Moments of Joy

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     This has got to be the LEAST flattering photo of me taken in the last, oh, 41 years.  It’s also my favorite.

     One of the concepts I latched onto as the big four-oh approached was The Bucket List.  No, I don’t have a terminal illness, nor a death wish, nor a devil-may-care attitude about my life.  But I realized that there were LOTS of things that I had never tried, or thought of, as Becky Options.  Basketball?  Too short.  Mountain Biking?  Too fast.  Roller blading?  Not enough wheels.  And so on.

     Blogging?  Hmmmm.  I have a friend of two decades who has been prodding me for years: Go blog!  You’ll love it!  You can say whatever is on your mind.  But the thought of letting people into the dusty or murky corners of my mind didn’t sound very appealing; talk about risk!  But then I thought.  HUH. 

     I was THAT kid who rode their bike with no hands and of course, no helmet…did they even SELL bike helmets in the seventies?  I was that teenager who dared to watch the scary movie The Blob all by myself (that was when HBO first came out and they were showing all the movies that couldn’t get shown on the three major networks).  I was that young adult who was the unlicensed designated driver for all the parties I attended with friends – house parties, frat parties, raves, you name it – I corralled all my friends together and herded them like sheep to the car and made sure they got tucked in, instead of wandering off with some random guy.  I was that young person who worked for Clean Water Action and wandered house to house in Pittsburgh’s city neighborhoods, knocking on strangers’ doors and asking them to care about – and pay for – our environment (now THAT was early training on how to handle rejection!  And angry drunk people).  Talk about risk-taking!  Who was I kidding – I was a pro!

     My bucket list looks like this:  Caving.  Zip-lining.  Write a novel.  Give blood.  Try golf.  Travel to a foreign country whose first language is NOT English.  Force myself into public speaking for a cause that I care about.  Go to a hospice to visit with someone I know who is dying.  Attend someone else’s birthing experience.  Volunteer to cuddle with terminally ill babies.  Try out for “Survivor.”  Spend a week on an Indian reservation – and not spend nights in a hotel.  Go back to the Boundary Waters and truly EXPERIENCE it instead of being scared and mad the whole time about how difficult it is to portage, and sleep on the ground in 40-degree weather – in July!  Blog – and not give up when things get hard.

     And give myself over to joy by pushing past discomfort and defeating fear!

     May you be blessed today by joy, as well.  There’s enough to go around!

    

 

Whatta Character!

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      I have heard it say (a bazillion times, it seems!) “he’s a good man, it’s just that he has a cheating problem.”  Replace “cheating” with gambling, beating, drugging, drinking, or pornography, if you will.  Nobody’s perfect!

     This logic astounds me.  How many times can a husband (or wife?) do a bad thing, and still be a good person?  At some point, the good person BECOMES a not-good person because of their problem.  The relational body count around them stacks up: first the friends, then the job, then the grown children, and finally the spouse. 

     And where does it start?  IN SECRET.  In the still, small moments where a person decides, “hey, I got away with this once, let’s do it again!”  There is a tumbling, domino effect to what we do in secret; humans, left to their own devices, do what they CAN get away with.  And what is the consequence to others when we live as if that which happens behind closed doors, is nobody’s business but our own? 

     We are ALL connected; a single person with big “problems” can set in motion a cascade of consequences and circumstances that they have no way of predicting from the outset.  A single person of high character who sets out to serve others in their own little corner, will set off a chain of consequence that can change the world.  I’m thinking Mother Teresa, an Albanian national who served the poor her entire life; she became a citizen of India in 1948 in order to fully embrace her call to serve the poor, diseased, disenfranchised and orphaned of that country.  She was a humble person who understood that every act, every moment, is either an homage to selfishness, or selflessness. 

     If I commit sin in secret, I serve selfishness.  If I act out of charity and gratitude for everything I have been blessed with, I serve selflessness.  If I act out of anger, I serve selfishness.  If I set aside personal need for the greater good of the family or society, I serve selflessness.  If I use my tongue to harm another, I serve selfishness.  If I use my tongue to build someone else up, I serve selflessness. 

     And whom do I serve if I am selfless?  God.  If I see Jesus in others – especially in those whom do NOT share my faith – and treat them as such, with kindness and respect and joy and charity and love, above all LOVE – I serve God.  And whom do I serve if I am selfish?  It could be the world, the flesh, or the Devil.  There are small, secret acts that are meant to feed my ‘flesh’ a.k.a. my base nature; or meant to please the world; or that can be direct acts of evil that destroy others, the last of which are the most corruptive.  But the other, smaller sins, are ALSO corrupting, they just take more time to show the evidence.  Like rust on a car, they eat away from the inside out; they destroy me first, and then those closest to me, and then others as peripheral damage. 

     Nobody expects you (or me!) to be perfect.  But by noticing what we do, discerning who is served by our actions, and what we are going to do about it, we could either be building or destroying the path we have been set upon.  Mindfulness:  it’s not just for Buddhists.  It’s for everybody.

 

What does it mean to have expectations?

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     Although there is a tongue-in-cheek aspect to the title of my blog, shesabadmother, indeed, it is how I feel when I don’t meet expectations as a mom, wife, friend or family member.  It’s mostly intrinsic – there’s no one LITERALLY grading me on whether I measure up in any of these roles, and yet time after time, I disappoint myself.  Why is that?  Externally, I tout the notion that flaws are beautiful, normal, natural and that I accept myself the way that I accept others who are flawed (ie:  EVERYBODY): with grace and humor.  In actuality, I find myself wondering why I am not the perfect woman described in Proverbs 31.  Ahhh, you say: the problem is your religion, your faith!  Your Religion makes you think that you do not measure up.  When I examine Proverbs 31:10-31, in actuality, that Proverbs 31 woman is a woman of action, a person well-balanced, who has both humility and strength, industriousness and spousal support, craftiness and knowledge of money matters.  There are a couple of areas where I do not measure up, and have struggled with my whole married life.  But reading those passages doesn’t make me feel bad, so what can it be?  

     Something I have become acutely aware of in the last five years is how unmet expectations brings out Big Feelings in me: hurt, frustration, anger, disappointment, confusion, and a temptation to distance myself in order to avoid more of those feelings.  When those feelings are turned towards my self, my esteem suffers; I can even feel paralyzed or confused about how to make improvements in those areas in which I have experienced long-running failure.

     But is this what God expects from us?  Perfection?

     In my opinion, no.  The global picture of scripture shows that improvement is good, is lauded; we should challenge ourselves to be better people when we leave this world, than when we entered it.  That includes leaving this world a better place, than when we entered it. But perfection is unattainable, unreachable, and the pursuit of it has the potential to drive us to despair.

     Instead, we should practice mindfulness: the art of noticing when there is something that could use improvement, acknowledging that fact, and taking small steps to improve the situation.  

     Instead of beating myself up when I let frustration overwhelm me when all of my kids are clamoring for my attention at once, are disobeying me, or acting up by annoying each other, I can notice the anger and then do one of two things: breathe in the moment, and breathe out the anger.  Breathe IN the moment, and breathe OUT the anger.  Or I can give myself a time out; escape into the bathroom, read, take a hot shower, or journal.  

     Instead of speaking harshly to my spouse when I come home from a night with friends to find the house in a state of dishevelment, I can notice the annoyance and then give myself permission to NOT speak, and to deal with the mess tomorrow. 

     Instead of bursting into tears when an outfit doesn’t fit me while getting dressed last-minute for a holiday because I spent too much time getting the kids all prettied up, I can make a mental note of my disappointment and plan next time to try on clothes the day before, so that I look and feel attractive instead of less-than, and really enjoy myself.

     Instead of finding myself in a state of chaos when trying to organize the kids to do their chores, I can notice my agitation and neutrally examine why: are there too many electronics operating in the background such as the T.V., radios, and dishwasher all at once?  Am I looking at the house as “completely destroyed” instead of looking at the job one piece at a time?  Am I having the kids clean together in one room, and they are fighting with each other the whole time?  Is my expectation Bigger Than what can be realistically met by my actual circumstances?

     Mindfulness is a discipline, one in which I could use much more practice, on a day-to-day basis.  It has been said that you are one step closer to solving a problem once it is acknowledged.

     Consider it acknowledged.  Now to address my unrealistic expectations in relationships….

     

     

Death as a hallway, not a dead end

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     I have had this framed quote hanging in my house since 1999, the year Brad and I went to England with our in-laws.  It means something to me.

     There is something that I know, that you need to know.

     Death is not a dead end.

     It is a corridor down which all of us will travel, a continuation of this life, the peak of a mountain that all of us spend our lives ascending.  Once attained, there is rest.  And uncorrupted peace, and joy, and unity as a complement to all of creation.

     Close friends of mine have lost loved ones, and have seen them afterwards in dreams or in that moment after waking.  My husband and I have lost relatives, and have received peace when praying for their souls. 

      Many people, of all faiths, believe that there is a time after death when each person realizes their eternal path.  Individuals who have experienced death and then been revived, have stories that they have shared with the world.

      Scientists have dismissed all of the above as certain chemicals flooding the brain; or psychological phenomenon; or organic phenomenon.  They feel the need to explain, to prove, that death is a dead end, that we are just animated flesh, that our “selves” expire once our hearts and brains and lungs stop working.

      But we know better, don’t we?  Instinctively we know.

Sarcasm is just thinly-veiled disdain disguised as wit

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     Now, I don’t have anything against the Big Bang Theory show…well, yeah I do, but that’s an entirely different blog post…anyhow, one of the predominant expressions of meme-ness nowadays is sarcasm.  Just scroll through your facebook page and you’ll see what I mean – negative, mean, f-word laden sentiments boiled down to repeatable jargon and then attached to a photo or cartoon that catches your eye.

     It’s what humor has been reduced to in the media, at least the mainstream media (and by that, I mean anything paid for by Cheerios, Victoria’s Secret and Budweiser commercials.  I don’t include NPR radio or TV stations, religious stations, or educational outlets).  Post-Seinfeld, comedy has gotten leaner, meaner and zingier. Unless you watch something like New Girl or Suburgatory (which could be considered subversive in their own rights), romcoms and other half-hour shows revolve around stupid, loutish men; vapid, promiscuous women; addled, elderly people getting lost while looking for the adult-diaper aisle; or confused, high, and promiscuous teenagers.  The smart, complex and layered comedies like Friends (aw, yeah, I WENT THERE), Cheers, Frasier, the Cosby Show, Diff’rent Strokes, and Family Ties have gone the way of the dinosaur.  

     And then sarcasm became the bestest commodity on television.

     Now you get to watch Dads, Archer, Cougar Town, Community (oh, noooooo!  I heard you yodel), and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  Are some of the newer shows well-written?  Heck yeah.  Are they virtually basted in sarcasm?  Also, aw yeah!  30 Rock was an amazing ensemble comedy show…and then every episode turned into a pig pile of people ripping on each other, preferably a la later-episode-Seinfeld (the same could be said for the last couple years of The Office);  Parks and Rec: one of my favorites! : also seems to be headed that way.  Enjoyable TV moments seem to be reduced to supernatural, smart shows like Sleepy Hollow; supernatural, sparkly shows like Vampire Diaries; or supernatural, dark shows like Grimm or The Walking Dead.  

     There ARE bright spots on TV right now, some of which have sarcasm but not in massive amounts:  Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Crazy Ones, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Sleepy Hollow, New Girl, Suburgatory.  The dramas listed have great plot twists and dialogue, the comedies are smart, snappy, masterful exchanges.  

     In my humble opinion. 😉

 

      

How to avoid comatose parenting

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     My father-in-law asked me once, “How do you and Brad have such a good marriage, when you are so young?  We were just busy trying to survive at your age.”  Immediately I said “We stay awake.”  Puzzled, he just stared at me.  I explained that early on, I had gone for a year of therapy, to try to disentangle my visceral reactions to stress, to gain more coping skills, to consciously control my anger, to make a better marriage.  Brad and I spent a lot of time having husband and wife “meetings”, in which we discussed relationship issues, budgeting, future plans, etc.  We became “awake” in our marriage, and made a conscious decision to never fall into that sleepwalking stage we see many couples fall into, where they subconsciously act and react, instead of staying awake, paying attention, cherishing each other, and calling each other on to improving our selves.  And we prayed – a LOT.  We prayed for our marriage, our selves, and as each child was born, for that child. 

     Parenting should be like that.  Nowadays, some people either practice helicopter parenting, where they self-consciously attend to every decision for their child – and as a result, create children who are narcissistic extensions of themselves and their egos; or absentee parenting, where they kind of float along watching other people “raise” their children, under the premise that children just “find their own way” – which creates children who grow up without direction, focus, or purpose.

    Awake parenting is neither of these approaches, it is a dance.  You learn by experience when to fall back, and when to step in.  When to guide a child through choices, or when to let them make mistakes and face natural consequences.  When to discipline and when to let life discipline. 

     How do you figure this out?  Take time, add self-education of child development through reading, subtract ignorance and selfishness, multiply by the offered wisdom of parents whose children grew up to be confident and personally successful – and then EXHALE.  A lot.  Always remember to give yourself a break – a time-out! – by self-care, such as walking, yoga, or other relaxing activities.  Forgive yourself when you screw up, but then make mental notes about what did – and didn’t! – work with each child. 

     Don’t Blanket-Parent, which is to use the same affection, discipline, instruction and guidance style with every child under your care.  Attend to your other relationships: your marriage, your friendships, your work buddies; when you can.  It is important that you not pour every ounce of energy and attention into your children – they WILL suffocate.  And then will resent you later. 

     Children are not pods that just pop off our trees and then bury themselves, to create genetically identical shoots that then just develop into willows that look exactly like us.  They are unique, individual created beings who have their own minds, souls and life paths.  Try not to throw boulders onto those paths by sleepwalking through your parenting.