Dreams: Failed, Finished and Fulfilled

This weekend one of the more recent Disney princess movies was on (the only one I like), Tangled. One of the themes throughout the movie is about dreams, not the kind you have while you’re sleeping, but the kind you have about your life: the things you hope you can achieve, are trying to achieve, you imagine what it might be like, or motivate you to take action. Towards the end of the movie (small spoiler alert!) when the two main characters are seeing the floating lights, a couple of lines caught my attention:

“Rapunzel: I’ve been looking out of a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what I might feel like when those lights rise in the sky. What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?
Flynn Rider: It will be.
Rapunzel: And what if it is? What do I do then?
Flynn Rider: Well, that’s the good part I guess. You get to go find a new dream.”

Sometimes you have a dream and as you go on the journey of trying to realize it, you discover it’s not the right dream for you (I dreamed about being a medical professional as a child, and it’s definitely not a dream I have today). Sometimes when you finally achieve a dream like getting into a profession, being a parent or owning a home, you get to live your dream for a while, you don’t have to go find a new one right away. And sometimes like Rapunzel, it’s bittersweet to move on or think about finding a new dream, because the dream you’ve just fulfilled has been part of you for so long and now you’ve achieved it and there’s no more next steps to follow.

In the movie Flynn suggests that getting to dream a new dream is a good thing, and often it is. But for some of us we never get to achieve or get over the dreams we have, because we’ve lost someone who was integral to those dreams, for example a loved one who was in the military and died while serving our country or were an innocent who was murdered. Those dreams die with them and there’s nothing good about that. They’ll forever live in an honored place in our lives and hearts, and while we will never get them back or see all of our or their dreams fulfilled, as painful as it might be, maybe the best thing we can do when it feels right, is dream a new dream that’s inspired by them.

Maybe you’re in that place today on Memorial Day, that you’re mourning a family member you’ve lost. Or maybe you’re just feeling overwhelmed by this pandemic and you’ve seen your dreams go up in smoke over the past few months, or maybe it’s inspired you to dream a new dream. You can’t change the past, but you can be thankful for all of the people who have had an influence on your life that has helped you become the person you are today. You can choose to dream a new dream because life shouldn’t be just something you check off day by day as something you’ve done. It shouldn’t be something you normally do on a survival-level only like many of us are doing with this pandemic. Life should be fulfilling and inspiring and full of color and laughter and dreams. We may not be dreaming big dreams yet, but I have hope that we’ll get there again one day soon.

A Somber Memorial Day

As you’ve probably heard about a thousand things in recent days, life looks a little different right now, and one of those things that’s going to look very different from past years is Memorial Day on Monday. It’s the day that we in the US have set aside to honor and mourn the men and women of the military who died while serving. It’s something we’ve done ever since 1868. Typically we celebrate it with big picnics, fireworks and parades, not to mention all the American flags that are hung or placed everywhere. This year it looks different because we’re not doing big gatherings of any kind, like the people of Australia and New Zealand did for their remembrance day (Anzac Day) back in late April, we’ll be staying home. Some towns have already said there’s a specific moment that sirens will go off, or suggested other ways that from the safety of our homes we can honor those who died.

I agree that it’s important to visibly show our appreciation and support for the men and women of the military, both past and present, dead and alive. But I think this year’s different celebrations will be an important opportunity to recognize that this is really a very serious and somber event, not something we really should be celebrating. No, we’re not celebrating that people are dead, but celebrating them for the life they lived, the life they gave up for all of us. But as much as we’re celebrating their life, it is a holiday recognizing their death and great sacrifice.

Parts of life are serious and sad, it’s something that we’re seeing as a world right now as we fight this virus. It’s never easy to process that, or explain it to kids. There aren’t boundaries or limits or rules on grieving and sadness, it’s not something you can put away in a closet and pretend isn’t there. It pops up at random times and without warning, it may be a short time that’s needed for processing or it may be a strong presence with you for the rest of your life. Sometimes the right thing is to laugh and other times the right thing is to be quiet and cry.

While I do normally encourage you to celebrate by gathering with many others to show your pride and support for our men and women of the military, this weekend I encourage you to reflect on the tragedy that this day really speaks to. Talk with your kids about how some families don’t get to reunite with their soldier and why their lives matter so much. Talk about processing grief and why it’s OK to cry and struggle with some of the incomprehensible aspects of life. Show them that even when it’s tough we can support each other so that no one has to cry or struggle alone. How will you be honoring our men and women of the military who gave their lives this weekend?

Success and Peace

With yesterday being Veteran’s Day, after all of the celebration and honoring of the brave men and women who fight for our country, I got to thinking about the topic of peace. Peace is ultimately what veterans are working towards, right? Yes, sometimes they are out there protecting or trying to stop a force, or even helping after natural disasters, but even all of those are really about helping to restore or create peace. So today I thought we’d talk a little about the topic of peace and how we get there and the role it plays when it comes to success.

One of the biggest lessons we can learn from our men and women in the military is that peace does take work. Maybe that’s as simple and easy as brewing your favorite hot morning beverage and sipping it while watching the sun rise. But typically, it’s a whole lot more complicated and take years of effort and investment as well. One of the big questions that has to be considered is if you’re really invested enough in peace to do the work to get there.

We also learn that peace isn’t something that will remain without consistent attention. There are many countries around the world that struggle with peace because they haven’t maintained the peace they had at one point in time or another. Peace can absolutely be a limited time thing, for example during the Olympics and other similar events, countries typically ‘play nice’ and put to the side issues that would ordinarily cause great conflict between them. But most of us don’t want singular moments of peace, we want sustained peace, which means that it’s something we have to be willing to work on consistently.

Finally, I think peace is a goal so many work towards because of the feelings of euphoria, satisfaction, fulfillment and victory that you can experience. These same emotions we can experience when we achieve a success-oriented goal we’re working on. After the victory lap for an achievement there’s also almost a feeling of peace because you did what you set out to do. I don’t know about you, but I think those are moments worth working towards.

If you want more peace in your life, you can start small and pick one thing that can give you a moment of peace each day, even if it’s as simple as that beverage in the mornings. Or you can go big and make a plan to set up more consistent experiences of peace in your life by getting a better handle on your finances, building stronger relationships with those closest to you, choosing your friends more carefully, or investing more in that which means something to you rather than jumping at random opportunities, just to name a few. What will bring you or help you create more peace in your life?

Together We Stand

Today being Memorial Day has me thinking about others. Yes, I’m thinking about the men and women of the military, but I’m also thinking about the bigger picture of everyone else that we share this world with. This got me thinking about what does military vs. everyone else in the US look like?

Well, a 2016 article states that less than 10% of the US population was a veteran (approximately 20 million people) and another article shared that approximately 1.3 million people were in active duty in 2016. Those numbers don’t sound very big, but what they don’t talk about are the men, women and children who are immediately related to someone in the military (by blood, adoption or marriage). Data from 2015 says that over 5 million people were considered immediate family to active service people, so doing very generous math, that means that possibly one third of the US is related to someone who was or is in the military. And if you go beyond the immediate family circle that number grows again.  And beyond that, even if you don’t have anyone in your family who is or was in the military, there’s a strong likelihood that you know someone who is or was in the military or someone related to someone in the military.

Since the draft ended in 1973, these men, women and their families have volunteered to stand up for each of us throughout the world.  Representing us, protecting us, and standing in for those who can’t stand up for themselves.  Just like we make choices each day, they chose to join the military, not knowing how they’ll make an impact or if they’ll be required to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Today as you honor and remember the men and women who have sacrificed for our country I encourage you to think about how respectful you are of that sacrifice. Are you working to build relationships with others and a future we can all be proud of or are you helping create a world that will require more men, women and families to make sacrifices for the rest of us?

A Time of Reflection

I was reading yet another email after reading another blog post about someone hitting burnout the other day, and the news has shared that tragically several people connected to mass shootings have committed suicide in recent days. As equipped as I think we may be for all that life throws at us each day, the reality is we sometimes don’t realize how much we’re taking on, don’t ask for the help we need, don’t take time to deal with the overwhelm we’re feeling, and/or don’t realize how serious things have gotten. And then we hit that breaking point, unfortunately sometimes of no return.

Most people have developed coping mechanisms that help them deal with typical daily stresses (a fight with a friend or significant other, deadlines at work, children’s tantrums etc.), but as we know especially from the men and women who have been in the military, there’s no coping with some things, some things we’re just not equipped to deal with normally and that’s when we can get into trouble.

Part of the reason I think we struggle with coping and hit burnout is because instead of taking a step back we pile on the activities, work, people and things. Maybe we think we do it because it means we won’t be able to think about how we really feel or what’s really going on, and that may work for the short term, but it rarely does anything about the actual situation or how you feel.

You may not know it, but we’re in the middle of the spiritual season called Lent which leads to the celebration of Easter. Lent is a time of reflection, for people to get right with themselves and with God. Anytime is a great time to get right with God, but today I’d encourage you to spend some time on self reflection, really considering where your life is at and what you need most. Asking for help and knowing when you need to take a break (and taking one) actually show how strong you are, not how weak.  A little reflection and taking a time-out today can positively shape your future if you let it.  I’d encourage you to make it a regular practice as well since life shows no plans of slowing down or becoming a cake walk anytime soon.

A Community for Veterans

November 11 is Veteran’s Day here in the US, a day when we honor and remember the men and women who protect our country. Sometimes that means going to fight in a war, sometimes that means dragging a boat through flood waters to rescue people, sometimes that means helping a nation rebuild, sometimes that means protecting dignitaries, sometimes it means sitting behind a computer, sometimes that means speaking to high school and college students.

But being in the military is a high risk career, one that carries physical and mental risks for the soldiers as well as relational ones. Whether you know any veterans or not, you hear stories and see commercials on TV about how people lost limbs and marriages due to their military career. They don’t really tell you what it’s like to have a TBI or try to return to civilian life after you’re done when you sign up.

But a veteran is a lot more than just someone who goes out for the country and does stuff. They’re people who are part of a family, they’re people who live in our communities, and they and their families need our support. Veteran’s Day is an opportunity for us as a community to stand up and do more than just thank them for their service, although that’s a good start. It’s an opportunity for us to help them build businesses, help raise service dogs for them, donate to organizations that help them navigate returning to civilian life, help build adaptive houses for them, and give them flexible but reliable job opportunities.

So today I encourage you to not only thank a veteran and their family, but also step up for them in some way in your community or in the veteran community as a whole.

Remembering our Relationships

One of the missionary couples that I support has been going through some extra challenges over the past year, with the wife developing and beating cancer and it having recently returned. These two have been through a lot together, they have children and grandchildren in addition to the lives they live as missionaries (which is a lot more work than just going to some place and sharing their faith because they have to raise the funds and sometimes deal with countries and legal stuff).

We’re in the middle of Memorial Day weekend, the time when we stop and remember the men and women who sacrificed so much to protect us and our country. Whether you agree with the politics or not (and no one does all of the time), there are some 300 million people living in the US who rely on those men and women to keep us safe, and do some other good in the world, too. It’s sad that we can’t just stay in our own corners of the world and everything would be great, but that’s just not how the world works, in part because we are all dependent on the whole world being intact if we want to keep living here, and life wouldn’t be as rich if we stayed separate.

While no couple ever gets together with the wish that one of them will face cancer or one will be killed while in the military, that’s part of life for some couples. But just about every one of those couples will say that the years they had together are years that they will always cherish and be grateful for (even if they wish they could have more). While no two couples are exactly alike and every couple faces challenges, with as many couples as there are that experience one partner being in the military or one partner having a terminal illness who are able to make their relationship work and last, it would seem logical that with a little effort the rest of our relationships could last too.

This Memorial Day, make sure you thank a soldier or their family, but also take time to be with your significant other and enjoy the time that you have together, as long as it is.