There has been lots of talk about "grit" in recent years. It has been studied by researchers, mainly led by Angela Duckworth who defines grit as passion plus perseverance. She admits that it has another characteristic that is a high correlative—purpose. The people I have known with lots of grit have most often been visibly fueled by a sense of purpose—so I like my own equation of grit.
Passion + purpose = perseverance. And perseverance is a great quality to have.
Until you crash. And then you are just stuck, usually. Stuck and trying to recuperate from a situation that took everything you could give it and then that little extra bit of reserved energy you summoned from deep within. And now you are flat, and not sure how to get back up out of the ditch.
I say "you" but really I am referring to my own life. Times when I had the need to keep going, but the flags were all there that I should at least consider taking a break before I collapsed.
Grit is what gets you through a tough semester at college. You dig a little deeper, get through something that seemed insurmountable, and then...Finals. Done for now. A break is waiting, and you can re-group.
And grit grows within you. Yes, Duckworth's research shows that grit increases with age. If you have some, and you keep going, your grit will grow.
But is grit the same as resilience? Researchers have also found that it is NOT the same. Resilience is what lets you dip down into your more vulnerable emotions (worthlessness, sadness, frustration, futility—to name a few). And finding yourself there, in the trenches of your dark side, you don't muscle on. You stop to consider that these dark shadows are part of your make-up.
Part of you.
And when you wrestle with those uncomfortable emotions and the feelings and thoughts that make you face your imperfections (which yes, we all have....and no, we don't all face them, take them on, and reflect on them)...when you stop there, you grow.
You grow in a variety of ways—your growth may not resemble my growth, but you do grow.
And that act of stopping, facing the cold mirror in the dark pond of who you are, of reflecting on what you see there and why you came this way...especially if you can take those reflections out and see the next level of how you are affecting life around you. All of that should, in fact, make you a whole lot more gentle with yourself.
And if you are gentle with yourself, you will be more understanding of others. Offer them the silence they need if they are standing at the edge of their own dark pond. Hold onto their ankles, at times, if they are attempting something self destructive. And hold out the space they need to come to terms with how imperfect life and all of its human forms can be.
Don't be hard on your self, your own self, if you are competent and purposeful and have pushed yourself hard in the direction of your dreams—and now seem to feel the crashing. Don't stop here as if it is a failure--
But let this be a ditch where you grow. Understand that telling yourself this is a new place for self-compassion, patience and reflection is a doorway to growth. Believe that good comes out of these very hard places. And let go of your need to win...or to perform...or to be admired.
And let your journey to resilience (or toward more resilience) give you the inspiration, the PURPOSE, that you need to wrestle here with imperfection.
Win, lose or draw. They all count in the growing garden of resilience.
And once you have resilience, true capacity to engage the valleys of life's walk, you get a bit more grit to go with it. Or maybe an even better gift—the wisdom to know when to hang on and push through with sheer determination and when to quit and spend some time gazing into the dark waters of reflection.
Waiting. Resting. Growing.
Today I make wedding cakes. Today I look toward the next generation and the good things in their lives. This weekend my son marries a girl who is so very much the match to his soul. I am proud and happy and filled with hope. Life moves in its circle of love and grace.
The honesty of living with a grief that comes when that cycle is cut short is real. On Saturday, I will think about my mom and miss her. It will only be a fleeting thought as I share this day as a witness to my son's vows—the promise of a life spent together. But for that moment my mom's face will fill my thoughts—not with regret, but with awareness.
I will wish for a moment that she could be there—that he could know her. And I will wonder for a moment what she would say to this new grand-daughter.
Her presence in their lives will be missed—perhaps only by me. But certainly by me. I will notice and then I will move on into a day of celebration.
But make no mistake. Her absence will be real to me. It is a part of how I live my life—with the awareness that every day is precious, that every child is a treasure, that every single celebration is a privilege, a gift.
We gain our values from the shadows of our losses. Because we know that growing old and living all the seasons of life is not something to take for granted, we celebrate the good times with extra gratitude. Sometimes with a hidden dread that the seasons might be snatched from us.
But generally, we celebrate with the vision that has created deep awareness. Life is precious. People are our treasures. Time is a wisp of opportunity—if we want to love our people well, we had better do it now. Today.
We bend more often than we break—but usually bending feels like breaking.
We are designed, as humans, for resilience. We adapt and find a way through the hardest of things, but our capacity to bend is developed first in the little things. We face disappointments and futility with the normal course of each day. Coffee creamer has run out. It rains on a picnic. A friend can't make it to a fun meeting we were looking forward to.
When we face those small-disappointment times, we can "power through" (and suck it up—not my favourite term) or we can pay attention and let our sadness come up through our feelings and thoughts and choices. When we pay attention to our sadness, we are learning to reel disappointment into a healthy place of first being sad, and then letting go of our hopes. Part of good mental health is the capacity for recognizing there are things we can change and things we can't change—and allowing ourselves to be sad about some of those things that are futile.
But then the big losses hit us. Things that shake us to the core, sometimes leaving us knocked down for a week, or a year—or more. These are the losses that can leave us feeling like we are breaking.
But probably we are bending—finding the resilience to get through the hardship. And it is just plain hard. Hard to feel anything. Hard to grieve, hard to let go, hard to hold onto hope.
For me, it helps to know that sadness is the part of this journey that we should not avoid. Sadness takes a tender heart—it means we allow our vulnerabilities to come up inside of us. It feels like danger to our soul, but it is only dangerous if we don't have the refuge of safe relationships where we can freely grieve. Honest sadness paired with genuine compassion creates room for healing.
If we can let ourselves bend under the weight of grief toward the sea of tears we harbour inside of us, we will not break. We may never fully "recover"—if we have lost someone we love, we cannot recover that person. We may never again grow in a standing-straight-and-tall position. But we will continue to grow.
And somehow, part of the growth takes place in our capacity to live with intentional values—to show love and compassion to others in hard times, to give love freely to those who need it, to see opportunities for relationship as more valuable than anything else.
There is a great deal of beauty even in the bent over tree that continues to reach for the light.
Yesterday was sunny—we watered the sunflowers and sat in the sunshine pulling weeds. It was everything a summer day should be and we filled our five senses with the treasures of being outdoors. Together we laughed and played and sang songs of summer.
Today is all different. There are grey clouds across the whole sky and although the rain has not fallen, it is no longer summer. The ash trees are their first shade of yellow. The poplar leaves are still green but a sudden frost may take them overnight any time. And the season has changed.
For me this day marks the turning of seasons in a historical punch to my stomach. On this day, 47 years ago, I heard the words "Your mom has gone to be with God" and everything changed. The sunshine faded and although I spent the next day sitting looking over a tranquil lake there was no joy in the beauty of that scene.
I was more fully alone than I had ever been in my life. This is the anniversary of the season of winter coming over my heart. It is an event that is not for celebrating. It is an un-celebration.
And although I still find myself feeling unbearably alone so many times when I recall this day, there is a choice I have to make. I make the decision to tell someone that this day is hard.
No one in my daily life knew my mom. She is a name and a set of narrated memories to my husband and kids. She is a myth of some kind and a mystery of many kinds—they only know a sliver of who she is and was, through my remembrances. Re-layered memories.
And so I am tempted to keep this piece of my grief, the knowledge of my loss, inside myself. It feels a little bit safer to remember her and un-celebrate this day alone. It is a super-anniversary, an unusual one. She lived for 47 years and now she has been gone for 47—that feels significant to me. For no good reason, except that remembering her on this day is always both hard and important.
But as I sit and remember these big moments of loss and the season of aloneness that came to grip my life for the next decade, I also know that I need to make the best choice I can for myself. I need to tell someone that today is this day. This day of un-celebration.
I wish I could tell you that I have grieved enough to celebrate the brighter side. Celebrate that there was so much good, so much joy, so much delight that was lost when she left. I know that would be the healthy place to be. Celebrate what was so valuable.... that is no more.
But I am not there.
Here is where I am: I am doing well enough to tell just one person this one thing. "Today is the day my mom died."
It feels like a risk. It feels like it might hurt more. It feels like this won't help.
But it does.
It helps to tell one person who has been there for the hardest of memories. And he says the thing that needs to be said because he has learned that being alone doesn't help a mosaic heart to be whole. He says, "I know you feel alone, but you aren't. I'm here."
When the light of one life goes out, sometimes we need help to keep the tiny flicker of hope inside us from being snuffed out.
I wish you this moment of courage. I trust you have a friend, a spouse, a sibling or a kind and caring "neighbour"...someone you can go to with your treasured, uncelebrated memories.
Because we heal when we feel cared for. We heal when we are not alone. We find our way when someone else's light is enough to give us a flicker of hope.
Someone out there cares about your loss. Let them know and let them be the light that shines on your darkest day.
I love a grand mountain with moonlight on it. There is beauty in the soft light of the night. Everything is touched with a gentleness that makes the darkness a still place, a safe place.
But sometimes the night is thick with darkness and we see nothing. Little ridges in the road can trip us up and pull us down. I've bruised my legs more than once when I've fallen—literally, not figuratively, walking in the dark. It is not fun.
Yet darkness like this—thick darkness—is part of our lives. We hope it doesn't overcome us often. And it would be nice to stay home and not have to face this kind of darkness. Ever.
But for some of us, darkness invades our most sacred space of "home"—the place where we need to feel safe. The place where we find rest and in that rest we are able to grow.
When that happens, when the darkness crowds around us and makes it seem like our eyes are shut. When we see nothing and feel like the next step might be our last one. When we doubt beyond words that there is another side to the tunnel...
When that happens, I hope there is someone in your life who can say to you "There is One who never lets go, will not let go of you. He is the creator of Life. And His hands are Love. They bears scars that are Love."
And if you don't have that person, but you found me here today...Let me say it to you. "There are hands holding on to you, and they are Loving Hands." The Heart of the Creator is for you.
I don't say these words lightly. I know that when you are truly brokenhearted, you cannot feel love around you. I hold these words with reverence, on your behalf, and I believe them for you. Until the darkness lifts—and then I know you will see that Love was there.
Psalm 34:18 says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Love grows in the places between the earth beneath our feet and the sky above our heads—where we dream and hope and wish for things. We think of this "in between"—the places in our imagination—as not quite real. Or, at least, not as real as the food we eat and the shoes we walk in.
But dreaming is real. And we need our wishes and our dreams to keep us gardening souls, growing love. We need to nurture hope for our children and their children and the future they will have. We do that in our inner world, when we "see" with our vision, our capacity for opportunity and our yearning for ideals.
The best future we can give our nearest-dearest ones is the one where they look back and have not a whiff of a question that they were loved for who they are. We give them that today.
So dream of a good tomorrow and next year and distant future for those who belong in your circle of connection. See them with eyes that acknowledge them as your most valued treasure—even when that is hard.
Because you have eyes to see the future if you look inward and then turn that vision out toward the horizon. And what hovers there ahead, maybe even years from now, is built on what you choose today.
Choose to grow love. It lasts forever.
Happy Valentine's Day and Month to all of you, even if it is long gone! We don't need a special holiday in order to do something to nurture love. In fact, love is more likely to be growing in the mundane of every day life—it's just that it is so slow that you won't notice its growth much of the time.
Love grows in the every day of the mundane day after day. Nothing like a pandemic to remind us that we live in a string of days...sometimes feeling like the fog is setting in.
But here in these days of everything-normal-and-nothing-exciting...here is where we choose to value our circle of connection, our family of belonging.
And we can make even the most ordinary day feel special for someone else (who is probably caught in the fog, too) with a few simple expressions of delight.
A cup of something they love—coffee with whipped cream? Delivered with a smile and "I hope you wanted one of these." Or a box of macarons because "I know you love these." Or a new sweater—"I wanted you to feel cozy."
Or for some, it means even more if you say, "It's too cold to walk, so could we go for a drive today? I want to spend some time together."
Growing love is not difficult. But even the simplest of things can be a bit hard.
Rise to the challenge, and grow some love in your circle of life today. It's a great day for love to grow—we will beat this Covid test. And it will be a good memory if we look back and see that it was a time when we cultivated love.
Make today a Holy Day—make sure someone you love feels your presence, knows you see them, "gets" the message. They matter. Love matters.
It's the month of love—a good time to celebrate love...for a very simple reason. It deserves to be celebrated!
It's a good time to cultivate love, because it doesn't just grow on its own—we need to take some initiative and tend it the way we do our garden treasures. If you want to grow roses, you plant them where they get sunshine in good doses, water in small but continuous doses, and protection from the winter cold.
Relationships are much the same—only, don't you think that they deserve more attention, more time, more resources than your lovely flowers? Of course, flowers deserve a place in the sun! I love flowers (you know it). But relationships are the growing buds, the luscious blooms, the delicate petals of meaning that we tend to in our daily lives—if we want something of sustained and satisfying beauty to fill our souls.
You grow love much the same way you grow roses—protect it from harsh doses of judgmental coldness...provide plenty of warmth and delight...and make sure there is acknowledgement of value...a slow steady stream is helpful! Relationships that get the same kind of understanding and the diligent eye of provision from a "people gardener" are just as likely to become beautiful with blossoming buds as the roses we care for in our front yard.
Love grows nearly anywhere if it gets a good start and a continuous supply of nurturing kindness.
There are places on this earth that don't sustain a growing garden. Too much extreme cold, not enough light, bad soil...the list is a sorrowful one for gardeners. But some soils, some places, don't sustain growth.
Not true of love. You can always grow love where you plant it. The love that you nourish with your protective instincts, those seeds that you cover with warmth and delight—they will grow.
If there is a stubborn refusal in someone in your circle of human connection that discredits your offering of love, you may question whether it is worth the effort. And there is a time to walk away.
But when we are talking about the vulnerable ones who need our secure and safe acknowlegment of value...don't doubt the work of your kindness and nurture. Don't question that it will grow into something beautiful.
You may not be able to see the love that is growing, but your kindness, your steadfast commitment to be present and to see the ones who are most forgotten—that too is love.
And while those seeds are germinating and sprouting there is a truth in the power of love. Nothing has more power than love. If you give it away with honest integrity, it will have an impact.
Don't give up. Even in the hardest places, love grows. And makes a difference.
Love grows in the quiet, cold season of winter. The sun goes down early and gets up late and nights are long and dark. It is not a season of growth—or is it?
According to the mystics (St. John of the Cross to be specific), this season of darkness (and cold and sometimes hopelessness) is when roots grow deeper. We dig down into what is of value and hang on to it.
And that includes love. Love grows deeper and stronger when you hang on through the tough days. When you value that significant person you have linked your life to...even though it doesn't feel like fun-in-the-sun-good-times.
If you are loving someone through a dark spot of depression, illness, grief or pain (physical or emotional) you are not just hanging on. You are growing love.
And here's the best news...you are growing love for them: covering them with the beauty of white crystals that catch the light. But you are also growing love for yourself. You are equally filling your own soul with a bigger space for what matters most.
Love. Love matters.
Growing love is sometimes hard work. But always worth it.
I write on how humans develop and grow through challenges we face. I've divided this into three categories--Growing Love is about relationships and how we create conditions for growth despite the inevitable challenges. Cloudburst is about grief, specifically—which is a tricky topic. We need to keep growing but pushing is the opposite of helpful. And in Dancing on Hot Sand I talk about personal inner growth in hard places—spiritual growth, without sounding religious, I hope.