There was a time when I hated my life. Not just my life but everything in general. I was a truly miserable person. If you told me one good thing, I would counter with three bad things, just to make you feel as defeated as I felt. Thankfully, that girl is no more. Ding dong the witch is dead. In her place, is a new woman. Not exactly wearing a pink ball gown and floating away in a giant bubble, but a happy, grateful, positive woman nonetheless.
There was no specific catalyst for my bleak disposition. I became negative, bitter and jaded because I allowed life to beat me down. It successfully defeated me because I lacked the one weapon I needed to fight back. HOPE.
The condition of the world is far worse today than it was back then. The only difference for me is that now I have what I need to stand against the tidal wave of negativity and hate that sweeps over the human race on a daily basis. It came in the form of a promise, which I will tell you about later. It can happen if you aren't careful. This world can take your joy and send it running from your life like a Tasmanian devil on fire. So instead of focusing on my own struggles and frustrations or the overwhelming pain, suffering, injustice and cruelty all around us, I make a choice every day. I choose to focus on reasons to love my life. I thought I would share my top 10.
(1) Laughter: If you have ever experienced a season of life where there was an absence of laughter, you know how important it is to your mental and physical well-being. I can recall those times in my life when I was so cut off from joy that laughter could not be found. But that has not been the case for many years and now I laugh every single day.
I have known my husband for nearly ten years. He was cutting up and making more than 50 people on a charter bus laugh hysterically when I first laid eyes on him. Not surprisingly, it was the fact that he was so funny that attracted me. Since that day, I have found I can always count on my husband to make me laugh. Most of the time, he's not even trying. But other times he goes to great lengths with impossibly quick-witted, comical rants that might make onlookers think a straight jacket is in order. Meanwhile, I am rolling on the ground trying to catch my breath because the laughter is relentless. When these episodes take place in public, it's hard to tell who is crazier, him or me. My husband is by no means the only one or thing that makes me laugh, but he is the one I can always count on. Since being married to this man, I've come to the conclusion that life without laughter would be like eating cardboard for every meal or watching the movie Avatar in black and white. Just blah.
(2) Family: Even families that appear the most perfect have some kind of oddity that may not be obvious to outsiders. So what if your family is a little odd? You might as well embrace it and enjoy the fact that they are their own special and wonderful kind of crazy. My family is made up of some really colorful and quirky characters.
There is nothing perfect or normal about my family. However, we love deeply and are loyal to a fault. We are accepting, forgiving and fiercely protective of each other. When the chips are down, there is an entire clan out there that has our back and we all know it. Whether we talk every day, once a week or a couple of times a year, it doesn’t matter. No one complains, guilt-trips, makes demands or feels neglected. We hug each other when we come and go and we say “I love you” when we part ways or say goodbye on the phone. Our expression of love isn’t a reassurance because we need to be reminded. It’s an overflowing of love because we truly value one another.
(3) Friends: As an adult, at any given time I can count my close, personal friends on one hand. I have always been a fairly guarded person when it comes to personal relationships. Those in my inner circle have put in some work to get there. Some love me because of my flaws and others in spite of them. All my friends bring something unique to the table. I have a friend who only sees the good in me. One teases me and calls me out on my b.s. Another has an uncanny ability to sense when I am in need of support or comfort. There’s one (there’s always one) who knows all the dirt. ALL of it. Some friends are like a mirror you hold up and see your best qualities so you can stop beating yourself up. Others show you an unfiltered image that is hard to gaze upon but their tough love puts you in a place of introspection and humbles you. Grown women need substance in their relationships. Sometimes that means quality over quantity.
(4) Dogs: There’s a reason why dogs made this list. They are always happy just because you are there. You can mope around in your fat pants, look like death warmed over, and who knows, maybe you failed to shower for a couple of days. Doesn't matter because dogs love you just as much then as they do when your hair, makeup and clothes are perfect and you smell like a rose. You can forget things, ignore them, come home late and grumble around the house in a lousy mood and guess what - they still think you are the greatest thing ever created in the history of ever. You are the best of the best every minute of every day and you don’t have to do anything but exist. Dogs are goofy and unabashedly thrilled with everything you do. Just petting my furbaby, Noah calms me down when I am stressed. He looks up at me with those soft brown eyes and for awhile I forget about things like bills, deadlines on projects or that person who is working my last nerve. When I feel overwhelmed and underappreciated, all I have to do is instigate a game of chase around the living room with Noah and without fail I end up on the floor laughing hysterically while he licks my face after having “gotten me”. In that moment, even an old lady like me feels like a kid again. No worries, no demands, just a child lost in the simple joy of playing with her dog.
(5) Movies: First, if you are a movie quote person (someone who often communicates with others by quoting favorite lines from movies), you know this is definitely a spice of life kind of thing. There is nothing like tossing a movie quote out there and getting the appropriate reply (usually another movie quote) or just laughter that says “I see what you did there!” Aside from that, who doesn’t love a great story? You get to step outside your own life for 90 minutes or so and experience an adventure, fall in love or save the world. Or spy on people! I really enjoy movies that are well-written, well-acted character studies where the most action you see is people talking and interacting with each other. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is that kind of movie. It’s that “fly on the wall” experience that enthralls me. For me personally, the most fun are the bad movies. I mean the really bad ones that are memorable in their awfulness. My husband and I recently watched a classic Bruce Lee movie that had the worst dubbing ever. It was called “Fists of Fury”. I’m not just talking about the lip syncing being off, but the voices themselves were incongruous with the people speaking and the dialogue was hokey beyond belief. I can’t even count how many times my husband and I just turned and looked over at each other throughout this movie. Neither of us had to utter a word, our facial expressions said it all. Of course, it’s not all fun and games. Sometimes movies take you on an emotional journey, leaving you drained and weeping at end. Those are good too because they are cathartic. You know that sometimes you need a good cry even if you don’t have a valid reason to work up the tears on your own. But let’s not forget about scary movies. I don’t like graphic horror films filled with gratuitous violence, but I love a good suspense/thriller that makes me squirm in my seat and talk back to the TV. The more tense and nervous I am, the more interactive I become. My husband loves it. Or maybe he hates it. But either way, he sees it as double the entertainment - the show on the screen and the show on the couch. When I start pointing and waving my arms as I talk to the TV, you know you have a winner of a film on your hands. In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, movies bring a special kind of joy to my life.
(6) Music: Life without music is… well it’s death, I’m pretty sure. There must be music, every day. If I don’t have it playing on the radio, phone or computer, there is still a song playing in my head. Music is universally relatable. People hear upbeat music and start to tap their feet or sway. A song from your past can instantly transport you as if it were some kind of time machine. Here’s the thing - almost everyone in my family has some form of musical talent except for me. We have piano, flute, guitar players and drummers in my family as well as singers. Me? I’m ham handed and tone deaf. But wait a minute. Could this be considered my music-related talent? I have some kind of idiot savant ability to recall the names of songs and the artists from my early childhood and into my adult years. My husband unpacks me like a party trick from time to time, winds me up and watches me go. It’s fun but I often wonder how much valuable space in my brain is being used for this virtually useless data. If I dumped it, I might be able to… well, I don’t know what I could do but chances are it would be more beneficial and possibly financially lucrative than shouting “You Spin Me by Dead or Alive!” as soon as I hear the first note of that song. All joking aside, my favorite thing about music is how hearing certain songs can put me in a happy mood instantly. The next time you feel down, test my theory and play that one song that does it for you. Everyone has one, so don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about.
(7) Writing: You know how dancers always say they just have to dance, they can’t restrain that desire or compulsion? Well it’s the same for writers. When we think, we often think as if we are writing about what we are thinking about. Anything can be a story or a commentary or editorial. It’s the way we are wired. But the reason why it’s something that makes me love my life is that it allows me to connect with a person: the reader. I’m not going to know if I connected or not, but I’m being true to my desire by reaching out to them. Whether it’s humor or something serious, I long to make that personal connection where the reader can relate to what I am writing. It might make them laugh, move them emotionally or just make them think. Don’t we all love that feeling of being able to relate? Like someone else feels like we do about something? Writing also gives me the unparalleled experience of living multiple lives. I can experience life through any or all of my characters - experiences I would never otherwise have. Not only that, but I get to design the world where they exist and orchestrate the events in their lives. Their world is conceived in my mind and delivered into existence through my fingertips on a keyboard. Singers gotta sing, dancers gotta dance and writers gotta write. If they don’t, I’m pretty sure their heads explode. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
(8) People Who Get Me: You know that feeling you get when you say or do something and someone completely off your radar comes out of nowhere and totally gets it? People wander in and out of our lives every day but sometimes there’s that person you just never saw coming. This one person is right there on the exact same page when most of the world doesn’t even have the book. It’s like being in on a private joke that everyone else is clueless about. Look, I know I am an acquired taste and not everyone’s cup of tea. That's why I am especially grateful when someone walks into my life and we are on the same wavelength. It’s like a chorus of angels drops down from heaven and sings over us. It absolutely lights up my life.
(9) Memories: This is a double-edged sword if ever there was one. Do you have memories of certain periods of life that were challenging or tumultuous but at the same time precious? I have them and for me these are my memories of loved ones who were with me for the briefest time but were my entire world for the longest time. It’s a bittersweet reverie that can wreak havoc on a person. You want to remember because of the joy of the resurrecting someone if only for a moment but it is quickly followed by the crippling pain of the void left where that person once existed but no longer does. For better or worse, within a memory everyone and everything remains constant and unchanged. Frozen in time, they remain as they always were and will always be. I find comfort in that assurance. I had a very happy childhood the memory of which lives in that place and I can revisit whenever I choose. My father is there in that place, full of life and so strong and capable. Of course there are times when random memories come unbidden and waylay me like a monster knocking me off my feet with one cruel sweep of its hand. But more often than not, I choose which door I unlock and which memory I want to sit and visit with. Some of my favorites are memories of the way I felt when my mother rocked me to sleep and sang lullabies to me before I could even walk. Or the way my father laughed when something struck him as really funny. And the memory of what it felt like when I was pregnant and my baby moved inside me.
Behind some doors are memories of moments so tender and fragile that they dwell just beyond reach where the slightest breath could send them scattering like a dandelion. Others are so powerful they bring me to my knees in abject agony. But they are mine. They belong to me and no one else. They cannot be misplaced, stolen or broken like tangible objects. If I lost everything and everyone, I would still have my memories to sustain me. Somehow that is enough because they are all that’s left when tomorrow becomes yesterday, if you think about it.
(10) God's Presence: I saved the best for last. I told you some of the reasons WHY I love my life. Number 10 is the only reason I CAN love my life. Even in the midst of my rebellion against Him, God was always present, but I didn’t always have my face turned towards Him. For a long time, I had my back turned. During that time, I did what pleased me without a care for how it impacted anyone around me. It was all about me and what made me happy because after all, didn’t I deserve it? I mean, that’s what life’s all about, right? Make yourself happy at all costs, even if there is some collateral damage along the way. Even if you only obtain the things that you want by stepping on the hearts of others, you gotta get yours, right? That was my headspace for entirely too long. It’s how I justified my actions, but my logic was flawed. I was selfish and narcissistic. I existed in perpetual darkness and I took it with me wherever I went. Worst of all, I didn’t care who it swallowed up. Here’s the crazy part - God never stopped pursuing me. He did a lot of different things to get my attention and thanks to His patience, He reached me after many years of estrangement. I went from being a self-proclaimed agnostic to someone who loves God above everything and everyone else. I went from saying terrible things about God and His followers to writing novels that glorify God, demonstrate His grace and reveal the peace and fulfillment of being a believer. I went from being someone who could not even look at a church to someone who rarely misses a Sunday service. I used to deny that God existed, but now I stand, arms outstretched in worship and weep openly because I am so overwhelmed by His unfailing grace. With every breath I take, I am humbled that Jesus loved this pathetic excuse for a human being enough to spill His blood to cover my sin.
I imagine myself in a courtroom and the Prosecutor is reciting in detail every terrible thing I’ve ever done (or even thought) throughout my life. The weight of it is crippling and I know I am guilty. I can’t possibly pretend to be innocent. It’s so pointless, in fact, that my Defense team has gone to Starbucks and isn’t coming back to the courthouse - ever. As I prepare to hear my sentence (which I know is eternal) the door to the courtroom opens and in walks a man with a gentle way about him. I wonder, is he a witness against me? He just walks past me and as he approaches the bench, the judge steps down. The man climbs up takes the seat of judgement. I watch knowing now he is there to sentence me. Oddly enough, he only looks at me for a moment then stretches out his arms. Suddenly I understand, because I see the scars on where MY sin nailed Him to the cross. But you know what? His face shows no anger. There is only compassion there as He says, “I know you and everything you have done.” He pauses as He looks beyond my eyes and into my soul. Then He says, “Not guilty.” He slams the gavel down and leaves the bench. In my disbelief I sit and watch Him as He approaches me. He leans in close and says softly, “I paid the penalty so you can be forgiven. Because I love you, your sins are no more.” As He speaks these words, I feel the heavy chains that kept me bound in the prison of my mistakes and failures, fall away. I am free. I can start over fresh. I don’t have to feel guilty. I don’t have to beat myself up or fear God’s wrath. He doesn’t see my faults anymore. All He sees is His son’s sacrifice.
What happened in that courtroom describes what changed a miserable, bitter woman who hated her life and transformed her into a happy, grateful, optimistic woman who finds a reason to rejoice every single day. Sometimes it’s by recognizing the simple pleasures in life, like numbers 1 through 9. But always it is by remembering the big one, number 10. Without it, I couldn’t possibly appreciate 1 through 9.
Jesus took the punishment that I deserve because He loves me. He made me this promise when I gave my life to Him. He will always be with me. He will never leave me. Because of that promise, there is hope. And hope...well, hope changes everything.
"I sing because I'm happy. I sing because I'm free. For His eye is on the sparrow. And I know He watches me."