Less for 2014…

blogTomorrow is New Year’s Eve.  Just 2 days until 2014.

It’s emotional for me to look back at where I was this time last year and where I am today.

At the end of 2012, I was unemployed and had no fixed address or social life to speak of.  In fact, from just before Christmas until the first of March 2013, I wasn’t even living in Calgary but staying with a friend 90 minutes away.  I was also single.

But, now, at the end of 2013, I have a great new job, and rent a basement suite in a good location in the heart of Calgary.  I go to a great church, and have a social life and friends.  And, one week from today, I’ll have been dating a terrific guy for a year.

What a difference a year makes.

Christmas 2013

I looked back at my blog post this time last year to see what I’d written about resolutions for 2013.  My focus at the time was on things I wanted to do more of.  When I re-read the post, I was struck by how important it is to carry those resolutions through to each and every year.

https://thejoyjourney61.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/life-resolutions-for-2013/

For 2014, I’m decided I’m going to focus on the things I want to do less.

Things like:

1. Drink Diet Coke less.  I don’t drink coffee or tea so my caffeine of choice every morning has been Diet Coke.  I’ve justified it by saying it’s only one a day since, at one time in my life, I drank it almost compulsively.  But, I think it’s time for me to stop drinking it every morning and to not even keep it in the house.  A Diet Coke now and then would not be the end of the world but I don’t want it to control my life any more than it has already.  Less control… more freedom…

blog2. Worry less.  I’ve been working on this one a lot this year.  I’ve struggled with worrying about the financial shortfalls that came from jobs that either paid too little and/or from gaps in pay from leaving one job and starting another.  Now that I have a great new job, in another month or so, I should be able to finally start working to get back on track but, with losing three weeks pay in December/January, I’m continuing to cope with expenses that are greater than my income.  But, I am determined that worry will not control my life now or in 2014.  I want this to be a life change.  I’m aiming to be a prayer warrior, not a prayer worrier.  Less fear, more faith…

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3. Be less “self” focused. I did some volunteer work throughout 2013 but not nearly as much as I hope to in 2014.  There is great merit in giving time, energy, and resources to come alongside others and to let them know that someone cares.  I want to be a blessing in other people’s lives, to give them a hand up, to stand alongside them, to listen, to encourage, and to care.  Most importantly, when I’m focused on others, I tend to forget about myself, and heaven only knows that I think about myself far too much already.  Less of me, more of others…

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4.  Say less.  No one ever learned from anything they said themselves.  We learn more from listening than we do from speaking, not to mention that, the more we say, the more apt we are to say something that we’ll regret.  Or become “that person” who always talks too much.  When I do speak, I want what I say to be intentional.  I’ve made some strides in this area but there’s always room for improvement.  My goal is to ascribe to TLSThink more. Listen more. Say less.  ‘Nough said…

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5. Judge less. There are endless reasons to judge people and, boy, do we ever.  I’ve been judged a lot in my life, and it never gets easier.  It’s easy for people to pass judgement.  Point your finger.  Gossip.  Cast aspersions.  Be sanctimonious.

We may think we’re not judgmental but just because we don’t speak judgement doesn’t mean we don’t think judgement.

As much as I know the pain of being judged, judgmental thoughts pop into my head from time to time. I don’t want to be that person, even a little bit.  Whenever I’m tempted to judge, I remind myself that I don’t know the whole story but, the rare times that I do, it’s still not my place.  That doesn’t mean I agree with everything – far from it.  But, ultimately, I am only responsible for how I live my own life, and answerable to God about that.  Our lives, choices, decisions, mistakes, and regrets are ours and ours alone.

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It’s been a privilege to ring in 52 new years so far in my life.  I am so thankful and grateful for all the blessings in my life in 2013.  And I appreciate the blessings all the more for all the struggles I’ve had to overcome.

But, above all else, my hope and prayer is that somehow, someway, the world will be a better place in 2014 because of me.  Even the smallest of stones can make beautiful ripples in the water.  Less judging… more loving…

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I hope 2014 will be your best year yet.  Dare to hope and don’t forget to enjoy the journey!

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Creativity chip…

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All my life, I’ve believed I don’t have a creativity chip because I can’t draw, paint, sew, knit, or do crafts of any kind.  If it involves anything with my hands, I lack the natural ability to do it.

But, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I’ve been way too hard on myself.  Just because I lack ability in the most commonly recognized types of creativity, it doesn’t mean I don’t have creativity in other respects.

After all, creativity takes many forms.

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Writing involves creativity.  Baking involves creativity.  I can do both.  I’ve also always been able to think outside the box, which is creativity in a different sense.  Maybe I do have some creativity, after all!

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I think the biggest enemy to creativity is believing that you’re creative only if you can do certain things.

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I was one of three kids in my family.  One brother created elaborate things with Lego, the other brother drew elaborate drawings –  mostly of Snoopy – and I wrote elaborate stories – primarily mystery.  Three different expressions of creativity but I somehow convinced myself that my brothers were creative and I was not.

I was wrong.

blog 10Everyone is creative in their own way… some more than others but all are creative nonetheless.

Creativity is imagination… self-expression… something we all possess.  I lost sight of mine for awhile but it’s back in focus now.

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There are things I wish I had a talent for that I don’t.  But, rather than dwell on what I don’t have, I’d rather embrace what I do have.

I’m free to be uniquely and creatively me.

So are you.

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The Spirit of Christmas…

blog 12I love the month of December and I love Christmas.  My love for this time of year has a lot to do with my maternal grandparents, my grandfather, in particular.

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My mother was an only child so her parents came to spend Christmas with us every year while I was growing up.  No matter how much preparation my mother had done, Christmas never officially started until my grandparents arrived on Christmas Eve.  They brought armloads of gifts, endless (and delicious!) Christmas baking, and basically just a whole lot of excitement.

When we would go to bed that night, my father would always dictate that my brothers and I had to stay in bed the next morning until 7:00 a.m., an excruciating and nearly impossible time for three very excited kids.

My grandparents always slept in the basement and, invariably, this would be how Christmas morning unfolded.  My grandfather would wake up sometime before 5:00 a.m. and start getting fidgety.  He was a big man but he was really just a big kid in disguise. My grandmother would wake up and say, “Douglas, it’s too early.  Go back to sleep.”

He never once was able to go back to sleep.

Gramps would finally get up around 5:00 a.m.  We would hear the creaks as he came up the stairs and then the sound of him settling into the big easy chair in the far corner of the living room, where he would sit quietly and just patiently wait.  Around 6:30 a.m., we could wait no longer and we’d burst down the hall to go wish him Merry Christmas.  Dad would always demand that we go back to bed until 7:00 a.m. but our trump card was Gramps.  Dad would usually concede defeat at that point and leave us be.

My grandfather never lost the joy and excitement of Christmas.  He loved watching us upend our stockings and exclaim with delight over every single thing… even the apple and orange that were invariably found in the toe.  He always helped my grandmother with all the Christmas baking, played the piano and led us all in singing Christmas carols, and never grew tired of watching us open our presents and showing him all the ins and outs of the various toys we received.

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When the question of Santa Claus came up, I remember Gramps emphatically stating “of course, there’s a Santa Claus!  It’s the spirit of Christmas that lives in everyone’s heart.”  I have never forgotten his words, and I have never forgotten what they mean.

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Christmas is first and foremost the celebration of Jesus’ birth but, beyond that, it’s about generosity towards others.  Generosity can take a lot of forms.  It can mean giving things but it can also mean giving our time, our talents, our listening ear, our sympathy, our understanding, our caring, and our love.  Peace and goodwill to all mankind.  As long as we genuinely give from the heart.

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I would like to think that the spirit of Christmas should permeate our lives to the point that it extends all year round.  It doesn’t have to start December 1st and end January 1st.  If anything, the Christmas season is perhaps a reminder that we tend to lose that spirit throughout the year and is a prompt to help us get back on track.

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I’ve done some volunteer work this year, which I definitely plan to continue and hopefully expand on in 2014.  But, helping others, giving to others, doesn’t have to be confined to volunteer work.

Just yesterday, for example, I took a walk at the end of the day and happened upon a guy whose car was badly stuck in heavy snow.  A neighbor had just run over to help push but they needed more than him.  The passenger’s side window was down and I noticed the guy behind the wheel was probably a foot taller than me and solidly built.  So I asked if it would help if I sat behind the wheel so that he could help push with the other guy, and he agreed.  It took a few tries but the car finally came free.

I can’t tell you how good it felt to be part of that.

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We all having the ability to make a difference every single day of our lives.  Seemingly small things like motioning to another car to merge into traffic in front of you, opening a door for someone who’s elderly or who has children or who’s burdened with parcels, smiling and wishing someone a great day, shoveling the walkways and decks for your landlord (which I did a couple of days earlier this week) or sending someone a quick note to say you’re thinking about them or praying for them.

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A whole lot of little things can add up to make a big difference.  If we commit to keeping our eyes open to the endless possibilities around us to help, to give, to encourage, to build up, to stand alongside others – and then do something about it as much as we’re able to – our world will be a much better place.

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The change that I want to see is the change that begins with me.

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I’m want to be Joy to the world… in my world.  In this Christmas season and beyond to 2014.

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Now that’s the spirit…

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Getting to know me…

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One of the blogs I follow recently posted questions and answers designed to help the readers get to know her.  I admire her honesty and transparency in doing such an exercise – http://jennadee222.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/getting-to-know-you/, and thought I would follow in her footsteps by answering the same questions here.

What is your real name and where do you live?

My real name is Joy.  When I was born, I was given the name Alda Joy, with Alda being my maternal grandmothers first name.  I was called Joy from birth but, after 9/11, the province I was living in wanted everyone to officially use their first name, for security purposes.  Rather than be forced to start using my first name, I chose to legally drop it.  So, my birth certificate simply reads “Joy”.  As for where I live, I’m a Canadian who currently lives in Calgary, Alberta.

What makes you sad?

Insensitivity. Suffering. Unkindness.

What are your major mistakes?

I’ve made some epic mistakes in my life – enough to fill a book – but my major mistake in recent history was my last marriage. I knew it was a terrible mistake just two days in but I stuck with it for 11 years and 3 weeks, hoping it would change for the better.

But, the thing about mistakes is that we all make them.  I am a different person – much stronger and wiser – for having made my mistakes.  Instead of being defeated by them, I have chosen to use them as stepping stones.

When was the last time you cried?

Yesterday.  I am an emotional person, and things like kindness and happiness can bring tears as much as sadness and disappointment.  But, the saddest I’ve been in a very long time was Easter Monday 2012 when my beloved dog, Max, had to be put down just 3 days after getting terribly sick (the tests showed he had a massive intestinal tumor).  He was only 7 years old.  For a number of reasons, he was my guardian angel and will always have a very special place in my heart.

What makes you angry?

I’m more apt to get upset than angry.  But, something relatively simple like people driving erratically, impatiently, or dangerously in traffic has the ability to get to me like few other things.  I’m working on it though!

What is your most recent happiest memory?

It happened just last Friday when I was offered THE ultimate job.  It was the culmination of several years of job uncertainty interspersed with bouts of unemployment.  To say I am thankful is an understatement!!!

When were you most scared?

Many years ago, my youngest brother, my son, and I climbed Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine (U.S.) at 5,269 feet.  I have a strong fear of heights so it took an act of will to make this climb, which involved not only going up and down the mountain but across ‘Knife’s Edge’ at the top of the mountain.  Mount Katahdin has claimed 19 lives since 1963, with a number of those being from falls from ‘Knife’s  Edge’, which narrows to 3 feet wide for about 3/10 of a mile.

It’s worthwhile mentioning that the climb was done without ropes or any special gear, just using handholds and footholds, with blue paint strategically spattered on the rocks to guide us.  It’s also worthwhile mentioning that overcoming my fear of heights in such a dramatic fashion inspired elation afterward like no other.  It was a life changing accomplishment.

When were you most brave?

I could answer this by saying climbing Mount Katahdin but I think I was most brave the day I fled my marriage with only what I could fit in my small car, and drove 3 provinces to start a new life in a new city with no place to live, no job, and knowing only 2 people.  The journey from then to today has not been easy but I have never regretted taking that leap of faith.

What haven’t you done that you wished you had done?

My goal is to see more of the world.  I am relatively well travelled but the majority of my experiences are more than 20 years ago so I would like to pick up where I left off.

What makes you different from most people?

I have experienced the lowest of the lows in many aspects of my life, and my life has also not followed any kind of predictable course.  But, we all have a different story of our lives, and that’s what makes us unique and interesting.  I hope others will appreciate my differences as much as I try to appreciate theirs.

Who has influenced your life?

My relationship with Jesus Christ is the single greatest influence of my life since 1996.  My grandparents were also tremendous influences in my life… my maternal grandfather, in particular.  I learned invaluable lessons like kindness, giving, doing the right thing, humor, wisdom, staying young at heart, and being an inspiration to others just from watching how he lived his life.  I still miss him.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned?

I’ve learned that no mistake is an end, in and of itself, as long as you resolve not to let it be.  And, that doing the right thing, staying true to what you believe, and being a person of character and integrity is always, always, always worth it.  Even and especially when it means taking the tougher road (which it usually does…).

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Life is an obstacle course…

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Well, it’s nearly the end of 2013.  The end of a year always prompts me to look back and reflect on the highlights and the lowlights of that year, so here goes.

To sum it up, 2013 has been an interesting year.  And, by interesting, I mean challenging.

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I started the year unemployed (over 3 months), with no fixed address, and no personal life to speak of.  I’m finishing the year with a brand new dream job, a great place to live with a great housemate, and my personal life is better than it’s ever been.true 8The journey in between was often uncertain, often changing, and often obstacle ridden.  I moved twice, had four jobs, and struggled with financial challenges.  In one of my jobs, my personal safety was in question every single shift.  Knives, fists, feet, and even Bibles (I’m serious!) were used as weapons.  I was kicked, punched, swore at, bitten, and slapped more times that I can count.  The fact that I now have a sane and safe desk job in an office with regular hours, vacation and sick time, benefits, and interesting work with a well-respected company is amazing to me.  I especially appreciate it because of all the obstacles I had to overcome to get to this point.

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2013 is ending better for me than any year in well over a decade but I have no doubt that, at least to some degree, obstacles will still be part of 2014.  That’s because life is an obstacle course.

I’m sure you’ve noticed.

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For me, the most important thing to remember is that obstacles are not an end… unless you let them be.  I am determined that obstacles will never get the best of me.  That especially includes the main challenge I’m carrying over to 2014, which is debt.

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The truth is you can always, always, always find a way to turn an obstacle into an opportunity.  I’m not saying it’s easy or that it’s always immediate or that you won’t feel overwhelmed or even momentarily defeated in the process.  I’m just saying it’s possible.  Trust me, I know.

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The key?

Perseverance.

Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

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Two things are extremely important in that statement.  The first is steadfastness or standing firm.  And the second is doing something… anything.  Even if it feels like you’re taking two steps back for every step forward, it’s crucial to keep moving because simply waiting for something to change rarely changes anything, if ever.

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There have been times that ‘doing’ hasn’t seemed to bring results after an extended period of time so I’ve had to stop and re-evaluate if I need to change what I’m doing or how I’m doing it or where I’m doing it or even who I’m doing it with.  There is a time to press forward and keep doing the same thing, and there is a time to change direction and start doing something else.  If you’re not sure which it should be, talk to someone you trust.  Wise counsel can bring perspective, encouragement, and moral support.

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I also pray.  I’ve seen prayer change things many times, and in many ways, some of them miraculous.  Prayer also changes me and I cannot overstate the benefits of that.

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I can’t say I’ve always enjoyed the obstacles I’ve encountered but I can say they’ve all had a purpose.  Some have made sense in retrospect while others quite frankly still remain a mystery.  But, I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.  I have grown and changed from obstacles in ways that I never would have without them, and that’s quite possibly the greatest purpose of all.

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I can honestly say I’ve appreciated the high points in my life all the more for having overcome the low points.  No strength without strain.  No pain, no gain. They’re true.

I think it’s fitting to end this post with a quote from the late Nelson Mandela, who knew more than most what it means to overcome obstacles.  He should be an inspiration to us all…

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