Some seasons (weather and life) are more challenging than others. The waiting. The struggle. The cold. The dark. Sometimes it is the cold and sometimes it is the dark. Sometimes it is waiting through the challenging and wondering if you will see the other side. But like the seasons, nothing lasts forever. Sometimes the change brings unexpected new growth, and vigor. Sometimes the waiting makes you appreciate it even more. Along with the weariness there can be anticipation if you allow it in.
When I was diagnosed with cancer it came as a complete shock. It was like having the rug yanked out from beneath me and then being kicked a couple of times as I struggled to regain my balance. When I was looking at the possibility of not being around past the next 36 months, at most (thank you Dr. Google) I tried to grasp at what was possible to retain. My focus was fine-tuned towards the direction of the things that were most important to me. My family. I wanted to be here to see my husband gray and mellow with age. To see him enjoy the rest of his life, the life past his stressful work. I wanted to see him as Father-in-Law, grandpa…I wanted so desperately to see my girls grow into full adulthood. So many milestones left to experience. Please allow me the time to enjoy those things that are so precious to my heart.
I also had this dream. The dream felt a little easier to look at. It’s seeds were planted in my heart years before I recognized it. In a previous season of my youth, many years before any inkling of what my life might hold.
Empathy, Connectedness, Developer, and Adaptability.
In hindsight, I would likely have had the strengths of caring and relator as a middle schooler (two of the Strengths Explorer Themes used for Middle Schoolers). These would have most assuredly been my strengths all along. I had not realized or seen them as “strengths” or as having value or as areas of myself to nurture, pursue or be intentional about. When I was this age I often struggled with how I fit in, where I could fit in, or why-if I didn’t. I would at times receive negative messages about who I was. I was often teased for turning red-faced when embarrassed (now I can still become blotchy when uncomfortable). I was teased for being “emotional”. And, yes, I did care and feel a lot. But mainly about the unimportant things. Caring about things that really didn’t matter or things that I had no control over anyway. I cared and gave too much attention to what others thought of me (mainly those who didn’t value me), how could I blend in and how to avoid being the target of unwanted snarky attention of certain people.
As I grew older, high school and college, I began to realize that I had desire in my heart to help others. I still hadn’t recognized this as a strength or as something I was created for. I just knew that it was a place that my head and heart leaned towards. Even then, I would still become distracted by the replaying of negative messages and comments in my head…” you aren’t of value, you are too emotional, you aren’t worthy” on and on. As time went on I was able to discover some other pieces of myself that were proving those messages and thoughts to be lies, but it wasn’t until the day I discovered strengths that I put them in truer and a proper perspective. It was like flipping it all on its head.
WHAT- are you really telling me that researchers have identified these as areas of STRENGTH?! What I learned about my strengths put it all in a new and proper perspective. This IS how I was created. These strengths of mine are no less valuable than anyone else’s strengths. These are good and valuable. I have good things to bring to my surroundings when I focus my strengths in positive directions. It is a waste of my energy and strengths to focus on the things that fight against my strengths. (ex, sarcasm is not a love language. It is really a way to poke at someone under the guise of being “funny” and is not a language that feels good to be around and leaves my brain wondering what the hidden message is. Learn to limit my energy exerted toward people who use this as a primary language.)
Focusing my strengths and attention on the negative things around me just made feel distracted and defeated. When I focused my strengths on others not the others who wish to see me fail or hurt- but on those who need me to bring my best caring strength – that is where I could feel most alive.
See those around me, especially those who are hurting or lonely.
Realize that we are all connected in some unique way. What we do and how we treat others matters.
Recognize that everyone has value. Everyone could use a little encouragement to take that next step forward. Even ME.
This strength gives purpose to all my others. If I invest my strengths into what really matters most, what is good, then it is all the richer.
Allowing myself the space and permission to be present and in the moment. So that I can enjoy this moment. Sharing the good things in life as they happen.
This is why I am here. To encourage others to see their strengths in a new way. To see themselves in a new way. Even looking at how strengths might need to be realigned. To see the potential and value in all our lives.
My next big step of discovery was to discern who most needed what I had to bring. I know that adults benefit from strengths coaching but then I remembered how insecure my teen years felt and it led me to wonder what it could look like to offer this to students. Could this be a game changer for them? Could this bring hope and renewed vision and purpose to a teen who has been focusing on the negative and harsh messages around them? What would that look like? I worked with my strengths mentor and we threw out some potential ideas for strengths partnering with a local school. We received a no. And another no. Then a few years later there was a new school counselor who said she could see the potential value of this for their students. We were given the privilege that year of working with teens for a few years during an after school mentoring program. We met with teens who will forever be in my heart. Their stories and the repurposing of their strengths will always inspire me. This breathed life into me. This was worth waiting for.
When diagnosed I knew that I would have to make sacrifices. I wasn’t even sure I would survive as there was no assurance that the treatments would be successful. At minimum I knew that I would feel crummy at times, tired, vulnerable to illness and that my appearance would change pretty dramatically. My life was changing. I just didn’t know yet how it would specifically look for me. I had to make the dreaded phone call to our partnered school and tell her I was out of the game for an unknown period of time. I was devastated. Why would God bring me to a place of such joy and then take it away! I didn’t understand. But I trusted Him. So I unplugged from strengths. I won’t say I was always totally agreeable with this change of events but it seemed I had no choice. Every appointment ended up on strengths days. So I waited. That long winter. That long year. Even as I waited I held out hope. I completed several months of chemo, lost my hair, was worn down to day-napping, and wrapped up this portion of treatment with some surgery. I was glad that I allowed myself the space to be still. To care for myself. It was the hard and yet necessary thing to do. As much as I loved working with these teens I had to devote my limited brain-space and energy to my family.
The next fall I found myself in a routine of infusions every three weeks, more hair and increased energy. I decided, along with my teammates, that we would re-engage our strengths group. We had a great year and I soaked up every minute. The next year we added a few more schools. The year after that a couple more. We are currently in 2 elementary schools and 4 middle schools. Most recently we have taken the leap of faith and created a non-profit, Play to Your Strengths, currently we have a team of 4 of us and some great community partners as well as many more students to serve. The days can be tiring but in the best kind of way. This had been worth fighting for. Waiting on.
It has been fun to watch the look on any new medical care member’s face when I tell them what infuses me with such joy. Numerous times I have been told to keep doing this. Because it is working. It is breathing life into me. I still may not know what my future holds but I can cherish this. I can be present. I can appreciate the gift of this moment. I will not look forward to ever having to step away again but trust that things will be in place to carry this dream even after I cannot. That is the fun and amazing part about a dream. It is usually bigger than we are, if we allow it space to become. Passions are those hints of the dream. I had to listen closely and fine tune my heart and mind to recognize and receive it. Once you get a glimpse of it you want to fight for it.
Life can be like a fruit or a season. It begins as a small sprout emerging to seek light. It gathers what it needs to produce fruit. It takes energy. It takes patience. It takes time. The fruit is beautiful and delicious. Once completing its purpose its seeds are left behind to produce many more like it. New vigorous plants that provide more than what the initial single plant could ever dream of providing. It is good. It is hard sometimes. It is so worth it.
A Time for Everything – Ecclesiastes 3
3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
What season are you finding yourself in currently? What can you gain from the season before this one. What can you grow towards in the next. Don’t fight against it. Allow it to strengthen you. To mold you. To train you into your full potential and purpose. Don’t allow it to harden you in ways that stunt your growth but remain pliable enough to be trained up in order to grow full and lush. Fix your eyes on the hope of the next season. Gather what you need in this one and anticipate the joy of the next. Be patient in this season, don’t try to rush it along or sabotage it into submission.