“Learn to be happy with what you have.”

“Don’t settle for less than what you want.”

“Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, so live in the moment.”

“Start planning now for your future.”

The messages we are given daily are so conflicting.  If you struggle at all in your life, how are you supposed to know what to pay attention to?  How do you balance anything at all? Do you plan or don’t you?  Do you work toward your dreams or do you leave them just that … dreams?

Sometimes – well, most of the time – I feel like the whole self-help industry was invented solely as a way for people to write books and make money off of other people with genuine struggles.  Several of those authors have made money off of me, and I still struggled.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I have never looked for an immediate “oh, THAT’s the secret to being happy or finding love or the perfect job or right boyfriend.”  I have looked for some concrete guidance to help me find my way back to my path in life, though.  Something that truly and deeply resonated so much with me that it would carry me forward and keep me on task.  What have I tried, you ask (and even if you didn’t ask, I’m going to tell you)?

Religion.  Organized religion, to be precise.  I was raised in a religious household, went to church on Sunday and sometimes during the week, joined the choir when I was old enough, got baptized, played piano for different church choirs, etc.  I was always taught that a belief in God and Jesus would help me through the tough times.  That being part of a fellowship of believers would buoy my soul; I’d be part of a body of people that cared about their community.  After trying several churches of varying denominations over the years, what I found was, in large part, a group of people that were self-centered and more interested in showing off their newest pricey car or wardrobe, or being acknowledged for having given a large sum of money to the church coffers.  And the community they referred to was just their church and not the actual neighborhood or city in which they worshipped.

I tried making new friends – something I have a very difficult time with as I’m prone to distrust.  I thought that maybe I could be casual friends with people and that not all of my friends had to be people I could trust with my most intimate thoughts and concerns.  What I found was that I got caught up in their drama, my then-impressionable personality had me doing things that I would not have done if not surrounded by the people I chose.  After a few years of making extremely poor decisions, I went back to having relatively no one close and my distrust-o-meter when deep into the red zone.

I’ve read books, articles online, tried what other acquaintances said worked for them.  All with the same results.  Nothing worked for me.  Nothing spoke to me.  Nothing made a difference.

Nothing, that is, until I met a specific man who brought a handful of very important puzzle pieces into my life.  And, although the relationship itself was not meant to be lifelong, what he gave me was an understanding of some things I realized are vital – VITAL – to my having a happy existence.

First, there was love of a good man.  Just to know that someone else could fall in love with me after my divorce was amazing.  He is a good, honest man that could be very romantic and it was an absolute privilege to be part of his life, if only for a short time.

Second, there was joy.  The joy that was rekindled in me from riding on the back of his motorcycle was absolutely amazing.  Even if all we did was ride around town running errands, it was wonderful.  For me, there is nothing like that freedom and connection with the world around you.  It isn’t for everyone, and I respect that.  I now know that this will be a deal breaker for me in my next (and hopefully lifelong) relationship, though.  If he doesn’t own, or have immediate plans to purchase, a comfortable cruiser, it’s going to be a non-starter.

Third, there was peace.  He belonged to a members-only lake that offers camping, fishing and small game hunting.  The first time we went there together was for a picnic.  The peace and calm that came over me was incredible.  Now, I’ve known for decades that being near a large body of water was a zen thing for me.  Being with a man who could offer this to me and my soul on a regular basis?  Simply priceless.  During our time together, we spent many days and nights there and, without fail, every visit helped calm my spirit and my soul, giving me the much-needed opportunity to reset.

Fourth, there was contentment.  This came in the form of unconditional love from the puppy in the house.  My family had dogs when I was a kid, but as an adult I had only had a cat and that was more than 30 years ago.  I am allergic to both dogs and cats so once I parted with my cat, I never thought about getting another pet.  This little dog changed all that.  The first time I met this 8-pound Chihuahua, he was a bit stand-offish, but before the visit was over, he had humped my leg.  After that, we were pals.  When I visited, he always ran to greet me and I soon  started picking him up and cuddling him every time.  After I moved into the house, he became my lap dog — every time I sat down, he was there to sit with me.  He even started eating dinner when I did.  I became his caretaker of sorts, letting him out first thing in the morning, giving him a treat as I left for work, watching out for him when we’d be camping so he didn’t run off or get hurt.  Now, I can hardly wait until I live in a place where I get my own puppy and have that soul connection again.

What worked for me was having a man come into my life bringing reminders of what is truly important to me.  Reminders of what my soul craves, what it needs to survive.  Then, not just to survive, but flourish.

Writing this today has not been easy.  Mostly because I didn’t fully appreciate what had been given to me as gifts in that relationship.  I cry at the thought of what I’ve lost, yet know in my heart of hearts that I will have it again.  Because I must.  If I’m to live the life I’m meant to, I have to have the joy of  freedom on the open road, I have to have the peace of the water, I have to have the soul connection with a puppy and – most importantly – I have to have the lifelong love of a good man.

THAT is what will keep me going.  THAT is what will fulfill and sustain meTHAT is the life I will have!

So, the search continues.  It no longer is search for what my life is supposed to be, though.  It isn’t reading books or going to church or trying someone else’s “cure.”  It has become a search for what feeds my soul and spirit — the right puppy, the body of water and my very own Mr.-Right-For-Me.

Thank you, sir, for the amazing reminders.  Thank you for helping me find what I was looking for.  Thank you.