|Angelic lights at Neiman Marcus in San Franscisco|
It's a very full life. And it's all mine.
While navigating my very full life, I learned something quite remarkable. When you embody your life as a fully charted course, designed to challenge, awaken, and inspire, you can discover the meaning of your life and the legacy you have imprinted on this planet.
|Photo courtesy of IMDB.com|
Jimmy Stewart plays the character of George Bailey, a man who had given up on his dreams in order to help others. During the Christmas holidays, tragedy struck his banking business and funds were accidentally misplaced. This was a bank with a heart and loaned money to help people of Bedford Falls pay for college, start businesses, and float those who were down and out. The loss of funds would shut the bank down and deeply affect the future of the town. George was at risk of losing everything for the town and his family.
It was Christmas Eve and George was in the depths of despair. He ran from his home and stood on a bridge, struggling to find a reason not to jump into the icy river below. Along comes divine intervention, a wise angel named Clarence who decides George needs to see the impact his life has had on others. He takes George through a review of his life from the time he was a young boy until the present. He shows him how different life would be in Bedford Falls had he never been born. George realizes that no matter what happens with the bank, his town's people are worth fighting for. He goes back to his family to celebrate the meaning of Christmas and discovers his friends have rallied around him and raised all the money necessary for the bank to recover.
This movie placed number one on the list of most inspirational movies of all time. And I know why. People want to believe that their lives matter... that somehow, something they did had lasting impact.
When you’re in your darkest hour, feeling challenged, alone, and hopeless, you’re actually standing at the "bridge of choice"… do you walk over it or do you dive into the depths of despair.
I was there. If you’ve read past blogs, you know I experienced the big one…”the worst that could happen.” I lost my beautiful boy. When he died, I kept hearing people say, “Don’t worry, time heals all wounds.” It never made sense to me. As time goes by, I became more aware of my losses and the struggle it took to survive. Time felt like my enemy because huge chunks of it were missing from my book of life. Like, seeing my son graduate from high school, or watching him marry the love of his life.
Time doesn’t heal emotional wounds anymore than time heals a broken teacup, but the awareness of time passing allows us the gift of reflection. It’s a tool of observation that allows perspective to make sense of a life you thought was random and chaotic.
In the process of my grief recovery I began to look at the subtle hidden memories of things that I thought didn’t matter. For example, during my life, I’ve always been a people-pleaser. It was hard for me to accept help because I didn’t want to believe I needed anyone. In looking back on my timeline, I see hints of clarity.
My father was in the Navy and we moved 12 times before I turned 12. People don’t realize moving is a huge trigger for grief and sets up life long patterns of separation, and feeling like you’re always having to start over.
|my stack of journals|
Moving so frequently not only helped me develop ways of battling that alone feeling, it was beneficial in other ways. I got used to being uprooted and traveling. It gave me a sense of adventure! I had no qualms about leaving home at 16 to join a touring musical show that went all over the world. Lucky me.
When I look at my timeline, I see all of the things that ushered me into different stages of my life. I can "connect the dots" and from it I gain clarity as to the meaning and purpose of my life.
In looking at your timeline, you’ll discover your past, even the negative, is actually a carefully charted course that sails you into the next part of your life.
The following is the method I used. It will help you transition your life’s story from chaos to legacy. Give yourself a gift this Christmas and start charting your course by doing this simple exercise.
1. Set the Stage…Clear your desk, turn off social networking and emails. Turn on music or sounds that offer rhythm without lyrics. The only words you want in your head are your own. For example, try meditation or spa music on your Pandora Internet Radio. My favorite is the “Calm Meditation” channel.
2. Write down all of your Amazing Significant Life Events, using 1 or 2 sentences to describe. Try to do these in order from childhood until now. (Use a pencil in case you need to erase). Remember everything that had an affect on your life. As a child, did you move, change schools, and leave behind your friends? Have you experienced significant loss, heartbreak, disappointment, divorce, or financial upset? What were your successes? Try to do these in order from childhood until now.
3. On the next page, create chapter headings for those events. Choose words that make the chapter headings come alive. For example, when I traveled the world at 16 in a show called Up with People, it opened my eyes to other cultures. I titled that chapter “The World Was My Home Town.” I named the chapter on my divorce: “When the Castle Walls Fell.”
4. Under each chapter, write one positive and one negative thing that shaped your life because of this incident.
5. Now write headings for future chapters and fill in the story. A few years ago, I wrote my “future” chapter about being the author of an award-winning book that would give purpose and meaning to my son’s life. My book How to Survive the Worst that Can Happen is a parent’s step-by-step guide to healing after the loss of a child. I wanted to help grieving parents discover their resilience and find a joyful life again. It was published this year!
6. Look back over the chapters and revelations you’ve written and create a title for your Life Story that reflects the magnitude of your life. It can be a title that represents your past or what you hope for in the future. Put that title at the top of a piece of paper. Here is mine: “I Thought I had a Fairy Tale Life.” Elizabeth Gilbert’s powerful memoir title is “Eat, Pray, Love.” Cheryl Strayed wrote her memoir “Wild,” describing her out of control young adult years after her mother died. Do you see how powerfully descriptive those titles are?
|How do you want your story to end?|
Happily ever after.... of course!
This last step, making a profound declaration, sets you on the path to your personal legend and your legacy.
Here's what I know, we may not have the gift of time healing our wounds, but we can heal from our past if we study our timeline, uncover the meaning, and resurrect our personal greatness. These are the things that shape us. Without bringing our story to light, our tragedies cannot give us the gift of triumph.
"Happily ever after" doesn't mean a life without challenges, it means you've met the challenges with courage and grace. Your remarkable life is one to be proud of. It's your legacy... and that's why we're all here. It’s your story, your life, and your future... you get to choose how you want it to end.