Addictions and taking baby steps

When I was a little girl, I remember this so clearly. I was perhaps eight years old or there abouts, and at the time of this memory, I was standing in the bathroom beside a cupboard used for storing towels. I asked my mother this question: “Am I good?”

My mother answered me as best she knew how, telling me that I was good as I could be. She knew me well- I could also be stubborn and strong-willed. As any child can be. But in light of her response, I remained unconvinced. I wanted more than a ‘pat’ answer. I wanted truth. And I wanted the truth to be what I believed: that she knew me as being someone kind and good. Someone inherently upright. I wanted her to say of me- that who I was, the person I was becoming, was someone worth affixing the label “good” to.

I have never forgotten that moment, although there are other moments in my life of which I still wonder about now as an adult. Times when I was bullied in my middle school years and taunted for all manner of reasons, not the least of which being that I wasn’t pretty enough, classy enough or mature enough. I remember those moments as survival, moments in which one couldn’t care less about being good. One just wished to live through it with one’s dignity intact.

I remember too, not living up to certain expectations others had of me and rebelling against the desired good in me. The little girl who strived to please became rebellious against the golden standard of ‘good’. Because it just wasn’t worth it to work so hard. Who needed good when they could be ‘bad’ and get the same attention?

I am approaching my fortieth birthday next month, but there is still a little girl inside me that cries out to anyone who will listen, “Am I good? Good enough? Am I worth noticing? Do you see me?”

I hear that little girl’s voice in my writing, when she hits “post” on a Facebook status, blog or article.

I hear her in my conversations with colleagues, friends and family.

I hear her talking in the staff room, in the classroom and in graduate level discussions with her own classmates.

I hear her at the supper table when she is talking to her children and Husband.

I hear her relentlessly ask the same question over and over and over: “Am I good?”

And interwoven throughout every conversation, every thought, every nuance of language both spoken or otherwise, she asks of those around her, “Am I worth something? Am I good?”

It is a need- an addiction, if you will. Yet one so subtle you might never even notice it (were she not to write out the truthful words of it all here). It seems so harmless, really.

We often think of addictions as being those outwardly noticeable compulsions that lead one to dependence, obsessions and habits. I admire those who are able to talk of their addictions, who are able to share their experiences. I see great courage and strength in those who tell their stories of addiction. But I have never really thought of myself as having an addiction. Never really seen such in me. Strangely, addictions can show up in the form of needs so seemingly benign- needs that we all innately crave- that these same innocent of all addictions can compel one to want something so deeply, they are willing to go to great extremes to get it. I should know- I have one of these seemingly innocent addictions. I crave positive affirmation. I just want to be good, and I always have.

I have always wanted people to think I am good. Think I am quality. As someone with value. And there is a little part of me that curls up inside when I feel disregarded. Cast off. When I feel as though I were invisible. There is still a little girl inside that feels darkness settle over her like a cloud at times. Because in truth, she has always wanted to be noticed. She has always wanted to be considered by those she holds in high esteem and even otherwise, to be enough. That girl- I know her well, she has always wanted to feel special. Always wanted to be seen. She has always wanted to be ‘enough’.

Good enough.

And at times, this obsession has become a singular preoccupation in my life, at the expense of all other priorities. That’s how it is with addictions. They take over. The first step is admission. And here I am. Telling you, my friends, that I struggle with this. I have an addiction to approval and it is at times insatiable.

For me, in living with myself and my idosyncracies, the best way of acknowledging this messy part of who I am is through my writing. I have started to live my life out loud and in the open because I love being able to share my thoughts and musings with others. I love connecting to people. Love the relationships that develop. I love creating community with my confessions, so that we can share our lived experiences together. But there is also another reason for which I have often held shame and that is this: I need people. Deeply. For many different purposes, some of which are noble. But some of which are not.

I must confess.

In connecting with other people in both private and public spaces, I am able to feed the addiction for approval. For I want it very, very much. I am able to feed the hunger for confirmation that I am ‘enough’- enough in every way, in everything I do, not the least of which is my writing. And I am able to meet this need through the encouragement I garner from things so minute as an opinion to concerns of utmost importance. Affirmation is an addiction. And it can consume a person’s thoughts. It can drive a person crazy. And there can also be shame. Shame in admitting all of this messiness about my truthful self ‘out loud’; for who wants to be seen as needy and weak?

I am nearing middle age and yet, I still want to be perceived as admirable. I still desire to please others so as to hear them tell me how good I am. And all this, even though I know I am loved. Even though I know that I am cherished by a Father. Even though I know. My head admits it, yet my heart still needs some convincing by times. I still have that need for approval even though I know that who I am is who I have always been meant to be.

Even though I know.

So I take comfort tonight: that confession is a baby step toward healing. Believing in myself and my inherent worth is a close second. Knowing I am loved and cherished and teaching this to my heart, the underlying foundation.

I press on. Tonight I walk forward, making progress with baby steps.

One little footstep at a time.

What We Crave

In our deepest parts there is a craving to be needed. To know that our lives are necessary. Essential. We want to live for something- something bigger than just ourselves. And we want to impact someone- beyond ourselves.

I listen to many stories and each one means something to me. Her’s was special. She told me of the people whose lives had impacted her own. I listened, intently. And while I listened, she indicated to me, through tears, how overwhelming it had been for her- this experience. This trauma. But in the midst of the pain and trouble- the mess that we call living: there were people. People who did simple little things and people who did providential, epic things. Big or little, they did them for her. And I thought of this one life that had been impacted by love. By care. By the tenderness that is a warm embrace. The comfort that is a phone call or text message, unexpected. I thought about the gifts and love offerings. The support. The net of care that had been created for this one individual. And all because people sensed within themselves a desire to reach out beyond themselves toward another human being in need.

These people: they felt the need and they responded.

And yet. Accompanying this great need to reach out, there is something more.

In our deepest parts, we know that we are not self-sufficient. We know our lives are full- yet broken. We need people, Someone: to perfect the beauty that is our life. We need one another. Each other. But oh! how often we allow pride to stand in the way. We tell ourselves, “I can handle this. I can do this on my own.” But a knowing settles in and reminds us yet again, we need each other. We need to be needed every bit as much as we need to be reminded that we are, at times, ourselves needy.

For in our life, there is a hungering. A thirsting. A want- of something that seems just beyond our grasp. We are so often full, but at times, we find ourselves, so very empty.

We crave hope.

Sometimes that hope comes in the form of an encouraging word. That is enough to light a spark of hope. Sometimes what we need is a helping hand. And sometimes we need more. To be lifted and held: in tangible, heartfelt ways. Sometimes we need a rescue plan, as life squeezes every last bit of hope out of us. And when that rescue plan shows up, the very human hands and feet of a saviour, we reach out and hold on for dear life.  Because we know- we are not alone.

We are not alone.

Grace or criticism?

Grace or criticism?

I have contemplated grace and its place in my life for many years now. I have wondered at its significance, its practical purpose. I have tried to make sense of it. Tried to understand it. And the only way I know how is to put it into the context of my own lived experience. To make sense of it through the circumstances I find myself in on a daily basis.

For me, grace is a strand of love. For love is everything that is good in this world. And since grace is good, it is a strand of love. How I describe grace is in this way: doing willingly for others what wouldn’t come natural. Or put another way, offering love even when I don’t feel like offering it.

Grace is second and third chances.

Grace is endless, actually. I cannot even fathom it. It’s depths and heights. When I think of the grace I have been offered, I am compelled to consider offering such to those I interact with. When I feel like being gracious and even when I don’t.

Criticism, on the other hand, is something which comes quite easily. I have also contemplated its significance in my life and come to discover that criticism, unlike grace, is quite quick to be offered. It is something I could offer without putting too much thought into how I might frame it or place it in context. I can criticize without any premeditated deliberation or contemplation. It easy. And quite natural, I’m afraid. Critiquing, as a branch of criticism, is not so severe a practice. Critiquing requires deliberation and restraint. And it is a discipline. I have learned through many years of watching and listening that careful critique, unlike criticism, can shape us and mold us through it’s wise counsel and influence. One who has learned to critique has also learned to listen and to see. To understand the many angles of a situation.

When to use grace? Criticism? Critique?

If love is in all and through all, and grace is a strand of love, then I believe that grace must be exercised liberally in all of life’s various circumstances and situations. Grace is the open door to reconciliation. It is the pathway toward forgiveness. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the salve for the open wound. And so then: love is both the beginning and the end of everything. It is the Healer’s gentle touch. The Hands that hold.

Growing up in a very fundamentalist environment, I didn’t always see grace. I felt the sting of criticism and the pain of disapproval. But rarely did I feel the freedom of grace. The liberty of love expressed in compassion. But it was there just the same, although often hidden. Not seen in the obvious but through the obscure.

True, there was much criticism, and that is what I remember. But in time, I came to realize that grace had greater influence than the spirit of criticism. Grace had farther fields of influence. And grace could do what critical could not. It could soothe. Heal. Relate. Love. Affect. Grace had powers and strength that critical did not. And grace could do all this in and through the abiding constancy of love. Criticism often worked under the influence of hate. It was only when criticism came under the spell of love that it changed. No longer criticism, it became critique. And as long as critique stayed within the realm of love, it was pure and true. It had the steady influence of a constant to guide it.

My constant is love. The tool to project that love is grace. And I can thus critique under the watchful eye of these two powerful forces.
I no longer wish to have my life marked by criticism. I was checked on such today, offhandedly, when a colleague shared a story and added this detail: “You know, I had preformed an opinion about so-and-so based on what everybody else was saying, but that wasn’t really a true picture of what ____ was like with me when I had a chance to talk one on one.” Which gave me pause to reflect on how too often I judge and criticize others based on an opinion I’ve already heard from someone else. Based on second and third hand information. How incredibly unfair.

Where criticism really stings is when it is directed at destruction. Again, criticism is not evil. But when it originates in hate, it has the power to destroy. To cut down and to damage. To ruin and defeat. To expose and annihilate. To devastate those at whom it is directed. Criticism is powerful. And one has only to listen to one human being tell their story to understand the power of criticism to shape a life.
I am still receiving letters from readers who read the essay “What Students Remember Most About Teachers.” I want to include a link to my most recent letter. There are parts of it that break my heart, for it speaks of the power of criticism to hurt and wound. I am still considering how I will respond to this letter.  I am saddened that teachers have wreaked such havoc on a life.  And that an adult is still captive to the memories of that influence.

I wish this writer to know: I care.  I cannot fix or mend.  But I can care.

I haven’t yet formulated what words I will write to this dear one, but this I will seek to do, through the grace that I have first received and experienced in my own life.  And that is to write that response in love. With a heart overflowing.

In a wash of grace extended outward.

Living Five Minutes at a Time: My Messy Beautiful

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It matters how you treat people.

It matters how you live your life, how you do your job, treat your friends, speak to your kids, care for your animals.  It matters. And it matters that you infuse love into what you do, through each and every seemingly small moment of the day.  Even if those moments are organized into minuscule, five minute increments.  As small and insignificant as that portion of time might seem.

And yet.  Five minutes can be long enough to make a mess of things.

I know.

Lately, I have been living my life either five minutes ahead or five minutes behind where I ought to be.  It’s like I am either rushing too fast or moving too slow.  In all, I am not thinking/living in the moment like I feel I should be. That is, if I was to be ‘living up to’ my best, ideal vision of myself.  That ideal I hold so dear.  And when I sat down to really contemplate this thought, I came up with eight random things I wished I had known about, five minutes before/after they happened.

1. That bag of dirty laundry that I left behind at my lovely friend’s house in N.J. (while traveling during Spring Break)- wish I had known it was sitting there in her man cave five minutes before we left (instead of ten hours later). #nicepartinggift

2. That curb that I sideswiped while backing out of my sister-in-law’s driveway (causing Husband to curl up into the fetal position)- wish I had thought about it five minutes before getting behind the wheel. #soyouthinkyoucandrive

3. Those three fish tacos I ate recently at the Ground Round- wish I had purused the menu five minutes longer before deciding what I was going to eat that particular night. #intestinalgrief

4. That one hour trampoline privilege (Sky High, N.C.) that I paid a left leg for- wish I could have traded it in for Twinkies five minutes after I started jumping (like my life depended on it).

5. And while on that thought… regarding the one hour trampoline privilege that I recently paid a left leg for- wish I had a catheter inserted because five minutes after I started jumping (like an Olympic gymnast on steroids), I was making like a crazed woman for the lady’s room.

6. That email that I was recently trying to save- and all those pictures and other important stuff that seemed so NECESSARY at the time- wish I had remembered that PURGE means GONE FOREVER about five minutes before cleaning up my email queue.

7. But then too. Those beautiful children that I mama-bear growl at, for various reasons or another, and whom I rush along and nag- sometimes I wish I could just remember- five minutes before those words and frustrations pour out of my mouth- that these are just moments in an otherwise beautiful life.  They are not worth getting in a blathering dither over.

8. And this one.  Ouch. This one hurts my ego a little. That conversation I had with my mom recently- that one during which I proceeded to unload all my petty little troubles- wish I had been able to go back five minutes in time to the moment before she proceeded to tell me about a very tragic loss that had occurred in her life when I was away on my trip.  While I was going on and on and on about my bladder troubles and other petty little worries.

Sometimes five minutes is all we need to put life into perspective. 

Five minutes is enough to show me how beautiful my life can truly be. How beautiful it truly is.  If only I am willing to stop and take the time to see the beauty in the moment.

Want to hear five of the best minutes of a day in my life recently? It was without a doubt, when I went to a small grocery store in the town of Cornwall, P.E.I., Canada. Not an event I would usually connect with morphing into daily high points, but that day it was. The cashier: she was friendly, pleasant, affable. I could hear in her voice, as she talked, that she just genuinely liked people. Liked her job. She called me ‘hun’ three times. And while that normally wouldn’t rub me the right way, that day those words seemed almost soothing.

“Anything else I can get you hun?” she said smiling.  Then later…
“Are you paying for that with debit or credit, hun?”
“Thanks, hun. Have a nice day!”

And maybe it was her smile. Maybe it was the respectful way she talked to the meat manager as he brought up a box of seafood to be priced. Quite possibly it could have even been the combined effect of both she and her colleague in the cash right next to her, a woman whom the older gentleman in line after me greeted her warmly with, “Ah Lyndsay! This makes my day just to see you here!”

And with all that love, it isn’t too far-fetched to surmise that this little grocery store is a good place to work. A good place to BE.  It exudes an atmosphere in which love is valued.  In which small moments are valued. For you can feel love palpably. People in this store genuinely seem to like being here, and perhaps the reason is because they just feel like they’re with friends.

It’s that kind of store.

And I couldn’t help but think of that well-touted line, ‘whatever you’ve been given to do, do it well’, in reference to these two women and their ethic of care towards their customers. Because they weren’t just delivering a service that day: they were offering love. Five minutes at a time, and in the process, the whole ordeal had the effect of moving me in a very profound, emotional way. I really felt touched by the kindness I observed and experienced.  And I can only hope to live up to that high ideal as I also go about my life’s work, inside my own home, workplace and classroom, living with and teaching the little and big people I’ve been called to learn alongside.

What a great inspiration it is to watch people doing what they love to do and seeing them doing it well.

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Because really, when it comes down to it: we’re just people living our lives, five minutes at a time.

Five minutes: it’s all we need to put everything else in our messy, beautiful lives into perspective.  Because that’s what this is all about- the messy in our lives is really the beautiful.  And if I was really being honest, it’s not about five minutes before or five minutes later- it’s really about living out both the frustrating five and the pleasurable five in life- at one and the same time.  Does this mean we cannot talk about the small stuff- the random things we wish we could do-over?  Of course not. In talking about them, in VENTING at times, we realize that they are just small moments that comprise a bigger life.  In validating our small moments- and learning to laugh at them, we come to appreciate the bigger picture that much more.

And in the process, we realize- life is full of moments that we live.

Five at a time.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

 

 

 

 

A challenge and response: Must we choose between Love and Academics?

I really appreciate my friend for challenging my thinking, as you will come to read below.  I am providing her challenge to my thinking and perspective along with my response to her.  This welcome challenge was issued to my last blog post regarding What is Worthwhile Knowing: A Teacher’s Perspective.  I would readily open any feedback you might have to offer by way of challenge or rebuttal.  Thanks to everyone who reads my writing.  I welcome all your views.  Iron sharpens iron.

To me:

I get where you are coming from- and I agree- students learn more effectively when they know that their teachers care about them. But as a parent I don’t send my child to school to primarily feel loved, he has that from me, from everyone in his life etc- what I send him to school for is to learn and to reach his full potential. That to me is the priority. Sometimes I feel that we are moving too far away from that since there are so many children who aren’t getting the love that they need from their families. But I really feel that we have moved too far. Our academic standards have greatly decreased…students reaching university in 2013 are not as prepared as they were in 2005. We need more focus on the academics….not less. I see it at the university level- our students are not as prepared for higher learning as they were 10 years ago. This is what we should be talking about- because the education system is failing their future learning potential. Sure they feel loved….but they can’t perform simple math or spell….by grade 12….this is a major problem! This is the reality that we need to correct. You may be on a different end of the spectrum being in kindergarten where feeling secure and loved is extremely important….but I don’t think that it is the universal focus of sending kids to school…at some point we have to shift more towards the academic side. I am sad for students who I meet in my class who are very intelligent, but have not been academically prepared to fully access all that they could from university. The education system is failing those kids. My favourite teachers from school are not the ones who made me feel loved….but who stretched my mind and expanded my knowledge beyond what I thought I could know- they pushed me to be who I am today and to them I am grateful.

 

To my friend: I appreciate that you wrote me with your perspective. And I appreciate that we both have different perspectives- unique to our own understandings, backgrounds and situations. It is good for me to be challenged in my thinking- to push myself to understand the ‘why’ behind my writing, of late, about love and care. About curriculum of the heart. It is something I feel so deeply about that at times I need to step away from it- step outside of my own thinking- and examine it with new eyes. New perspectacles, if you will (to use our favorite blogger’s analogy).

You mentioned that you “get” where I am coming from, but I wonder if we can truly ever get something like this. I think we have to believe it. You state that “as a parent I don’t send my child to school to primarily feel loved, he has that from me, from everyone in his life etc.” I am glad that your son has that. Many do not. In fact, it is not the norm to have what your children and my children have for experience. Two parents in the home who are university educated, double incomes, every opportunity. A comfortable lifestyle. Values that support life-long learning and ambitious achievement. These things are not the norm, as you well know.

That being said, I agree that even for those parents sending their children to school who are not in your or my position, those parents still might echo your sentiments: that they aren’t sending their children to school primarily for love. They might even agree that they are sending their children to school for the very same reasons that you state: to further their academics. Widen their possibilities. Further their potential. Whether or not parents are sending their children to school for reasons that reflect your stance or reflect mine, the fact of the matter is this: children and students learn best when their learning is cushioned in an atmosphere of love, care and compassion.

What is love? Am I talking about warm, fuzzy, sweet-talking love that always pleases? Am I talking about feel-good, low-pressure therapeutic love that focuses solely on self at the expense of all else? What is love, anyway- it means so many different things to so many different people. What I am talking when I refer to love in my writing is that which is the deepest emotion known to humankind: something so over-arching, all-encompassing and profound that it permeates our very being. When I speak of love, I am talking about everything that is good in this world which could be then funnelled into our being. So as to inspire, motivate, compel, arouse, encourage, stimulate, provoke and stir up whatever might lie dormant within us. Whatever might lie fallow. Whatever is ready for awakening.

Love as an emotion is often highly undervalued in education. Sure, we embrace it in its place: but it is always put into its box and asked to sit there until it might be of use. It is not always on top of everyone’s list of priorities when it comes to academics.   In fact, love might very well be at the bottom of the list for some, as you have expressed. It is so often undervalued through statements that contend that it is a poor reason for a teacher’s purpose in offering an education to their child. After all, and you are right here: our job as teachers is to deliver curriculum. Teach the standards. Expound the outcomes. We are expected to deliver on the core fundamentals of a solid education: the arts and the sciences. And in doing so, prepare our students for the workforce.

But what if love was the standard by which everything else was measured? What if love made me a better teacher? What if love made my students better students? What if love made people better, just through experiencing it?

What if the love I showed in my care and concern for students then allowed me to, in love, inspire them to have a passion for language, for prose? For nuances in language? For poetry, literature and classical writing?

What if love opened a door to enable me to share with my students a passion for mathematics? For precision and exactness? For reasoning and rationalizing? What if love paved that way?

What if love gave me the inch that could buy a mile? What if love was what every foundation I built upon? What if love was everything? In everything, through everything about everything?

What if love was everything?

Can we ever really know for sure if it was what really made the difference- or not-when we who have always known love are the ones calling for less of it? We who have always had love at our fingertips saying it is unnecessary? When we who are deeply loved, who have always had love at our disposal, are saying it is the drain on academics and learning? Keeping us from excelling? And by what standards, I might ask? Are we really in any position of saying that love isn’t necessary, in such sweeping statements, when we’ve always had enough ourselves? What if your call for less love was the unravelling of that one student who could have been destined for great things. But because love was removed, then became a hardened, bitter being?

Who are we to say?

You are right- love isn’t everything. There is also pain and sorrow. There is hatred. There is always an equal opposing force to everything we know. And I could say that we can teach without love, but then the door is wide open for anything else to move in. Anything else but love. And while you claim you didn’t need love, and I am assuming that you are implying here that some teachers might have adopted stances that were quite the opposite to love: for some students, this would close the door to learning. And quite possibly forever. I am glad this was not the case for you. This wouldn’t apply across the board, however. What works for one scenario might not work for another. But we all need love. We certainly don’t need hatred or ill-will. Nor do we need hardness and rigidity. While learning might still transpire, it does in spite of these qualities. Not because of them. Unlike with love which paves the way.

As for taking that chance- of doing away with love in favour of dry, rigid adherence to the standards: I am not willing to take that chance. So I continue to offer love. And offer learning and opportunity to my students in as passionate a way as I know how.

So, what about academics. We are in the business of learning. How can I the teacher find balance between my call to love and my job to teach? When I offer love, I find that my passion for learning is that much easier to transmit. When I show care, I have won my students’ confidences so that I can then offer instruction. When I value their opinions and thoughts, I find they are stimulated to think above and beyond what I ever dreamed possible. When I open the door, and I know they trust me, I also know they will follow. And sometimes they even lead the way.

Why are students not ready for university, as you have so aptly pointed out? One cannot argue with statistics. But maybe they can offer some plausible reasons for such. My belief is this: I feel that quite possibly we have not offered enough in the way of love. Perhaps students haven’t known the freedom to explore, to climb to lofty heights and ambitions. Perhaps love never paved the way. Maybe students do not know the grace that is compassion-perhaps if they did we would see more students moved towards social justice and outward thinking. Perhaps students have not been shown the generosity that is passion and joy for learning. There might not have been allowances made for outside the box thinking. There are a multitude of reasons for why the stats are what they are.

Perhaps schools have failed our students in not preparing them for university. And perhaps we have also failed in not offering them a curriculum for life in stressing the importance for love to underlie their very existence.

Perhaps if we focused more on love, we might see changes that surpass even our own expectations: for learning, life and love itself.

Eleven Ways To Tell You Need A Break From the Fam

Eleven ways in which I realize the Family has spent a bit too much time together lately…

 

11. I suggest that the Fam go snowshoeing at Trout River and Oldest Daughter states, “Sounds like death.”
10. I suggest that we all go snowshoeing at Trout River and youngest says, “But I would only have to go the bathroom, like,  the whole time.”
9. I find a play medical report one sister has drawn up on another sister, in which the diagnosis she’s written down for ‘said sister’ is mental illness.
8. The toilet has been plugged one too many times.
7. Everyone is getting on everyone else’s last nerve.
6. We’ve only got one can of Zoodles left.
5. Mama has taken to going on long walks, twice daily. Plus snowshoeing treks. Plus long respite breaks on the porch swing. Plus locking herself in the bathroom.
4. Husband, the only one in the family who got the flu shot, has mysteriously been the only one to come down with the flu.
3. We are getting sick of eating donuts. Together. In fact, I have decided I will never make donuts again.
2. Mama has started to expound the benefits of fresh air, to which Oldest Daughter has taken offence when it is mentioned that we’ve all been breathing stale, dirty air for the past four days (“so it might be a novel idea to go out and PLAY”.)
1. Husband is wearing out the knees in his jeans playing Gallup the Horse and has taken to asking that Gallup be allowed to “rest” (while Youngest barks orders at the poor old stud like a drill sergeant). Meanwhile, I clean dust found in every nook and cranny of this house, thus wearing out the knees in my own fine pair of yoga pants.

Honorable Mention: Husband (a.k.a. Gallup) has just said to the Drill Sergeant that he can’t keep it up. And that in fact, he is pooped. This, after she has come wailing out to tell me that Gallup is not playing by the rules.

I could go on like this forever…

8 Random Things I Wish I Had Known Five Minutes Before/After they Happened.

Lately, I have been living my life either five minutes ahead or five minutes behind where I ought to be.  It’s like I am either rushing too fast or moving too slow.  In all, I am not thinking/living in the moment like I feel I should be if I was to be living up to my best, ideal self.  And when I sat down to really contemplate this thought, I came up with eight random things I wished I had known about- five minutes before/after they happened…here they are for your reading pleasure:

1. That bag of dirty laundry that I left at my lovely friend’s house in N.J.- wished I had known it was sitting there in her man cave- five minutes before we left (instead of ten hours later). #nicepartinggift

2. That curb that I sideswiped while backing out of my sister-in-law’s driveway (causing Husband to curl up into the fetal position)- wished I had thought about it- five minutes before getting behind the wheel. #soyouthinkyoucandrivebaby

3. Those three fish tacos I ate at the Ground Round- wished I had looked around the menu five more minutes before deciding what I was going to eat that night. #intestinalgrief

4. That one hour trampoline privilege (Sky High, N.C.) that I paid a left leg for- wished I could have traded it in for Twinkies- five minutes after I started jumping (like my life depended on it).

5. That one hour trampoline privilege that I paid a left leg for- wished I had a catheter- five minutes after I started jumping (like an Olympic gymnast on steroids).

6. That email that I was trying to save- and all those pictures and other important stuff that seemed so important at the time- wished I had remembered that PURGE means GONE FOREVER- about five minutes before cleaning up my email queue.

7. Those beautiful children that I mama-bear growl at for various reasons and rush along and nag- sometimes I wish I could just remember- five minutes before those words and frustrations pour out of my mouth- that these are just moments in an otherwise beautiful life.  They are not worth getting in a dither over.

8. That conversation I had with my mom today- in which I proceeded to unload all my petty little troubles- wish I had of been able to go back five minutes before she proceeded to tell me about a very tragic loss that had occurred in her life when I was away on my trip.

Sometimes five minutes is all we need.

It’s all we need to put everything else in our messy, beautiful lives into perspective.  Because that’s what this is all about- the messy in our lives is really the beautiful.  And if I was really being honest, it’s not about five minutes before or five minutes later- it’s really about living out both the frustrating and the pleasurable in life- at one and the same time.  Is it frustrating to leave behind your dirty undies at a friend’s house you just met?  You betcha.  But, taking away the memories of the wonderful time we had acquainting ourselves- after a two year journey over the Internet- well, that bag of smelly clothes I left behind (and will spend $44 American to recover) is small things.  (Mostly for me, by the way.  Not her.  I bet she’s also wishing for that five minutes back because let’s be serious- who really wants dirty laundry from a new acquaintance kicking around your man cave??)    Five minutes- it’s enough time to put life into perspective. Particularly when comparing small loss to the loss of a life, as I would come to find out in conversation with my mother.

Does this mean we cannot talk about the small stuff- the random things we wish we could do-over?  Of course not- in talking about them, we realize that they are just small moments that comprise a bigger life.  In validating our small moments- and learning to laugh at them, we come to appreciate the bigger picture that much more.

And we realize- life is full of moments that we live.  Five minutes at a time.

Better…not bitter

I have been reflecting the past few days on recovery.  Recovery means different things to different people, as we are all aware.  It means different things depending on the extent of the recovery period.  A weekend bender requires less recovery than a broken leg.  Of course, this goes without saying.  A person recovering from painful, private experiences in the distant and not-so-distant past requires more intense therapy than would a minor slight or insult.

We often don’t allow ourselves enough time for recovery- which is a given in this busy, ‘rush-rush’ world we live in.  But when what we are recovering from is deeply felt, we need time for introspection.  Time to heal.  And time to understand what is involved in that process.  The hope is that in time, we will become a better person for all we have endured.

I believe we are all on different roads of recovery.

My road to recovery looks like this: once upon a time there was a little girl who grew up in a Christian home.  She was exposed to certain ideals within that setting which made her a better person for it.  She was afforded certain privileges. By which, I mean to say she was exposed to and offered experiences which include the many unique and varied personalities/people who were extended hospitality as they passed through the area and thus her home.  She was allowed comfortable familiarity within the setting of a church family.  She was afforded a small town upbringing.  Many people knew this girl and her family on the basis of their position within the church thus enabling the girl and her family protective status.  There were many people who cared about this girl throughout the years.

But that little girl was exposed to other things which were less than ideal.  Less than idyllic.  Less than perfect.  Things like legalistic ideas about what a Christian should and shouldn’t do.  Things like cruelty in the name of faith.  And she was exposed to ideas that challenged a view of God as Loving.  As gracious.  As compassionate.  As kind.

In time, that little girl grew up to be a bigger girl who saw God as a Person.  But she believed that Person was harsh and exacting.  Vindictive and angry.  That little girl thought God was out to expose her and all her many, many sins.  And she believed that she could never meet God’s approval without being exactly the kind of person described to her by the many and varied preachers that stood before her (behind the varied and multiple church pulpits she encountered, week in and week out).  That girl always felt shame and  tremendous guilt.  Guilt for everything- from the smallest of infractions to the largest of transgressions she could conjure up in her mind.  Because God was all about sin.  And sin was pretty well everything.

Let’s just stop here for a moment.  It takes some people a lifetime to recover from trauma.  What if you were traumatized by an incident that left an impression on you to such a degree that it left you believing (erroneously) that you would never be good enough for anyone- especially God?  Wouldn’t that be trauma in its own right?  What if you believed this your whole life?  Traumatizing.  And yet, we don’t stop to talk about this in Christian circles- this reduction to shame and guilt which we see as evidence in many Christian’s lives, which I believe is this way because we are afraid of exposing to the world that we are not as perfect as we’d like to think we are.

Well, it took that little girl years to realize that God was certainly who He said He was- He was perfect LOVE.  And it took her even more years to understand even the tiniest of inklings about what that meant.  That love is many things, but never vindictive.  Love is many things but never harsh or exacting.  Love is many things but it is never cruel.  It is many things but it never shames or exposes to ridicule.  And that this is so is because true love is patient- it is kind.  It doesn’t want what it is not entitled to. It refrains from boasting and from pride.  It does not dishonor others- it is not self-seeking.  It is not easily angered.  It doesn’t keep a track record of all the things done wrong so as to expose and humiliate.  Rather, it (love) rejoices, protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.

Love is pro-active.  And when it is done God’s way- it is flawless.

And if this is true- that God is love, then He loves us before anything else.  Before discipline.  Before consequences.  Before judgement.  Before accountability.  He loves us first.  The relationship that follows matures into one that allows for growth and change- that allows for human responsibility.  But before any of this can ever occur, God must be seen as love.  He must be seen as the epitome of love-as we can understand it with our finite minds. Or the maturing to faith will be absolutely pointless.

I get really tired of hearing by way of Christian leadership from various platforms about how terrible people are- how sinful we all are, how guilty we should feel, those of us not following the absolute letter of the law.  Because I don’t think that is God speaking.  And I think there is a world of people who have been left to recover from the effects of Christianity that claims to be like God when it is the exact opposite.  What I think we need to hear is how vast the love of God is for us.  And we need to know: God is with us and God is for us.  That message could never be preached enough- because I don’t know if we will ever truly understand this principle, this side of eternity.

We are all on different roads.  Our roads of recovery might look different, but they are often the same.  We are healing from the inside out.  And in the process, there must be a decision made: will we allow these experiences in our lives to make us better for having gone through them?  Or will they leave us feeling bitter?

It’s time to trade in the bitter for the better.  Because in spite of all we’ve been through, there are always moments of growth and renewal.  And those are the very moments which define us- which make us better.

Our roads may begin from different places and lead us down different paths, but it is up to us to embrace and choose: what will make us bitter- and what will ultimately make us better.

Hi.  My name is Lori.  I am recovering from legalism in the Christian church.  But I am daily realizing that God can make beauty from ashes.  Better wine from bitter fruit.  I may not be perfect.  But I am enough.

And I am loved.

When discipline is sandwiched in love

You know those kinds of days. Another long day in a stream of long days. More issues to deal with, more meetings to be had. More testing to be done, more papers to be sent home. Just more of everything. And coming on the end of the school day, sometimes all you want to do is just let a loud, mournful bellow out.

Just roar with the frustration of it all. (Teachers are no exception.) Because that chocolate milk that never got finished at lunch time? It just got spilled all over the school memos which I forgot to pass out and there are still a couple of kids that are not dressed and ready for the buses even though it is past time. And did I mention the email I forgot to write? Or the parent-teacher interview I have scheduled for two minutes past the bell?

Life. It’s all getting to me. The days, they seem like hurdles to clear, mountains to climb.

These are the moments when patience wears thin and tolerance breaks down. And just about the time you think that every reserve you have has been used up, you remember: this life we live is not about the stuff we do. The amount we get done in a given day. The jobs we tick off our endless lists. No, it’s not really about all that stuff, as important as it might seem in a given moment.

It’s about the living we do. The people we love.

And as teachers, it’s about the students we care for. The connections we make. The real life moments in which we see “our kids” as people. It’s about the time we take to share a smile. The moments we steal away from the regular grind to cut loose and relax. It’s about relationship and caring. It’s really about love when it comes down to it. The love we offer and the love we are given back from the ones who love us just as much.

I watched a video segment this evening edited from a television talk show on the subject of pre-teen behaviour problems. This particular segment concerned a young boy whose mother was considering sending him away to “boot camp” so as to deal head-on with his negativity.

He had apparently been disrespectful to his mother, and so she agreed to a drill sergeant intervening so as to “wake” the boy up from his reverie. To give him a taste for what life could be like if he should so continue on this path of disrespect and insolence. As the drill sergeant questioned the boy regarding whether or not he wanted to have a drill sergeant breathing down his neck for the next eight years, essentially acting as his makeshift “daddy”, the boy paused for a second. And he responded simply, ‘yes, sir.’ To which, the drill sergeant was completely taken aback — what kid would agree to having a drill sergeant on his case until they became an adult? The drill sergeant momentarily lost his composure and then turned to the boy and asked him ‘why?’ Why would he agree to this proposition. Agree to him (a domineering drill sergeant) being the boy’s ‘daddy’? The answer offered left him speechless. For the boy responded simply and honestly: “Because I haven’t got a daddy.”

We forget (and often): what our students, what our kids (both young and older) need from us as parents and teachers is not simply more discipline and rigidity. More chastisement, correction and punishment. They don’t need us to continually nag on them about what they are doing wrong. They don’t need more rules and structures to follow. What they need is committed, loving people who are willing to constructively invest in their lives. Yes, sometimes this is about discipline, but it is more about relationship than anything. It’s about building time into our children’s lives so that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt: they are worth it.

Our children need us to remind them continuously about what they have been doing right. What little things have we noticed about their “person” that are beautiful and admirable. What can we commend them on throughout the day? What is noteworthy? What praise can we lavish? What credit can we offer? How can we build them up so that they know their intrinsic worth as human beings? This is what it’s all about: acknowledgement. Affirmation.

I confess. I sent two children to bed tonight without so much as a bedtime story. It was a ‘rough mommy’ night coupled with that aforementioned busy workday at school. There had been constant whining (the kiddos) and repeated warnings issued (Hubby and myself). And through it all, I had stood my ground.

Whining/crying = early bedtime. No second chances once the final decision had been made. And while there is nothing wrong with taking the hard road once in a while, sometimes hindsight makes you wish for a ‘do-over’. Because the little note I found on my bed from my Middlest one made me wish I could turn back time.

Here’s part of what it said: “I’m sorry…please don’t hate me. I’ll never forgive myself.” Which only served to remind me: while our children need that discipline we must offer them as part of our parental love, they need it always cushioned in gentleness and empathy. Sandwiched in love. And if we as teachers can find it within our hearts to offer love, we must do the same. Sandwich discipline in between great big slices of compassion and empathy. We have no idea what ways that intentional decision to show caring concern might be the turning point in a child’s life.

Love — for the sake of our children. Discipline gently, lovingly, through word and deed. Be there for the children in your life even when it’s the hardest choice. Because we don’t ever truly know who needs a gentle word of compassion alongside that constructive advice. And sometimes it’s the ones we least suspect would ever want it who need it the most.

This is a Love Story…

It is Valentine’s Day evening and I am just finishing up washing dishes- having made four cups of chocolate and two bags of popcorn as a bedtime snack for four kiddos. They sit now on the living room floor with that stash of goodies, plus various bowls of candy and chocolates besides. And that is where they will remain for the rest of the evening as they watch their Friday night movie. I sit down for a spell with a mug of Earl Grey tea while Husband goes through the newsfeed on his phone beside me.  Every once in a while, Youngest comes out to check and make sure that Mom and Dad are still here. Especially during the scary parts.

This is our love story.

It’s the story of a family. The story of a home. The story of us.

It’s the story of a boy who met a girl when she was young and foolish. Before she had yet found herself or discovered who she was. It’s the story of a boy who took that girl out to a brunch one Sunday afternoon and the story of a girl who said yes. In spite of it all. A story of a girl who started noticing that boy- paying more attention- and the story of a boy who later took that girl to the ocean one starlit evening where they sat shivering together on a blanket in the cool August air. The story of a boy who one day told that girl he loved her- that she was the only one he’d ever loved. Had ever fallen for. The only one to whom he’d ever whispered those three little words. And it is the story of that boy who eventually led that same young girl back to the same sandy shore he’d taken her to first so as to bend down in front of her and hold her hand. And tell her that his love was for her. And her alone.

It’s the story of a girl who had many dreams. Had plans and goals. The story of a boy who understood. Who waited for her while she followed those dreams. Waited while she followed her heart. It is the story of a girl who one day realized that a dream without love is no way to live. So the story plot unfolded as the boy asked that girl to stay with him on this fair isle and thus follow her dreams by his side.

It’s a story. And like all stories, it has its twists and turns.

It’s a story that has not always been an easy read. There are times the girl wanted to close the book and say those words “The End.” There were times the boy felt the same way. And together, they wondered if it was time to start a new story with new chapters and new characters. Something more exciting. More adventurous.

But something compelled them to continue. The story- it was theirs. And it truly wasn’t finished yet. So they stayed the course, and the story continued.  Continued because: it was still a story, no matter how difficult it was, at times, to grasp.  Continued because: it was still worth it.  Continued because they had invested so much- there was so much to lose and still so much yet to gain.  And no matter the storyline they both knew through it all: it was their story. And because it was theirs’, they persevered.

And so they did. They persevered.  They worked harder than they had ever had to work before.  Because that’s the way of stories- they require engagement, concentration, commitment.  Thought and deliberation.  Intention.

It’s Valentine’s Day night. But I have never loved this holiday. Too many years, it has felt that I could not live up to the expectations that it brings. It ask too much of us- to put our love on display for all the world to see and judge- as to whether or not it is worthy. As to whether or not it is romantic. As to whether or not it is exciting. Thrilling. Exhilarating.  As to whether or not it lives up to the standard. Sometimes this holiday makes us feel that our story is not enough.  That it needs to be more.

This is the story of a girl who decided- somewhere along the line- that dirty mugs coated with cocoa powder in her sink and leftover kernels of popcorn hidden in the recesses of her couch with the ones she loves by her side are all a story she ever needed so as to be complete.  It’s the story of the boy who loves her.  And that’s all that really matters.

To the girl.
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And so, the story continues…