Let me be one who cares

It’s Friday. I am so weary. SO tired. Actually, my brain is fried. I feel like the cerebral part of my Members has turned to mush. But then again—it’s Friday. So there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thank you, Jesus, for that. Gotta love the creation of the five-day work week.

I am in class all morning with my cohort- a mix of teachers from all over the country. We break for lunch on the last day of class ready for a diversion. I decide mine is going to be a short trip taken to a local restaurant with a couple of friends whom I have not had as much time for (as I would really have liked) over the past couple of months due to the crazy busy schedule I keep. Crazy schedules we all keep, for that matter. Time I have not had for the Others in my life due in part to the lack of number of hours in the day to ‘get it all done’. Something I am constantly dealing with in my desire to find work/life balance. At any rate, I am delighted to have the time to eat lunch with these lovely ladies and am so looking forward to catching up on missed time. To having actual real-life CONVERSATION.

Oh, the luxury.

We cram into an over-heated car and wait for the air-conditioning to kick in. And then we pull into the Wendy’s parking lot and make our way towards the lunch counter. We order lunch. I order a Summer-Fresh Strawberry Salad, a grilled chicken wrap and a strawberry milkshake. They have no milkshakes, so they replace the latter with a very miniscule chocolate milk. Not that it really matters. Later on- in the course of my eating, I discover something hard in my salad, of all things- like the bits of teeth that I have become accustomed to finding inside my mouth when breaking such while eating. This is a side note, but important to show that I am always under some stress while eating. And that fast food does not always mean good food. Funny about that.

But I digress.

We hoe into our lunches and start to converse right away about this, that and the other when the conversation takes on a more reflective nature. The question is posed: “How do people perceive me?” by one of my lunchmates. And so, thinking this might be a good thing to know about myself, I ask the same. “How do I come across to the people I interact with?” “What do people really think of me?”

I am really curious after all. How DO people perceive me? An honest question, to which I thought I was ready to hear an honest answer.

I have been writing this blog for a while now with the understanding that I am pursing a path that will lead to a more empathic, caring, loving Self- as a teacher, a mother and as a friend among the other hats I wear.   I am also pursuing this path as the direct result of my choosing to do so. In other words, in choosing this path of ethics of care and pedagogies of love- in choosing love as the focus of my life and writing- I then would hope that I exemplify it more and more in my day-to day life.

Interesting theory which I am working out in practical ways.

So I have to say, I was expecting a response something like the following: “Oh Lori, you are so caring and kind and sweet and empathic…” All the things I write about, in other words. I was waiting for my ego to be fed a little bit.

What was actually said surprised me. I don’t know why it did, but possibly because I was so prepared for the former to be spoken that I hadn’t quite readied myself for what was actually to be divulged.

So, with this in mind, I sat posed to hear some really sweet things spoken.

Never have expectations when asking deeply personal reflective responses to questions you have posed. WORD TO THE WISE. At any rate, what was told to me- about how I was perceived and how I come across was this: I often make people feel uncomfortable due to my verbosity or ‘wordiness’- but even more so than that, I am intimidating at times to people, possibly due to my own reflective nature and the questions I pose to myself and others.

But here’s the sting.

It came out in conversation that I am not always caring in my interactions toward others.

Ouch. That did really hurt and I could feel tears immediately welling up in my eyes. Because despite my lack, at times, of being aware of my nature, I am very sensitive and tender. I can cry when the bee stings, the dog bites. And believe me- I can cry for much less than that.

But let me explain.

This week, I have had almost a tunnel vision at times in my focus on the academics and work at hand. So much so that there were times someone would pose a question to me- to which I completely tuned out that question or ignored such in my focus and intent on getting things done. In other words, I was not aware of how I was making people feel all the time. And I was making people feel like I didn’t care merely by my intent on barrelling through and getting the work done.

Hearing this feedback, I won’t lie- hurt me. I felt, as I have already suggested- stung. It is not easy hearing that you’ve been uncaring in your dealings with others- that you’ve been so focused on your own work that you’ve failed to take into account other’s work and questions. Other’s feelings and concerns. But hearing this feedback was also extremely beneficial. I needed to hear this. Because I am now more aware of myself as a friend and a colleague than I otherwise would have been had the question not been posed and answered.

I know more because I asked. Even if it hurt a bit in the hearing.

In doing a thesis on caring and love, I think the most revealing findings I will uncover are that we are not always what we perceive ourselves to be. The challenge is to improve and then rise above our failings and overcome. I would never assume that I have an interest in love and caring because I am an expert in such- I would want people to know that I have an interest in love and caring and all that encompasses because I want to BECOME this. And that act of becoming is a process. One can become something because they have a natural inclination toward being thus or one can become something because they have deliberately, intentionally chosen to be that. I am daily- moment by moment- choosing intentionally to BE what it is I write: a more caring, more understanding, more empathic, more loving person than I was yesterday. Each and every day I live my life as a human being.

It is the act of choosing to be caring that I would hope defines me.

After the conversation, I reflected on what had been said quite a bit and in doing so, I realized a few things about myself:

I am not doomed to be the focused, intense person I was born being- I can evolve into what I want to be by my awareness and consciousness to CHOOSE to be otherwise. I am also not left to feel inadequate by my obvious deficiencies in this aspect of my life because I see my life as a journey. I am moving forward. I would hope that I am more aware today than I was yesterday. And further, I see that my caring has come out even in my questioning: because I truly cared enough to ask the question: How DO people perceive me?

I hope they still might perceive me as one who wants to care. Who cares to care.

As one who cares.

Advertisements

And when we are unkind…it hurts.

I was shopping a few weeks ago with the girls and happened upon a trendy pair of distressed American Eagle jeans and a white Dri-Fit Nike shirt I thought my son would like. I bought them then kept the purchases tucked away until I thought they might be of use.

Last night, Son announced that his jeans were too small and wondered when the wash would be done (because apparently the only ones that FIT, happened to be in there right then. And I am Chief Washer, for some reason). I thought to myself, “Perfect timing. I’ll go get the new ones I bought and save myself a job.”  And in the process, I thought I would surprise him with a little gift.  And so that’s just what I did. I got the items and laid them down on the floor in front of him in our living room, as he packed up his trombone and back-pack for an overnight band trip the following day.

“Here’s a new pair of jeans for you- and a new shirt too,” I said, trying to sound as non-chalant and uneager as is humanly possible for an uncertain mother of a thirteen year-old boy. Not that I am one of those- but IF I WAS, that’s how I’d appear. I waited edgily for the response, knowing that there might not be a welcome reply.  I had a funny feeling about what was coming next.

“I don’t need them” he tells me. “I already have too many clothes.”

“Okay,” I countered. “I’ll give them to one of your cousins then, for their birthday.” I looked down at the jeans- willing him to just accept them. I waited for another moment, still hoping that this threat of giving them away would make him change his mind. They were an especially nice outfit together, if I did say so myself. And really- I had no immediate plans to give those jeans away. I just was looking for him to accept them. But son wouldn’t budge on his decision: he didn’t want the outfit even when Husband came out to see what the rigamarole (i.e. whole conversation we two were having) was all about.

After a moment or two, Husband decided to enter the fray.

“What’s going on? What’s with the jeans?” he asks us both.

“We’re giving them to someone for their birthday,” says my son. Pointedly rejecting my gift to him on not-so-subtle terms. “I already have too many clothes.”

I try to make him change his mind, recounting to myself that my threat to give the clothes away was obviously a fail. When that didn’t work, I tried another method- matching his reasons for why he doesn’t need this new outfit with my own equally compelling reasons for why he does need them. I even capitalized on the too-small-jeans in the wash thing.  Thinking that might work.

Didn’t matter. He wasn’t moving on this one. And he wasn’t taking the jeans.

I later find the clothes on the floor in the same spot I left them, a signifier that my paltry offering would go unaccepted this night.

And I have to say- it hurt a little.

Sometimes we hurt the ones we love the most. That’s why any discussion on kindness and why it matters must be accompanied by discussions on why sometimes we are not kind. Why sometimes we choose to be abrasive. Hurtful. Rude, even.

Sometimes in our best efforts to be kind to most people we encounter, we forget that the one or two we let off the hook are the very ones that it matters most to. For they are the very ones who need it more. And then, when one is unkind- we on the receiving end must also consider: Why? Why has this one or that one been so unfeeling? So uncaring? Trodden so heavily on our emotions and goodwill?

Why must we be mean to one another? What good does it accomplish?

As a teacher, I am fully aware that even as I preach kindness and love and caring, there are moments that I am none of the above. And those moments when I lose sight of the three- kindness, love and caring- those moments are the very ones that the person on the receiving end of my impatience will use to define me. And they will ask the same questions I have asked above.

Why are you so cruel at times?

And the answer is simply: we are human. We all have our moments of weakness. Moments when we slip into the person we’ve tried to grow out of. The person we see as our less-mature self. All it takes is a moment, and we are back where we’ve begun. Unfortunately, a moment of our day can sometimes break us in two. Taking an otherwise pleasant, enjoyable day and turning it upside down. Both for us and for another.

I had one of those moments today. In fact, I often have those moments. But today, I was cranky at someone for a mistake they made. It was a mistake that ‘put me out’, made more work for me because of it. And I was cranky. Annoyed. And I felt my anger and aggravation rise too quickly to the surface. I felt emotions come to my defense too hastily. And in doing so, I wondered later- what was that like for the One on the receiving end of my quick- temper? And how did they view me- ME? Someone who prides herself on being loving and caring- someone who writes about love every chance she gets. How could I let it all unravel in a moment? What did the person think whom I hurt with my quick temper and sharp words?

One can only hope that the person of whom I speak had some genuine compassion for me. I hope and believe that they would. And I also hope and believe that I would do the same as well- for them. Would do the same for them in the moments that I am slighted.   In the moments when I am offended or put off in both small and large ways by the ones I care about. One would only hope that I too could bring myself to quickly forgive and move on. So that the One who has hurt my rather fragile emotions would not have to suffer at the expense of my ego. At the expense of my pride. My sense of my own self and its importance.

We are all in this together.

And there are moments like I described at the beginning of this post in which I am the one who suffers hurt at the hand of Another’s uncaring moment. But there will be many more moments in this life when it will be I inflicting hurt on another. May it always be said of me that I was quick to forgive- as that is what I certainly desire from others.

But I still ask this one question: why do we hurt one another? Why are we unkind? Why must we say and do things that are unloving? Why must we be so often, uncaring?

My son loves me. This I know. And I love him too. This I believe he understands as well. I tell him so every day. But I also know this: I am his comfort zone. And there are times when that line of intimacy allows for less formality, less expectation. As we all know, our guards are often down with those in our immediate family. We don’t try as hard.  And we often don’t worry about the people closest to us quite so much- their emotions and feelings are not as closely considered as much as might be those of someone outside our comfort zone. Our immediate circle of influence often have to take the brunt of our emotions.

It’s something to think about.  And something to work on.  For sure.

And I feel it is also important to be aware of such each and every day. Important that we be aware of why kindness is important- every moment of every day for everyone. And important to be aware of who kindness affects.  Prudent to keep in mind the effects of missing kindness on our psyche. Our self-esteem and well-being.

For kindness matters. It does.

And when kindness is gone, we all know it. We all feel it. And when it is there, while we sometimes take it for granted, we really do appreciate it. The key is to truly appreciate and value it.  Hold it up as a standard to live by. And then to impress on each other why it matters so much.

Because it does.  It really does.

Living love- it’s harder than it sounds on paper

It is much easier to write about love than to practice it. Much, much easier.
I want to be very real with you tonight. Intimate in my transparency, if possible. I want to talk about what love put into practice looks like in my life. Right now.

But to preface this revelation, I must say at the outset: when we preach the loudest and proclaim the most vocally our thoughts, beliefs and feelings, words that are written down or easily spoken have a funny way of coming back to you and challenging you to live up to what you believe.

Isn’t life funny that way.

Today was a challenging one in terms of love for me. I really had a hard time living up to the standard of love of which I preach. Of which I write. For I write often about love- it seems so easy to say it. But living it? That’s another story. But I press on. I continue to seek love, in spite of myself. And all because- although I aspire to love, I am still an amateur. I am a work in progress (as are we all). When I say I believe in love- I truly do. When I say it is the reason for everything, I really mean that this is my life conviction. But would I go so far as to say I have arrived? That I personify love?

Heavens, no. Hardly.

I had a headache all day today. I knew from the get-go, it was going to be a tough one. Pressure seemed to be rising from the minute I placed my cold feet on the bare boards of our bedroom floor.

I felt that pressure- that responsibility: to live out what I believe. I am accountable for my words.

There were so many times today that I just wanted to pack it all in. To say, ‘look, it ain’t worth it.’ To curl up and say, ‘its too hard- too demanding to love.’ Love is too hard. It is. There were so many times today that I just wanted to do what I naturally feel. My nature is one that is not naturally prone to love. I would rather criticize. Would rather find fault. I would rather complain or point fingers. Or take offence and protest.

By nature, I am prone to rigidity. To exactness. I am a perfectionist. I am not naturally loving and patient and kind. I was not born empathic. Not born to be understanding. Those qualities have come to me through supernatural intervention. And I do mean that. Anything I am or hope to be is through the grace of God. The work of Jesus- His love and light shining out through cracks and crevices in my broken life. And I promise you that if there is any evidence in my life of love, it is the love of God shining through me. I am not naturally this way.

Baby, I really wasn’t born this way. And I would never have you to believe otherwise: that I have this all wrapped up. This handle on the power of love. I am love in progress, as evidenced in a broken life.

Yes, today- I was faced with challenge after challenge. I wanted to react to each of these challenges- retaliate with words that were cutting. Because that is naturally who I am. I am not kind by nature. Not caring by birth. I am actually critical, if I were to be really honest. Judgemental. I am no saint.

But I have felt compelled toward love of late. I have felt drawn. And although my nature is one that would lead away from love, I have felt the power of transforming love in my life to such a degree that I have chosen love over what comes naturally.

And the fact that I am so drawn by Love is enabling it to become more natural as the days go by.

When I feel pulled toward a critical spirit, what I am faced with is a choice. And I am learning- as hard as it might be, that love is a choice. Love is one of an array of options that I am faced with daily. I can choose criticality, or I can choose kindness. I can choose impatience, or I can choose tolerance. I can choose frustration or understanding. Anger or empathy and gentleness. And although it is not my natural bent to do such, to choose the latter of that array of choices, it is who I want to be. It is who I am becoming, this person who loves. A lover: of people. Of imperfect, broken people, just as I am. So I choose love, over and over and over again.

I willingly choose love.

I chose love today when all I really felt was frustration. Frustration with circumstances. With people. With the ways in which I am interpreted. Frustration with not being heard. Frustration with not being listened to- I chose love as a response . And rather than react to those things in my life that get my ire up- that work against me, causing me to feel annoyed or inconvenienced, with the grace of God, I chose love. I continue to do so.
It is only by the grace of God that I can.

I do not share this intimate look into my inner self so as to self-denigrate my being or to paint a pitiful picture of myself for good wishes. To disparage the person I was born to. I love this person I am. She is me- I am her. I am coming to love the person I have been and hope for the person I will be in the process of my becoming loving.

No, I don’t write all this so as to garner support and accolades. I tell you all this so as to say: it is through weakness that we are humbled. Through loss that we experience gratitude. Through pain that we overcome, so as to know the heights of joy. It is through self-denial that at times we come to understand the power of love.

So when I feel frustrated that my students aren’t listening as best they should. When my own four children fight and argue. When my spouse takes an opposing view. When I run into a professional obstacle or hurdle . When I find myself disagreeing with another human being. When people just plain rub me the wrong way. This I know- I am a person too: and I am humbly both the irritator and the irritated at one and the same time. Imperfect as I may be.

I am so very aware of my imperfection- of my own personal need of grace. As are we all. Every single one of the human beings we encounter in this life are needing of grace. So, there is no other choice but to love. It is truly the best option.

Nevertheless, I am faced with a choice. Love or intolerance. It’s mine for the choosing. And with the grace enabled me through transforming Love Himself, I choose love. By the grace of which I stand complete, I choose love. Because Love chose me, I make the effort to choose love as well. Because it is the better way, I choose love.

Because it is the only way in which I can transform the person I am into the person I want to be, I choose love.

And through the power of love, I continue to make that choice.

Daily, I choose love.

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.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And so, the story continues…