Hold On

“When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on”
― Theodore Roosevelt

retrieved from woman.thenest.com

I am sitting at the back of the Bayliner, watching the waves gently rock us to and fro as we idle in the water. Husband is at the helm, and I am flanked by three of our four children. The Other is awkwardly sitting in the river with water-skis attached to her feet. She bobs like a buoy as she awaits the pull of the boat. The call comes for her to ready herself and I can almost feel her nerves—taut and anxious as she grasps on the two-way handle-bar. There is a split-second, a moment where we all are unsure. Will she gain the momentum necessary? Will she hold on? Will she right herself in time? Will she let go?

We pull ahead with a forceful thrust and she dives into the water, side-long or head first. I cannot recall. This, an unplanned entry either the route. The same procedure begins again. The boat pulling around in a circle while the tow rope slowly makes its way towards her through the water. Her arms reaching and then grabbing onto the tow line, holding on as if for dear life. The tense moment of waiting and then the lunge forward.

The boat pulls as if hauling a butterfly. But she again is unable to manage the propulsion. She slips and topples back into the water. (Thankful for a patient teacher in her Dad.)

This holding on and letting go is taking its toll, is trying her patience; but I can see that she is determined. Even when the drift takes us into murky seaweed. Even when she falls for the eighth time. Even when. She is discouraged but not deterred.

One more try.

She finally makes it upright after her ninth attempt, and we all cheer ecstatically from the sidelines. You can see even from a distance that she is very pleased with this accomplishment. So she should be. She has held on and we are moving forward through clear waters, nothing but sunshine and blue skies overhead.

Holding on is hard work, but it is worth it. It requires grit, stamina, tenacity and determination. We have to have resolve. And when we let go our grasp, it is just as crucial that we reclaim our former position and hold on that much tighter the second, third, fourth time around. Because life is not just about holding on—it’s about getting back up again after we’ve had to let go.

There is much to fight for in this life, much for us to fight for and hold on to:

-Our sense of purpose
-Our independence
-Our freedom
-The future
-Our faith in Providence and humanity

Whatever the reason that you are still holding on, take heart and keep on keeping on. Don’t be discouraged in your efforts. Holding on is tedious, strenuous work, but it is worth it. Holding keeps us positioned, enables us to move forward, brings us closer to our goals. Holding is the most difficult thing we might ever have to do, but when we fight for what we believe is worth it, we discover something else in the process: holding on is beneficial for our character, too. In holding, we develop courage. And courage gives us hope.

Whatever you are fighting to find or seeking to reclaim, just hold on.

You’ll make it.

Love through the seasons…

Tonight, we sit out on the veranda, you and I, while candles flicker quietly at our feet.  Three citronella in pots reduce to liquid.  I say I like the smell, and you mistakenly think that I have given you a compliment.  “It’s the smell of the river,” you say.  And it’s true.  You do smell like the great outdoors.  No where makes you happier than right here.  The land, the water, the sky.  Home.

While the moon shines full and creamy-white in the night sky, we push gently with our feet the old porch swing.  A relic to our earlier years.  It has survived four babies, and many years.  It has often been a coming home of sorts for me- a place to unwind after a hectic day at work.  Tonight, it is an evening respite from the quickly approaching bedtime witching hour.   We sip from fine crystal goblets while behind us, inside, the two youngest watch their show.  The kittens are finally getting a well-deserved break from the man-handling of the day, piled they are on top of each other under the hostas.

We think we have it made.

Our first date of the summer.

Sometimes I wonder how we ever survived.  How we managed to stay the course thus far.  How we got here: to now.

We are in the teenage years of our marriage.  Years where there is little time to connect.  Precious little.  A time of life where the children drive the comings and goings of this house.  Where life begins with chatter and ends with one crouched over a computer keyboard, while the other unwinds with Netflix.  A time of life where mealtimes are often a battle ground, where electronics are chosen over toys and where parents are sometimes (often) embarrassing.  These are the days of our lives.  We are in the late summer of life, both literally and figuratively.

How we manage to keep this boat afloat is one part mystery and one part sheer tenacity.

Our marriage works because we are committed to keeping it going.  It works because we are determined to see the best in one another.  And it has lasted this long because we are willing to compromise on those things in life that don’t really matter anyway.

I don’t often write about marriage.  I don’t reveal a whole lot about something that has taken nineteen years to cultivate and grow.  It is precious.  It is private.  But I should write more.  Because making this marriage work has been the single most amazeballs feat that you and I have done in the years we have developed our lasting relationship.

We should never have lasted this long.  The odds are definitely stacked heavily against us.

I am cut from one kind of cloth and you from another.  We are that different.  Like chalk and cheese.

But we are determined.  Here’s something I read today and it will help explain my own personal philosophy of marriage: when angry words fly and it seems the house is about to burn down from the combustible energy being exuded, what can save a marriage is “tapping into empathy”, “taking tone out of the equation”…so as to get to the heart of what the other is saying.

Understanding one another.

Knowing that larger than life “fire and smoke” displays are sometimes merely a cover for something else.  Something more tender.  More vulnerable.  Something so fragile it might be hidden from plain view.  From the naked eye.  And then.  When that which was hidden is then revealed, it is the seeing beyond the obvious so as to understand the deeper that makes hope possible.  That is where true empathy lies.

I use to think love was romance.  I am older now and know better.  Love is a choice.  And it is a conscious decision we make each and every day to choose kindness over spite.  To listen and speak.  And to hold on even while we are held in the strong Hands of One who knows us intimately.

That and so much more is what has enabled us to stay the course in this journey thus far.  And it is what will keep our hearts tightly bound when the seasons change.

On the value of ‘true grit’…

My children have been gifted.  Gifted with family who value faith, honesty, respect, education and co-operative learning; hard work, effort, diversity, honor and humor.   Among other positive qualities.  All which serve to instil within our offspring an appreciation for integrity and a value for a high standard of living.  We work hard as parents to raise our children to be creative, pro-active members of our family as well as conscientious citizens of the communities in which they are educated and in which they play to learn.  However, I often wonder if we are doing them a disservice when it comes to our penchant for enabling.  We are always on the look-out for opportunities in which to help our children learn and grow, and we continually help them in their journey towards developing character and obtaining life skills.  But in doing so, we just might be holding them back.

We are well-meaning enablers.  Which just might be keeping our precious children from learning a very important lesson in the universal ‘how-to guide’ about the true steps to achieving success.  That is, the lesson of first receiving hard knocks and then obtaining true grit.  Grit: the stuff that drives high achievement in its many forms, from the less celebrated success stories to those belonging to the greatest of legends.   It was first coined as a phrase by the novelist Charles Portis, and has since been defined by motivational writers as an attitude or a belief that anything is possible when one puts their mind to it. (copyright 2000, Daryl R.Gibson)  I define it as the ability to defy the odds.

To rise above.

A few years ago, my two children were involved in a piano recital.  Neither one was eager to get up in front of the audience, comprised of mostly non-familiar faces.  But I prodded and coaxed, and they begrudgingly obliged their mother- who had paid for the lessons and was determined to get a performance out of it.  My daughter went first and sailed through.   Whether she made mistakes or not, she prevailed.  And she left the stage without a backward glance or another thought to how she might have executed her prepared piece.  There is something to be said for indifference.

My son and I were to play a duet that evening.  And here is how things unraveled for us that evening:

We both walk on stage together.  There is a buzz in the air, and I can feel my son’s arm beside my own as we sit side by side on the piano bench.  We begin playing, but somewhere between the start and the middle of the song, things begin to fall apart.  We are not in sync, and we both become alarmed with the sounds coming out of the grand piano on which we are playing.  As we flail toward the end of our song, we both realize there is nothing to save our performance.  And then we stumble off stage.   I am feeling more than a little bit alarmed that my son will be experiencing some stage fright over what had just happened.  If not full-blown trauma.

I am certainly right about the former.  He is mortified with his performance, embarrassed to tears.  And as his mother I am completely helpless.  I cannot take away these feelings of failure no matter what I say or do.  It is something he has to work through on his own. 

My son went through various stages of dealing with this unfortunate event.  At first, he was determined to quit lessons all together.  Then after agreeing to continue on in lessons, he was determined he would under no circumstances, ever perform again.  Then, little by little, and on his own terms, he did perform.  As he was ready and able to do so.

And finally, this past spring, he played his biggest recital yet- in front of a gala event recognizing performers across the county who had received special recognition for their commitment to and appreciation of music lessons.  That night, my son received an award for perseverance.  And as he accepted this award, I know I was the proudest mother there in that room.  Not because my son was the most accomplished, gifted player to perform that night- but because in his journey to the stage that night, he had come ahead the farthest.  He had overcome the obstacle of fear, and that was the smashing victory that I was celebrating.

For him, it was a life lesson in celebration of the phrase: ‘true grit’.

There are children in my neighborhood who do not have a mother and father who stand behind them, coaching them in all of their endeavors.  Like my kids do.   For these other children, grit is part of what helps them defy the odds.  And when I hear their stories- stories that shock and outrage parents like myself, that persuade me to become a better teacher and a better parent,  I am further compelled to believe that these kids are who they are for two reasons: the grace of God and true grit.

But for the grace of God, there go I.  And add to that: God helps those who help themselves.  And although there is some truth and some falsehood in the latter statement, it is something to consider.  That we must help ourselves- God is not to blame for every wrong turn we make, nor should blame be placed always on our parents.  Sometimes those unfortunate events, instigated by circumstances in our familial lives, are the pivotal points that turn things around for the best.  For good.  And these victories would not have been realized had we not learned the art of helping ourselves.  And it is my opinion that those who have been through the school of hard knocks and lived to tell the tale, these kids are the ones who are most deserving of success in its many varieties.

For in the end, true grit always has its just rewards.  And those who win them, greatly deserve them.

On hope…

We walk, hand-in-hand, along hard, sandy shoreline.   I am the bare feet with sand in between toes and he is the one in sandals.  Shells crunch underfoot, but I am being careful where I step.  I still have the scar from last summer on my left foot, the memory- a jagged line from another shell in another river.  This body of water is a sheath of deep navy blue, gently stirred by two jet skis that churn the water into froth.  As if they are mixing an intoxicating brew.  Waves radiate circles outwards from the centrifugal force of the engines, and the fluid motion makes a continuous pattern towards the shore.  As the beach has become too littered with natural debris, I select a rock on which to perch.  It is just the right size for the two of us.  I draw my legs in tight, curling in to myself like a ball.  Protective.  Cautious. Reflective.

Pensive, that’s really the word.   And I am so much more than even this.

We sit in quiet solitude for a stretch.  The breeze, rustling among tall grasses and pine boughs that hang in a canopy above us, is perfect for the sail boat that comes along later.  A dog curiously sniffing as he moves, pink tongue hanging, lopes past us disappearing around the bend.   His owner following with an orange canvas dog leash in hand.  It is the perfect night to take it all in: the scenery, the view, the joy of it all.  To embrace the moment.

He tells me he loves me and I ask why.  For I am uncertain.  “Because we have sixteen years of memories between us,” he replies.  The tears fall in quiet streams down both sides of my face.  This is not what I expected.  To be loved like this.  To be held so tenderly.  We have come so many miles, but so many more separate in spite of progress made.

Sixteen years of blood, sweat and tears.  And often, so little joy, so little hope.  So many things can happen in sixteen years of marriage.  There are many moments, many days, many months that make a marriage.  To ensure a marriage last a lifetime, one almost looks for a miracle.  Something to hold on to.  But, we two have made a covenant promise to each other and will not easily be torn asunder.  We remain, faithful.

To love another human being is to accept that they are not the source of your happiness.  They are only human, and to be human is to err.  To fall short.  To fail.  But, being human is enabling because we have the ability to meet the needs of the soul inside frail bodies, souls that yearns for connection, long for fulfilment.   It is what we fill the vessel of our soul that brings happiness.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul?  Hope in God…”  (The Holy Bible, NKJV, Psalm 42: 5a)

Hope springs forth, like water rushing from the mouth of the river, eternal, everlasting, always present.  The life source of the present.  To hope is to believe that tomorrow will come.  And when it comes, it will be full of promise.  Tomorrow is always a new start.  It is a fresh page.  A new beginning.

We two, the one I love and I, are an unlikely pair.  I have often wondered how we have stayed the course for as long as we have.  It is hope, God’s promise that He will carry us that binds our hearts together.    We believe, in spite of the odds stacked against us, that there is hope for tomorrow.  There is hope for marriage.  There is hope for families.  There is hope for what is broken to be mended.  There is always hope.  We can survive and weather the storms of life because we have hope in a better day to come.  Today will be what it may.   Tomorrow will take care of itself.  Our charge is to believe that there is more to come.  There will be more to come.  This is not all there is, this life of the here and now.  We have hope in more.  We, who place trust in God, believe that He can and He will do exceedingly more than we ask or hope for.  If we but believe.  If we have hope.

Blessed be the tie that binds.  That tie has kept two people who might never have stayed the course together in spite of the odds.  It has planted perseverance, tenacity and the will power to survive in the lifeblood of our relationship.  And we place our trust in God’s hands- believing that He can.  And He will.

We sit tonight before a fire.  Wood cracks and burns slowly, the blocks and sticks folding with the intensity of the heat.   Flames blow in the wind, while strong breezes carry sparks far out from the central flame.  The heat warms and soothes, taking the edge off the chill from nightly dips in the temperature.  Conversation is easy.  We chat about this and that, and when lapses in conversation come, they are easy.  As is the way between two people feel at ease in one another’s presence.  It is the ebb and flow of a relationship.  One that has seen rough waters, but is able to find a way through the storm.

And we ride the gentle waters of this calm night, grateful for safe passage.  Fully aware that hope will carry when the waters again become turbulent and storms rage.

I lay it all down…

I hate feeling vulnerable, like I feel right now.  I just hit send on an e-mail to a colleague regarding a work issue.  I cannot talk to this person as I have never met her nor do I know where she lives. It is a long-distance working relationship within which time and space are dimensions that work against, rather than bring alongside. The issue of which I write pertains to a misunderstanding, and I have tried my best to explain my side of things through the written word.

The written word.  It lacks the nuances that are afforded with body language.  A smile can soften the blow when words become serious.  A touch, inserted in the heat of the moment can turn an argument into a discussion.  Eye contact means everything.  Body language is a close second.

So it is with great trepidation that I send off that letter.  Vulnerability is not a covering I wear well.

I have been in this place before; the written word has failed me too many times to count.  So, it is to the readers who are privy to this post that I will reveal some things about myself.

I am very insecure.  I hate being misunderstood.  When I think I have been misunderstood, I will move heaven and earth to explain myself. I also want to understand everything.  Everything.  I hate not knowing.  I want to know what, who, how long, how much, how often and where.  And I want to know why.

Because I question and analyze and turn things around, I am easily hurt myself.  I read into things.  I cannot accept simple answers.  I always think things are far more complicated than they really are.  I am often suspicious.  And very, very sceptical.

I use humour to mask pain.  If I write about it in jest, you can bet your bottom dollar that there is a pile of pain behind that story.  My life is not nearly as funny as I portray it to be, but the humor lifts me to a place where I can accept that life is not perfect.  In the imperfections, we find grace and acceptance.  We find courage to carry on.

I am resilient.  I have a story within a story within a story.  Some layers tell of very painful things.  Other layers tell stories that are light-hearted in spite of the pain.  Some stories are unbelievable, but all are true.  I do not write fiction.  I tried.  I could not find anything of worth to right down.  The only stories I can tell are those that are real.  They are my stories, for better or for worse.

I am tenacious.  I do not tire easily when I am working towards a goal.  Most goals are bigger than myself, and possibly unrealistic.  I have dogged determination that I can do that which my minds sets out to do.  I will make myself finish things even if it kills me.

I believe in truth bigger than myself.  I am not the be all and end all of my life.  There is more for which I live than myself.  I am self-sacrificial to a fault.  I live my life for others, but in doing so I hope to gain it all back.  My purpose.  A deeper reason to live other than that which is self-serving.  God, my family, my friends, myself.  In that order, most of the time.

I’m only human.

When all is said and done, I am simply a girl, not a mother or a wife or a daughter or a friend, teacher or colleague.  At the end of the day, I’m just a girl.  That girl wears her emotions inside out most of the time, but she is honest and real.  I will be that girl until I breathe my dying breath and let her go.  She is the essence of who I really am inside.

That is the best I can really hope for in this life.  This imperfect here and now.

To be human, damaged yet perfect, just the way I am.