Marvelous Grace…

Some of my most real writing- the most vulnerable, transparent material I write, comes from an experience in which I mess up royally and then learn a few lessons in the process.

Yesterday was one of those days.

But first: I don’t want my life or any of the lives in which I am in the position to influence, either through my writing, my teaching , my parenting or any other meaningful way of relating to be ever left with a message from me that life in Lori Gard’s world is one of roses and marshmallow fluff. That I never make mistakes. That I don’t have a multitude of life lessons to learn in my own journey. My writing has been for me a form of therapy, at times, in which I reflect on my day and try to find the bigger picture: the underlying message. What is the take away from today that I want to remember? What did I learn about myself and the world around me that can help me grow as a person and improve on where I am today…so that where I am tomorrow will be a better place?

So back to yesterday. Don’t we all have those days in which we would give a $100 dollars so as to just re-do it over again? Or maybe not. Maybe it is better that yesterday is behind us, and tomorrow is already on its way. No matter.

Yesterday, I began the day with a to-do list in mind- hustle,bustle. Rush,rush. Those days can go one or two ways- really good, or really, really bad. So by the time noon rolled around, I was already operating on about half my brain cells. I was using a half-tank of gas. So you can appreciate this when I say it: when we make mistakes that cost us dearly, it is important for us to remember our frame of mind before hand. Were we stressed? Tired? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Frustrated? Exhausted?

So at lunchtime, I was sitting back, taking in the scene around me- caught up in the moment: and I said something to someone. Something not very nice. Something I would never have said under ordinary circumstances. Something I meant to be a joke, but as soon as it was said: I realized wasn’t very funny. I could see the shock on my friend’s face. I immediately tried to think about what I had just said. Did I say that? And why? Quickly, I registered my thinking process. I knew in my heart that I had just got caught up in the moment, but she she know that? Did she understand the intent was not to hurt?

As a teacher, I have drilled into my students the concept of being a “bucket-filler”. Bucket-filling is when a person heaps up kindness onto another person so as to make that person feel accepted and valued. It is a positive way of interacting with other people. Bucket-dipping is when we say or do things to other people that take away that feel-good feeling from the person. It is when we dip into another person’s bucket that things go wrong. I teach my students and children to be bucket-fillers, of course, but after yesterday I wondered something: do I give kids the proper message about bucket-filling?

We as humans are never going to be bucket-fillers all the time. We are not always going to get it right. There are going to be moments throughout our day- everyday- in which we slip up and do or say things to others that are not nice. I think it is important to recognize that we are not perfect. We cannot eliminate entirely bucket-dipping from society- from our schools, our homes or our communities. A better approach to teaching around bucket-filling would be to show kids that messing up happens: it is a part of life. It’s what comes next that makes all the difference.

So again: back to yesterday. I realized immediately what I had done was hurtful- even though my intention had not been to inflict pain. And I went to that person. And I apologized. Profusely. In tears. And I told the person I was sorry.

And two things miraculously happened. I had an opportunity to realize that I am never going to be a perfect bucket-filler all the time: I am prone to failure actually a large percentage of the time. That’s the first- it was a realization that I mess up. But as soon as I apologized, my dear friend: She showed me grace. So I had the extraordinary opportunity to experience another person’ forgiveness. What a wonderful, exhilarating experience that is.

I don’t want the students I teach or my own four, precious children whom I parent to ever think they have to be bucket-fillers all the time. That’s an unrealistic goal. They won’t be that. I can’t be. We all can’t be. We are HUMAN. We are frail. We make mistakes. We mess up. Life lesson #1 is: being a bucket-filler every moment of the day is an exhausting challenge to live up to. So, I want my kids (all of them, because the school ones are mine too…) to know this: you can’t always be a bucket-filler every moment of the day.

And when we make those slip-ups, that’s where Life Lesson #2 comes into play: we can learn from our errors and use those opportunities to understand people better. We can put ourselves into those other people’s shoes, even if for but a moment. We can empathize with the person we’ve hurt- intentionally or otherwise: because empathy is a good opportunity to learn what it felt like, what it was to them to be “bucket-dipped. And we can also identify with them through heart-felt apology.

And if marvelous grace comes back our way, then bucket-filling has come full circle.
Grace is like that: it smooths out the rough edges, it salves the soul. It truly is marvelous.

I would never want my readers to only see the best of me- that’s not real. So this is me un-cut. Unrevised. In all my messy glory. And this is also me- a work in process. Growing step by step, a day by day.

We are more than the best, most shiny parts we show the world: and sometimes, it’s the rough edges that give the clearest picture of what it truly means to be a human.

On living the life we were born for…

We were born for this.  This journey, this life adventure.  This journey on which we travel in and out of days and weeks and months and years.   In and out of seasons.    We were born for this quest.   Were born for the highs and lows, the twists and turns.   The bends.  The forks in the road.   Were born for travelling up hill and down.  We were born for the good times and the bad times.

We were born for the ride.

And it is a ride.  At times a roller-coaster.  At times a meander.  And at more times than I would like to admit: a tedious crawl- face to the ground.

I’ve always liked to think that my exciting, real life is going to happen sometime soon.  Like maybe today.  Or tomorrow.  Or sometime in the not-so-far-away future.  Because this business of crawling: of living in reality.   Of working 9-5, of making meals, of chauffeuring, of settling spats amongst children.  Of living the daily grind.  This business is for the birds, really.  And it cannot possibly be what I was born for.

I was born for more.

And the real life I am so desperately waiting for looks more like this: quiet mornings sipping coffee. Uninterrupted writing time.   Long, invigorating walks.   Deep, meaningful conversations.    Face-time with my spouse.   My head stuck in a good book.  Exotic travel.    Rewarding humanitarian work.  Service to country and fellow human beings: brothers and sisters both here and abroad.

And to cap it all off, maybe just a little more time to follow my dreams.  In other words, time to pursue what I have always believed I was born for: something more.

Something more than crawling.

And there are times I wonder, “Why this?”  Why the noise and confusion and chaos and trouble and hurt and heartache and pain and sacrifice?   It wasn’t part of the dream.

Or was it?

To be sure, life is a ride.  A ride full of fearful unknowns and weary treks as much as it is a ride full of adventure.  And so it is that I will hold to the belief that I was born for the trip in its entirety.  And although the ride is not what I always envisioned the real journey to look like-this stuff of everyday living slows my travelling down.  It is this- the stuff of everyday living that has truly taught me the most.  About self.  About others.  And about God.  About life.

I was born for this.  Was born for mothering.  For teaching.   For service.   I was born to live this life that I am living now.

I was born to these callings.  Was born for such a time as this, for such a time as now.  For such a time as are a mother’s hours: 24/7, 365 days a year.  And added to that, I was born for teaching five days a week, from 9-4.    Was born for such a time as even more than those boxed-in hours.  For late nights at the computer and early mornings, my hands busy folding laundry.

I was born for this.  For these crazy moments spent slogging away.

But I was also born for this: I was born to be that friendly, cheerful face by the classroom doors- greeting children of all ages with a welcoming smile.  A warm hug.  An inquiring question.  A thoughtful comment or two.  Was born to hold chubby little hands, to look intently into blue-eyed baby faces.  To hear sweet and innocent stories.  To hear stories not so simple, of lives more complicated than my own.  To hear stories told that bring me to my knees, that haunt me in my waking hours.   Stories that propel me to advocate for change.

I was born for this too.  For opening up milk cartons.  Cutting yogurt packages into a slit at the top.  Passing out pizza slices.   Issuing band-aids.  Umpteen-dozen band-aids each and every day.  I was born to look at ‘owies’- with a professional’s eye.

Was born to read books- piles and piles of glorious books.  To read them with expression, passion and joie de vivre!  To saturate the room with them.  To buy them by the dozen!  To relish children’s laughter as I read favorites again and again.

I was born for even this.

I was born to find joy in everyday pleasures.  To find joy in the mundane, the ordinary.  Joy.  In reciting the alphabet, counting to twenty and playing with play-doh.  In watching the weather and growing bean plants and using scented markers.  In playing with puppets and using brand-new crayons.  In practicing piano.  In bouncing balls.

I was born for all this.

Was born to fight for the underdog, to defend the rights of the under-privileged.  To hear the hard stories and not turn away.  To look into hearts and ask difficult questions.  To put a face to the data.

I was born for this.  What joy!

I was born to do hard things.  To make tough calls.  To follow through.  To see a story through to its ending.  To never give up.

To always hope.  To always protect.  To always believe.

I was born for this.  For all of this.

I was born to not go down quietly.  To be a loud voice, if need be.  To shout it from the roof-tops or whisper it in the quiet of a room.  I was born for even this.

I was born to be a builder of blocks, a builder of lives.  A mender of hearts- a champion of dreams.

I was born to be a mother.  Was born to teach.  To be the teacher and the learner.  To make room in my heart.  Always enough room for one more.  And true.  It has not always been the easiest space I’ve ever inhabited, nor has it always been the most pleasant.  It is exhausting work- all of it.  But these acts of service have been the most rewarding of my journey thus far.  The most worthwhile.  Because the joy I have found in giving and receiving love, in knowing and in learning about people and the world we live in.  In understanding the stories connected to the lives.   This privilege. It is unmatched in nearly any other act of service I have ever done.  And these acts of unconditional love in service to the four precious children I have borne as well as the caring and compassion I freely give to the children I have found room for in my heart.  Whom I teach inside classroom walls.  Whom teach me that life is more.  So much more.  These lives, these stories are what make the ride worthwhile.

It’s about the people.  It’s about humanity.  And it’s about the children.

Because I was born for much, not the least of which- to nurture, love and care.  I was born to do the grueling work of care-giving as much as I was born to inspire, challenge and motivate.  And above all, I was born to give back.  For in my life I have been given much.  And so much is required.

I was born for this, this life I am living.   I was born for all of it.

Those kinds of days…

There are days when frost covers barren ground. Like a heavy cloak. When tiny buds on frozen tree limbs shimmer with an icy glaze. When tiny shoots of new life, thwarted in process of emerging forth. Are interrupted. Dark, heavy clouds hang low and ready.

There are these kinds of days.

When table talk is centered around what might be, on doom and gloom. When faces are grim. When voices are raw with emotion. When secret disclosures are proffered and understanding is sought after. When you just feel like you can’t take anymore of this murky mess. That they call living.

Authentic. Raw. Transparent.

It’s tough, this business of living real. Of really living. Of making a living of this messy here and now.

There are days like this.

And there are days when darkness pervades. Thick and stifling. Like a deadly gas.
When the outlook from this vantage point seems bleak. Hopeless. And the possibilities are shunted aside in favor of the grim reminders.

There too are days like this: sometimes.

And there are days. When you drive from home to work to home to ‘who knows where’. And you feel like it’s all a rat race. And it feels endless and ‘who knows where you’ll get the strength to carry on tomorrow’. And you can’t stop because you know you’ll never get started again.

Those kind of days.

And then. When you are nearly ready to throw up the white flag, throw in the towel, give up the fight. Something little catches your eye. It’s so little, you almost miss it. A smile. A picture drawn with crayons. A funny cartoon.

Or maybe. Someone throws out a rope- a lifeline that snags your heart. An ‘I love you’ spoken at just the right time. A tender squeeze. A kind word of encouragement. An eye-to-eye conversation that lasts longer than five-seconds.

And on those days when life goes from futile to promising. Just because of something little, because of something small but mighty.

(because of a little game changer)

Count it as a sweet reminder. A blessing. The silver lining. A token to the surety that while life might be brutal, it is also beautiful. Brutiful. Exquisite in a fleeting, fragile way.

And because it is such and so much more, those smallest of gestures- those beautiful reminders of humanity that we also call kairos moments- they mean so much more. Than they ever would have otherwise.

On those kinds of days.

On life and hummingbirds…

Summer heat, haze of humidity presses down.  I am sitting on the porch swing.  It is August, and I have escaped to get a break from the children, from the craziness going inside the house.  I settle in with a good read, or so I hope.  And occasionally, I look up from my book to gaze down at the blue of the water, at the river traffic.  Sailboats, kayaks, speedboats, catamarans.  It appears somewhat peaceful out there.  While the veranda is still only a scream away from the hubbub inside our home.

As I am reading, a blur appears before my eyes.  An apparition.   It comes directly between my eyes as if to attack me while I peacefully recline.  In an instant, I recognize it as a hummingbird.  It comes close enough to my face that I can feel the beating of its wings.   All seventy-five beats per second from what I have read.   It remains suspended before me, a blur of feathers, wings and motion.  And then it moves to the side of my head, toward my ear, as if to feed.

I wear a bright fuschia t-shirt, comfy and well-worn.  And to this small creature, I appear to be food.  A source of nourishment.  I am flower, provider of nectar-life to a hummingbird.  For a brief second, creature and human are transfixed with one another.  A meeting of a supernatural kind occurs.   And I am left spell bound.

All for the life and wonder- indeed the miracle, that is a tiny hummingbird.

Life.  Such a vague, abstract concept.  For many years I have wondered when my ‘real-life’ will begin.  When the dreams I had as a child will be realized in a final, ultimate sort of life plan.  When the exciting life I envisioned for myself will kick in and set into motion everything I have ever dreamed my time here on earth might be, unfolding in some kind of providential way.  Like in the movies.  Or in a good book.  Or as I see it happening in some people’s lives- famous or otherwise.

And sometimes I think this: maybe there is an ultimate plan that God has for me which will soon begin- a plan to be a change-maker, a difference.  To make history.  To be part of something bigger.  Anything bigger and better than this- my ordinary, everyday life.  Lived in the hum-drum of work, after-school activities and housework.  Lived in the often monotonous hamster-wheel of duty, responsibility and commitment.    Seriously.   I dream of more than this.  And if we all were honest, we do have dreams, some bigger than others.  But dreams nonetheless.  And there is a little part inside us all that dreams or imagines that someday- one day, those dreams will be realized in a climatic fashion.  As can be the case.


But what of life that plods along, never to become that ultimate plan of realization?  Is that life lived up to its utmost potential?  Is it life well lived?  Is there always an ultimate plan awaiting us all?

Or is everyday life itself the plan.

Some online reflections written by friends and family this week have given me pause for thoughtful deliberation of my own.  On the subject of life.  Or Life.  Or is that LIFE.  With ‘life’, being that which is lived behind closed doors- in private,  ‘Life’ being that which is lived in public and ‘LIFE’, which I would submit is all-encompassing.  LIFE in its entirety- the quiet moments of obscurity to those very larger than life moments of recognition and acknowledgment.

Do we live our life as the public persona or the private self?  Or do we live equally as both?  Is the life we live in the day-to-day enough to carry our dreams or do we dare dream of more than this?  Why is thinking about life so important anyway?  If the public life is going well and the private life is not, have we still a claim to have lived well?  What is more important- the relationships we hold closest to our heart, but which bring us the most pain and trial; or are the most important relationships those that are held at a distance, shared with colleagues and acquaintances that might support us in our biggest dreams, but which are not forced to deal with the inner struggles?

And where is God in all of this- this stuff of mortals, time and distance?

I am uncertain of what lies beyond today.  Beyond this moment I am in.  Right now.  If there is an ultimate plan, it must be this: to be all that I can be right now.  To live large in this moment.  To be honest and true in my writing.  To be kind and fair to my children.  To be patient and wise with my students.  To be compassionate and grace-filled with my relationships.  To make a difference in the lives of all whom I cross paths.  Today.  For today is all I can be held accountable for.  And if today has been well-lived, then my ultimate life plan will have been realized.

For being the best I can be, giving the most I can give, offering the most I can offer as I live moment by moment is all I can do right now.  I can only live what I have been given.  And the life I have been given for today is enough.

Who can put a value on a life?  Does life lived out quietly bear the weight of significance equally with that of the life lived visibly?  Who can tell which is worth more to the Father?   Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26, NIV)

A hummingbird is among the smallest of birds.  A vulnerable bird, with a relatively short life span.  One could say as birds go, it is rather insignificant.  Beautiful, but rather non-consequential as feathered creatures go.  And yet a chance encounter with a hummingbird on a mid-summer day was a pivotal moment for me.  Reminding me time and time again that life is not always about the biggest moments.  It is more about the beautiful moments lived out in the simplicity of everyday life.

And it is about the extraordinary miracles experienced in the otherwise ordinary here and now.

The Joy of Plan B

There is a book sitting on the bench in my upstairs hallway that I plan to read a little before shutting my eyes tonight, that is if I can get up to bed earlier than my usual 12:30 a.m.  Written by author Tim Kimmel, it is called In Praise of Plan B- Moving from “What is” to “What Can Be”.  Intriguing?  I thought so.

I’m an “A” kind of girl.  I loved getting an A on a report or test (who didn’t?), I consider myself a type A personality and I like things to be A-okay in almost every department of my life or I feel unsettled.  Even anxious.  Take relationships, for instance.  If I sense there is a problem, usually that is enough to rattle my cage and affect everything else going on in my life at that given moment.  Or, if the equilibrium of home and work are off, I move from an A to an F.  My son loves to use the word “fail” now to describe things in his life (as in, “that shot on goal was a fail”; that, and the word “random”).  So, I am usually either an A for awesome or an F for fail when it comes to emotions.  It is part hardwiring and part personality.  I’m trying to deal with it.

When I came across this particular book last Friday evening, a book about the reality that life is not often lived out as we planned, I could see that I was in for a thought adjustment.  So, here I am trying to process my feelings and bring some order to the “random” ideas floating around inside my head.  I want to read this book because I have lived most of my adult years believing that Plan A is best.  As in, the dreams I have long held as ideal in my head, for happiness, success and soul connections, are not always the reality that I live out.  Of course, I have always known that life is not a bed of roses, but I have wished for it to be so.  After all, it is for some people, is it not?  Sometimes Plan A works out.  Why can’t I be included in this latter group of people.

And so, I continue to follow after mirages of water on dry, cracked pavement, always believing that my lofty dreams and aspirations, created to satisfy a deep-seated hunger for more, are just around the corner.  But this I know.  To follow after things that do not satisfy for the long haul of living is a joy killer.  To want Plan A, but lose joy means this: that I have not really found what I was looking for.  For behind the search for happiness, success and soul connections, there is a desire to experience a fullness of joy.  To feel fully the peace and contentment that real joy brings.  This is difficult for most of us to achieve when we are doggedly pursuing a life that seemingly has it all, or as it is better known, Plan A.  We cannot have everything, even if Hollywood and others would like to sell that idea to us in shiny packaging.

My experience, having followed the outline for Plan A most of my life, is this: there is always another “i” to dot or “t” to cross on the blueprint of Plan A.  Moreover, you feel you have finally reached the pinnacle, only to find there is another hill to climb.  Plan A is the unending journey that leads all too often to nowhere.    How wonderful for the few that unlock the puzzles that Plan A has hidden within its agenda.  But for the rest of us, the disappointment is enough to rob you of what is most precious.  Joy in the living the everyday moments right now.

I have found joy in writing this blog, and it is my desire that this journey of mine, to find and live out joy in my life, will be shared by others looking for the same thing.  We are everyday people living out ordinary lives.  But the desire to live out those lives in continual joy is an extraordinary undertaking.  It is impossible to do this without being able to find the truest source for joy, a place where the soul stirs and hungers to know all that is Good and True.

My faith has been my foundation in this search.  I have found that I am always brought back to this place.  Am I in control or is there One who holds me in the palm of His Hand?  And if so, do I trust that He is able to carry me from the lofty, at times unrealistic goals of Plan A and move me to a better place than I thought possible?  I will never know until I let go and trust that the Designer of all that is good and perfect has my best in mind.

I try to keep my mind and heart open to the possibilities that await me in this new and foreign Plan B.

Jeremiah, that weeping prophet said in his letter to the Jews in exile, those looking for a better plan than the one they were living: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  To know that there is more to life than this, to believe that anything is possible, and to enjoy the moment I am living right here and now- this is the better plan.

Even if that means following Plan B instead of my original A.

Don’t watch your garden grow!

Sometimes I wonder if I am sending faulty messages about me and the subject matter of this blog.  As in, when you end up finding a blog about the pursuit of a joyful life, amidst the other blogs out there in the blogosphere, one might think it is written by a very positive, happy-go-lucky, Type A personality.  Someone with no troubles and a very privileged life.  How amusing to think anyone might think that about me.  Just ask my husband…

My blog is not written by a perpetually happy person who just finds life a dandy game of Candyland, where everything is pink, fluffy and full of sugary sweetness.  In fact, I have lived most of life quite sadly, joy-less.

The pursuit for me is to find joy amidst the rubble of the everyday grind, within which I often find myself living.  To take that which is potentially a joy killer and turn it into something that generates joy.  It is an irony, of sorts, to find joy in a life that is full of stress and difficulty.  Imperfection is the nature of this messed-up world we live in.  Finding joy in imperfect circumstances is the saving grace, and that is why I strive to find it all along the way.

Joy.  Living life to the fullest.  Finding purpose in the here and now.  Finding acceptance and contentment with what I have been given.  Living life looking for the best, not the worst.  Feeling fully satisfied without always having everything.  “Having it all” is a sad misconception.  Having those things which are of worth is the key.

Joy today was found in planting flowers with the children in KA English, room 103.  I had prepped the students on Monday that we would be planting seeds sometime this week.  We talked about what we might need to grow a flower.  We discussed how long it takes for the seeds to sprout.  We looked at and carefully examined seeds.  We planned a list of items to start collecting.  We read books that would inform and enlighten us on the growing process.  We talked about the weather.

It was a long week.

Every day, the students asked if today was the day.  No, I would answer.  “We have to learn about flowers before we attempt growing them.”

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…the days crawled by.  Thursday and then finally, Friday was upon us.

I had planned to use the afternoon to launch the activity, and no sooner had I laid out the items needed on an old tablecloth, than those little hands were reaching for dirt and seeds.  It was all I could do to hold them back while I explained how it would all unfold. And finally, it was time to sink little fingers into dirt and let the rich soil fill up their cup with goodness.

After planting, we placed our beans and sunflowers on the window sill in the glow of the March sun.  Light streamed in the window, casting shadows through the blinds.  After everyone had found that perfect spot, the children went away and resumed other activities.  The plants were left to do what plants do best: sit and grow.

After ten minutes had passed, the students started asking if any of the seeds had sprouted yet.  A little throng of five-year old gardeners once again had gathered under the window sill.  “Did they grow yet,” little voices questioned one another.  “Maybe if we give them ten more minutes,” came the reply.

We are often in such a rush for the good things to happen that we fail to see that the process is where it is really at.  Life is not a culmination, it is a process.  It is the in-between moments wherein we really live.

We are born, we take first steps, we learn to talk, we go to school, we lose our first tooth, we learn to ride a bike.  We fall in love, we learn to drive, we graduate high school and perhaps university, if we are truly blessed, we find our soul mate.  We get a job, a bank account, a mortgage and a house.  Then, we have a family.  Life continues to unfold, milestone after milestone, as it speeds full-stream ahead.  Time doesn’t wait for us to live out the in-between moments; we must plan for how we live out those moments all by ourselves.

We live those moments best when we start to realize that this moment, just now, has just passed by.  And so has this one.  And this one too.  Moments fade into moments. We cannot waste time living life joy-less because time is too precious for that.  The moment we are in right now has two sides: joy or bitterness.  We embrace one emotion at a time.  We embrace that which we deem to be the best.  Our priorities, worldview, circumstances and mental outlook dictate how we view our given moments.

Like seeds, we grow into our fullest potential in the fullness of time.  But the in-between moments, those wherein we prune and water, nuture and weed the garden of our lives, are by far the longest moments we have in this flowering of life.

No moment is more real  or of greater value than the moment we are living right now. Care for your seeds, but don’t watch them grow. Life is too short for rushing the growing process.