Intentional Living: What it is and How it Works
Last week was my 36th birthday, the age my dad was when he first met his mom.
It was 1992 when my parents called my sister and me into the small wood paneled living room and we sat on the orange shag carpet at my parent’s feet. Leaning on the coffee table we listened as they explained the woman who gave birth to my dad had sent him a letter, a photo, and an invitation.
An invitation to be welcomed into her family – the family she went on to have after giving him up for adoption at birth when she was only sixteen. A husband, five grown kids, and several grandkids were waiting alongside her, equally as nervous as we were to make strangers family.
Now, almost 25 years later I wish I could go back to that moment and press pause, just to breathe in the significance of a mother seeking her first born . I would pay more attention to the words my dad chose to use as he explained what was going to happen. And I would lock my eyes on that photo of my new grandma and I’d wrap myself up in every detail of her face, so that when I met her in person I’d look at her as if I’d known her my whole life.
I’d force myself to not be so nervous, to not awkwardly play with my sister’s necklace while our new grandmother hugged us for the first time, each of us tucked under an arm. Unsure of what to say or do I nervously fiddled with the chain hanging from her neck as it dangled in front of me. I wish I had locked in on my grandma’s smell, her voice, the way she was locked in on that precious moment with every ounce of love and affection within her.
I suppose this is why intentional living is so important to me now. I realize only in hindsight the moments I’ve missed.
At eleven years old I was too young to appreciate a moment like that; too naïve to be present enough to not lose a single detail. But she was there, all there, because she knew what that moment meant – the un-breaking of her teenage heart.
We had four years with our new grandma. Four years for my dad to share his thirty six. Four years for her to share thirty-something years of raising kids and building a life with only a fraction of her heart. Four years to make up for his thirty six.
For four years she sent a card every month telling this shy, insecure little girl how special she was, how important she was, and to always – always – help her mom with the household chores.
When she passed from this life on February 22, 1996, one week after my fifteenth birthday my heart broke for the first time.
I never asked her why she decided to search for my dad, but if I had to guess it would have something to do with knowing that life is short, cancer kills, and her story wasn’t complete without him. And maybe she knew his story wasn’t complete without her. She had her why.
She spent those four years intentionally loving all of us enough to fit thirty six years of love into an all too short span of four years.
What is Intentional Living?
It’s giving everything we’ve got to make sure we don’t miss a thing.
Intentional living is knowing WHY we do what we do. It’s what makes us put down our phone, turn off the TV, declutter our homes, and make the moments matter. Our WHY is the filter we run our choices through and it’s the landing pad we fall back on.
In four years I watched my new grandma make every moment together count – for her and for us. She never missed a teachable moment, never let a beautiful night be spent inside, and never guarded her heart. She never allowed the words “bored” or “can’t” because she believed in imagination and perseverance.
She taught me about hard work, doing good for others, to believe in myself, and to be intentional because my life, my unique and on purpose existence matters – what I do matters. And if it matters, if I matter, then I am worth more than a life that just reacts to circumstance.
Intentional living defines your life before circumstances destroy it.
The other day a friend emailed with a simple and profound question:
Can you help me understand how intentional living works?
And the truth is, I gave her a very surface answer. I told her about being present in the moment and decluttering and choosing the best things instead of the easy things – a lot of what I write about on this blog. All good and true things, by the way.
But as I sit and remember my grandma I come back to this simple, yet critical idea: intentional living defines our life before circumstances have a chance to. It assigns meaning to the moment before we lose anymore moments to the meaningless.
So, how does it work?
It begins with WHY.
Intentional living works by creating boundary lines around your life with your WHY.
I believe that we often let the world define our why before we even know we have the choice. There is a moment in our lives where we learn that what we wear, drive, or love or who we are isn’t the right kind of beautiful or talented, or not enough and our why is unintentionally defined – to live up to their standards.
So we break our backs and our hearts to meet an expectation that is impossible to meet and that was never meant to be the context of our lives. It steals our identity as we compare our way through life.
I’ve been there, perpetually discontent and self hating because I forgot what my grandma used the last years of her life to teach me – I’m worthy, I’m capable, and I’m loved. That I was worth searching for.
There is no right or wrong way to live intentionally; it works however you define your why. Work on that definition and then live it like you mean it.
These five questions can get you started with intentional living:
- What are the top three priorities in your life?
- Does your current lifestyle match those three priorities in the proper order?
- How would you relive today differently if given the chance?
- What would a life bordered by your priorities look like (imagine your ideal life – what do you feel, what do you do)?
- What do you need to make your ideal life your actual life?
We named our oldest daughter after my grandma; the women she will only know the same way I met her – letters, pictures, and an invitation to live with intention.
And because of that women both of my daughters will know that they are loved, capable, and worth being sought after.
That is one of my WHYs.