Friday, December 31, 2010

Making Change

Change - it's not just those coins floating around in the bottom of your purse, gathering in the corners of the seams while you try to shake them loose, hoping to find enough money for the Coke machine so you can buy that Diet Co-cola you will most assuredly die without.

Change is scary. Change happens without our permission. Change is what we resist when one door closes and we put our backs up against the door that's opening and brace our legs and push for dear life. And the whole time we're keeping our eyes locked on the door that shut and praying that it will stay shut.

Change busts through, anyway, saying, "Hey y'all. I'm here. I sure could use a cool glass of that sweetened iced tea." Before we know it, change settles in, makes itself at home, and we can hardly remember when things were different (or we wonder why we didn't invite it over sooner), until, of course, it comes around letting itself in the back door.

We fear change, because we feel like we have no control over it. We fear change because it requires us to put effort into adjusting. We fear change because as bad as things are right now, we sure hate for them to get worse. We fear change because we don't think we can be any happier. We fear change because it doesn't come at our convenience, when we're ready and waiting.

To live fearlessly we must -
1) Have faith that change works for our greater good;
2) Accept the change that comes and flow with it;
3) Actively make change.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Take control of change.

Make a change for the better. First, think of one behavior that you would like to QUIT. It could be smoking, it could be drinking soft drinks, it could be gossiping, it could be buying stuff you don't need, it could be watching TV, or any number of things. Give it up, today. And then wake up in the morning and give it up again tomorrow. Give it up again the next day. And keep giving it up, keep making that change, until it makes itself at home on your front porch like an old dog you've raised since it was a puppy. Have faith that this change, as difficult as it is, is working for your greater good.

Second, choose one behavior you would like to ADD to your life. It could be saving a certain amount of money each month, it could be exercising a certain number of times each week, it could be writing a letter every day, it could be getting a job, it could be making time to write poetry, or, again, any number of things. Add it today, add it tomorrow, add it the next day, and add it every day after that, until you're doing it without thinking, without effort.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Leaps of Faith

Go take a leap - I don't mean that as an insult. It's my very best advice, reserved for people I truly care about. Taking a leap means having faith, going with our gut, acting without all the information.

My parents raised my four siblings and me on a small farm in rural Georgia. Down in one of our pastures we had a swimming pond with a wood dock anchored out from the shore. I don't know how far out it really was. It seemed a mile from shore to me when I was 6. If I was standing on the dock, it was at least a mile and a half back to shallow water.

On a sunny summer afternoon in July I kicked my inner tube out to the dock alongside my mother, who swam. We sat out there for awhile basking in the afternoon sun. I'm sure my mother was happy to cool off and have a diversion from housework. I was happy to be alone with her. (Back then, I wished my parents would put my brothers and sister up for adoption, especially my older brother, leaving me to get all the attention. They never did it. They knew I would die of boredom without anyone to argue with.)

Without announcing her next move, my mama stood up and dove into the water, doing the American Crawl to the shallows. I panicked. I didn't want to get left out there all by my chicken little self. So I tossed my inner tube into the pond right next to the dock, then jumped into the center of it; only I didn't have good aim. My right food caught on the edge, propelling the rest of my body forward into the water where I paddled with all abandon, yelling for my mama to help.

She did not come to my rescue. Instead, she shouted, "Swim! You know how. You can do it." And since I saw her toweling off on the bank, I knew she didn't plan to come get me. "Swim!" she yelled again. It was up to me to save my own self. I stroked with my arms and kicked my left leg harder than an electric egg beater.

Obviously, the scene ended well for me, BUT, contrary to what you might think, I didn't learn not to jump. All I learned was that jumping without thinking is survivable, and exhilarating, and gratifying. And that I could swim from the dock to the shore just fine.

Later that same summer, playing around with a bunch of other kids out in the barn, my older brother (the one my parents refused to put up for adoption) suggested that we jump out of the hayloft. Everyone got right on the bandwagon of sprinkling hay we scraped from the loft floor onto the ground below. But when it came time to see how cushy of a surface we had created, no one stepped forward. So I volunteered my 6 year-old self.

Putting my toes on the very edge of the wood planks, I leaned out to take a look. My knees got weak. All the other kids chanted, "Jump, Lucy, jump! Jump, Lucy, jump! Jump, Lucy, jump!" So, what the heck, I jumped and landed on a bed of hay about 1 millimeter thick. Uhmph. It knocked the breath out of me. Needless to say the kids in the loft scattered and some ninny went and told my mama on me. In reality they had no idea what they missed out on.

It was that summer when I was 6 that I first learned courage and learned that I had it. I wore it like a county fair blue ribbon across my chest. But my lessons on taking leaps did not end there. In my early driving days at age 16, my mama had more to tell me on the subject. Specifically, she barked at me from the passenger seat, "If you mash the gas to go, don't you get out into the road, have second thoughts, and hesitate. You go!" She said this as I tried to make a left turn at a busy intersection and got a cold pedal-foot right in the middle as another car bore down on my mother's side of our auto at great speed. I didn't think I could make it but my mother urged me on. "Commit. Once you make the move, you follow through. You can't go back. There are cars behind you. Now go!"

I went.

Living fearlessly requires taking leaps. Taking a leap requires doing what you don't think you can and never looking back once you jump. I never want to miss out on life because I'm afraid to jump right out there into it; even if it means getting some bumps along with the triumphs.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Say "Yes" to something that scares you, even if it's as simple as answering "Yes" to "Would you like an apple pie with that?"

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Appearances are Everything

Talk the talk. Walk the walk. Look the look.

My mama always told me, especially when I was a teenager, that even if I didn't feel happy or have anything nice to say I better do my level best to look happy. Appearances are everything in a southern girl's world. "Put on a pretty smile and pretend," she would say. And over the years I found that simply smiling often brought about a change in my attitude.

One thing we southern ladies do very well is fake it. Lord knows we can ooh and ahh over Emily Ann's 4 carat diamond engagement ring with sapphire baguettes, only to gather on the balcony with our confidants to discuss how gaudy and overdone it is. But Emily Ann will never know the difference, because it is in our genes to pull off such things. In fact, faking it well is why folks from the south are considered to be the politest in the union. When we remark to a traveler from above the Mason-Dixon how lovely a white Christmas must be, he doesn't know that what we're really thinking is, Heaven help us, that accent will be the death of me if he doesn't move on here presently. Then we offer up another glass of sweetened iced tea.

Our generosities of word and deed never cease.

Two keys to living fearlessly are putting on the proper face and a little make-believe. Some of you may not have guessed it yet, but I am interminably shy. Not just a little shy, but SHY. For me, standing in a bookstore greeting total strangers and asking them to purchase my book (If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny) is a monumental task wrought with worry and angst. But since I'm living fearlessly I make myself do it anyway.

I dress the part, wearing a smart skirt, crisp blouse, and precious shoes. That way if someone can't think of anything nice to say about my book, she can at least comment on how much she likes my ensemble. I put on a smile. According to my friend Heather, if a girl smiles and says pleasantries, the worst anyone can say or think about her is that "she's sweet as she can be." Finally, I maintain good posture - shoulders back, chin up - projecting the confidence that fearless women possess.

By the middle of every book signing I believe it myself, I'm fearless, chatting up random passersby and insisting they stop and take a gander at my heart's work. Looking the look transfers to walking the walk and talking the talk.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Plan a day of pampering with a purpose. Looking fearless translates as looking our best. So, a manicure and a pedicure are a must. Freshening and updating your hairstyle, both cut and color, cannot be skipped. A massage will loosen all the worries from your muscles and a facial will bring out that girlish glow.

Then you're off to purchase one perfect outfit. You do not have to go on a $5000 What Not to Wear shopping spree in New York City. Puh-leeease. Target, TJ Maxx, Kohl's, Ross Dress for Less, and Marshall's all have what you need. You'll know you've found the one when you put it on and your back straightens and you've got an overwhelming urge to run right down to the shoe department.

Double the fun and go with a girlfriend or two. Then go out and live fearlessly together. By all means, fake it, if you have to, until it comes naturally.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

No Means No

Sticks and stones may break my bones but "No" will never hurt me. Say it to yourself until you believe it. We southern girls have to remind ourselves of such simple things as this, because we behave as if "No" is a fatal flaw, detracting from our inherent beauty and diminishing our ability to attract praise and gratitude from family and friends. We fear saying it and hearing it to equal degrees.

I'm here to tell you, today is the day we liberate ourselves; and we don't even have to do something tacky like leave the girls out in the cold and burn our bras. All we have to do is embrace the power of "No."

Yesterday I e-mailed this note to a newspaper editor whom I had corresponded with since the Friday before Memorial Day about placing my column. I finally decided that I needed an answer. "Yes" and we moved forward. "No" and I could go spend my energy on another project. In the end I found that she needed me to give her permission to say "No." And still she couldn't bring herself to say the word:

Dear Sally Jane,
Let's face it. Time and tradition have both proven that it is much easier to say "Yes" than it is to say "No." How else does a PTO president get elected every year? Even the Good Book advises, "Ask and ye shall receive."

Will you please (please, please, please) make the decision to place my weekly newspaper column somewhere (you can even put it next to the obituaries if you want to) in your pages? You can either run my humor column or my advice on living fearlessly; whichever you think appeals to your readers more.

Can we partner up and do this? (That's your cue to say "Yes." It rolls off the lips so much easier than that other nasty word.)

Lucy Adams
Weekly Humor Columnist
Author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny
Distributor of Chocolate Chip Grit Biscuits (They're good if you're hungry.)

Her response:

At this time I do not have budget funds available for another family columnist.

She probably knew that in May. She felt so uncomfortable even writing something that said "No" without coming right out and saying it (a skill honed by all southern belles), that she didn't even sign her name. What a shame that she does not know she gave me a gift. She freed me from putting that issue on my to-do list every week and empowered me to at last go out and seek another opportunity. Thank you Sally Jane!

I do not mean to imply that I took any pleasure in getting the "No." Of course not. It hurt my fragile feelings. It was scary. It made me feel uncertain and unsure of myself. But what service would I have done me or this editor had I avoided ever pressing the issue and getting a real answer? We would have both ended up fully annoyed with the other; her because I constantly called and pestered and me because I felt strung along.

When responding to someone's request that you cook 10 cakes for the church rummage sale, babysit her five children for a week while she flits off to Hawaii, or that you chair the committee to run the snakes out of the downtown sewer drains, remember the old adage, No means no, and the quicker you say it, the sooner she can ask some other sucker who will say "Yes."

Likewise, go out and ask for all the crazy things you need or want from other people, without worrying that someone might (probably will) say "No." Because, No means no. It does not mean, "You're stupid. You're ugly. I think you stink. No one has ever asked me something so ludicrous in all my born days. Get yourself back to the farm," or any other insult you can conjure up in your head.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but "No" can never hurt me, because all no means is no.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Repeat it until you believe it. Then repeat it some more for good measure.

Monday, December 27, 2010


One of the things a good southern mama teaches her daughter is to always look out for others. Always ask about everybody else's mama at the end of every conversation, take casseroles to folks in the event of birth, death, and illness, and go to great ends to never inconvenience another person just for little ol' you. In addition, my mama always advised that I should nevah, nevah, nevah make a spectacle of myself.

Which is why I didn't quite know what to do on Saturday night at a lightly attended gala to cap off the Author!Author! Book Festival in Shreveport, Louisiana. My husband and I arrived at 8:15p.m. to join a sparse crowd. Quite discomforted, I realized I would have no chance of blending into a throng of bodies. We walked down the stairs onto the expansive auditorium floor, and though not a soul flinched, my insecurity blinded me like a hot spotlight.

We stayed simply because I feared we might hurt the organizers' feelings if we departed so soon after arriving. Around 10p.m. I looked around to discover that somehow my beloved and I had missed the mass exodus of ALL the other attendees besides ourselves. It was now the two of us, the band, and a handful of hosts and hostesses. We were the ONLY guests still in residence.

My spouse turned to me and said, "We should go. There's no one here but us and I bet these folks would like to go home." The rational, do-what-your-mother-would-have-you-do, don't-wear-out-your-welcome side of me agreed. Besides, I didn't want the coordinators to think I was a loser who doesn't get out much. And so we walked toward our table to gather our things.

Suddenly, on impulse, I turned to my beau (or beaux, as we were in Louisiana) and said, "No. I'm not going. We came a long way for this. All the way from the GA-SC border to the LA-TX border, and I'm going out on that dance floor. Look around. Someone is throwing a private party just for us in this magnificent building (The Municipal Auditorium - Home of the Louisiana Hayride, where Elvis got his start) and I'm gonna soak up every last second of it."

I am married to a great and patient man. He stared at me like he did not recognize the woman in that little black dress and the pink, feathery boa. But he nodded in compliance.

And I danced the rest of the night, alone on the vast wood floor but entirely fulfilled. And I left there determined to keep on dancing, because that's what fearless living is all about; grabbing those moments of discomfort, obligation, uncertainty, fear, and sucking them like sweet watermelon from the rind. God loves me and he's giving me these moments as part of my total allotment in life. But he leaves it up to me to decide how to use them.

I plan to dance like the band is playing just for me. I hope you will, too.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Turn on your stereo, radio, i-pod to your favorite music and dance in the living room, across your office floor, in the dressing room at Macy's, wherever you find yourself. Let loose and dance. The band is playing just for you. Hear the music? This is your life to live fearlessly.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happiness is Not a Destination

Are you on the fearless living program because you're seeking happiness? If so, I have some very disappointing news. Living fearlessly won't make you any happier than you are right now.

Why? Because happiness is not something you can search for and find like a pastel colored egg in an Easter Egg Hunt. Happiness is not a destination. It is not around the next corner or in the driver's seat of that flashy red convertible you've been coveting.

At the same time, happiness doesn't just happen. It can't fall out of the sky, hit you on the head, and change your life.

What fearless living and happiness both have in common is that they are each choices. A person has to CHOOSE happiness, just like she has to choose to live fearlessly. The difference is, once we choose happiness, there we are. It's done.

Once we choose to live fearlessly, however, we have work to do. Living fearlessly requires not only a change in how we think, but also a change in how we live. It is a lifestyle; a new way of waking up and facing the day ahead, without reservations, worries, or meaningless restrictions on behavior.

So even if you choose the fearless life, there is no guarantee of happiness. It is a separate issue altogether. But what you are guaranteed is a life fully lived, a life without regrets, a life of action and of adventure, a life that is always moving forward and is authentic to YOU and who YOU are, instead of who you think other people want you to be.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: CHOOSE. Make it your choice; not what your mother would choose for you, or what your sister would want you to do, or what you think you have to do to fit into a certain social niche. CHOOSE. Then write it down in your own words and post it on the refrigerator, your computer monitor, the bathroom mirror, wherever you will see it everyday as a reminder of your choice.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Traveling Light

Today's lesson - travel light.

I just returned home from what turned out to be a wonderful trip to Orlando, Florida. Despite my trepidation about taking my four children to amusement parks, we ended up having a fabulous time. And I would like to note that I took living fearlessly to a new extreme: I rode The Hulk roller coaster at Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure.

But the important part of the trip is what happened at the very beginning. We arrived in Orlando on Saturday afternoon. We did not purchase tickets ahead of time, have an itinerary planned, or even make ourselves fully knowledgeable of all of our theme park options. As my husband put it Friday night, packing the car, "We've never been so completely unprepared for a family vacation."

So Saturday, shortly after checking into our accommodations, we went on-line and looked for ticket deals. Wow! We could buy combined 7 day passes to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for only $84 a person. A better deal than going to Disney for one day.

Sunday, I gave my husband my credit card to slip in his wallet and left my purse at our rented condo. We drove to the City Walk/Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure parking deck and paid our $12 parking fee. Then we walked the mile or more to the front gates of Universal Studios and waited in line to buy our tickets. The kids nearly popped with excitement.

After 30 minutes, it was our turn at the ticket window. Guess what. That great deal we saw on-line was only available for purchase on-line. We could buy two-day passes to both parks for about the same as the 7 day passes or we could buy six 14 day flex passes to 6 theme parks for $1400; twice what we had originally planned to spend. In a moment of insanity, my husband ordered up the 14 day multi-park passes.

He handed over my credit card. The lady in the booth looked at it and asked him if he was Lucy Adams. She needed to see I.D. I kicked myself for not bringing my purse and explained to her I had no I.D. but suggested that she call the credit card company and let them verify my identity over the phone. Surprisingly, as long as the ticket line was, she agreed. Meanwhile my husband and I were getting cold feet about the ticket price.

But, before we could make a decision to back out, the ticket lady passed the phone receiver through the hole at the bottom of the glass divider. "Hello, yes, this is Lucy Adams. I'm at Universal Studios trying to purchase tickets. Can you verify that I am who I say I am over the phone. I don't have any identification with me."

"Why certainly," the customer service agent replied. "Hold for just one minute while I pull up your account." While I held, my husband and I again discussed the pros and cons of what we were about to do. We looked at our children's faces. Would we be horrible parents if we brought them this close to paradise, only to drag them away without crossing the threshold?

That's when I heard it. A dial tone. Somehow the customer service agent and I had gotten disconnected. I looked at my husband and said, "We can't do this. All I've got now is a dial tone. I think it's a sign." We walked away and surprisingly, when we explained the situation to our kids, they didn't nut up. They handled it quite well, in fact.

On the way back to our condo, like a little yellow and black oasis of happiness on the side of Highway 196, was a small building with a sign that read Florida Visitors' Bureau. We pulled into the parking lot. My husband hesitantly went in, not making any promises to the kids.

He came out with 7 day passes to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Wet'N Wild for which he paid almost the same as the on-line deal we had seen for only two parks. A happy turn of events.

Here's the message: Travel light. Give chance a chance to happen. Simply because I didn't have a bag packed with my wallet, wet wipes, sunscreen, cell phone, insurance cards, water bottle, ibuprofen, hand sanitizer, and a can of fix-a-flat, something better than what we originally planned happened.

If we're always perfectly prepared, we don't leave ourselves open to adventure. Chance events that actually make our lives better can't happen.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: It's time to travel lighter. It's time to ruthlessly clean out your purse. Take out the nail polish you carry in case of a chip. Take out the zip-loc baggie of toilet paper you've been toting around anticipating a shortage. Take out the loose change from the bottom that you keep in case you're really thirsty one day and it's all the money you have to buy a drink from a machine.

Take out everything you pack in your purse for unforeseen emergencies. I know you put most of that stuff in there because you secretly believe that the most prepared woman is the most perfect. Well, I'm here to tell you that's a myth. The most prepared woman is the one most burdened by worry. She's the least flexible. Life is passing her by while she tries to predict every disaster and avert it with a pack of gum and a nail file.

Leave in your purse only the things you really NEED every day: wallet, car and house keys, one (only one) lipstick.

Travel light. Leave room for chance. Good things will happen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tunnel Vision

Be strong. Summon your tunnel vision.

I may as well break it to you now, before you find out on your own. There is a downside to living fearlessly. And since you're coming off a sushi, Saki, Sex and the City Girls' Night Out, you're in the right frame of mind to hear it.

So let me lay it on you: There are people you know who do not want you to live fearlessly. They do not like the changes they see in you. They feel threatened by your new-found confidence. That attractive glow you have of late has taken them off guard. As you gain control over yourself, your life, who you are, and who you're meant to be, they are losing their grip on you.

Of course, now, being of gentle southern breeding and knowing their manners, these folks won't overtly express their displeasure. They will disguise it in statements like, "What's going on with wives these day? Embracing their girlfriends instead of their husbands. Scandalous, if you ask me." Or people might say, "That's an interesting shade of red," when you arrive at the Watermelon Fest wearing a fresh fearless pedicure.

Don't get discouraged. Think like Bonnie Raitt, who sings, Let's give 'em something to talk about. And if all you've given them is a girls' night and some perky polish, then you're doing this living fearlessly thing right. (If they have more than that to discuss, then please refer back to Day 5, living fearlessly v. living foolishly.)

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Summon your tunnel vision. Hold your course. Focus on living fearlessly and block out the nay sayers. Repeat the promise you made to yourself on Day 2. Say it OUT LOUD, LOUDLY:

Today and every day, I will live fearlessly. There is no excuse. This is my life. This is all the time I get on this earth. I will not live forever. Today is my day! I will do it now.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gather the Girls

Gather the girls. No southern belle is complete without her girlfriends. We count on them to listen to us gripe about our mother-in-law over a box of chocolate and a glass of wine, to tell us we're too old to wear a skirt that short, to stay up with us waiting for a teenager to walk in the door well past curfew, to dish on the cousin who brought her boyfriend to Grandmother's funeral and nuzzled him graveside, to hug us when the sky is falling, and to help us put all the pieces back in place when the storm is over.

So who better than our girlfriends to support, and join us, on our journey to living fearlessly? No one else will understand quite like they will.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Plan a Girls' Night Out. Call up the ladies for an evening of sushi, Saki and Sex and the City.

If you're turning your nose up at sushi and thinking of playing it safe with cheap Mexican and Margaritas, then you've got a ways to go until you're finished with the living fearlessly plan. Sushi - got it? Saki - for a new experience. Sex and the City - I don't think I heard one whimper on that one.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Make No Comparison

Shall I compare thee to a . . . No, thank you, please do not. I do enough comparing myself all on my own. And make no mistake, there are no comparisons . . . at least that's what I try to convince myself.

Why do we do it? We compare our china to our sister's. We compare our camellia's with the state fair winning gardener's. We compare the lines on our faces, the pudges on our waistlines, to the non-existent ones on the model smiling on the cover of Glamour. We compare our wardrobes, our children, our hair, our oriental rugs, our curb appeal to everyone else's, as if theirs matters and ours doesn't.

No one has weeds in her flower beds like me. My weeds have grown as tall as much of my landscaping. Every time it rains, I pull some, as time permits. I have more weeds than time, however. And by the time it rains again, another weed has grown again in the place of the one I pulled.

Just because I'm the only one on my street that has weeds, does that make my weeds bad? unsightly? inferior? ugly? No. Just weeds. My weeds. They are unique to me and I am one-of-a-kind. You and your weeds are also yours to own and embrace.

Admitting I've got weeds doesn't mean I can't or shouldn't pull them, or at the very least minimize their intrusion in my flower bed. But most likely, they're only obvious to me. I am my own worst critic, which means every other person who passes by my house is his or her own worst critic . . . which means he or she is probably spending so much time focused on his or her own weeds he or she doesn't even notice mine; and therefor, isn't noticing yours either, at least not to the degree that you do.

Let's, you and I, resolve today to quit comparing ourselves to others. Let's pull the weeds that are truly invasive and call the others wild flowers and let them bloom. The weeds we pull we'll put in the compost pile and use as fertilizer later.

Whatever I choose to do, I will call it mine.

•Full length mirror
•white paper
•old magazines

Stand in front of the full-length mirror. Look very carefully at yourself. Not just at the image reflected back at you, but look at your whole person. What are your unique qualities? Do you have a mole over your right eye? Are you unusually skilled at boccie ball? Do bees seem to favor you over other people at picnics? What makes you different from every other person in the whole world?

Use the art materials you gathered to construct a self-portrait. Highlight and exaggerate your unique qualities, weeds and all. From now on, whenever you feel the need to make a comparison, instead of looking at other people, look at your own self-portrait. Remind yourself, when the comparison urge comes on, that women who are truly living fearlessly compare themselves to no one, because there are no comparisons.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pursuing Passion

Today is the big day - the day we find passion. Now that we understand the difference between fearless and foolish, we must turn our sights to passion. Not the kind of passion we feel toward our men, but the kind we find for ourselves.

Before your mind slips under the surface of that gutter of sludge, thinking all kinds of illicit thoughts about giving yourself passion, STOP. Let's talk a little about religion. We southerners know a thing or two about good old-time religion and can easily quote a few verses about it:
•You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalms 16:11)
•By standing firm, you will gain life. (Luke 21:19)
•Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12)
•What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul. (Matthew 16:26)

We sing songs like The Old Rugged Cross, Just as I Am, Amazing Grace, and How Great Thou Art. We lift more folks up in prayer at one time than Lou Ferigno could lift over his head with both arms raised. And when it comes to casseroles for the home bound, we've got 'em in the oven.

Why is it, then, that we're always trying, through bible studies, women's groups, Christian couples classes to get closer to God? Continually seeking, yet, each time, somehow coming up short, disappointed. Why?

Most likely because we haven't found our passion. Nothing brings a woman (or a man, for that matter), closer to God than finding and following her passion, because it is her one intended purpose, who she is, why God put her in this place in this time, how she will fulfill her calling, her conduit for changing the world. It is her destiny. It completes her. It defines her. It brings her ultimate joy.

A passion is more than a hobby. A hobby keeps our hands busy, fills our time, like knitting or crossword puzzles. But a passion is something a person does because she can't help it. And the reason many of us haven't found our passion yet is that we know how powerful it is. We fear giving ourselves over to it, being swept away by it, being consumed. It's inconvenient to our neat and tidy plan for each day.

But to truly live the fearless life, we must give in to it, whatever it is. And it could be anything - bee keeping, bird watching, decorating, organizing, sewing, selling, sorting, furniture rearranging, fashion, rock climbing, cleaning, writing, reading, cattle roping, snorkeling, cycling, flower arranging, gardening, kick boxing, bottle collecting . . . the possibilities are endless.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Find your passion. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 until you have identified it - that one thing that is THE THING for you! Answer the following questions to get yourself headed down the path of self-discovery:
•What are your natural talents?
•What are you driven to do?
•What are your interests?
•If you had to give up all activities but one, which one would you keep?
•If you were alone on a deserted island, what's the one thing you would want to have with you, other than your toothbrush or lipstick?

Now review your responses. You should have a good variety. It's time to sort through them to flesh out your passion. It is NOT your passion, IF
•You want to do it because it looked cool when someone in a movie, TV show, or book did it.
•You think you should do it because your husband or children expect you to do it.
•You feel guilty, like you let someone else down, if you don't do it.
•Your mother told you to do it.
•It feels like a burden when you're doing it or thinking about doing it.
•It embarrasses you.
•It feels cumbersome and unnatural.
•You do it because a friend(s) does it.
•You do it to fit in with a particular group.
•You do it for shock value.
•You do it to prove something to someone else.
•You do it because it's easier than doing anything else.
•You do it because you can't think of anything else to do.

When you've found your TRUE PASSION, you will know because
•You get in a bad mood when you can't do it.
•You lose track of time and place when you're doing it.
•You feel your brain shift to a more creative side when you're doing it.
•You would do it, even if your mother disapproved.
•You think about it all the time.
•You seek ways to do it better.
•You want to share it with the world.
•It challenges you.
•You feel like you've accomplished something when you do it.
•You almost feel like you're bragging when you tell other people about it.

Get started. You're almost there. Good luck!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fearless versus Foolish

Today's lesson is very, very important. In fact, getting this one lesson straight can make the difference between successfully living the fearless life and people only showing up to your funeral to see what the mortician dressed you in.

Living fearlessly is NOT, I repeat NOT, the same as living foolishly. In fact, doing foolish things makes it that much harder for us to do fearless things. Embarrassment and loss of self-respect drag us down far worse than fear.

Webster Dictionary defines foolish (adj.) as:

1. greatly deficient in good judgement, common sense, real wisdom; idiotic
2. contrary to all good sense, absurd
3. inviting mockery, scorn, or derision; ridiculous [i.e. people coming to your funeral just to see if it's tacky]

On the other hand, and in stark contrast, WebNet defines fearless (adj.) as:

1. oblivious of dangers or perils or calmly resolute in facing them [Think of our Heloise from yesterday]
2. invulnerable to fear or intimidation

The definition of fearless best describes the southern belle, or at the least Miss Scarlett O'Hara for whom tomorrow is another day. But we ladies of the magnolia-blossomed southland forget to capitalize on these strengths in our day to day lives. Still, we shall not diminish ourselves or our heritage by confusing foolishness with fearlessness.

Foolish is putting dark meat in our chicken salad; fearless is adding a touch of honey and lime. Foolish is wearing a necklace for a bikini top and a shoestring for the bottoms to the Club pool; fearless is going to the gym at 5am so we could wear it if we wanted . . . and look damn good. Foolish is thinking you'll be happier with your husband's best friend; fearless is asking the man you've been married to for 25 years out on a date.

Heloise could have said where she got that chocolate sauce she served the Garden Club members. Certainly the shock and awe would have provided a few wonderful minutes of mirth. But her sheer fearlessness in solving her problem would have been negated. She would have gone from homemaking hero to harlot faster than Billy Ray Cyrus went from Achy Braky Heart to broke.

Now that foolish and fearless have been clarified, it's assignment time:

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Whatever you do, do not write any of this down. Leave no evidence. This is between you and your conscience. Find a comfortable chair, sit down, lean back, and close your eyes. When the kids come running through the den hollerin', "Whatcha' doin'? Why're you sleepin'?" tell them, "Y'all run on outside, now. Mama's just restin' her eyes."

Okay, get very, very relaxed. Eyes still closed. Think of the most foolish thing you have recently done. Relive the event. Picture yourself going through the motions all over again. Let the angst build up. Feel your chest tighten. Admit to yourself that you don't want to feel this way anymore.

Next, visualize what you could have done differently. How could you have behaved fearlessly instead of foolishly? Did you get caught gossiping? Maybe you could have refuted the gory details instead of rolling in them like a dog on a dead squirrel. Did you have your yard service prune your neighbor's crepe myrtles? Perhaps the more fearless act would be to find the beauty in wild growth, or at the minimum, talk to the neighbor.

Finally, draw an imaginary bubble in the air with your hands and breath into it. You're filling the bubble with foolishness. Let it go. Move on to the fearless life.

When you're ready, get up and go finish the dishes. Your kids will be back any minute to see if you're still sleeping.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wrestling Worry

Did I fail to mention that if you'd like to remain a UDC member in good standing or still get invited to the annual Camellia Ball, you should probably commit to memory then burn that list you made yesterday. A small thing I know, but we southern ladies are all about the details.

It's those same details that prevent us from living fearlessly. "Oh, I've thrown caution to the wind," you pshaw me. But have you really?

It's much easier to live fearlessly in the big moments than it is in the small ones. I never had any trouble, during the births of my four children, grabbing my husband by the collar and threatening to levitate off the delivery table and donkey kick him in his sensitivities if he didn't get off the phone with his mother. But I would never have the guts to make that same promise on a random Sunday afternoon.

The reason fearlessness is easier in the big moments is because there just aren't that many of them. There are thousands upon thousands of small moments in our lifetimes. Adrenalin drives big moments. We wrestle with worry in the small ones. The details detour us from fearless living. We can't let go of our well-laid plans. For heaven's sake, what would people think?

Ladies, I'm here to tell you, that life, real life, is wrapped up in all the moments between the plans. The only way to live fearlessly is to embrace the uncertainty and roll with it. Take for example my friend Heloise, who found herself in a rather tight spot - her day for garden club refreshments and her daughter decides to get a gushing wound. Helpful Miss Betty Sue Renfrew offered to drop by and collect the refreshments early so Heloise could scoot on to the ER with her daughter.

Early! Early was no good. Heloise hadn't purchased the refreshments yet, but what diva of perfection would ever admit that. So she grabbed a container of strawberries from the fridge and arranged them on a platter. She scurried to the back porch and plucked some sprigs of mint for garnish. But she was fresh out of powdered sugar for dip.

What did she do? She grabbed a ladder and visited her secret stash on the back of the top right pantry shelf, where she found a jar of chocolate body paint (she apparently is an old pro at living fearlessly). She poured that chocolate paint into a small crystal bowl, placed it in the middle of the strawberries, and smiled as she passed the whole platter out the door to Betty Sue, who later reported how much the ladies raved over the refreshments.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Today, write a letter to that timid woman inside of you, who always whispers "What if," right before you decide to step outside of the plan, to break out of the worry, to let the details fall where they may. Don't fuss at her, encourage her. Ask her why she whispers those worrisome thoughts in your ear. Ask her what it is that she is afraid of. Tell her the story of Heloise. Let her know that if she will let go and let you live fearlessly, you will take good care of her.

Don't scrimp. This is an event. Write this letter on your best monogrammed stationary with your best pen. Don't stop writing until you have poured it all out. Then fold it neatly and slide it into a coordinating envelope. Place the letter in the bottom of your jewelry box for safe keeping.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Going Under the Knife

Yes, I know there are easier ways to change my life, be a new person, in 28 days or less. Day 1, go under the knife. Days 2-28, stay at home until the swelling goes down. It's really tempting, since someone else, the plastic surgeon, does all of the work and all I have to do is sit around and wait for the results.

Learning to live fearlessly, however, requires me to change from the inside out. And certainly, I will never discount plastic surgery as a viable means of facing a fuller life (I believe in putting my best face forward), but it won't work in and of itself. Still, following through with the pledge I made yesterday isn't easy. I need some internal prompting to let loose and live fearlessly.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Get your pen and notepad; you know, the one you use to make those endless lists. If you don't know what I'm referring to, then most likely you're a Yankee interloper here, because all Southern ladies make lists; grocery lists, to-do lists, school supply lists, lists of people who are having affairs, lists of people to whom to send invitations to the annual Derby party, lists of people who fail to RSVP and will not receive an invitation, . . . Nonetheless, consider yourself welcome here. Try and follow along.

Okay, now that you have your writing materials, write down the names of three women whose eyes you would metaphorically, yet gracefully, scratch out, given the opportunity, except that you want to make sure they see the fearless woman you are becoming:




My list:

1. Mary Catherine Poteet
2. Betty Sue Washam
3. Margaret Anne Cawthon

Don't take it personally, ladies. Every girl needs a little motivation.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Your Life is Going Faster Than You Think

Okay, if you completed Day 1's assignment, you've now got a fearless piece of prized artwork gracing the public domain of your domicile. But have you truly committed to living fearlessly, or do you still feel queasy when you consider it?

Listen to me. This is your life and it's going faster than you may think. Not too long from now, you're going to wake up one morning, wrinkled and gray, get out of bed, and realize that a simple walk to the bathroom is a greater risk than living fearlessly ever was. And after you fall down on the bathroom floor with a broken hip, wadding up dirty clothes to make a buffer between your head and the cold tile floor, you'll have plenty of time to mull over regrets until one of your adult kids finds you and threatens to put you in a home.

By golly, you're going to need some stories to live off of in that home. You need some stories to tell right now, at Girls' Night Out tonight. And I promise, you can live fearlessly without putting dark meat in your chicken salad.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: Put on your reddest shade of lipstick, paint your toenails, and repeat after me, OUT LOUD, LOUDLY- Today and every day, I will live fearlessly. There is no excuse. This is my life. This all the time I get on this earth. I will not live forever. Today is my day! I will do it now.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Southern Girls Living Fearlessly - Day 1

I present to my readers, the Day 1 of the Southern Girl's Primer on Living Fearlessly. Make sure you do the assignments found at the end of each day. Before long, you'll be living a new, more vibrant life, without ever giving up your neutral decorating pallet:

There are opportunity costs built into everything we choose. We often overlook the fine print at the bottom of the contract and sign a waiver without reading it. If we didn't we would never make a decision or move forward. Making an informed decision is preceded by long periods of failure to act.

I've decided enough is enough. I will live fearlessly. I'm throwing caution tape to the wind, unfurling it like big yellow celebration streamers. Let it wrap someone else in complacency.

Oh heavens! What am I saying? A good southern woman can't do that! We have rules, we have standards, for goodness's sake, we have etiquette to follow. I would simply die if I thought my neighbors disapproved of my behavior.

But there must be a way. Certainly living fearlessly doesn't mean wearing a black dress to a wedding or a hot pink cocktail number to a funeral. I don't have to paint my monogram on the garage door or hang out in a juke joint to live fearlessly. Southern girls can honor their heritage, keep their proper prim, and still throw a buttered biscuit now and again. We can know who our people are, compose a polite invitation or thank you note, deliver casseroles to the sick and deceased, and still sweeten our tea with pure sugar.

Take me, for example. For six years a bare bulb hung from the ceiling of my 1915 home. I decided when we moved in that I would buy a crystal chandelier to match the huge ones in the living room and dining room. I feared marring the traditional architecture of my home by hanging something more modern. After six years of concern, worry, saving, angst, searching, I found myself in a lighting store making an impulse buy.

I purchased a walnut colored pendant fixture. After my husband hung it, I looked up and realized what a fool I had been all these years, tangled up in caution tape. It wasn't a crystal chandelier that the room needed, it was a touch of me.

YOUR FIRST ASSIGNMENT: What your life needs is a touch of YOU in it. Today go buy a piece of canvas, an old board, a slip of tin roof, anything with a paintable flat surface (but, do be tasteful, no saw blades or birdhouses). Using whatever paints and brushes you have, create your own folk art, abstract art, self-portrait, etc. There are three rules to this:

1) Do not paint what other people expect you to paint.

2) Your finished work must be displayed in a common area of your house, where guests to your home will see it.

3) You may never, under any circumstances, including being pressured by a realtor or interior decorator, make excuses for it, diminish it verbally, or move it to a less conspicuous area; that would be like badmouthing YOURSELF and hiding away in a closet and we all know a proper lady would never poor mouth the family name.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Crimp in the Curling Iron

Just a question.

I've been thinking a lot about my resolution to take life by the roots of its hair and pull until it cries, "Uncle." And while contemplating this questionably unladylike behavior, I've encountered a bit of a quandary, even a possible quagmire.

Can a southern lady truly live fearlessly without risking her virtue or her neutral color palette?

My dilemma is a crimp in the curling iron, for sure. What's a girl to do?