Wednesday, June 29, 2011

There Is Hope

When it all comes crashing down...
When the sky falls and the mountains crumble
When your heart breaks and your soul cries out
There is hope.

When you hit rock bottom
When all love has fled
When your faith drips away
There is hope.

The bottom has no stairs leading down.
There is nowhere to fall when you're already in the basement.
When you are here, there is nowhere to go but up.
And so there is hope.

The hard can become easy.
The bittersweet can turn sweet.
The mountains can be rebuilt.
And there yet remains hope.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Unpacking: Missteps

To 18yo Me

5. Missteps are just that. One does not equal your failure.

Oh, I like this one.

I've often been an "all or nothing" kind of girl.  When I decide to do something, I typically throw myself into it full-force.  And oh boy, I better do it right. I've had the tendency to feel that if I mess up some part of it, then the whole thing is ruined and I may as well just throw in the towel, admit total defeat, and try my hand at something completely different.

What a silly way to see things, really.

It's taken me a long time to understand that a misstep, a mistake... they don't equal the end.  They don't mean I've ruined the whole thing.  They really do just mean a mistake.  You can fix mistakes.  You can learn from missteps.  And you can keep going.

In fact, I think I might argue sometimes that mistakes are crucial.  Sometimes the mistakes slow the end product's arrival a bit... but in the long-run, when we learn from our missteps and apply what we've learned to that end product, it makes the end result so much better than it ever could have been if we'd gone along perfectly on an unbumpy road.

I recently said to someone, "Falling off the wagon doesn't mean you have to set it on fire and go home.  You can jump back on it!"  I think it took me a long time to learn this... but I'm glad that I finally have (in general).  It's still hard for me to accept my own failures sometimes, but I'm getting better at seeing those failures as bumps in the road, as opportunities to learn from my mistakes, as a bridge to a second chance.

Failure comes when you give up.  Not when you mess up.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Unpacking: Humor, Snark, Influence, and Friendship

To 18yo Me

The one where I step quite firmly on my own toes...  These are not things I am proud of.

3.  Humor at someone else's expense provides a satisfaction that lasts about 10 seconds.  It is never worth the months of guilt that follow.


4.  Who you spend your time with influences the person you are, so choose your friends wisely.  If there is a quality you'd like to develop in yourself, find someone who exhibits it well, befriend them, and hope to God they haven't already learned this lesson.

A lifetime love of reading has left me with a vocabulary that likes to be used.  A small talent for writing and a sense of humor has always combined to result in an ability to use that vocabulary to come quickly with cracks and jokes.  Not a bad thing, inherently.  I've always enjoyed being able to bring a smile or a laugh through something I've said or written.  And there is inherent good in this...  being able to use my own talents to make someone's hour a little brighter.  But, there is a flipside of the coin, too.

I'm impatient.  And I'm really impatient with stupid... or even just with whatever thing is bugging me.  I can take deep breaths and determinedly resolve to ignore it for awhile.  But there often comes a time when I snap.  I  don't think through what is about to come out of my mouth, and I quip.  I do so knowing my audience.  Knowing that there are people there who feel the same way I do, and that what is about to come out of me WILL be met with laughter.  But it's laced with sarcasm, and it draws its humor from poking not-well-meant-fun at whoever is being stupid, whoever is bugging the crap out of me.  THIS is not inherently good.

I will be honest...  when I do it, there is a momentary relief.  Hours or days or weeks or months of not saying what I really think... and there is a feeling of release.  Of not holding it in anymore.  On top of that, there is the satisfaction of the laugh.  There is a community camaraderie amongst people who feel the same way, even if the same way is just plain mean.  And there is a satisfaction, and perhaps too a smugness, in finally giving voice to what a group of people think.

But it doesn't last.  Because this kind of humor always draws its humor from criticizing a person.  From putting them down, from calling attention to where they lack.  And it always results in hurt to them.  When the satisfaction fades (and it always does), the only thing that is left behind is their pain and the guilty knowledge that I am responsible for it.  At that point, there is nothing really that I can do to fix it.  I can apologize.  I can try to change how I relate too them.  But it changes nothing about what I've done.  It changes nothing about their hurt.  And it changes nothing about my responsibility and culpability in that.

And this is why I've combined #3 and #4 together...  for me, they are linked.  I have learned that I often allow myself to be influenced by those around me in not-positive ways.

When I was in middle school, I was good friends with this one girl for a long time.  Smart, very involved, clever, we were friends for a long time and she really pushed me to excel in school (in a good way).  But, she was not nice to her mom or sister.  Ever.  I would often spend the night or the weekend at her house, and when I came home, that tendency would follow me home.  I would spend the next few days being generally nasty to my sisters and mom, until I sort of got it out of my system and would revert back to normal.  Though I think my mom saw it for what it was very early on, it took me a really long time to understand the connection and to see how the friendship affected my other relationships.

This has followed me into adulthood, as well.  People who tend to exhibit a lot of snark are bad people for me to be in relationship with.  Please let me be clear... they are not bad PEOPLE.  My actions are my own choices, not theirs.  And what I do after spending time with them is NOT their fault. But I understand my natural tendencies better now, and see that when I am around people who are naturally snarky, I am encouraged to be the same way.  It gives me encouragement and confidence to exhibit it.  At the time, I will think it's funny...  but it's in retrospect that I realize that truly being snarky isn't funny.  It's mean, and that isn't who I want to be.

On the other side of the coin, seeking out relationships with people who are good and kind encourage me to be more like them...  I need and want that.  I have a dear sweet friend who I have loved for years and years.  We met online when my children were yet very young... and I am blessed to still have Stacey in my life today.  She has always personified kindness to me.  Maybe she works at it harder than it seems, but she's always exhibited a natural grace and kindness to those around her that I have envied.  I look at her and think "I want to be more like that."  And the more I am around her, the more I see things through a lens of understanding and compassion.  She is my friend because she's funny and sweet and... well, because we love each other.  But, she is also my teacher and someone I look to for how I can be a kinder person.

I find myself looking for people like Stacey now.  Understanding the kind of person I want to be, and the kind of people that help to bring me closer to that person.  People who bring out the best in me, and not the opposite.  If you are one of those people (and if you're reading this, the chances are good that you are), thank you for taking me on.  Thank you for being my friend.  Thank you for teaching me.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day to my husband

There are lots of things I could say about my husband for today...  He's a great dad, and he tries really hard to be that.  He tries to spend individual time with each of them... and with an often-demanding job, three children, and an occasionally high-strung *cough* wife to deal with, that's not easy.

I thought of a lot of things I could say here to tell you the kind of dad he is, the father he tries (mostly successfully) to be...  But, I think this recent story probably sums it up.

Last week, Alicia's 3rd grade class had a little choir concert.  They've been rehearsing in music class for the past month to polish up these 12 songs, and the concert was on Wednesday.  I'm not sure what it is about this class of kids... they must be better-than-usual singers or something.  I feel like they have a concert every year, and my 4th graders' never do.  In any case, though she didn't say a lot about it (Alicia never does), it was clear that it was important to her that we be there.

Only problem is that it was at 11am.  Could there be a more inconvenient time for a working parent to get to school??

Joel and I were discussing it in the kitchen the evening before.

"Are you going to be able to make it to Alicia's concert tomorrow?  I think she really wants you to be there."

"I know," he said. "She's asked me a few times...  It's a terrible time of the day.  How important do you think it is?"

"Well... it's 3rd grade and she would get over it... but..." I paused and thought for a moment.  "You're her daddy.  Moms go to everything because that's what moms do.  But, especially to girls, dads are important.  I remember every event my dad showed up to.  And I also remember that he was usually late."

"I'll see what I can do... but I might have to leave early for a noon meeting."

The next day came...  Joel worked from home in the morning and then we went to school.  As we walked into the library, I asked "Do we need to sit on the end of the aisle so you can sneak out early?"

He looked at me, "No.  I decided I didn't really need to go to every meeting on my schedule."

I smiled and thought, "She'll remember.  Even if she doesn't ever say anything, she'll remember."

And THAT is the kind of daddy I married.  I have blessed little girls.

Unpacking: Kindness

To 18yo Me

2.  Kindness matters.  Don't miss an opportunity to exhibit it, even if it's inconvenient.  Even if you think you'll look like an idiot.  Kindness matters.

Kindness is not about being nice.  They seem the same, but they are not.  There's a line from the Sondheim musical, "Into the Woods," where the Witch is trying to get the rest of the group to do something, and I always think of it when this topic runs through my head.

"You're so nice.  You're not good.  You're not bad.  You're just nice."

It's not a complimentary thing, this nice.  Even allowing for it coming out of a witch's mouth, we know that.  And we know she's right.  Nice makes us polite.  Nice means we play by the rules and we say the things we should to the faces of those involved.  But being nice does not make us good... or kind.  For this, we must dig far deeper than nice ever will.

Nice is easy.  Nice maintains appearances.  But KIND requires us to give something of ourselves.  It asks us to go beyond nice.  It asks us to sometimes step out of our comfort zones.  It asks us to be the one to give when no one else is doing it.  That sounds simple, but it isn't.  Ever been in a group where they're all talking down about someone?  It's awfully easy to play along, isn't it?  Even if we don't agree... it's "nice" to not argue because then there is no conflict.  There is no risk. There is no boatrocking.

But Kind says something.  Kind speaks up for the one being talked about.  Kind leaves the group and goes to speak good words into the ear of the Shunned one... even when doing so makes you the next Shunned one.

Being nice means little.  Anyone can be nice.  But being kind... Go on and ask the one who's been kind to.  Kindness matters so much.

Don't fall into the trap of settling for nice.  Have the courage to be Kind.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Unpacking: The Bucket List

To 18yo Me

1. Your bucket list will change. What you want today may seem silly 10 years down the road. Change with it.

I like lists.  I like to make lists.  I like to brainstorm lists.  I like to organize lists.  Lists make me happy. (I'm sure there is some psychological anomaly mixed up in that, but I don't care enough at the moment to figure out what it is.)

Yes, I've made bucket lists...  that list of everything you want to do and accomplish in your life.  Like checking off each experience somehow brings you closer to having lived the life you wanted to live.  I'm not sure it quite does, and maybe provides an illusion of accomplishment.  But, I've still made them...

But, by necessity, they change.  We grow, we change, we mature.  Our life circumstances turn upside down from what we thought they'd be. The things I wanted to do at 20 years old are definitely not the same things I want to accomplish now.  Indeed, there are many things on that 20yo's list that I never finished.  Some of those could still find a place on a current list.  But, for many of them, I just laugh and think "Oh darling, why did you ever want to that, you silly child?"

It occurs to me that I really haven't thought about my bucket list in a long while.  Most of my 20s were spent surviving young parenthood.  Accomplishing anything lofty was not on the list.  Making it to tomorrow filled most of it.  I'm not in young parenthood anymore.  The stress of having three toddlers has been replaced by the stress of having 3 pre-teen girls... but it's a different stress.  More mental, less physical.  Maybe I'm just older because I feel far more equipped to deal with this than I did with young parenthood.  Well, maybe that's not right.  The beginning of puberty tells me that it's a long road ahead...  but at the same time, I am doing more than just making it to tomorrow.

I'm embracing things that I haven't for a long time....  parenthood, marriage, friendship, reading, writing, music, history, beauty, growth, travel. Maybe it's time to think about what I want to do and be in this stage of my life... and go after it.

Besides, I'll have an excuse to make a list. :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Scars Left Behind

Do you remember that book I bought last week because of the book jacket that gave me no information but a burning need to buy it?  Well, I spent Friday curled up with it.  I suppose I ought to follow the directions and not really tell you anything about it...  I liked it...  well, enough to spend the whole day with it, anyway!

There was one quote in the first few chapters, though, that's stuck with me throughout the weekend and into this week.

"...a scar is never ugly. That is what the scarmakers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty... Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, 'I survived.'"

It's sort of found a little crevice in my mind and made itself at home.

My personal world doesn't come with a lot of physical scars.  I am possibly overly careful with my body, not much of a daredevil.  I prefer my feet on solid ground where I can control my relationship with gravity.  I don't go in geographical areas by myself where I might be more likely to be mugged or eaten by bears.  (Don't even bother trying to tell me that bears don't eat people.  Joel's been trying for 15 years with little success.)  I'm fairly certain my scars are limited to surgeries and that one time in the 2nd grade when I was pretending to fight with my best friend over who got to be Michael Jackson's girlfriend and was hit by a flying toy near my eye.

Emotional scars, though...  these I have by the truckful.  And at almost 35, I figure I wouldn't be much alone in that.  35 years of being in relationships with people gives you a lot of time to wield and harbor hurts, doesn't it?  It is here that this quote from Little Bee filters slowly through my mind.  It is an easy thing to paint yourself the victim and think "Woe is me."  To allow yourself to feel so put upon because the hurts that people have inflicted on you have wounded so deeply.

But, understand what it is to see those scars they have left as survival.  As beauty.  It means that they didn't win. It means that the hurt they meant... the crippling they intended.  It didn't work.  You are still ticking.  You are still growing.  You are still living.  You are still loving.  And they are left small, ineffective, and bitter.

You, then, emerge...  not as the victim, but as the survivor.  The victor.

The strong.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

To 18yo Me

While at the grocery store today, I passed a newspaper displayed with an article in which graduating high school seniors were asked about where they thought they'd be at age 30.  At first, that made me laugh...  When I was 18, 30 DID seem like an awfully long ways away.  Practically dead, you know.  But now that I'm on the other side of it, well I'm not dead yet, anyway.

But it got me thinking of the things I'd want to say to my younger self, if I could.

1.  Your bucket list will change.  What you want today may seem silly 10 years down the road.   Change with it.

2.  Kindness matters.  Don't miss an opportunity to exhibit it, even if it's inconvenient.  Even if you think you'll look like an idiot.  Kindness matters.

3.  Humor at someone else's expense provides a satisfaction that lasts about 10 seconds.  It is never worth the months of guilt that follow.

4.  Who you spend your time with influences the person you are, so choose your friends wisely.  If there is a quality you'd like to develop in yourself, find someone who exhibits it well, befriend them, and hope to God they haven't already learned this lesson.

5.  Missteps are just that.  One does not equal your failure.

6.  What you think matters today will probably not matter so much tomorrow, so relax just a little.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.

7.  Apologize.  Yes, I know it sucks.  Yes, I know it's embarrassing.  Yes, I know it involves admitting that you were wrong.  Do it anyway.

8.  Ask for help.  Accept help.  At the end of your life, you do not get a bigger trophy if you've done it all by yourself.

9.  Think first.  Act second.  Oh, darling, if you could learn this one, how many less scrapes would you find yourself in?

10.  You should have three types of friends.  A.  Someone who mentors you.  B.  Peers.  C.  Someone you're mentoring.  All three are crucially important.  If you're missing one, you're doing it wrong.

11.  You cannot change anyone.  That is their call and their call alone.  If you cannot accept them for who they are right now, accept that and let them go.

12.  You also can't please everyone.  It can't be done with honesty.  Look around...  worry about your relationship with those you are in close relationship with.  The rest...  let it go.

13.  Change. Grow. Create character.  But do it for the right reasons.  Don't let bitter unhappy people change who you are.

14.  Enjoy it.  Stop and take in your surroundings once in a while.  This isn't a race.

I don't have this all figured out...  somehow I thought that, at 30, I would.  That when I was really an adult, everything would fall into place, make sense, and life would be somehow easier.  It's not.  But maybe that's just life...  What would we do if we had it all figured out?  and maybe sometime soon, my 55 year old self will call up with a little advice to get me through the next 20 years...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lunchtime Lessons

Today's blog comes to you, courtesy of McKenzie...

"Yesterday, I was reading a story..  There was this girl, and her parents told her that she couldn't go to a party.  But she really wanted to go, so she snuck out the window and went anyway.  She did all these things she wasn't supposed to, and then she went on a Midnight Drive with a boy.  But he'd been drinking too much beer and he wasn't a very good driver, and they got into a car crash.  And then, on the way to the hospital, she found out that the people in the other car had died, and they were her parents.  And then she died.  So I guess the moral of the story is you should always do what your parents tell you to do.  *pause*  I better eat these grapes, after all."

My work is done for the day, I expect.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Not what he had in mind.

Joel: Why don't you ever store anything on your D drive?

Me:  Well....  because on the last hard drive I had, it was so much smaller and I only had room for one backup... and I just got used to it being full.  I just forget that I have so much space on the new one.

Joel:  It's not like a "you use it and lose it" kind of thing.  If it gets full and you need more space, you can take stuff off to make room for new stuff.

Me *smiling brightly*:  FINALLY!!!!  NOW you understand why I clean out my closet so I can buy more clothes!!!

Joel:  Wait!  That's not what I--  oh never mind.

Happily cleaning out my closet today!  ha!
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