Thursday, September 22, 2011

Unpacking: Letting Go

To 18yo Me

"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."

It feels like it goes against conventional wisdom. It flies in the face of what we're so often exhorted to do. Forgive anything of anyone. Support no matter what. Turn the other cheek. Never give up because what if...  what if it's your support that ends up being that which they need? What if it's your steadfastness that gives them the strength to become what they needed to become?  What if, what if, what if? What if you held on just one more time, buried the past just one more time, mended the pain just one more time, gave up your self-respect just one more time?

But, what if you didn't? What if, this time, you had the strength to let go? Not crush them, just let go. It isn't the conventional wisdom of holding on at all costs. But, I've come to understand that there is a wisdom to letting go, too. Sometimes it's more humane than clinging to something that will never heal.

Sometimes it's that you've inflicted far too much pain on each other to ever find your way back to healing and love. Sometimes truth comes out, and you just don't like who lives underneath the mask. Sometimes you both change, neither one in bad ways, but in ways that are simply different... and you lose the commonality that held you together before.

Letting go feels like quitting, like losing. We don't like to quit and we don't like to lose. Letting go feels weak, but I think we're wrong in that. I don't like to let go, but on the occasions, and there have been a few, where I have made the choice to do so, it has taken far more strength and courage than hanging on would ever have demanded.

But still, we have the compulsion to fight, to stay. I don't think that's a bad thing at all. But sometimes, it does more harm than it does good.

I have a hard time judging which is right when I'm in the midst of it. I get too close to the problem at hand, and my ability to see with wise eyes diminishes. It's here that I find wise counsel to be invaluable. People who are far enough back to see the big picture, but who love me enough to be honest-- even if it's honesty I don't really want to hear. I've come to appreciate and trust the wisdom of those in my life, learned to listen to it.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood." Sometimes you just take different roads. You can push and pull and scream to get them to go down yours with you. But every once in a while, you find it's wiser for you both to just say Goodbye and Good Luck, and to explore the road on your own.

Sometimes life and love and friendship don't work out. Sometimes you let go so you can be whole without regret. And there is wisdom in that.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

And That Was My Grandpa

What I would have said if I'd had time to think... and if it had been the right time and place... (which it probably wasn't)


My name is Joanne, and I'm Jim's eldest grand-daughter... by birth. I feel a little out of place here. I didn't know most of you before two weeks ago, though I knew OF some of you. And yet, we're all here, trying to celebrate the life of a man.  But, listening to people talk, I'm not sure I knew the same man you did.

I almost feel as if I'm hearing about a stranger, this paragon of virtue you praise for his prompt church attendance, self-control, and patience.  Indeed, it makes me laugh just a little because I know the past, both from experience and from story.  Maybe it's just that it's a funeral, and everything we remember is supposed to be all sunshine and rainbows, but that wasn't my grandpa.  Or at least it wasn't all of my grandpa, and it seems to be almost a disservice to not remember him as he was.

Perhaps he spent an exorbitant amount of energy in the time you knew him ranting about the "words on the wall" and how the Chinese and the Mexicans are taking over the country.  I'm not really sure where that all came from.

He didn't go to church when I knew him... and that was my grandpa.  He was raised in a sort of funky church, and by the stories I've heard, was a bit of the family's black sheep.  And I don't remember him ever attending before he got old and ranty about hymnals.

He took out his teeth to make me giggle whenever I asked... and he'd sit for hours and listen to the same terrible knock-knock jokes for hours and laugh at them every time.  And that was my grandpa.

Once, he got mad at something at the hardware store, threw handfuls of nails on the ground in a pique of temper, and stormed out of the store, leaving the poor bewildered employee to clean it all up.  That, too, was my grandpa.

There is a poem from the '60s that starts out:

Listen, my children, and you will hear
of my Daddy's great quest to go shoot a deer.
He left on a cold day in October--
He drove off in the truck, and I think he was sober.

That was my grandpa.

He was the man that taught me to drive a riding lawnmower when I was 8, taught me to watch for bird nests on the side of the road when I was 6, and saved me from the bear rug under the bed when I was 5 (and 6, and 7, and 8, and...).  And that was my grandpa.

He was the man that hooked me on to Zane Grey, though I always wondered what it was Mr Grey hated so much about the pesky Mormons that they were always the bad guys.   And that was my grandpa.

He was warm and funny and kind and good-hearted.  But, he was also impatient and quick to lose his temper.  and that was ALSO my grandpa.

He was married pre-1988 to my grandmother, and she should have been mentioned today.  Shame on you for leaving out such a large part of his life.  My mother, their only daughter, is sitting right here in the front row. They are both a part of the history that made him who he was, and it was a history that deserved to be told.

Today, maybe I'm the only one here that feels weird celebrating only a small part of who he was.  Maybe it doesn't bother anyone else that we're only praising the sunshine and the rainbows.  But my grandpa was more than just the sunshine and the rainbows.  He was whole and he was real, and I loved him for listening to my knock knock jokes just as much as I loved him for leaving my mom's aunt and uncle stranded in the middle of Arizona because he was ticked off.

It's these things that we pass on to the people we live behind.  The good and the bad of who we are... and both figure into the stories and the memories we leave in the wake of our lives. Both make us who we are, and both are important to remember because they make us REAL, and not just caricatures of virtue, prettied-up shells of our real selves.

And if I'm the only one who feels this way, so be it.  I'm not ashamed of that... I will go home with my memories and all the stories I've heard of his whole life.  I will tuck them into my heart, and remember the man that was.  All of him.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Be true

Sometimes things happen just the way they're supposed to. Even when they're hard things, things that you don't WANT to happen...  sometimes they're right.

You can rail against that.  You can fight it.  You can jump up and down and scream that you don't want it.  You can cry and you can be mad.  You can preach about how unfair it all is.

And when you're all done screaming and hitting and throwing a general 2 year old's tantrum, then you can stop. You can stop and you can really look at it. And you can admit that you didn't want it, but you've got it... and you're so much better for it.

Last week, I had a talk with one of my girls about this, in a way.  I can't remember the situation exactly, but I had told her not to do something.  I didn't explain why, it was one of those "do what I tell you to do NOW and we'll talk about why later" sort of things.  Like when you tell your 2 year old not to touch the stove as they're reaching for a hot pan... you don't take five minutes to explain the reasons, you just say "DON'T TOUCH THAT."

Well, at 11 years old, they think they don't need more of that, and that I don't know what I'm talking about.  Course I did... and they ignored me, and the thing I didn't want to happen ended up happening.  And, as a parent, you just want to go "IF YOU HAD JUST LISTENED TO ME!!!"  But we talked about it later...  that I don't tell them to do things just to be mean and to make their lives miserable.  Sometimes, it's because I know more, sometimes it's because I'm wiser, sometimes it's because I've had more experience, and I understand what will happen next. And sometimes I just need them to ACCEPT that and do what I say.

I've been doing some of my own tantruming and ignoring of wisdom for a good long while.  But, of late, a lot of things have come together.  Maybe it's time.  Maybe it's the right friends.  Maybe it's the wisdom I'm finally in a place to listen to.  But things are right... and I can see that now.

Sometimes it's hard to strike out on a new road when you feel... cleansed and different. You want to move on, you want to walk fresh, you want to shed all that you had and were before and forge a new road with the newness of where you are.   But... people don't always let you, do they?  Maybe they can't forgive you for the past. Maybe they don't believe that you can change. Maybe punishing you has simply become a habit. And it's easy to drown under that cloak.

But they don't own you. And they don't own your heart.  And they don't know you.  So, you need to stop listening to that poison. Be strong in the knowledge and the wisdom that where you are is right. That where you are going is good. That who you are becoming is true.

Stand and be true.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Terry, J Cook Fisher

Friday, September 9, 2011

Unpacking: Who's Your Joshua?

To 18yo me

10. You should have three types of friends. 1. Someone who mentors you. 2. Peers. 3. Someone you're mentoring. All three are crucially important. If you're missing one, you're doing it wrong.

Many years ago, Joel and I were leaders in our church's high school youth group.  One year, I remember we taught a bible study called Project 365, where we led the kids through the Bible over the course of a year.  As went through the Old Testament, we learned about Moses and Joshua and the unique mentoring relationship they developed as Moses prepared to pass the baton of leadership.

We talked this over for awhile, and how that was beneficial to both of them.  We developed a philosophy that it was important to be both Moses and Joshua...  That it was important to have someone wiser than you in your life, someone who could teach you, shepherd you, lovingly correct you.  But, we also came to believe that it was important to also be someone's Moses... to share what you've learned with someone who needs it.

"Who's your Joshua?" quickly became our study's catch-phrase as a reminder of the relationships to look for.

Even though I was the leader, that was a lesson that always stuck with me after that... even now, nearly 15 years later, the phrase pops into my head and makes me smile.  But, it also makes me examine my own relationships.  It reminds me to make sure I have people in my life who will lovingly guide and teach me, and also to make sure that I am pouring into someone else's life as well.

Who's YOUR Joshua?  And whose Joshua are you?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Spill It Out

I posted on my Twitter the other day, just after getting home from my grandpa's, that death and loss make me sit and realize just how much I worry about is stupid.  And that's true... and it's always true.  At least, for me. Being faced with the very idea of death... I suppose it makes me stop and think about how short our lives really are, and makes me examine what I'm filling mine with.

I feel like I'm standing in an empty field... with a giant white blanket at my feet.  I've just spilled everything in my life onto the blanket and separated it all so I can see it.  Every person. Every thought. Every worry. Every obsession. Every joy. Every hobby. Every pet peeve.

To the side, I have spread another blanket... smaller. And empty.

I reach down to the big blanket and pluck things off.  People I am in loving relationship with. People I can affect positively. Joys. Things and activities which fill my life with meaning and heart. The thoughts that build up and rejoice.  All of these, I put on the little blanket by my feet. All the things that are important enough to keep.  I arrange them tenderly on the little blanket, tie it up with a pretty knot, and place it next to my heart.

And now I stand and look down at what is left on the big blanket...  everything I worry about needlessly, the thoughts that tear me down.  The people where we just rub each other wrong. The silly fears.  The past I can't change, but that doesn't have to determine my future. The feelings that crowd out the good. All of this...  all of this is so unnecessary. So many things I've filled my life with that are wrong.

I reach down to this blanket, and tie this one up as well.  No need for pretty knots, though.  Not for this one.  I pick up the bundle and walk to the edge of the grass...  and dump it in the trash.  No more.

I've been here before... and the truth is that I will probably find a way to fill myself up with some of those things again.  Not all of them... but some of them will find their way back. But today, I claim a fresh start. Today, I turn my face to the sun with a smile and a light heart.

Today, I live as we are meant to live. For these are short lives we are given, and it is a pity to waste them in pain, guilt, worry, and sorrow. I choose joy. And I choose love. And I choose life.

Monday, September 5, 2011

What I Won't Forget

There are things I won't forget about this weekend with my mom, my grandpa, and my step-grandma.

I wasn't expected to be there. My mom had said that she didn't need anyone to be with her, but I knew she was wrong and that she would.  But if I said I was coming, she'd just hem and haw and feel guilty, so I just decided that I would go without telling her.  And if I was already there when she found out, she couldn't very well send me home 2 1/2 hours since I'd come all that way, right?  So, when I walked in the door, she was a little surprised...

After giving her a hug, I walked over to Grandpa to give him a "hello" hug as well.  The plan was to hug him, tell him hello, and then find a seat amongst the veritable party of people that were in the room.  Seriously, there were a lot and it was a little insane.  After hugging him, I squeezed his hand...  he squeezed back and told me that he was really glad that I had come.  And then he wouldn't let go.  I just found my seat on the floor right next to his chair, my hand in his, and we sat there like that for a good hour.  I found myself there a few more times over the next couple days... just sitting on the floor by the arm of his chair, holding his hand, sometimes leaning my head against his arm, as he dozed in and out.

I won't forget that.

Mostly because it's destined to become a little joke between my mom and I, I certainly won't forget the Mexicans. Oh, those poor Mexicans.  My grandparents are good people... but they're almost 90, and set in their ways and opinions.  Not really any use arguing with them...  not much point to it.  After this long, they're aren't apt to be swayed, so my general code of conduct for visits is to employ "smile and nod." This works awesome for short 4-hour visits.  Apparently, I am not quite as good at keeping it up for three-day visits.  It was sorely tested with the Mexicans.

For some reason, just about every national and local problem can be laid at the feet of the Mexicans.  Health care, economy, education.  You name it, those darned Mexicans are responsible for it.  The first few times, my eyes probably widened... but smile and nod, Jo.  Smile and nod.  I managed to continue it for the "Do YOU have any Mexicans in your neighborhood?"  I came THIS close to answering "No, we live in Redmond.  It's very well-to-do, and there's a city ordinance that bans them from taking up residence" but managed to conquer the urge.

It was the second day when we were apparently complaining about the food in the grocery store that I just about lost it.  It was a perfectly normal conversation...  apparently, all the food is too spicy.  "They are FORCING us to buy spicy food.  We aren't ALL Mexicans, you know."  I couldn't help it!  I laughed out loud.  I wasn't expecting it in this particular conversation, and I just couldn't help it.  From that point on, every time anything came up, my brain would go "I bet he's Mexican."  That's terrible, I know.  lol  This might be a "you had to be there" thing.

But, I won't forget that, either.

When I was very young, my grandma died when Grandpa was out-of-town as a trucker.  I don't remember very much of that.  But I do remember being in my room when he came over to our house the night he returned.  I think my mom had to tell him what had happened.  And he cried.  I don't mean cried.  I mean, racking sobs.  It was, I think, the first time I'd ever heard a grown man cry like that.  And in the ensuing 25 years, I don't think I've heard a lot of others.  Men are usually so strong and stoic and...  well, just strong, I guess.  And my grandpa wasn't any different...  but it was the first time that I was ever aware that men could be like that. That they could cry and be that emotionally affected by things.

So, perhaps, it is fitting that after my mom had said Goodbye to him, I went in to sit on his bed to say my own.  There was no sobbing today.  But there were tears.  I don't think he wanted me to see him cry, but I think it was not-wrong to hug him, to lay my cheek on his chest with my arms around his neck, and tell him it was okay to cry. It's hard to know how to pack all the I'm sorrys, and all the memories, and all the Iloveyous into one tear-filled conversation.  But, when I left, I think he knew I loved him

And I certainly won't forget that either.
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