Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Walk in Faith . . . Believing

I wondered if this day would come.  If there would come a time when I needed another outlet.  It has.

I started a new blog.  A blog about faith.  My faith.  I offer my heart and my thoughts.  Join me if you wish, but no pressure.

I Walk in Faith . . . Believing.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Power of Women

I have four daughters and one son.  They range in ages from 12-20 years.  We are talkers.  We talk about almost anything.  One of the things we talk about a lot is human behavior.

Recently we were watching a movie.  One girl got angry at another girl for a perceived offense.  She then began to systematically ruin this girl's social life.  And so began our conversation.

My son didn't see it coming.  My daughters were all able to predict what would happen each step along the way.  It seems this is one way males and females are still different.

My husband taught me about how boys handle things like this.  He told me a story about when he was in junior high.  A boy had a problem with him, didn't like him.  He told my husband so.  My husband said that was fine because he didn't like the boy either.  Soon the fists were flying.  They both got in trouble.  The police were involved.  They learned their lesson.  And before long, they were good friends.

As I've talked to men over the years I've come to understand that this is a common happening.  Guys have a problem, they deal with it (not always with fists), and often they become friends afterward.  If not, at least they are direct and know where they each stand.  Then they just leave each other alone.

Girls, on the other hand, are not as direct.  They often continue to act friendly in person but destroy each other behind their backs.  They spread rumors, they steal friends, they poison the social waters in any way they can.  And it works.  It works because girls/women are of the heart.

We understand how people feel.  We learn what is important to them.  We understand that they are social creatures, that cutting off their social support is like suffocating them.  We know how to hurt another person in a way that is so much deeper than a physical injury.  And because we are of the heart, these wounds damage us.  This attack works.

I wish I could say this ends in junior high.  For some of us it probably does.  I've known some incredible women who would never say anything bad about another person, who would never strike at another's soul.

I wish I was one of them, but I'm not.  Sometimes I'm petty.  Sometimes I'm jealous and self-centered.  Sometimes I'm just impatient.  And often I am critical.

As women we have an incredible ability to do good.  We can use this same power to lift others up.  Instead of seeing how those around us don't measure up, we can look for things they are doing well and praise them.  We can encourage them.  We can thank them.  It's this same exact power -- the power of the heart -- that offers us this choice.  We can do so much good or so much harm.

People don't need to be told what they are doing wrong; they already know.  They need to be told that they are of worth.  They need to be told that they are capable of better, that we believe in them.  They need to be appreciated for what they have to offer, not told how they are lacking.

I am a woman.  I have the power of the heart.  I commit today to use this power more wisely and kindly.  Because I can.  I have a choice.  I hope you will join me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's Just Stuff, part two

Minimalism is about so much more than getting rid of clutter.  It's about a mindset, a life philosophy.  But it usually starts with clutter.

So I've been following a bunch of minimalist blogs lately.  I love their thoughts and hearing about their progress.  I love feeling like I've found people who understand how I feel.  And they inspire me.

One of the ideas I am trying to implement is to not have anything in my life that I don't use or love.  No more hanging on to things just in case.  No more keeping the old one as a backup after we've got a new one.  No more keeping things I don't like just because someone gave them to me.  No more storing things in the cupboard for a special occasion when that special occasion never seems to come.

Shortly after high school I was somehow convinced that I needed to get china, stoneware, and crystal.  It was expensive.  I begged my mom into helping me purchase four settings of each.  They are beautiful!

Now ask me how many times I've used them.  Um.  Hm.  I'd bet it's fewer than five times.  And I've been married twenty-one years.  For twenty-one years they've been sitting in my cupboard.  I've packed and unpacked them every time we've moved.  I've dusted them.  I've displayed them.  And I do love them.  But we just don't use them.

So as I was planning to gut my kitchen cupboards (just planning, the true gutting hasn't occurred yet), I saw those dishes.  And my heart seized up.  I never use them.  I should get rid of them.  But they cost so much money.  We never use them.  But I love them.  Okay, then use them.

My kids are older.  Theoretically we should be able to use fragile dishes and not break anything.

This was just before the Oscars.  We like to do a family evening for the Oscars.  Special treats.  Everyone completing a ballot before hand.  Prizes for the winners.  So I decided to make the night extra special by bringing out some of these precious dishes.

Actually, I used some glass tea trays (which we also never use) and the crystal.  They were placed on the table with the snacks.  My kids' faces lit up when they realized they were going to get to use them.  It was fun pouring Sprite and Diet Coke into wine glasses.  Even more fun drinking out of them.  I was glad I'd done it.

The night was going well.  I was winning (I always do).  Everyone was having a good time.

Then I heard a crash.  A very distinctive crash.  I knew instantly that it was one of my precious wine glasses.  The light blue ones that we displayed at our wedding.  The ones we drank fake champagne out of to celebrate our first anniversary.  The ones I loved.

My heart seized again.  But only for a moment.  I saw my kids' faces tighten as well.  They were waiting to see if it was going to ruin our night.  And I wasn't going to let it.

As it turns out, the cat had gotten up on the table and knocked off one of the glasses.  It was my fault for placing them there.  And as I cleaned up the crystal my focus was different than it would have been in the past.  There was the momentary "if only," but that passed quickly.  I wanted to get it cleaned up so I could get back to my family.  It was only a thing.  I wanted to be with my family having a good time instead of worrying about a piece of glass that I only see when we move.

I got it cleaned up and got back to the party.  It was never mentioned again.  The evening ended on a good note.

I call it a rousing success; three cheers for me:  Huzzah!  Huzzah!  Huzzah!

But then I was tested again when my daughter hit a pole with the new car.  That is a story for another time.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Watching Clouds Dance -- Smartly

I have a new essay up on Smartly.  It's a moment out of time, a moment of freedom.  Of peace.  Blue sky and one little cloud.  Spend some time with me Watching Clouds Dance.

Friday, May 13, 2011

It's Just Stuff, part one

I grew up with the mentality that if I had something that I didn’t need or wasn’t using, and someone else did need it, I should give it to them (or at least lend it). It was just a thing. Getting rid of things was easy.

I also grew up in a home where we had enough. I never worried about having food or a home. I never worried about my parents being able to afford to pay for the things I needed. My parents may have struggled and sacrificed when they first married, but by the time I was aware of money they had more than enough for me to be able to do the things I wanted. If something broke, we had enough money to fix it or replace it. If someone were injured, we had good health insurance and enough money to see that they were treated. If an unexpected expense came up my dad might grumble, but there was enough money to cover it. If there was a school activity or sport I wanted to participate in, I only had to ask. I do not remember ever being told that we couldn’t afford something. I do not remember ever going hungry because we didn’t have money for food. I don’t remember hearing much about money except when my dad complained about how much my mom spent shopping. On worthless stuff.

So I came into my marriage believing that stuff was of little value. That it wasn’t worth worrying about.

When we got married, we were poor. We had debt. We couldn’t live like we had when we'd lived with our parents. If something broke, we may or may not be able to replace it. We couldn’t afford to do all the things we wanted to do and still pay our bills. This was an adjustment period for me, to be sure, but luckily I was not an overly materialistic person. I didn’t need lots of stuff. I wasn’t a big shopper. We didn’t have a lot, but we were okay. For a while.

Then we went through periods of unemployment. Over the course of twenty years of marriage my husband was laid off ten times; he was our only source of income (I was a stay-at-home mom). That makes it difficult to build any kind of base to work from. The longest time he was out of work was seven months. We had been keeping our heads above water before this. Then the bottom fell out. He got a severance package and we tried to manage that well. We hoped for this time of unemployment to be of short duration like in the past. It wasn’t.

Before long we were in a difficult place. If we didn’t change things soon it was going to get ugly.

We sold an old, small motor home we owned. We sold our boat. We cancelled the satellite service. We quit eating out. We got rid of any extra expenses that we could. This helped, but it wasn’t enough for long. We eventually ended up turning to others for help. Our parents. The governenment. Church welfare. We had to have others help with our debt and pay for our food. We used food stamps, Medicaid, and other services. We did without. (As difficult as it was to ask for and accept help, I am so grateful it was there.)

I believe that when you have to do without it sometimes changes your perception of stuff. You no longer take stuff for granted because you don’t know if it will last. You hate to let anything go out of fear that you might need it again in the future and don’t know if you will be able to replace it.

These difficult times altered the way I saw stuff. When someone offered hand-me-downs I never considered refusing. I knew we couldn’t afford to buy new clothes, so we’d better accept what was offered. People frequently gave us stuff because they knew we were struggling financially. I found myself accumulating more and more even though I wasn’t shopping. Accumulating didn’t seem so bad when I wasn’t buying it.

But then we found ourselves in a position where we had enough. In fact, we had more than enough. Maybe not financially, but materially. We were overflowing with stuff.

And my old feelings reasserted themselves. I saw all the stuff and how it was taking over my life. I felt suffocated by it. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t even like most of it. Why was I letting it into my life?

I’ve been systematically trying to change those behaviors. I’ve been trying to get back to my minimalist mentality toward stuff. I’ve been trying to get rid of all the stuff that’s come into our lives over the years. It takes time.

And I have noticed that when I try to make a major change in my life, when I’m sure of my choice, something always happens to challenge that decision. To see if I will stick to my guns. It happened this time, too.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Redefining Mother's Day

I hate Mother's Day.  I have for as long as I can remember.  As a child/teenager?  I'm not sure.  But definitely most of my adult life.

I believe Mother's Day was created with good intent, but I believe it tends to do more harm than good in too many cases.  It reminds so many women (and probably more than a few men) of painful things.  An inability to have a child, children who have severed relationships with parents, men who don't live up to our expectations, loss of a loved one.  So many things.  I hate that it causes people pain.

And for so many years I knew it would cause me pain.  I came into marriage believing that it was a father's job to teach his son how to make Mother's Day special for his wife, like something from a Hallmark commercial.  I'm not sure where I got this belief.  I watched my dad work hard to make the day special for my mom.  Sometimes he got it right.  Sometimes not.  But I expected my husband to know how to make it a special day for me.

Over the twenty-one years we've been married we've had a few good Mother's Days.  Not great, but not ending in tears.  But there have also been horrible ones.  The ones full of yelling and slamming doors.  Lots of crying.  So many unmet expectations on both sides. 

I can see now that neither of us knew what we were doing.  Frustration manifested itself in different ways, but that's what it was more often than not.

As Mother's Day approached this year, I felt the all too-familiar dread.  I felt obligations pulling on me.  I felt the expectations start to creep in.  I began bracing myself for another miserable holiday.

And then I stopped.  I decided that I'd had enough miserable Mother's Days.  If I wanted to have a good day then I was going to make it happen.  I knew I had to change my way of thinking and decide what I really wanted the day to be about.

I hate to have the focus on me.  Everyone watching me to make sure I'm happy and I approve of everything.  I feel like I am supposed to perform for everyone.  Not this year.

This year I decided that I would make it a peaceful day.  Fewer expectations.  Less stress. 

I visited my mom on Saturday and gave her flowers.  Since I live in the same town as my parents I have been with my mom every Mother's Day.  Whether I felt well or not.  Whether things were good for me emotionally or not.  Sometimes because I wanted to, other times out of obligation.  My mom and I are in a strange place right now and there's just too much unpredictability.  So this year I decided Sunday was for me and I would not feel guilty about it.  That part worked out great.

I also took the initiative to make things happen around my home like I wanted.  I assigned chores to be done Saturday and followed through on them instead of leaving them up to my husband.  It is my job to make myself happy -- I wish I'd learned that sooner.  I instructed my husband about what I wanted (clean house and yard and someone else making dinner).  Then I made it happen.

My mental change was so important, too.  Instead of waiting to be appreciated and celebrated, I celebrated being a mom.  I reveled in my children and all that they did for me.  I enjoyed my husband's company and all the work he put into it.  I chose to have a good Mother's Day.  I chose to celebrate womanhood, to remember all the women who have touched my life or the lives of my children.  Women rock!

And then something wonderful happened.  My family gave me the best gift they could possibly give.  Besides cleaning and cooking and being extra nice, they recognized me as I am.  They accepted me and found a way to make the day mine.

Two of my daughters came to me with an idea.  They suggested that since I hate Mother's Day but love Halloween we should have another Halloween.  I loved the idea.  I loved it the most because they were respecting my feelings.  They were telling me that they understood who I am.  They were able to look past what society says Mother's Day should be and celebrate who I am.  No tangible gifts, to respect my minimalist desires.  Thinking outside the box.

After a wonderful day at church (in which one daughter gave a talk with a beautiful little tribute to me), we came home and just enjoyed each other.  We had candy corn, m&ms, and pumpkin pie.  We watched Halloween movies.  We hung out together.  Two of my daughters sneaked out the back door without being seen.  The doorbell rang.  We answered to see these two teenage girls dressed up in costume (a nerd and a pretty, pretty princess).  "Trick or treat," they chorused as they held out their bags.  It totally made the evening.  I giggled as I put candy corn and m&ms into their bags.  They thanked us and left.  When they came back in the back door they acted as if nothing had happened.  It was so much fun.

I am so blessed.  I have an incredible family.  And I had the best Mother's Halloween Day ever. 

Happy Womanhood Day!  May we use this day to celebrate women everywhere for who they are.  And may we, as women, define and create our own happiness.

Politics -- Smartly

My essay on politics, slightly rewritten, is up over at Smartly today.  Check it out and weigh in.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I Wish You Could Have Known Your Mom

A couple of months ago I had an interesting visit.  I answered a knock on my door to find my mom's best friend from high school.  They've remained friends and I've known her my whole life.  "Tell me what's going on with your mom," she said.

I invited her in.  She proceeded to tell me that last year when they'd had their class reunion she'd tried to contact my mom.  My mom didn't respond and didn't attend the reunion (she's always attended in the past).  She also tried to contact my mom a couple of other times.  I think my dad called her back once and told her that my mom was busy with family stuff and couldn't talk.

She was worried.  She had good reason to be.

My mom is struggling right now.  She has emotional and physical health problems, more so than she used to I think.  She is also trying to save a family member from an addiction.  It's taken its toll.  She is less and less social.  She spends a lot of time isolated in her room.  I don't know that she sees anyone other than family or doctors, except maybe when she's shopping.

I told her friend the story of what was going on.  I admitted that things are very difficult for my mom right now.  I cried a little as I described the current situation.  It's a tough thing to watch and not be able to fix.

Then she said something unexpected.  "I wish you could have known your mom."  It sounds like something you say to someone whose mom died early or was out of the picture for some other reason.  My mom has been in my life the whole time.  But I understand what she meant.

She remembers my mom as vibrant, smart, capable, and social.  I've read my mom's yearbooks.  She was very popular.  She was a cheerleader.  She was an Art Attendant.  She was the editor of the yearbook.  So social.  So involved.

It's not that way now.

The change has been gradual, occurring over many years.  She's definitely not that person anymore.  I wish I could have known her, too.

Sometimes I get resentful that I don't have the mom I want.  I get frustrated that her life is filled with other people, that we are often a second thought.  That since I stayed in my hometown and am not in crisis I am less important than everyone else.  I get frustrated that I can't have a conversation with her and feel heard.  I am incredibly selfish.  I can own that.

I can't imagine how difficult her life is right now.  Partly because I haven't spent much time trying.  Shame on me.

And while I process all of that I also find myself wondering if someone will say the same thing to my children one day.  "I wish you could have known your mom."

I am struggling with my emotional and physical health as well.  I tried to avoid her path and yet here I am.  Following in her footsteps almost exactly.  I don't know how much of it was avoidable.

And I feel bad that my kids don't have the mom they want.  That they feel less important than they are.  That they often don't feel heard.

I hope that who I can be is enough.  And I hope that one day someone does tell them who I was.  That they get to hear stories of the me that they don't remember.  The one who took them to the park and pushed them in the swings.  The one who had picnics in the middle of the living room floor.  The one who taught them to read and color and sing.  The one who nourished their imaginations.  I hope they can remember some of that.

Because I am struggling, too.  I am not the mom I want to be.