Life by Design – So many questions

I have spent the better part of my adult years around network marketers. You know, the people who are always saying bigger is better and life needs to be maxed out in every way? The people who push you to dream bigger, to push yourself, to live the life of fantasies…

This weekend really started me thinking. If you have read any of my other posts, you probably know that I am a firm believer that every person on this planet can do whatever they set their mind to. If they want it bad enough. I am also a believer that there is excessive abundance in the world and it’s there for the taking. And I believe that things, high-quality, nice things, can be very fulfilling in their own manner.

But in all the years I have spent around network marketing, there was one tiny little problem. I could never make myself want “it”. I could never push myself to the next level. I could never picture owning the fancy cars/house/etc. And I felt bad every time I realized that it just wasn’t what I wanted. I thought everyone was supposed to want more, to push themselves more. I felt like I was unambitious and lacking inspiration because I didn’t want fancy. I felt like it was an injustice to my family, my mom, my kids to choose a simpler lifestyle.

But every single time I start to ponder my life, I come back to how much I love the simple things. My favorite date I ever went on was a walk. That’s it. It wasn’t a walk on a beach, it wasn’t a walk through a big, glamorous city. It was a walk, right here at home, in my own backyard. A walk that was full of laughter and deep discussion and real, heart-filled goodness.

My favorite memories with my kids take place in a tiny 800 sq. ft. duplex. Not the massive Victorian show home that I used to live in. It’s those little moments. Reading before bed, playing a board game, letting my son attempt to teach me to play Mario Cart. (I wish I had at least 1 smidgeon of hand/eye coordination, but I don’t). Its the moments where my daughter has come over when I am on the couch and said “Can I snuggle you?”

And when I spend time with friends? I always prefer a quiet cup of coffee with interesting conversation over a night on the town in a chic dress. I want to know them, at a heart level. I want to see things from their perspective. I want to delve into the recesses of their minds and uncover the beauty that lies within.

Please don’t take this wrong. I am not judging you if you want to be rich and have a Ferrari or a 20,000 sq. ft. house. More power to you. If those things bring you joy, then by all means, go out and chase that! Please!!! You won’t be happy unless you are in pursuit of something that matters to you.

I am just saying that I have FINALLY come to the realization that those things do not matter TO ME.

I spent years chasing. Always chasing. Money, relationship, status. I wanted it all. I wanted people to look at me and say “that woman has it all together.” I wanted the power suit, the high heels, the glam hair and the lifestyle to go along with it all. I wanted to be seen. To be noticed. To be respected and admired. I wanted to be a shining example of independence and assertiveness.

And none of those things are bad. Not one. They are actually all pretty awesome things.

But in light of recent events in my life, I am really starting to ponder what really matters to me. What makes me tick? What makes my world spin? What makes time stop for me?

And that has led to more questions. Like, what if I just want a slow, simple life? What if I find happiness in the peace that exists in the in-between? What if I am never rich or famous, but just a normal, everyday person? What if I choose to be content where I am today?

Everything around me is screaming. You need to hustle. You need to improve. Be more.  Strive for bigger things. You need more stuff. You need to look better/be better/have more than the Joneses. You need to compete. Claw your way to the top. Be more productive. Sleep less. Have a huge impact. Make your life count.

But what if that isn’t what I need to be doing? What if, by striving for more, I am missing the blessings I already have? What if all the competition just makes me feel stressed and worn out? What if it steals my joy? What if running after things means I am leaving my peace behind?

Why can’t I just be enough?

What if I am only a mom? A sister? A daughter? A friend?

And what if I focused, really focused on making the people in my immediate world aware of the fact that they are loved. Deeply and fervently and passionately cared for and held in high regard. What if I used my energy to bring out the best in them? What if I made sure they felt wanted, appreciated, necessary? What if I made them feel chosen and valuable?

What if I never build a huge children’s home with horses and archery classes? What if, instead, I focus on our local Dream Center, providing food and childcare and fun times to the people right here in my own neighborhood?

What if I never give a Ted Talk about domestic violence and the impact it has on people? What if, instead, I just meet random people one on one, and I use my experiences as a survivor to instill belief in them and help them escape a terrible situation? Is that enough?

What if I don’t want to have a six-figure business or a high status job in the community? What if I just want to write? Not writing for money, but to make an impact. To change the one person’s perception who actually reads what I have written. To inspire one other person to listen to their own heart instead of the world around them. What if I find that individuals matter more than a following and helping one person is enough for me?

What if I never end up having a physique competitor body, but I accept the healthy, strong body that I have? What if I don’t give up the occasional treat because it is something I enjoy? What if I am happy with my three or four days of working out every week?

What if my house never looks like a catalog? What if I minimize my possessions and have a lot of empty space? What if I pare everything down to only the bare necessities? What if I am okay with just maintaining order and making real food as much as I can?  What if my home is just simple, but safe?

What if I am a mom who isn’t good at comforting my kids when they cry because I don’t know what that looks like? What if I never attend a PTA meeting or help with a school event? What if I don’t come up with a plan every summer or throw the best birthday parties? What if I am the mom who needs time for myself, even when they are with me sometimes? What if I want someone to put me first sometimes? What if I am just the mom whose hugs are stiff and unnatural but my cuddles are often? What if I don’t keep a rigorous schedule and I let them watch a little too much TV or play on their games a little too long once in a while? What if I am just an average mom who can never live up to my own expectations, let alone yours?

What if some people find me way too religious or uptight, while others find me too free-spirited and open? What if I never publicly proclaim my faith, but share in small spaces and genuine conversations? What if I talk about my doubts, my insecurities, my questions? What if I am not interested in changing society as a whole, but rather changing myself to be the best me for the people in my immediate circle?

What if I just can’t keep up? What if I need to sleep more than a normal person and being sick takes the air out of my lungs when I am walking down the hallway some days? What if I can’t run on two hours of sleep when I have a project to do? What if I don’t have boundless energy and stamina? What if I need solitude, serenity and an abundance of rest to stay healthy and happy?

And what if…

What if I decided that who I am is already enough? What if I decide that when I die, I will never regret the decision to just BE? What if I embrace my limitations? What if I stop beating myself up over the things I can’t do and focus on the things I am already doing that matter? What if  just make peace with who I am and what I need and honor your right to do the same.

What would happen if I accepted that all I want is a slow, simple life? Beautiful on its own and bursting with love, peace and happiness. What if I finally chose to follow the command in the Bible that says “Be still”?

Because that is what I am in the process of doing.

And I think it is enough.

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Wandering Heart

I lean out a little further, uncertain of my own eyes. I can see his face now. That handsome, chiseled face with the dancing, warm eyes. I would know it anywhere.

His sandy brown hair is a bit longer now, soft waves blowing in the breeze, mimicking the red scarf casually slung around his neck. The navy blue blazer complemented his broad shoulders well.

I find myself staring at his hand, gently resting in the hand of a breathtaking raven-haired beauty. His fingers caressed her palm softly as they spoke, the glint of a diamond just visible. I glance at my own naked hand, pondering what that might be like for a brief moment.

He stood 6’4″, as straight backed and proud as ever. I felt as though his large frame should have dwarfed her diminutive size, but she oozed a confidence and contentment that made her seem larger than life in some way.

His smile is genuine, those straight white teeth showing off the talents of a skilled orthodontist so many years ago. Occasional laughter rings in my ears softly.

His eyes never leave her, revealing the depth of his affection.

I still love him. A wistful smile reaches my mouth before I realize it. I could have been that girl. If only my wandering heart could be tamed.

woman-570883_640

My car arrives and I skip lightly into the backseat.

Adventure awaits.

Always.

 

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Hiking barefoot. A moment in time.

The rich, dark earth slowly filters through my fingers as the sun shines warm on my back. This is the place.

I look up slowly. Mystery tempts in the shade ahead, trees towering to the heavens, ferns and moss painting the scene with every color green imaginable. The shadows dance and tiny patches of light paint a picture of glorious solitude and serenity.

It is a woodland story. Full of wild beauty; raw, unfiltered and perfect. It draws me. It makes my heart long for more.

As the grandeur of the scenery starts to sink in, the sounds become more prominent. Water trickles over rocks somewhere nearby, full of life and peace. Birds sing in the distance, dancing in the warmth of the spring sunshine. Squirrels scurry through the treetops while the leaves sway and rustle. The wind breathes softly through it all, creating a beautiful symphony.

There is a path ahead, barely visible. I can feel it more than I can see it. It’s pulling me in, begging me to explore, to go deeper.

I take a few steps with my bare feet. Hard, sun baked earth gives way to the damp, dark soil, the incredibly soft covering of the forest that I love so much.

I am home at last.

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The Adulteress

I read this a few years ago and I thought I would share it here. I am not actually sure where it came from originally, but I absolutely love it.

 

“What are we going to do with this Jesus,” the chief priest asked the group. “He is going about healing people left and right. Everywhere I go the buzz is about Jesus. It’s Jesus this, and Jesus that. And the crowds are calling him the Messiah! Everyone knows that the Messiah will not come from Galilee. If we don’t get rid of him, we are going to have an insurrection on our hands.”

“And ever since the buzz about him multiplying a few loaves and fish to feed over 5,000 people has circulated, his followers have multiplied as well. He must be stopped.”

“I have an idea,” Lucius responded with a gleam in his eye. “I happen to know a certain married man who is sleeping with his mistress at this very moment. I happened to see him slink into her house last night.”

And as the hard-hearted Pharisees gathered round, a spiteful plan to trick Jesus began to unfold.

 

The sun was just peeking through the securely locked shutters of Morah’s bedroom window.  The predawn stillness was broken only by the songs of early rising birds floating on the breeze.  Morah was a tangle of sheets, arms and legs as the man she loved lay sleeping beside her.

“Oh, Zachariah,” she whispered as her fingertips brushed a stray lock of hair from his closed eyes.  “If only you weren’t married. I know this is wrong, but I love you so. And I have to believe you when you say you love me as well. We are risking our very lives with these frequent trysts.”

Morah’s musings were suddenly interrupted by a banging on the door.

“Open up!” the gruff voice demanded.

“Who is there?” Morah cried as she scrambled to find her robe.

“Open up or we’ll break the door down.”

“What’s all the commotion,” Zachariah mumbled as he groggily sat up in bed.  “What’s going on?”

Before Morah could even think to answer, the angry mob of religious men broke through the simple lock and into the lovers’ hideaway.

“What is the meaning of this?” Zachariah barked. “What do you think you are doing?”

“What do you think you are doing, my friend,” the Pharisee countered. “That is the real question here.”

“Morah, daughter of Omar, you are under arrest for adultery under the Law of Moses!” the moral police spat.  “Get dressed and come with me.”

The Pharisee tossed Morah her night robe, but failed to turn his head as she slipped her trembling frame from the cover of the sheets and into the thin cloak. He grabbed her by the arm and began dragging her to the door.

“Where are you taking me?” she cried.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” the Pharisee growled.

“What about Zachariah?” the youngest man of the group inquired.

“Just leave him,” the Pharisee replied.  “We don’t need him.”

“Why don’t you go back to your wife where you belong,” the Pharisee called over his shoulder as the group left the room. And with that, the conspiring mob continued their trek to the temple with the half-clad trembling woman in tow.

Two men flanked the weeping woman on either side, dragging her through the early morning hustle and bustle of the city. The bait was hooked, and now it was time to reel in the catch.

 

Like mice following the Pied Piper, a curious stream of townsfolk joined the parade.  Jesus was already teaching in the courtyard with a group gathered at his feet. As always, Jesus’ message and miracles drew large crowds. A distant rumble interrupted his gentle teaching as the angry mob and curious crowd approached. They marched right into the inner circle of the classroom and thrust the woman at the Master’s feet.

Morah’s unbound hair fell around her bare shoulders and fluttered in the early morning breeze.  Her shame-filled eyes stayed riveted on the earthen floor, refusing to meet Jesus’ gaze. Then one of the men pulled her to her feet and displayed her for all to see.

She didn’t need to look at the man before her. She recognized his voice. It was Jesus.

“Teacher,” the pious Pharisee began, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The Law of  Moses commands us to stone such a woman. Now what do you say?”

Jesus didn’t look at the woman’s half-clad body as the others openly gawked. He looked into her soul.

 

Morah lifted her eyes and looked into the face of love.  What do I detect in his gaze? She thought to herself. It wasn’t contempt, disgust, or condemnation, but rather compassion, concern, and pure, unadulterated love. Somehow she knew that this was the look she had been searching for her entire life.

As Morah listened to the Pharisee’s question, she understood Jesus’ dilemma. If he set her free, the Pharisees would accuse him of ignoring the Law of Moses and deem him a heretic.  If he sentenced her to death by stoning, then his teachings of grace and forgiveness would be negated.

The religious leaders already held the stones in their clenched fists, anticipating his reply. Their hearts were as hard as the rocks they held in their hands. But rather than give a quick answer, Jesus moved his gaze from the trembling woman and stooped to the ground.  With his finger, the very hand of God-made-man, he began writing in the dirt.  A frigid chill swept through the Pharisees pious robes. Suddenly they felt the rawness of naked exposure as Jesus’ eyes looked up at each of them and without a word, uncloaked their sinful thoughts and desires. With one look from Jesus, they stood soul bare and more exposed than the half-dressed woman before them.

Everyone held their breath. The silence was deafening. The tension was palpable. Finally, Jesus rose and delivered the verdict.

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Then Jesus squatted once again and continued to write.

 

One-by-one the Pharisees unclenched their fists, dropped the stones, and filtered through the crowd. The older men who had accumulated a longer list of sins turned to leave first, with the younger ones not far behind.

The remaining crowd listened closely as the drama continued to unfold.  After the last of the Pharisees cleared the scene, Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are your accusers?  Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she replied.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The woman turned to leave, but not before picking up a discarded stone to take with her.

“To remember,” she whispered

I hope that today I can remember… I cannot and should never judge another for their sins. I have enough of my own.

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My take on church…

I remember Sundays at my house growing up. We didn’t always go to church, but my mom tried to make sure we went as often as possible. And on the days that we did go to church, it was utter chaos in the morning.

Everyone (eight children, two adults) had to be dressed their very best, with Sunday shoes and fancy hair. The hair was a bit rough because older kids did younger kids hair and lots of fighting and “ouches” and winces commenced, followed by my parents raised voices and commands to “stop it,” “be still” and “hurry up.”

But why? Why put us through the torture of styling our hair? Why make sure we were wearing our best clothes?

Because if we were gonna go to church, we were gonna go lookin’ good!

It didn’t matter if we fought and screamed all the way to the parking lot… it didn’t matter if one or all of us had been beaten with a wire hanger that morning… it didn’t matter if we had been crying on our way out the door. When we walked through those church doors, we put on our plastic smiles and our fake laughs and we acted like the world was perfect.

“Good morning!” was said to everyone with a big smile.

“How are you?” The greeters always asked.

“Fine,” “Great,” “Doing well” were automated responses for all of us.

But it was all a lie. We were anything BUT fine. Our world was broken, our household was chaos, and fear and intimidation ruled our lives. My dad was a dry drunk who got his jollies by beating his kids. My mom was depressed and anxious and trying to do the best she could with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Somedays she barely left her bed. I was lonely and afraid all the time. My brothers and sisters varied between angry and fearful. Tears weren’t allowed in our home, so anger and sarcasm were the only ways we were allowed to show emotion. And we did. The fights we got into, the broken noses, the knives, the threats. It was like a war zone all the time.

And, as I have heard stories from some of the other kids that sat in the pews near us growing up, I have realized that their worlds were anything BUT fine as well.

But no one knew. We hid it all so well.

And that… That is why I have a tendency to question “The Church.” That is why I look at the way people LIVE as much as possible before I decide to follow them. That is why a church, any church, that is inwardly focused, has no appeal whatsoever to me.

Because when we get engrossed in the “church lifestyle,” it becomes so easy to put on a mask and pretend that things are good. It feels like that is the right thing. Because heaven forbid, anyone know that maybe things aren’t so easy right now.

What is it about the church that makes us feel like we have to show only our best faces? Shouldn’t it be the safe place? The place that Jesus was to his followers? Shouldn’t it be a place of grace and compassion and love, no matter what your life looks like?

I don’t recall Jesus saying “Go, clean yourself up before you talk to me” to the dirty, disheveled kids that followed him.

I don’t remember him telling the prostitute to go away because he couldn’t be seen with her as she washed his feet.

I don’t recall him telling the woman caught in adultery that she deserved the judgment that people were about to throw at her.

I never read about him telling the people who had no food that they “should have been more responsible.”

So WHY do we do that? Why do we cover up our lives and hide from God and others? Why are we still acting like Adam in the Garden of Eden, attempting to cover our nakedness with a fig leaf?

What is it about the church that makes us feel like we need designer clothes, shiny cars, and smiling faces in order to attend this masquerade ball every Sunday?

Why do we do it? Is it because we don’t want to appear weak?

Is it that we want to appear strong as the rock of Gibraltar even if a husband is beating us on a daily basis, or our son is being bullied at school, or your best friend was just informed she has 5 years to live, or you just discovered that you might not be around until your youngest turns 18?

So we walk through those doors, with all the burdens of the world hanging round our neck.

“How are you?”

“Fine, just fine.  Praise the Lord.” 

And the church becomes a stage, instead of a place to meet our God.

We play “Let’s Pretend,”  and the audience cheers for our performance, but the Director’s voice grows faint in the distance.

I love C.S. Lewis. In his book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is a scene that reveals what I think God wants for us. (If you haven’t read or watched The Chronicles of Narnia, you should.) In this particular scene, the White Witch has turned many of Narnia’s inhabitants to stone. Aslan, the king, the lion (representative of Christ to some) displays incredible courage as he braves the witches courtyard and gently breathes on each of the statues, bringing them back to life.

This is how the scene plays out.

“The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo.  Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing around him till he was almost hidden in the crowd.  Instead of all that deadly white the courtyard was now a blaze of colors; glossy chestnut sides of centaurs, indigo horns of unicorns, dazzling plumage of birds, reddy-brown of foxes, dogs and satyrs, yellow stockings and crimson hoods of dwarfs; and the birch-girls in silver, and the beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow.  And instead of the deadly silence the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings, braying, yelpings, barkings, squealings, cooings, neighings, stampings, shouts, hurrahs, songs and laughter.”

Amazing, isn’t it?

But unfortunately, it seems many of our churches are stone courtyards, with everyone attempting to blend in, trying to conform to the image that is expected of good, church-going people. Rather than trying to be who we were created to be, rather than finding the image of a good God in all of or individual quirks and follies, we attempt to be JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.

And that leads to a very boring, very uninspiring world that cannot and will not ever draw anyone in. There is definitely no Magnetism in a lifestyle that does not accept others just exactly as they are. We were NOT created to be clones of one another. We were gloriously created to be colorful, wild, wonderful individuals. Real people. No masks. People on our own journeys. People with our very own purpose.

So, my challenge for you today is to allow yourself to be real. Allow the winds to blow the stone places away from your heart and mind and find just one thing, one moment, that feels authentic and totally you. Then take that moment and celebrate it with everything you have.

Because you, my friend are glorious and perfect and exactly who you should be, bumps, bruises, scars and all.

Much love,

Shannon Joy 

 

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Before I Die…

So, I have been thinking… probably too much because that’s what I do.
But as I go through the process of creating this beautiful life, I realize more and more what is or is not important.
And the important things really aren’t what I thought they were at all.
When I was in college, I was determined to be financially successful, to dress in the best clothing, wear high heels every day, earn the admiration and respect of all my peers, have a huge office to myself and own a beautiful home where I threw incredible fancy dress-up parties.
I fought for that vision for a few years. Then I decided to add a husband into the equation. Then kids came along. Then life really hit me, knocked me down, and tore me apart for a while.
But I kept going. I was determined to have the “things” that would make me happy. So determined, in fact, that I cut people out of my life if I thought they didn’t feed my material goals. And as I struggled and fought to gain these ever-elusive material possessions, I found myself losing out on the more important things, many of which I didn’t recognize until it was too late.
But at this stage in the game, I have begun to realize what I really want from my life. I want a life that sizzles. I want a life that makes me throw my head back and laugh out loud. I want a life of crinkles and creases and stretching and growth.
I don’t want to lay on my death bed and realize that my life was just a collection of meetings and errands and laundry and receipts and dirty dishes.
No, I want to eat all the good food, and belt out Disney songs at the top of my lungs, and wear twirly skirts, and laugh until I am out of breath and my stomach hurts. I want to paint the beauty I have found in the world and bring beauty to the places that are aching for it. I want to stomp through mud puddles in bare feet and dance in a meadow on a sunny day. I want to sleep long and hard on clean white sheets and throw open all my windows and enjoy the fresh air. I want to throw costume parties on a whim and wear a wig just because. I want to watch movies that make me cry and read books so good they make me forget that time exists. I want to be so raw, so honest and vulnerable that it hurts. I want to make people think, really think, about life, about their expectations and standards. I want to experience joy so fully that I can’t help jumping up and down. 
And I want my life, each and every day, to be made of magical moments and memories. I want a life so full that God himself has to belly laugh when he looks at me because he is so glad he gave life to someone who loves it this much.
I want my life to be a blessing. And I want to leave a legacy of joy and hope.
I want to be every single little bit of the Shannon that I was created to be. I want to squeeze every drop of life out while I am still living so there is nothing left to experience by the time I die. I want to be everything I can be and embrace all of me. The messy housekeeper, the eccentric artist, the dreamer, the writer, the boss, the mom, the emotional redhead, the lover, the fighter… all of it.
And when I die, I want my kids, my lover, my friends, and my family to say “wow, she really knew how to LIVE, didn’t she?”
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The Hunt…

“Where are they?” I muttered. I looked over to see if he had heard me as I dug frantically through my purse again. Still no luck.

I walked back over to his car and looked in the seat I had just left. I checked the console, the floorboards, checked under his seats. Nothing.

I could feel my frustration growing, and I knew my neck was probably turning red in embarrassment by now. I had to pull myself together. It wasn’t a big deal, right?

Maybe inside his house? We had been in there for a while earlier. I walked back in, attempting to retain my dignity. I looked at the couch where my purse had been. Even picked up the cushions. Nothing.

Headed to the kitchen. Sometimes I like to set things on a countertop because it feels more like home. Still nothing.

He asked me where I thought they might be. “I don’t know! I really thought they were in the side pocket of my purse!” I could hear the exhaustion and frustration in my voice now. I needed to leave before I had an irrational meltdown from being so incredibly tired.

I retraced my steps. Retraced them again. And a third time.

Still no luck.

Now I was embarrassed. How and why I do these things, I will never know. But it was way too late right now and I knew that I should be heading home. He looked tired. I was tired. I knew that he had to work at 6am and I was scheduled to go to the gym with a friend at 4:30am.

I went back to the car. Looked through the middle pocket of my purse. Dumped everything into the seat. Nothing. At this point, I am considering giving up.

I looked back through his car. Still nothing.

I walk back over to mine. Look down at my purse and think “Well, maybe I just didn’t dig hard enough.” So I reach into the first side pocket. Nothing. I reach in the other side pocket…

There they are. My monstrous key chain was in the pocket I thought it was THE WHOLE TIME.

keys

I just needed to dig a little deeper.

Just like life. Sometimes we search and search and search for something. A relationship, a career, our dream home, our perfect friendship. Thinking that the great things, the beautiful things must be over there somewhere, or maybe just far, far away. So we search. We look. And in our searching and striving, we tend to overlook. We tend to see the times our kids misbehave instead of realizing that they are awesome about 85% of the time. We choose to move to another romantic relationship instead of figuring out how to grow through challenges together. We despise our work instead of looking at it as an opportunity. We dream of fancy houses and forget to love and care for our current home. And we keep looking for people to treat us “just-so” if we are going to be friends instead of choosing to learn from different perspectives.

But in reality, what we are searching for is probably exactly where it should be, exactly where we just looked, or where we originally thought it was, just waiting for us to decide to dig a little deeper.

Let’s go deep.

Love ya’ll.

Shannon Joy

 

Posted in adventures, Advice, dreams, Family, Family Matters, Fashion, Feelings, Forgiveness, Friendship, Growth, Health, memories, Mental Health, My daily life, Organization, parenting, Uncategorized, work | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment