“Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”1 -Epictetus
I don’t deserve this. I try to do everything right. I show up and do my job. I’m a dedicated spouse and an even more dedicated parent. Why am I suffering? Why is God silent? Why is He allowing this to happen?
Does that train of thought sound familiar? I have gone through that script so many times, I should’ve been nominated for a major acting award.
(Before I go on, I want to make a disclaimer: No one, under any circumstances deserves to be abused, mistreated, harassed, or tormented by anyone else. If you find yourself in that situation, please seek help).
Deserve. A word which signifies an entitlement or something that is owed to us. We often think of deserve as a reward for doing the right thing, for not acting like everyone else around us. Deserve means we should be spared from a life of pain and suffering. However, all of us, deep inside know that is not the case.
Life is unfair. Legal or social justice does not always prevail. A husband or wife can decide they want out after decades of marriage. You can be fired or laid off from that job for which you earned while climbing the corporate ladder. A retirement fund or savings account can be wiped out with one swift downturn in the market or a major illness. You may have reached middle aged or older only to find yourself starting over. Life is unfair.
To paraphrase the above Epictetus quote: It’s not about what we deserve, it’s about what we get. We must manage our expectations of love, marriage, career, health, and everything else we deal with in this life.
I never thought my health and career would take a turn for the worse at thirty-eight. I never conceived that I would be divorced three years later. I didn’t expect to start over in a one bedroom apartment. Life will take you places you don’t want to go. Life will drag you kicking and screaming if it must. However, it’s not all bad and you are tougher than you think you are.
I agree with Epictetus that we must temper our expectations as we go through life. I’m not saying to prepare for catastrophic failure, but we must train ourselves to adapt to changing circumstances. Jesus said that in this world, we will have tribulation, but we can take solace in knowing He has overcome the world. The Buddha said existence is suffering. Yoda said that we must let go of everything we fear to lose. Basically, bad times are going to come, we must find peace and contentment in the worst of circumstances. To use a sports analogy, if our game plan is not working, we must be able to make adjustments on the fly. Embrace where you are and God bless you.
1Epictetus The Art of Living: A New Interpretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 7.
I am at peace. I am at peace with myself. I am at peace with my circumstances. I am at peace with the past and with God.
I didn’t have a mountain top experience nor was it a sudden revelation, I just came to be. A coworker this week mentioned that I have a different look on my face than I had in recent months. I believe my period of mourning has lifted and new life has sprung forth.
I have to say the last six years of my life have been the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I have detailed these struggles on this blog and I believe this period of darkness inspired some of my best work. If you’re new to the blog, I briefly recap what the last six years has been like- I left a church I had been apart of for fourteen years and the changing spiritual dynamics left me wandering and questioning God. I was hospitalized with anemia,which I found out a year later was caused by Celiac disease. I was laid off from a job, which sent my career in a tailspin. Recurring flare-ups of my Ulcerative Colitis, my nephew’s suicide, my battles with anxiety and depression, and being blindsided by a divorce after eighteen years of marriage.
I was a broken man. My mind, body, and spirit were broken. I felt so hopeless and alone. I know that I wasn’t alone because I had the support of my family and my family of coworkers. I went back to church and joined a men’s group and heard the stories of men who were in my same situation. I sold the house my ex-wife and I built together, which was a burden off of my shoulders and a boost to my mental and financial health.
When I think about my struggles, I’m reminded of two Bible verses, Philippians 4:7 and Romans 8:28. To summarize, Philippians 4:7 discusses a peace that transcends all understanding, while Romans 8:28 talks about how God uses all things to work together for our good. These Scriptures don’t say that everything that happens to us will be good, but we can have a peaceful heart in the worst of times. I memorized Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:7 when I first became a Christian, but the truth of those verses have really sank into my heart.
At the beginning of the year, I posted about this year being a year of restoration, and it has become that, a period of restoration. Being at peace doesn’t mean that everything has worked out and is resolved like a sitcom, drama or movie. Finding peace means that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. You’ve made it through previous hard times and you’re going to get through this.
I’m convinced my dog is a whiz at recognizing her shapes and colors.
Maggie, my eleven-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, does not eat the brown triangles in her food. She’ll pick out her favorite parts, usually the chunks of turkey or chicken, and the brown triangles are scattered all over the floor. Some days there is a long trail, while other days it looks like brown triangle subdivisions have popped up on the kitchen and hallway floors.
Occasionally Henry, my soon to be five-year-old Labradoodle-Beagle mix will help by eating some triangles off the floor, but mostly they remain on the floor until I pick them up. What goes uneaten during the day gets thrown back into the food bin and dished out the next day. With a new day, the cycle starts once again. I try to remedy this problem by buying different food made into other shapes, but I occasionally slip up at the store.
For anyone who has been blessed with a Miniature Schnauzer, you know they are the perfect combination of sassy and sweet. They love to cuddle and give you a piece of their mind when they deem necessary (which can be a lot). Maggie also loves to play and chase after the rabbits and cats who dare come into her tri-county territory.
When I first noticed the brown triangle issue, I tried to reason with Maggie, unsuccessfully of course. I was reminded of the scene in Turner & Hooch when Tom Hanks’ character made Hooch hamburgers with buns. Hooch was barking in the middle of the night, which woke Hanks up and he told Hooch to “eat the buns” if he was still hungry. I sympathized with Hanks’ character.
I have learned with dogs to go with the flow. Dogs, like people are who they are at a certain point, and they’re not going to change. Maggie is set in her ways and I embrace the brown triangles. I cherish everyday I have with my dogs because I know their lives are always too short. I also think about how blessed I am to be able to provide for my dogs in that Maggie is able to pick and choose what she wants to eat. A lot of dogs have to eat what they find and can’t be choosy (like a lot of people too, unfortunately). My advice to my fellow fur parents is to embrace your dog’s quirks because it makes for an interesting life.
Thousands of thoughts course through our minds each and every day. Some thoughts can be routine, such as What am I going to eat for lunch? or I need to get the car in for an oil change. However, thoughts can be a destructive force when dwell upon the negative, the resentful, and the angry.
I’ll never be successful.
How can anybody love me?
I’m a failure.
How could she do that to me?
I’ll never forgive myself/him/her.
The list goes on and on.
Have you ever found yourself in a thought cycle of negativity? How did you respond? If you suffer from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, does negativity thinking make it worse? The truth be told, you didn’t gain anything from the negative thoughts other than the loss of an opportunity to enjoy life.
The more you look around the more you notice how society gears us toward the negative. The continuous negativity of the news cycle, the gritty and violent nature of popular entertainment, and even religion, which tells us we are all fundamentally flawed, in combination with our own life circumstances overwhelms us into thinking we will never crawl out of this mental and spiritual abyss.
As a Christian and as someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic illnesses, I find my thoughts swirling down the drain so to speak. I have dealt with thoughts of resentment and anger over circumstances while I fumed at myself for putting myself into that situation. I believe Christ has forgiven me of my sins, but I have a hard time letting go of my mistakes. My inability to forgive myself is my thought struggle. What’s yours? So, what are some practical ways that we can overcome these constant negative thoughts?
Eliminate the “Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas”
As the cliche goes, “Hindsight is twenty twenty.” Ah,the past. “If I know then what I know now, I would have done this.” “I should’ve seen this coming.” “I could have done it differently. We must understand the past is gone. We can’t do anything about it. Doc Brown and his DeLorean aren’t showing up, neither is Doctor Who and the Tardis. We have to cut ourselves some slack here. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time. If we had different information, yes, we probably would have chosen differently, but that’s not the case. We can only go forward from here.
Focus on what you can control
We can’t pick our circumstances. We can’t manipulate people into doing the right thing according to us. We had no control over the country or family into which we were born. The only thing we can choose is how we respond to the events around us. Our responses can help determine how we overcome the obstacles we face. The best way to dealing with events is to look at what is directly in our control and don’t worry about what is not in our control.
Temper your expectations
There are things in life we just expect or assume to be true. For example, we may believe that life should always treat us fairly. We may believe that people should always do the right thing. We may think that if we dedicate our lives to God, then our lives should be free from pain and suffering. If you have lived for any significant amount of time, we know that we cannot live by these assumptions. Life is not fair. People can’t be counted on to do the right thing because some people’s ideas of right and wrong are different from yours. Finally, following God does not guarantee a bed of roses. Jesus said to take up your cross, not exactly an east feat. Tempering your expectations does not mean to walk around hopeless and cynical, but be realistic in how you view the world and people. If we understand that the best laid plans can go awry, then we are better prepared to handle problems as they arise.
This is not a complete list by far, but I hope this helps you throughout your day. God bless.
At this stage of my life, I have no children- except for the four-legged, furry kind. Yes, I am part of the community who identify themselves as “fur parents.” I don’t call us a family, because we are a pack. Being a fur parent for me is just a natural outgrowth of how my family viewed dogs. Our dogs were never pets, but part of the family. The dogs lived in the house with us, they watched TV with us, and played outside with us. Having a dog in the house was like having an incredibly hairy little brother or sister. I never understood how people could keep their dog chained up outside or in a kennel 24/7. Dogs, like people, need companionship and the need to be part of a family.
I am neither a child expert nor am I an animal behavior expert, however I have made several unscientific observations between toddlers and dogs. I have a younger sister, younger cousins, and nieces and nephews, so I’ve watched children grow and develop into adults. I’ve also had a dogs from puppies to the end of their lives. For those with children, imagine if your child was a toddler for ten to fifteen years and that’s life with a dog. Scary, huh? Drum roll please! Here are some of the reasons dogs are four-legged toddlers:
Privacy? What privacy?
I’ve heard complaints from many mothers about how they can’t even go to the bathroom without being bombarded by their children. It’s the same way with dogs. If I don’t close the bathroom door all the way, I receive numerous visits while attending to the call of nature or trying to bathe.
If a child can pick up an item, put it in their mouth,or run off with it, it’s theirs. Mine! Mine! The encounter between grown parent and toddler becomes a wrestling match more fierce than any main event at a Wrestlemania. The difference: dogs try to be sneaky about it, but give themselves away. Once you see that sneaky look from your dog, the race is on! In trying to pry open a dog’s mouth to get the object, I feel I missed my calling as a lion tamer or alligator wrestler. Some of the things I’ve taken out of my dogs’ mouths over the years: nylon knee highs, socks, used tissues, cotton swabs (a particular favoirte of dogs), clumps of grass, squeakers from destoyed dog toys, and random bits of trash when we take walks.
They like to fight when you’re on the phone.
I know my sister and I probably argued when my mom was on the phone. I’m sure all of us have at one point. That’s why I believe we pay our penance when we become parents/fur parents. All it takes is for the phone to ring and the chaos ensues. I don’t know how many phone conversations I’ve had when my dogs decide to play tug-of-war or the youngest dog wants to pester the older dog. When this starts, so does the finger snapping and the muted “shut up,” “quiet,” or “knock it off.” I try to go to another room and they follow me (see Privacy? What Privacy?).
They act up when you have company.
Dogs, much like people, are creatures of habit. Although they can’t tell time, dogs just have instincts, they know when it’s time to eat, when you’re coming home from work or school, and when it’s time for bed. However, a knock on the door can upset that routine and it’s time to go into “protect the pack mode.” Even if the dog is familiar with the guest, there could be several minutes of noise, which can and will disrupt conversations with your visitors.
If you grew up an only child, your parents dedicated their time and attention solely to you. However, what happens when you have brothers and sisters? You have to share your parents’ time, attention, and affection. We humans by nature are selfish and greedy- we want what we want when we want it. Sibling rivalry develops when it becomes a competition for a parent’s acceptance.
“Mommy, look at the picture I drew.”
“Hey, mom, look at me instead because I made the honor roll.”
“Mom, look at me I climbed Mount Everest.”
“Mom, look at me, I’m going to Mars.”
This principle works in dogs as well, because of the pack mentality. When you’re petting one dog, the other one nudges in between. You’re playing with one dog, the other brings their toy for you to play with them instead. Just like with rival kids, there will be growling and barking.
You wouldn’t trade them for the world.
All joking aside, I love my dogs. I would do anything to protect them and to provide for their needs. When your dog looks at you, you have entered a judgment free zone. All I see in those eyes are unconditional love and acceptance. Yes, there are days when they wake me up too early, days they embarrass me, and days when they make me mad, but deep down I know I will love them until their dying day and they know that. I will happily endure the water trails and brown triangles on the floor, the cold noses on the face, and the scattered toys throughout the house because with those things come hugs, cuddles, and kisses. Be thankful for your two-legged and your four-legged children because they are a gift from God. The next time you’re trying to install a new garbage disposal and your dog sticks his head under the sink, remember, he just wants to be where you are.