it all? I believe that at one point, every one of us will confront “the big test” of life, and if you haven’t, then count your blessings because these are many. It doesn’t matter how responsible, good person, perfectionist, excellent planner … you are, one day your challenge will come. It is only designed to make you better, to teach you, if you are willing to learn, to show you, if you are receptive, to open your eyes, if you want to see. However, when human strength and courage doesn’t match your hope, look up to God, and accept the help that is already there, waiting for you to extend your hand and grab it. God will see you through; He will help you conquer your challenge.

I once heard a speaker say, “It is not over till’ you quit.” “It is as you will it.” I believe it is so, but when my human strength fails or doesn’t seem enough, there is peace in knowing that the one who made me stands beside me.

I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.

Jeremiah 1:5

The Simple Life – The Process

Photo by M.A.D.

Process – A series of steps, actions, or operations used to bring about a desired result. (American Heritage Dictionary)

For today’s post, I want to write about the process in pursuing the simple life. If you read the above definition of process, for me it was all that, and more, and I can honestly say that the process continues. It continues in the material, the mind, the physical, and the soul. If I go back to some of my posts about the simple life ten years ago, I see part of that process taking place in between words. For me the process was/is long, and I compare it to separating bolts and nuts into groups by size and form. Each person goes through their own bolts and nuts situation when pursuing simplicity in life. Although I am pretty sure that it might have started earlier than that, I can pinpoint the journey about over 10-12 years ago. Like any person with a brain would say, looking back, I could have done things much better, but that is always the case, isn’t it? Whatever brings you into the process, I have found that it is better to embrace the upcoming change with an open mind, in faith and hope, and focus one day at a time, whether that day brings a challenge or rest. Although not easy at first, a grateful attitude, and prayer, helps a lot. Depending on how you came into the process, willing or not, attitude is key, and it might make all the difference. Process will take as long as it has to. I can honestly say that now.

During the process, there will be highs and lows, a natural flow, and supernatural as well. Awareness is important, but many times our radar is a bit cloudy, and that is when prayer and a good honest attitude with ourselves help. I think that we are about to go through many challenges as citizens of this country, and of the world as well. It will be a process, in which we’ll need those two. But going back to my personal experience, I can say that this process started with the need of letting material stuff go, and that was the first tangible step that I took. I started decluttering my physical space, and eventually, decluttering other areas of my life as well – spiritual, financial … You have to start somewhere, right?

During this purge, the material stuff was the easiest to let go off, although not necessarily too easy. We accumulate things through a lifetime, and those things have memories, emotions, and feelings attached to them, so that is not so easy at times. The more we live the more we accumulate. I am still letting go of stuff, believe me. Every step takes you closer, and the more you let go, the freer and more satisfied you feel, to the point that you actually feel that there is nothing you really need, except for the important things in your life like God, people and values, beliefs… the not so tangible stuff. I can honestly say today that I could walk out of this house if I had to, and take nothing with me, and I will be fine, material stuff that is. I can appreciate beautiful things, like them, and enjoy them, but I am not tied to them as I might have been before. In the pursuit of the simple life, you learn to appreciate the good, the bad, and the ugly, although in the beginning you might not even like it or realize it, and even fight against it. The aha! moment comes later on, at least it did for me.

In ridding myself of much material stuff, I had to do it systematically, one step at a time; it was what worked for me back then. The process was a process in itself, if that makes sense. The method I used was to go room by room, and divide items into donating or give, selling, and trash. There wasn’t much in the trash category, but I started by selling stuff in three steps. We would use the money to put towards our upcoming move out of state. That added to the motivation. First, I sold things online. What didn’t sell online ended up on various yard sales, and what did not sell in a yard sale, we sold at a flea market in two occasions. At the end, we gave away the stuff to sellers that did that continuously for a living, and they were appreciative. I also gave stuff to family and donated an entire room full of stuff to a veteran’s organization in three different load trips at the beginning of the process. It took time and effort, and it certainly did not feel good in the beginning. Once we moved out here and were settled in the home after fixing up the place (you can check out that process under the topics farmhouse restoration, the simple life, or restoring an old farmhouse) I realized that there was still much more to let go, and I was able to give and donate much more. This process continues until today. After living here for about 6 years, I find that there is much more that I can do in this area. After all, it is a different space and a different lifestyle, and the time was necessary to understand what works and what doesn’t work in the new setting. It also let me explore new possibilities and understand why some of the stuff is not a good fit anymore. I will write about that in much detail. The next blogpost will be about simplifying your space, and it ties to this one. I hope you enjoyed this post.

The process continues until today.

The Simple Life – Awareness

Awareness – (aware) to be mindful or conscious of; cognizant. (American Heritage Dictionary)

Amid a world on fire by chaos, the need for a bit of normalcy, balance, and peace grows in the heart of many. This growing desire for a more meaningful existence starts many times with the quest for simplicity. The desire for a simple life, to rid ourselves of the unnecessary things that capture our time, attention, and crowd our vision, to make room for what we consider important, whether that translate into experiences, values or the desire to own less, becomes stronger. Our focus changes, many times from wanting stuff to the need for setting ourselves on another path, sort of a spiritual awareness, a disposition for change.

These days, I think we need it more than ever. The past couple of years have been rough on the entire world, and this year presents itself with great challenges as well. I have been on this quest, brought into it by a series of unfortunate events that by now, I recognize as blessings in disguise. Each day, I take another step towards living a simple life. What started years ago with some significant decluttering, has evolve into spiritual awareness and the desire for simpler times and days. Shelling out stuff was the beginning, and although this process continues, it has shifted from the material into the spiritual. Undergoing this process has inspired a series of blogposts that I will call The Simple Life series. Each topic will be approached from my point of view and according to my experience, and how it relates to living a simple life.

The pursuit of a simple life is different for every person, and it relates to your values, beliefs, and what is important to that person ultimately; it is an individual process, a surrender into the new and unknown, in faith and hope. Awareness leads you to the simple life, and through living a simple life you gain more awareness. I only hope that I can inspire you in your own pursuit.

Photo by M.A.D.

After the Storm

Last week, we had tropical storm Zeta pass by our county. Our area received strong winds and lots of rain. At one point, I became a bit worried about the roof. Will it hold? Immediately, a favorite Bible verse came to mind. It is one I have written on a blackboard in the kitchen.

2 Timothy 1:7

Having experienced hurricanes Irene and Sandy when I lived in Jersey, both late fall big storms, I realized that my worries were valid, however, a bit out of proportion. Our minds play games when we feel vulnerable. We all experience many seasons in life, some more challenging than others, but through it all we survive, learn, and become stronger. Although fear is a normal human emotion, if we let it take root in our lives it will prevent growth and development.

As writers, we attempt to portray our characters as real and believable as we can. Even super heroes experience fear and face it. That is the moment when transition happens, followed by growth and development. Characters evolve through the progression of the story; they don’t remain the same. They grow and continue to evolve whether that evolution ends up being positive or negative. A character may experience fear and learn, grow from it as it conquers it, or become paralyzed and eventually, destroyed by it. The important issue here is that characters don’t remain the same, at the same level throughout the story unless the writer has a specific goal and determines so; however, with purpose.

Sometimes, fear comes from not understanding something or from denial, and many times, denial comes from fear, thus perpetuating a circle. Whatever the outcome, a character will advance the plot. Dinorah Sandbeck, the main character on The Dinorah Chronicles trilogy, resisted her birthright in part because of denial and fear of the unknown. Once she gave in to knowledge and acceptance, she was able to embrace her purpose and ultimately become. However, you can see this transition happening and evolving throughout the trilogy. At the end, she becomes what she was meant for, and fulfills her birthright. The Dinorah Chronicles is available in paperback and eBook formats via Amazon.

We face many storms during our lifetime, some stronger than others, but ultimately, the human spirit holds on and goes on with the help of God. When the winds stopped I expected to see a mess outside, and thought that the few flowers that were left in the garden would be gone for good. Yesterday, I spotted this through my window, and I thought, it is never too late neither hopeless.

After the storm roses. Their color is so rich and beautiful.

Your Way is My Way

Every soul has its journey, every person a purpose for living, but sometimes, it is not as clear as we would like it to be. The following words are according to my journey.

For many years, I worried about not knowing my true purpose in life. I read and studied countless books on finding your purpose or “true purpose,” and became a “positive thinking book junkie.” Although it helped me very much and I enjoyed reading those, it left me feeling the same – yearning to know and find my purpose in life. I worked/trained for every interest I had as far as jobs/careers, and although I enjoyed those very much, I felt that was not it. I was far from my purpose. Agonizing about it did not help. I admired the people who seemed to have found their meaning of life, their way in life. When I heard people say, “If you love what you do it never feels like a job,” I became more confused about purpose. Well, I had fulfilled many interests that I loved, however, I still ended up feeling without purpose and hungry for meaning. A very smart woman who had been a teacher all her life and was now retired told me once, “I hope you find what you are looking for.” She said this after I told her that I could not see myself doing only one thing for the rest of my life. What a sharp woman; she saw what I did not at that time. Part of my misunderstanding was to believe that a career path/earning income and purpose were one and the same. These are two different things, and although one can find purpose through a career, a career does not have to be one’s purpose. Once I understood that, I viewed purpose in a different light.

Writing has always been in my heart, although put aside for a long time, as a career path that is. I found the path again after a series of unfortunate events, and because I felt I had nothing to lose, I gave it a try. I feel at home when I write. Is it my purpose? I don’t know, nor am I waiting for it to become. It gives me purpose. Only God knows what my purpose is; He created me. Once I realized this, I stopped worrying about finding my purpose. It did not make sense anymore. I don’t have to feel incomplete, hurried, or worried about time running out and not finding my way in life. Instead I say, “God, your way is my way.” By knowing this I am open to do, be, and exist just as He wants of me. His way is my way, and that is purpose enough for me. The search was over once I understood that.

I see and hear many people who are worried and stressed out about finding their true purpose in life. They fear that they will grow old not knowing. I understand how they feel; I’ve been there. It is the reason why I decided to write this post. When I understood it wasn’t my burden to know, I was able to see beyond the limits of material and earthly fulfillment. A Jon Bon Jovi song comes to mind – “you are where you are supposed to be” – or something along those lines. My journey is/has purpose, but my purpose is in part my journey on this earth, and it is much more. It is how I have come to understand its meaning. It doesn’t mean that I will sit around waiting for enlightenment and clarity of mind; for me, the process is the journey, and the journey, the pathway to a different kind of purpose. My aimless search for purpose took me to the understanding that my Creator’s way is my pathway to complete fulfillment. When I become restless or unclear for whatever reason it may be, the most sincere prayer I can say is – Your way is my way.

Image by M.A.D.

The View From Where I Stand

This morning I was writing at my desk, located on the second floor of the old farmhouse where I live, and I happened to look outside the window; I needed to rest my eyes. I love the view of trees from that standpoint; it feels as if I am inside a tree house. If you are familiar with the layout of the very old farmhouses (over 108 years) the upstairs almost has that barn feeling, the very low ceiling and the continuous bedrooms separated by one entry way. When heading upstairs I immediately land on the first bedroom, no landing or hallway. I love that feature, although impractical. The view from where I stand offers me peace and serenity, and for that I’m grateful.

There was a time when the view wasn’t as serene, and I mean it metaphorically. It was a challenging time, the most challenging so far, and I knew it could break me or make me. The days felt longer than they were, but as with any trying time, the view started changing and things got better and better; it is the nature of the test. Although I might have not liked the view (of the situation) from where I stood, I knew that God had my hand, and it was all temporary. Looking back, I understand many things I did not see before, and I can understand the view at the time as well.

Many times, life puts in front of us a view that is not what we hope for nor what we want at the time, but believe me, there is always a reason. Even when we want to close our eyes, the best thing we can do is keep them wide open and observe the situation/the process. The more we see, the more we confront, the better it is, and the process moves along as it should. It is part of going through the many “views of life.” It is all temporary.

A New Season

Seasons change, and so do people. It is part of our human nature. We change views, places, appearance, and sometimes, beliefs. To be human is to be in constant change, and whether we realize it or not, we are in constant movement along with the universe. It is so simple, yet so profound.

I have changed throughout the years. I am not the same person I was as a child, or as a teenager, or as a young adult. A combination of factors in living produces a new me until the time of death, as far as earth time living goes.

Going through the many seasons of life is necessary, if not essential to our spiritual growth, and our humanity as well. Many times we are hard on ourselves, for many reasons; whether we miss a goal, fail at something or think we did, forgetting our many efforts at trying, and dismissing the trial and error time as of neither value nor purpose. Instead we label ourselves as failures, hopeless, or whatever label seems appropriate to our restless mind at the time. We forget the road traveled, and erase all our footprints, many times wandering in our minds and souls, and feeling a void, spiritually lost. “Not all who wander are lost,” said Tolkien, and that rings true today as at any time.

Many times, we feel that our guts, efforts, experience, resources, our timing, and everything around us is misaligned and does not suffice to attain whatever we felt was important then. The whole universe has conspired against us, we think; when in reality we have been part of that same universe that we label as outside ourselves. “All I have is me!”  we scream in anger, despair, and disappointment. “Me” as a sole proprietor of this body and mind, with disregard of the universal bond that unites all. Our human nature blinds us, and many times renders us paralyzed, fearful, broken. The same human nature that we count on to succeed beyond our wildest dreams. We grab positive thinking books, one after the other, in an attempt to fix what is “wrong with me” and light up the skies once more. We don’t realize that the darkness we feel and label as an outside-in source that is there to harm us, is our dismissal of the light we carry in us. It is dark; I forgot to turn the light on.

It is a new season, full of labels, but a new season indeed. It is always a new season.

Thoreauvian Living – Is it for you? On less is more.

Henry David Thoreau – His philosophy is best described as a praise to simplicity, nature, and in more common terms, “less is more.” To live in truth and authenticity.

It is in our nature to search for truth, our truth, and it varies from person to person. When we find it (or think we do) we hold on to it despite social trends or what people may think. I see a movement of many souls wanting to return to simplicity and to nature. Whether they go back to farming, move to the country, embrace tiny-house living, or sell everything and make RV traveling/living their new surroundings and lifestyle, they are all yearning for the same – the sweetness of a simple life.

Many times, a catalyst in people’s lives causes the longing, followed by action and change. The person who has not gone through this process might not comprehend, or think of it as crazy, but only one who knows finds meaning in his/her new truth. It takes simplicity of heart and freedom of mind to embrace your truth, whether you find it in a cabin in the woods or in a penthouse on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.

To each its own, and to all, truth in being.