The Sum of Our Choices

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We were on vacation, driving up and down the hills of Illinois. His voice sounded almost like an echo as he asked: Who am I? These three words got me thinking. Who am I? Who are we?

We had a casual conversation but yet its profoundness hit me like a lightning in the middle of a storm. Silently I let my mind rewind past moments of my life in which I asked myself this question.

I believe most of us spend our lives trying to find ourselves and to define who we really are.

Some people settle with being someone’s son or daughter, allowing their parents’ story to define them. At times, our legacy is so strong that it’s almost impossible to break, accompanied with the fear of failure. Imagine that!

If your father was a successful business man, how can you consider becoming a doctor? You need to follow in your father’s footsteps. Or so you may think.

Other people become someone’s husband or wife, being defined by their partners and losing themselves behind that person’s shadow.

Another group allow their professional lives to define them. It’s funny when being asked who they are, their simple responses will be: I’m a doctor, I’m a teacher, or I’m an attorney.

2011 was a decisive year in my life. At that point I myself had become my work. I had no life of my own and all I did was work. I didn’t spend time with my kids because I was always either working or tired from working. I didn’t go out because I had no time for socialization. I loved the weekends so I could sleep as much as possible (when I wasn’t on call).

However, at the same time I started realizing that there was no balance in my life and that I needed more; my kids needed more. I decided to pursue life and become me, the best me I could possibly be.

That was the hardest part, to define who I was away from my work. And then came the real question: Who did I want to be?

This tough question shook something inside of me and helped me make the necessary changes. I realized I wanted to be a combination of a mother, daughter, sister, friend, co-worker and eventually even a spouse. I had to make peace with the fact that I was more than my work and that playing all those roles was important for me in becoming a better person.

After years of helping others to find balance in their lives, I decided it was time to find my own balance. And so I did.

In 2012 I packed my things and moved to another country, basically to start building a whole new life. I had to be careful to have the space I needed to be who I wanted to be.

I made a list of skills I wanted to develop, the good traits I wanted to keep and nurture, and those defects I needed to work on in order to improve myself. Well, I must say that was probably the greatest challenge of all, but I am so happy I did.

In 2013 I met an extraordinary man who later became my husband. My kids have enjoyed having a mother who now respects her working schedule but is aware that life is more than just working and providing. I am fully enjoying life. I am modeling for my children the ability to find balance in their own lives.

It’s never too late to decide who we want to be, because in the end, who we become is the sum of our choices.

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The Gratitude List

gratitudeHave you made your gratitude list yet? I remember the first time I ever heard about such a thing; a gratitude list.

I had been at the hospital with my oldest son for about a month at that point and yet, the doctors couldn’t tell me what was wrong with him. It started on January 16, 2005.

We were celebrating his tenth birthday and had gone to a pizza place he had chosen to have dinner. However, he was already sick. He had been feeling weak and tired most of the time and I thought it was due to a long walk he had taken with his aunt. During his little birthday party, the fever started, and that’s when the nightmare began.

At this point, February 2010, he had been at the hospital for the third time, and each of those times for different reasons. When he was treated for what the doctors thought he had, he would get better and then be sent home. About three days later, we were walking into the hospital AGAIN with a whole list of other symptoms that would lead to a new diagnosis.

It was like entering a dead-end street every time. I was exhausted. Tired from sleepless weeks, trying to hold on to my new found faith, but falling into despair as I watched my ten year old son get worse and worse every day. We had a group of well certified doctors and none of them could explain what was going on. My son was dying.

Unexpectedly, my friend Gia stopped by the hospital to see how we were doing. She wanted to check on me and make sure I was keeping it together. I had known her from a meeting only a few months ago and I remember how her spirituality hit me then. She won my admiration the minute I met her and the empathy I felt was immediate. We became friends in spite of our age difference and she became an incredible role model for me.

We sat down in front of my son’s bed while he was sleeping and talked. Gia shared her strength and positive view of life and situations, so that it felt almost normal to be where I was at that moment. Soon it was time for her to leave and we said our goodbyes. As she walked to the hallway, she turned around and asked, “Have you made your gratitude list yet?”

“My gratitude list?” I replied.

“Yes, your gratitude list. A list of all the things you feel thankful for today”.

For a moment, I thought she was joking. I was there, at the hospital, for about a month now, my son dying. Nothing was working, doctors didn’t know what else to do and my two year old baby was with my mother because I couldn’t be at home with him. Now here was Gia asking what I felt thankful for?

Then she continued. “There is always something to be thankful for and in your case, being in this situation, now more than ever you need to remind yourself of all the blessings you have in your life or you will easily forget them. Make a list of at least ten things you are thankful for today. It can’t be less than ten. I know it will be hard at first, but once you connect with the gratitude in your heart reasons to be grateful will pour out”. Then she left.

gratitudeI remember sitting in front of the hospital bed with my little notebook, my mind totally blank. I kept thinking about it over and over. And just as she told me, reasons to be thankful starting to pour out of my heart. As I wrote on the piece of paper, I broke down and cried.

I kept making that list every day while at the hospital for the following two months we spent there, as well as when we took him to a Hospital in Minnesota for six weeks that following summer.

The gratitude list became my best therapy at some of my worst moments. When changing jobs, getting a divorce or coping with the health crisis my son had in the following years.

What my friend never told me was that the gratitude list would pull me out of the dark hole of self-pity that hard times and circumstances would push me into. It sent a new strength throughout my veins and helped me remember that there are amazing blessings in my life.

I came from a family that had been close enough to help me cope with the worst moments of my life, to incredible friends who have accompanied me and believed in me when I could barely believe in myself; through great opportunities and professional accomplishments. One of those blessings is that my son is still with me.

It’s been nine years since then. He is now nineteen, his health is very stable and he is full of dreams and plans. He too learned to write his gratitude list during that painful process. We have learned to see the cup half-full instead of half-empty.

How about you? Have you made your gratitude list yet?

Whatever Gives You Peace

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Whatever Gives You Peace

We were having coffee, getting ready for the work ahead. She mentioned she wanted to go do her hair. She could do this at her lunch break, or after work. Then she asked the question: “what do you think?”

I started my speech about how doing it after work will be stress-free, because no one will be waiting for her to go back to the office, plus she can take her time and enjoy it. She seemed to agree on this.

About an hour later, when I least expected it, she asked: “so, should I go do my hair at my lunch break or after work”?

I stopped what I was doing, turned around, gave her a straight look and without realizing how cold it sounded at the moment, I let my words come out of my mouth with an absurd calmness that was not much appreciated: “WHATEVER GIVES YOU PEACE”.

Needless to say, my friend got a little offended and went on and on about the friend’s dynamics in which someone says something and the other person is expected to answer back, even if you end up spending time talking about the same thing without reaching any conclusion, but feeling kind of supported by your listening friend. Or so she says.

Years ago I learned a very helpful lesson about opinions and how people feel about it.

Some people ask for your opinion, expecting you to tell them what to do and therefore, making you responsible for whatever the outcome might be. On the other hand, some will ask your opinion to simply hear what you think about it, but not expecting you to decide for them.

There are also people who will give you their opinion feeling that you have to do as they advice, and getting extremely angry at you when you don’t. They have a hard time understanding each person has the right to decide what they feel is best for them; to go along with what really gives them peace.

This phrase has been my philosophy not only for my own decisions, but also when asked my opinion regarding any situation. I have used it to help me maintain healthy friendships, having my friends feel that I listen to them, I care about them, but recognizing it is “their” decision to make and I need to respect such decisions; either I like them or not. I don’t have to like them. IT IS THEIRS. They are the ones dealing not only with the situation but with the results as well: good or bad. It is their lives and they have the right to live it however they feel is best for them.

I also apply it to myself when having to make my own decisions. When I feel troubled about something I pretty much know inside that I should not go that path. It is simple for me. I can’t cope with doubt. I just can’t.

The whole phrase has been a reason for my co-workers to make jokes about it and have a good laugh when remembering the context in which they heard it; however, it’s been a nice surprise to have heard most of them (if not all) use this phrase every once in a while. I guess they have connected with the amazing freedom it gives to both the talker and the listener.

I invite you to use it any time you feel you need it, because after all my friends, such simple phrase involves a huge profoundness and truth. Whatever gives you peace… Whatever gives me peace.

The Colors of Honesty

 

 

Nature2It was a cool autumn night, after a great day full of joy, laughter and great company. Life was good and I was feeling so strong, confident and happy.

I remember when I heard the words. It was as if they were said from far away and yet, he was right there, next to me, whispering them in my ear. Why did they sound so far? I know why. I didn’t want to hear what I was hearing.

Many times we find ourselves in situations where deep inside we know what’s going on, and yet we don’t want to hear it out loud, as if not saying it will keep it from being what it is: the truth. Why are we so afraid of the truth?

Let’s face it. Sometimes truth can be painful. Some truths will make you feel as if you got punched in your stomach, leaving you breathless on the floor. And when you get up, you feel a numbness in your body, yet at the same time, with each step you take, you can feel it aches to simply breathe. That’s why we choose not to deal with the truth.

We can be either honest or dishonest. Period. There is no way we can be a little honest, or maybe half honest, or who knows, more honest than dishonest. We either are or are not. Honesty implies the truth regardless of how painful it may be. Dishonesty implies all kinds of tricks: disguising the truth, ignoring it, hiding it, omitting it, postponing it. All these are nothing but ways to try to get away without having to face telling or hearing the truth. And don’t get me wrong. I totally understand why we choose to do this, instead of coping with the truth and moving on.

I’ve had my moments with the truth that hurts; the one you wish you could look to the other side and pretend it doesn’t exist. The truth that you feel is killing you and want to ignore, but you can’t. Then, I made another huge discovery: nothing hurts more than the lie! I have been dishonest and I have been lied to. I have found myself playing all those tricks to not tell or hear the truth, and I’ve had people I’ve loved do that to me as well.

I know many people prefer not to know the truth if it’s going to affect their lives, their structures, their little worlds. Some will look away, pretending not to see what’s right in front of their eyes in order not to suffer. Or so they think. Others will consider that not being upfront about a situation, an issue, a feeling or a mistake isn’t really lying. As long as the people involved don’t find out, it’s not a lie. Also, if half of the truth is said but the other part is omitted, or the context manipulated, that is considered a “white lie”.

It took me a long time to make my peace with the pain some truth may imply. I made my decision: I WANT NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH. I realized that I would rather deal with the pain I feel when coping with a truth I might not like rather than dealing with what a lie causes me inside: it fills me with doubts; it takes away my ability to trust people and it leaves me with a sense of loss that makes me skeptical, cynical and harsh. I don’t like feeling that way.

I rather feel vulnerable, hurt and sad, because after accepting how I feel I can put my pieces back together and move on, understanding we’re not perfect and that we all make mistakes.

Honesty doesn’t have different colors or variations. It either is or is not.

As for me, since long ago I’ve chosen to be honest in order to expect honesty in return. That’s the least I can possibly do after realizing how much dishonesty hurts and learning that honesty is a two way street.

 

What is it about? Who is it for?

Reading in nature

Sometimes people ask me why I like to write or what my blog is about. There is no single answer to these questions.

I connected with writing at a very early age, discovering how much I was able to express myself through the lines I wrote and yet feel safe. No one got hurt. I could let my feelings, all my emotions pour out. The people around me saw me as little teenager using whatever excuse I could find to isolate myself. Me with my thoughts. Me with my feelings.

I wrote quotes, poems, songs. I created fictitious characters and even wrote short novels; most of which I never shared. I kept them all to myself.

As I got older, for a long time, I didn’t write at all. It was as if that part of me had died inside. I just couldn’t do it. I still had the desire to write and always envisioned myself as a writer, but at the same time, I could not find the way to get back to my writing.

This blog is what I might call “my intentions being turned into actions”. This is my door to the path, leading the way to my writing passion. For the first time in my life, I am being totally open, sharing what I write and trying to help others as much as possible with my writing.

What is it about? It’s a little bit of EVERYTHING.

It’s about life, love, people, parenthood, relationships, feelings. It’s about discoveries, experiences and emotions; about faith and fear, joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness. It’s about spirituality (not religion), the mind, the heart and the soul. It’s about the past, the present and dreams of the future.

Who  is it for? It is for anyone who feels like reading, nurturing the soul. It is for those who at some point have felt like losing hope or at the very lowest point in their lives. It is for those who consider themselves fortunate to have everything they ever wanted, and those who feel they will never accomplish their dreams. It is for the fighters who struggle with life situations and for those who have already found the peace they were looking for.

This blog is for anyone who can relate to the joy, the happiness, the laughter and the positive attitude. But it’s also for those who can relate to the pain, the fear, the despair and the anxiety.

It is for whoever wants to join me along my way to new experiences, finding answers to my questions. It’s about new places to discover.

I write all these things for those who want to witness the journey and where this path is taking me, taking us.

This blog is for you, reading it at this very moment.

 

About Life and Golf

Golf Ball near hole

Last Sunday I went to play golf.

Well, actually I must say I went to hit some balls because the truth is, I know NOTHING about golf. I am a perfect rookie. Seriously! When it comes to golf I only know those sticks you hit the ball with are called Golf Clubs.

There I was, standing in front of a majestic golf course, surrounded by beautiful nature and lots of people practicing their skills. While my husband was trying to hit his golf balls, I was distracted looking around and trying to grasp the picture ahead of me. Yes, I was lucky enough to make some good hits but the truth was, my mind was somewhere else.

As I enjoyed the view I couldn’t avoid thinking about how similar life is to golf.

Summarizing the basics of this popular game, players need to use different clubs to hit the ball into a series of holes on a course (generally 18 holes), using the least possible strokes and while having to defy several challenges. Some of these are: areas of longer grass (called the rough), the direction in which the wind is blowing, sand traps and water hazards like ponds or streams. The player also has to use knowledge on which club to use depending on circumstances and distance.  There are certain rules that players need to obey during the game. As you can see, it takes discipline, skill, knowledge and training to be able to play well and win the game. If you think about it, that’s pretty much what life is about.

As we grow up, we realize life implies certain rules we need to follow if we want to live in harmony with ourselves and others. We need to exercise discipline to put our self aside and understand that it’s not only about us. We are part of a bigger picture.

We develop emotional tools (our “clubs”) which we will be needing along the way, depending on situations and circumstances. We become more and more prepared for some challenges, and yet surprised by some new ones.

As we learn, our knowledge about life, people and ourselves becomes way deeper, forming us into what a mature adult is really about. No wonder why they say we know more simply because we’re older. With age comes the experience. There’s no doubt about it.

Finally, we see our plans and dreams as a big golf course, full of obstacles, but with amazing rewards as we continue moving one step forward. Some dreams we accomplish while some we may have to adjust and redefine along the way. Others we simply give up, sometimes realizing afterwards that better ones unfold in front of us.

Yes, life is like playing golf. We can take it seriously, competitively, taking the fun out of it. Or we can relax, play responsibly, have fun and enjoy the game. After all, it’s a choice we make!

 

The Meaning of Success

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I clearly remember my surprise when a coworker asked if I considered myself successful. I stopped what I was doing and turned around, realizing that more than really wanting to know if I was successful, she was trying to find a definition of success she could fit herself into. I will share with you my thoughts and feelings about success as I did with her that morning.

Success is usually defined by how others see us and think about us. Most of the time success is based on how much money we have (and show it off), what label of clothes we wear, where we live, who we hang out with, what we look like, the car we drive, and the list goes on and on.

Also, success is defined by a means to an end. For instance, to a mother who is trying to stop her kids from hanging out with the wrong crowd, she will point at “certain buddies” as successful friends to hang with, in order to illustrate how “that other group of kids” are not, so therefore, “hanging out with such, it will stop you from succeeding”.

To a woman who is trying desperately to fit in a social group of women who probably are wealthier than her, success will be marrying a guy who makes a lot of money, so therefore, she is successful.

To a young man who is entering college and comes from a family with strict parents who place importance on academic performance, success will imply getting all straight A’s.

As I tried to shared my definition of success with my friend, I made a quick trip to my past, realizing that my life was probably far from successful for many people. From fashion designer to music teacher to counselor. From musician to writer. From married to divorced and later remarried. Mother of two, always struggling financially and working real hard. So much accomplished but yet so many changes.

Somehow life has put me in situations I have had to move and follow each cycle as it comes.  I have had to change jobs, apartments and in some cases even friends. I have had to change life styles and living structures.

However, I joyfully realized every single thing I’ve done, I’ve done with my heart. In every professional area I’ve moved, I’ve done my best and have been recognized by employers and coworkers. When it has been time to accept what I was doing was no longer what I should had been doing, I’ve had the courage to move and do what needs to be done. I’ve given the best I could possibly give to my kids, have accepted my flaws and mistakes and continued working with myself to be a better person.

Yes, I consider myself successful, because to me success is not how others see me. Success is loving and accepting yourself for who you are, but always giving yourself completely in every task so you can feel the gratification of knowing you did nothing but the best. Success is knowing you can die tomorrow and realize that after all, your husband, kids, family and friends will feel nothing but pride in who you were and how you treated them.  And most important, knowing that God is looking at you with a smile on His face because you’ve simply done your very best!

A Lesson from the Past…

Your Past Is Your Lesson In 2010 I was going through a very hard moment in my life.

The job I had was pretty much done. I didn’t have much of a job offer ahead of me,  just a single pay check that was not enough to even buy my son’s medicine for a month (no less to pay rent, buy food, transportation, etc…)

At that moment, I got a call from the Director of a Counseling Center offering me a job as a therapist.  Aware I had no knowledge in the field, I was being sent to to get credit hours with an amazing teacher and tutor, all expenses covered (around 6,000 Dollars).

I can’t start listing all kind of excuses I gave NOT TO BECOME A COUNSELOR. I didn’t think I would be good at it. I didn’t think I would be able to rent a car because I didn’t have a credit card. I couldn’t go because I didn’t have anyone to leave my kids with.  Anyway, ALL EXCUSES.

The plain truth was I DIDN’T WANT TO DO IT. I had already moved to so many new fields that I was so tired and afraid to move AGAIN, and to have to start from scratch. I kept praying, asking God to please find me a job in the same areas I had already worked on (which I felt confident and happy about), but God’s answer was NO.

I kept finding myself with no choices and I had to do something or my kids and I would be kicked out of our apartment and out into the streets.

Long story short, every single excuse I gave God found the solution in ways I couldn’t continue saying no. The kids went to visit their father that summer, so I didn’t have to worry about them. Someone offered to rent the car for me under her name so that was taken care of. The teacher worked her schedule with me and before I knew it, off I was to learn a new trade.

I must confess, the first week I cried every day on my way to the center where I was required to do my observations. I didn’t think it was possible for me to feel any better. However, by week 3 I was a totally different person.

This time, I was crying over my own stubbornness and not realizing how foolish I had been. God was holding my blessings right there, in my face, but I was too afraid to see them. I realized THIS IS NO LONGER ME DOING THE JOB. THIS IS GOD!!!!!

I started a new spiritual path and an amazing rewarding new job experience that at times made me question why it took me so long. People I was working with could never imagined me doing something other than counseling. Yet in 2012, God was moving me again to a new direction.

Sometimes God won’t ask our permission to move us. Most of the time He doesn’t expect us to be experts in a certain field because HE IS THE EXPERT!!! Sometimes, all God wants is to show us all the amazing things He can do THROUGH US AND IN US so we may continue receiving and enjoying the incredible blessings he has for us.

Yes, my life has been quite a journey, a learning process that sometimes I make more painful than it needs to be. I keep learning to trust God every day. I know that He is great and when it comes to the movie of my life, it will get better simply because HE DOESN’T PRODUCE BAD MOVIES.

Today I share with you, my friend, if you find yourself saying “no, I can’t do this…” “no, I don’t enjoy this…”, my experience showed me, GOD WON’T LEAVE YOU ALONE. When you finally give up and say, “okay, Lord, I’ll do it, but you’ll have to do it because I’m totally incapable of doing this,” HE WILL DO AMAZING THINGS AND WILL MOVE YOU ON TO NEW CHALLENGES.

My words for your heart are to stop fighting God and let go. He will do whatever takes. Therefore, let go and let God.