In the darkness of my home, I imagine crossly that the boisterous bird outside must be the most desperate bachelor in the entire North American continent. Whatever gal he’s trying to attract surely must be… More
Just between us, I’m a rebel when it comes to time. Time and I try to get along, but the problem is that I secretly want to make my way through the day on my own terms, wherever my will takes me. Yet that atrocious clock rules my day. Forces me to stay on track. I don’t mean to sound rude, but honestly time just annoys me.
Time, that quiet thief. It takes away my days minute by minute before I even knew it happened. I want it to leave me alone. I want more of it.
Too often I think it is in control of me, suffocating me…but really, I long to reconcile with it. Be okay with it. Appreciate and esteem it. Yes, God gives us limited time, and it can be a nuisance, but the thing is…I’ve seen evidence of it being beautifully stretched, too. Time is a healer; a wisdom giver. A grower. A thriller of suspense, and a cousin of sweet anticipation.
My grandpa had his own business and worked twelve hour days, six days a week. All the years I knew him, he had a small wooden plaque which sat on the counter where he stood filling prescriptions day in and day out. As an adolescent, I used to read it slowly when customers weren’t around, sounding the words out like a foreign language because I couldn’t really comprehend why it meant enough to him to have it there. I knew it was supposed to be funny, but couldn’t figure out why. “Work really breaks up the day”, it read in poker-faced white capital letters. Amen to that, Papa. He liked his job, I like my job…but really, where does the time go?
In this season of my life, I am sour-faced with the obligatory things that steal my time because it means less time to read, or listen to music…less time with friends and, more recently, write. Less time to explore the world. Getting groceries? What a time killer! Who needs groceries when there is music to be heard? Books to write! Novels to read!
With writing and travel and reading, my happy feet will hit the floor running on weekends when the alarm clock has no chance of scaring me to death. Those are the days when time doesn’t annoy me at all, because I can lose track of it completely with no consequence. A large, steaming cup of coffee with a splash of milk–sometimes one sugar, sometimes none…sometimes agave nectar, just because I’m not convinced which is worse for me. Some days I feel sweet, some days I feel bitter. So my coffee additions depend on my mood. Really.
But now I’m off-topic. See what I mean? Time just gets away from us in so many ways.
So, if you see me grumpy and huffy…it’s usually about time or the lack thereof. Or the time taken away from me. Or the time I ignored, which eventually left me in a pickle. Just this morning I vented to a friend about how panicked I was that I had so much to do, and so little…time.
My aim is to undespise time. My aspiration is to coexist with it…view it as a vessel of opportunity to be involved in community and all that I can give and receive because of it. I’m convinced that if I don’t learn to get along with it, it will just continue to poke and prod at my joy. It’s one more compromise in this world of rules and expectations…but that’s another story altogether.
I pray for time to show me how I can be an inspiration and a light to others, instead of complaining about it as I so often do. I dream of being unhurried so that I can be a world-class listener. I’m going to need to learn to respect time in order to tolerate the patient urgency I’m learning writers must endure. To honor it in order to gain the best quality of content in the classroom. To not take a single second of it for granted with those whom I love.
We’re given hours and minutes to dissect as best we can. So, methinks its probably best to befriend time…or not.
Do you journal? I wouldn’t describe myself as one who journals. In fact, when I think of journaling, my nose often crinkles up in distaste. It sounds like hard work. It sounds arthritic. My hands seem to literally ache whenever I even hear someone suggest starting a journal. “Who has time for that?”, I think, dismissing the thought immediately.
I prefer to type, as my mind flies through words like a peregrine falcon striking its prey. I wish my words came to me in spoken conversation as quickly as they flow from my fingertips to the keys. I’m real good at getting tongue-tied.
Well, I don’t know what kind of lies I’ve been telling myself, but I found this stack (see below) while rearranging my massive bookcase, weeding out the Ones Who Won’t Be Saved. I’ve been thinking about the whole journal thing since an old friend, Rachel Dodge, posed the question on Facebook awhile back. And it looks like I found my answer.
More than a dozen, there are…and that doesn’t include the journals of my childhood, my college years, nor the ones
oh my gosh, how could I? I shredded to hide my deepest insecurities or most horrible feelings. I also (don’t tell anybody) love to write song lyrics in journals. My husband and I currently playfully argue over a song I wrote that I’m very serious about and he, well, isn’t. I can say this without my feelings being hurt because it is called “Ride the Bull”…I can be open-minded in seeing how it might not be viewed as life-changing with a title like that.
So…I guess I do journal. The proof is hard to deny. Who knew?
And now that I’ve found these, I’m dying to know what’s inside them. I sure can’t remember. Most are not all filled in. Most are at least halfway full. How could I overlook them…forget they existed? It must be some sort of selective memory mystery. To be fair to my ever-aging brain, it has to have been at least four years since I’ve written in a journal.
Maybe this explains why my hands groan at the mere mention of a journal. The stack telleth all. Now I’m tempted to go out and get a new one. But…who has the time for that?
Belated. Those who know me best know that I am, and have been, belated with many things in my life.
The short list:
Remembering to send birthday gifts on time.
Getting dinner on the table.
Filling the gas tank.
Recognizing my purpose in life…(still puzzling that one out).
There are so many other events and circumstances, big and small, that I have been late for. Each time, I learn that some things do indeed let others down. This leaves me feeling guilty, and challenges me to try harder to be punctual. There are some things, though, which have come to me belatedly and have been worth the wait. One of my best belated outcomes has been meeting my husband…another is my sweet friendship that has blossomed with my mother.
My mom is one of those gifts in my life that I don’t want to take for granted. Especially because she has been experiencing chronic pain since October when, honestly, we nearly lost her. Today, eight months later, I can still recall the medical team rushing her out of the ER in order to perform a procedure necessary to ultimately save her life.
Sitting alone in the darkness of the hospital room that had been hers, the missing bed leaving a gaping stretch of littered linoleum across from me, I was left to wait. Quietly, I curled my forty-year-old legs into the hard chair like a child, and hung down my head to finally cry. After more than forty-eight hours of being her advocate, along with my step-dad, I had forced myself to stay strong. It was exhausting, but necessary. I was thankful for this moment of solitude, this opportunity to feel.
A pair of well-made shoes appeared in my view like a shy, gentle fawn. I wouldn’t be surprised if my silent crocodile tears splashed a few times on top of them before I raised my head to look into kind eyes. It was one of the doctors who had been looking after my mom while she was there. In his eyes, I spotted the clash of his own uncertainty and hope mirroring mine as he valiantly tried to reassure me.
“Don’t cry. She’s going to be okay.”
And she was. But not without dealing with a long recovery, and still experiencing pain ever since.
When I think of my history with my mom, it wasn’t all rainbows and daffodils. Like many mothers and daughters, we had arguments when I was younger that would shake the shingles of the roof. Disagreements which left us giving each other the cold shoulder for days. Words that wounded and would be imprinted on our hearts for years. Our relationship was not always easy, and I’m sure I was not an easy child to deal with. I could be stubborn. Entitled. Moody. Like Fern in Charlotte’s Web, my sense of injustice ran high…sometimes unreasonably so. I really didn’t know what the future held for us.
It wouldn’t be until I became a teacher and saw the realities of parenthood all around me that I would understand what I had taken for granted all of my youth. I finally began to understand how much stress she must have endured being a single mother for so long, raising a child while at the same time earning a college degree (and a Masters), and then later working full-time. It took so much tenacity and hard work to accomplish that. She has the heart of a warrior, the most generous soul, and a gentle spirit I am now coming to know more and more as I call her not only “mom”, but also “friend”.
As a social worker, she has dedicated her life to serving those in need and providing them with resources. I am proud of her for helping children find adoptive families and placing them in their new homes. I am in awe that she directed the setting up a shelter for women who suffer from domestic violence. I am touched by the involvement she had in coordinating the reuse of old wedding gowns and having them turned into tiny burial gowns for infants who pass away while in the hospital. I am thankful for her foresight in arranging for my grandfather’s hand print to be put on pillows for the members of our family to have to remember him by. She demonstrates the kind of selflessness that I aspire to have someday, too.
These days, my my mornings are made complete with her daily funny meme or motivational text…an occasional weekend FaceTime, or monthly halfway-between-our-respective-towns lunch meetups. Even though she is going through pain of her own, she’ll text me encouragement when I need it…like a few weeks ago when I was overwhelmed and she reminded me to “count backwards from 3” and then turn my negative thoughts to positive thoughts. Or last week when I was feeling super tired and having trouble pushing through the morning, and she urged me to “Decide you’re going to have a terrific Tuesday.”
Then there was the time I shared with her my current favorite blog, Adventures of Toby, where Toby’s new sidekick is a blind dog named Amos. She perused it for a bit, and then optimistically texted back, “How sad [for Amos], but he doesn’t let anything keep him down!” I think I must have inherited my perseverance from my mother.
Not everyone has a friendship with their mom. Maybe for some, their memories are what they hold on to now. For others, perhaps they were mistreated or are estranged. Life is not easy. We all have our rough patches. Whatever your circumstances, know that you are loved beyond measure by the One who knew you from before you were here. God is our first and ultimate parent. In Psalm 139:13, David reminds us of the Lord’s hand in our life’s first whisper of existence when he says, “For You created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
And so, even though Mother’s Day has come and gone for the year, and even though we had a nice lunch on that holiday and were able to be together, I honor my mom here. Better belated than never.
My breath…I can feel it finally returning from a few weeks lost. Caught up, it was, in excitement and self-doubt—too impatient to go deep and swell, too busy to give clarity as it ought to do. It takes wistful, eclectic Celtic music on a chilly Sunday afternoon to find the rhythm of the air which enters and leaves my lungs, peaceful and long. Staring up at the timid sunlight stripes at the tops of the windows, I pause to be thankful for this solitary moment.
Away from the music, outside, the wind chimes are right on cue to begin their daily two o’clock performance. It makes me wonder about the silky black cat who loiters frequently in our flowerbeds.
As I walk on bare feet from the couch to the back door, I think about the next chapter I’m about to read in a book recommended over at Higher Purpose Writers…Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I’ve peeked ahead to see the next chapter is called “Broccoli”. In the middle of that thought, I rub the bottoms of my feet on the cold hard floor to somehow warm them. On days like these, they miss carpet.
Do I really want to read several pages who introduce themselves as “Broccoli”? The tree-like vegetable is something I simply tolerate out of necessity. Thinking on necessities, I turn the knob on the door leading to the backyard, curious about the cat….believing that after I check on him, I will need water and chocolate. My mind nags that only one of those is truly a necessity, but I don’t have the heart to choose a winner. It will have to be both today. My eyelashes touch the blinds as I spy midnight fur on wood.
Yes! My mind both celebrates and decides at once. Yes, the black cat lounges in the tangled tanbark yet again. The corners of my smile lift higher at the evidence of that small joy. A furry creature is good news, because life itself is always welcome here. Even though we are not cat lovers. His head swivels quickly at the first sound of the door cracking open, only a bit, just enough to peer out with both of my hazel eyes and the tip of my nose. I breathe in cold afternoon sunshine.
Will he come closer today? My breath holds, just like it has for weeks. Waiting, anxious, excited all at once. Like with the writing. We stare each other down….one heartbeat, two…my hope floats as the third and fourth beat pulse silently between us. His yellow green eyes so like mine are fascinated with something in me. He stretches his arms and legs out slowly, eyes still glued to mine—a small victory, as it is a clue that he grows more comfortable near our home. Maybe he is a she. Maybe someday we’ll make introductions. Mike and I would like that. Even if he is cat.
Before my veins pulse for a fifth time, he-she sprints to the intersecting boards where four properties meet. With one swift leap, he is up and over the other side of the fence heading to the place we assume is where he calls home. Today, though, he stops a moment and bends his neck to look backward at me one more time. He stares. I don’t cower. My turf…but I plead with my eyes for him to stay. To add a little mischief and laughter to our forsaken backyard now that Amber has gone. With a slow blink, he reassures me he’ll return. I wave small, hopeful, and pivot back to face Bird by Bird waiting on the arm of my reading chair.
Yes to the broccoli, too, then. Because just like the hope that someday I will pet that cat and be close enough to hear him purr, I want to learn more about writers and how they think. What works and what doesn’t. If I am like them. And with each word, the author draws me in to a sense of familiar and home. She’s already had me whispering yes to her sentence that says “Writing can be a desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”
Hand on the door, pulling it closed, I recall my jaw dropping—like that moment when you realize there’s a surprise birthday party going on and you belatedly realize the party is for you—when on the fifteenth page I read, misty-eyed as it hit me, “Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.”
And so, as this adventure of carving out time to write for some kind of meaningful purpose sometimes has me breathless with many emotions, defeat will not be one of them. I’ll even read about broccoli, if need be. As I leave this page to go dive into another, I can’t help but be thankful for music, which leads me to nature, which leads me to cats, which leads me back to learning, which leads me back to writing.
Time, patience…perseverance. Breath.
Some people sing so beautifully that it causes others to stop in their tracks with wonder. I’m not one of those people. There were clues along the way. For example, I vaguely recall my little brothers asking me to stop singing in the car during weekends at Dad’s. At the time, I thought optimistically that it was because the radio took precedence. However, things started to become clear when I joined the college choir as a rookie, eager to raise my voice in song with others because it just felt so good to sing.
On the first day, when it came time for introductions and to share with each other what part we sing, I said to the group that I didn’t know. Soprano, alto? I had no idea.
“I have no idea”, the choir director teased in a Minnie Mouse voice in front of the small class. We all laughed.
My feelings weren’t hurt, but some of the curious looks I got when we all started singing were hints that I was out of my element. After that experience, I decided to hide my voice in the ginormous choir at my church on special occasions, like Father’s Day. I just wanted to sing, and maybe this would be a better opportunity to sing where no one would notice. Well, maybe no one noticed, but I struggled. My throat fought against the imaginary boa constrictor which had taken up residence around my neck. Now I was just overthinking it.
So I thought perhaps the best thing to do if I was going to seriously try to improve was take a voice class. Oh, that was painful. My vocal stylings were akin to nails on a chalkboard as I stood alone in front of my classmates, knees shaking, trying to make something beautiful out of something obviously broken…their glances creeping towards the mid-century modern windows as if looking for an escape from my interesting performance of Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s The Willow Song gone wrong.
When I got married, my husband gently confirmed my suspicions without even saying a word. I started to notice he’d stealthily do pretty much anything to avoid my singing. On days I just couldn’t help myself and start to belt out tunes in the kitchen while doing dishes, I noticed the volume would go up significantly on the TV in the next room. At first he dropped those kind of subtle hints, but now that I have accepted I am vocally challenged we laugh about it together and he literally just begs me to stop. Therefore, I sing even louder. In his face.
Part patriotic respect, part golden opportunity, my students and I sing a song every day after the flag salute. It’s the best moment of the day. We’re mostly off key, all of us, and as a musician who plays the bassoon and clarinet I could help them improve their singing (at least, I think I could) but I don’t. I don’t because they are happy and in love with singing and they don’t really care that they don’t sound perfect, so that is good enough for me. Plus we have to move on to the math lesson. I notice some days their little heads will swivel around with eyes wide as saucers when I really tank the “rockets red glare” part, but they’re so sweet that they don’t say a word about it. They don’t even laugh at me.
I really don’t understand it, my voice. It’s like I was born from a family of hummingbirds, meeping and chirping away, unable to get it just right. I played in bands and orchestras for almost twenty years, so how come I just can’t seem to sing beautifully? It’s a puzzle. And over time, I’ve finally decided this:
I can’t care.
I can’t care anymore if I don’t sing well, because usually it is God I am singing to. He listens. And God doesn’t make mistakes. For some reason, He made my voice my own curious little thing to the ears on earth. But to Him, I imagine He loves my voice. How could He not? He loves yours, too.
Psalm 139:13-14 says “For You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” And then it goes on to say in verse 17, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!”.
Marvelous and precious. That’s what we are to the Lord. I’d reckon our voices are not excluded in that. No matter what they sound like. He formed us just as we are. So, let’s come to Him in song just as we are. Wherever we are. His opinion is all that matters anyway. I’ve decided that, as Martina McBride’s song celebrates, I’ll just sing Anyway. (I love watching this video of a woman signing the lyrics of that Anyway song.)
Each of us has our own unique individual voice. Voices that are lovely to the One who designed them to be so. Let’s be unabashed with our outpouring of joy. Let’s allow ourselves comfort in sorrow with song, if that’s what suits us. It would be tragic to deny ourselves this thing just for the sake of worrying what others think.
So that’s why I’m just not going to mind anymore if no one likes my voice. It will take courage, yes. I’ll likely have to shut my eyes sometimes as I sing to block everyone out; I may have to take deep breaths to bolster my heart. But the feeling of singing, for me, is such a happy feeling and brings such solace that it’s worth the risk of being out of harmony with others. At least in this small thing.
“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.”
I’ve known silence. Maybe not as oppressively as some. It can be a soothing, needed balm to the soul. It can also be the destination of lonely. Being my mother’s only child, I grew up in a quiet house. I was reading before I ever remember learning how to read. And in my books, I found gateways to worlds I could visit, introducing me to life beyond the walls that knew me. When I wasn’t escaping into fiction, I stared dreamily up at the ceiling as I discovered the power of music. Books and music—lenders of comfort…a comforting joy. My first friends.
I’ve had a few amiable pets throughout my lifetime, but about a dozen years ago, I met the best dog friend ever. A round bellied chocolate lab puppy named Amber, she pranced around the grass in a backyard filled with her already adopted brothers and sisters. She sported a white ring around her tail, which we think may have been the reason why she hadn’t been picked yet. It was down to two, and even though the other puppy left had a perfectly good tail, we chose Amber because she ran straight to Mike when he called for her from across the green, silky autumn grass. Silly people…they missed out on the greatest dog in all the world.
As soon as we brought her home, she dominated her new backyard. Only about twelve inches tall back then, she was, and she made it clear to every bird and squirrel in her dominion that she ruled the roost. “Don’t mess with Amber”, said her little proud stance guarding her backyard world, “and don’t mess with my mom and dad.” That would be us.
She was our little girl…this bouncy, seriously hyper little ball of brown fur. She failed puppy school, she ate a hole in the carpet, and socks cried in fear of her presence knowing they would disappear from the world if she crossed paths with them. We spoiled her. Not a single night did she sleep outdoors. Even when Mike had to stay in the hospital overnight and I stayed with him, the kind neighbors next door took our girl over to their house to sleep inside. She was older by then, taller and full grown…but every bit still the best dog ever.
She was entirely sweet, though, and only gruff when protective. Amber won the medal in our hearts for “Best Companion”. On hard days, she was there to lick the tears which would drip onto my shins as I sat in momentary defeat. When I got ready in the mornings, she was there to supervise my makeup routine, tail whacking rhythmically against the linoleum floor in contented approval. When we went to sleep at night, it was hard not to notice she was there…stubbornly digging in for snuggles on the bed and then trotting off about a half hour later to the couch where she would settle for the night.
Sometimes, I can still hear her nails click clacking on the hard floors. I imagine she’ll slowly meander and stretch her way up to the dishwasher to “help” put the dishes in as always. When the doorbell rings, once in awhile I forgetfully pause and wait for her curious bark.
The day we came home without her was unbearable. Healthy until just a few weeks before she went to heaven, her loss was a shock. Our hearts ripped out of our chests, our shoulders shook with grief. We had known all along we loved her, doted on her, and relied on her for laughs. We had never taken her for granted, knowing the unreasonably short lifespan of dogs. She was family; she meant the world to us—but we didn’t know just how much until she was gone.
If I were given the option to never know her if it meant we would never experience the pain of losing her, I wouldn’t trade a single day of having her in my life. I can truly say with all my heart that I can relate to Tennyson’s line ” ’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Because of Papa, because of Dad, because of others I have loved…and, yes, because of Amber.
The loss of her friendship was rough. I wasn’t prepared for the thick silence that came with her absence. It was the kind of silence that squeezed my throat and beckoned tears which held my breath captive. The kind of deafening void that compounded the reality of knowing she was really not going to be sitting on the doormat outside the back door waiting patiently to be let in. The silence that sharply teases with phantom musical shakes of the collared dog tags lost to heaven.
I felt abandoned once again, forsaken. Lost. A dog, yes. But one of my best friends. She filled my afternoons with joy, and was the best secret keeper I had. Funny how we can find such sincere companionship in four-legged creatures. Hard to explain, yet so easy to accept. I had to accept and relearn the silence.
But with her loss, I regained something amazing. I realized that I’d nearly forgotten about the One who was still there with me all along.
One afternoon in late March of this year, eight months after Amber passed away, I’d flung myself onto my bed in overwhelm. My temples pounded a heavy drumbeat while warring against processing a heap of new knowledge that my crowded brain had no room for. I had decisions to make, and uncertainty to conquer. I was mostly happy, yet in that moment I felt exhausted and confused. In need of cheer. In the past, Amber would have sensed my discontent and would’ve burrowed in for a comforting cuddle, or nosed her ball at me to distract me with a game of fetch.
So on that day, without her, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. My Christian textbook answer was prayer. “Time to pray!”, my memory called out to me faintly. I wore the label of knowing Jesus, but when was the last time I really sought Him in prayer for my own tender heart? It had been awhile. I prayed for others, but when was the last time I spent quiet moments sharing with God about my needs? My slowly hardened heart had been filled with assumptions that He didn’t need to hear all about me, when in reality He longs to spend time with us. However, instead of praying, I still just sat idle and contemplated how to overcome this emotional avalanche. On my own. In need of a friend. I was geographically far away from my friends at home, and…
I didn’t have my BFF anymore. Amber.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I searched my mind for a solution. The silence would always be there, loved ones, beloved pets…they would inevitably come and go. Amber had served us well as a happy, loving pet. But I wanted to retain the joy that she brought to us. I needed to have something, Someone to hold onto that would never die. My memory tickled my brain again…“The first, the last…the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13)….and then the words became stronger from the inside, from the deep cellars of my ears, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). I have believed in Jesus for thirty years, but it had been a long time since I remembered what a friend we have in Him (John 15:15). I remembered that day.
After a long breath, laying there with the words of the familiar bible verses floating around in my mind, clarity unfolded in my heart—a butterfly emerging slowly from its cocoon. A thought had fluttered into my mind—one I knew I could hold onto forever–and I sighed with adoration at the beauty of it. The comfort in it. The silence can be lovely, and not unsettling because we are never truly alone. As dear as they are, friends come and go…but ultimately there is one friend who outshines them all.
And if the love and joy we have from our wonderful friends in our presence and in our memories can feel so good, isn’t the love and joy we can receive from our God and Creator a million times more? Smiling, soul-relieved, I pulled out my hot pink leather journal from the bedside table…the one that boldly says “Amazing things can happen” across the front…and I wrote down six little words which I knew wouldn’t be denied:
“Jesus, will you be my BFF?”
And then I prayed. I knew Amber would joyfully approve with a great big “Woof!”.
To reach that spectacular, beautifully rugged land’s end, I needed to cross that blustery bridge. It was the summer of 2015, and my husband and I stood on the rocky soil of County Antrim, Ireland. The smiles of the people waiting in line for their turn were like lifelines to me. Tourists who had already made their way over the popular Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge waved across to all gleefully, eager to share their joy at reaching a point of the Emerald Isle that would have been treacherous any other way—if not for the bridge made of simple wood planks and intricate knots of thick, trusty rope.
I wasn’t so sure that rope was so trusty.
Shortly after we returned to our home in California, I turned on the computer in our home office and immediately discovered my husband had changed the desktop wallpaper. It was a picture of me on that bridge. I was confused. Why not a picture of the two of us from some other photo op on that trip? Usually, our desktop wallpaper was something of us together, or of our beloved dog, Amber.
I called out my question to him from where I knew he could hear me in the living room. It was quiet for a bit, and then I heard the muffled sound of his feet brushing across the carpet as he made his way to the room.
“I know how hard that was for you,” he replied quietly from the doorway.
I felt my heart swell with love for this man.
“I know how hard it was.”
Although our trip to Ireland that year was overall an amazing experience, it seemed like I was trapped into facing one battle after the other. Instead of being excited to fly across the Atlantic, I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart racing in fear of our upcoming flight. Instead of every moment thrilling to the luscious green land all around me, at times I struggled to catch my breath. Instead of marveling at the natural wonder of the hexagonal columns at the Giant’s Causeway, I trembled in near panic as we walked along dirt paths next to cliff walls…certain they would crumble down on top of us at any moment. The odds of that happening were extremely slim.
The fear I struggled with is a distant memory now, but at the time that gruesome pest was taking all the fun out of an extraordinary trip. And my worrying over every little thing was draining the strength out of my mind and spirit.
So by the time we arrived at the “car park” of the rope bridge, he looked over at me before we got out of the car. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I peered out the windshield and looked at the path which led to the ocean. I could barely see the bridge, but from this point it didn’t look quite as scary as I had imagined. “Yep,” I huffed with a tight smile. “Nope,” my heart shot back, the echoes of my discontent bouncing around my rib cage.
As we got closer to the line of tourists waiting to cross, however, my breath started to come out in hesitant, quivering bursts. I squeezed my eyes shut in an effort to quiet the evidence of my uncertainty. “Are you sure?” he checked again when he caught me staring down at the crashing sea 100 feet below. (That’s the part you can’t really see in many pictures.)
When we were next in line, I looked up at the young, fair-haired Irishman whose cheeks were red from being slapped by cold, wild coastal air. He was one of two workers there who were the gatekeepers, so to speak, supervising and limiting the number of bridge crossers. The three of us chit-chatted loudly over the roar of the waves while we waited, laughingly trading California and Irish stereotypes, and how he’s been meaning to make his first trip to the States to visit a friend in San Diego.
Finally, I looked into his friendly blue eyes—certain God had placed him there that day to comfort me with his quick camaraderie—and all of a sudden blurted, “I’m a little terrified, but I’m going to do this.” It had been the statement I’d repeated silently the whole way down the path up to this point. I was sick and tired of letting fear beat out my faith and trust. I said it over and over until I believed it.
The stranger’s kind smile gentled, and his eyes turned serious as they acknowledged my fear. “Not to worry,” he said, his musical Irish accent calming me, “you’ll do just fine. Are you ready?” He had received the nod of permission for us to trek ahead from his partner across the way.
And so, step by step I worked my way across the bridge. The creaks of the rope swaying in the gusty wind invaded my ears, but the strength of the planks below my feet, my silent prayers, and my belief that I could squash this feeling of trepidation—because I chose to—upheld me and my courageous soul the whole way and back again. For the rest of the day, you couldn’t take the smile off my face if you tried. Even thinking back on it now, the memory girds my heart.
“I know how hard it was for you.” My husband’s answer whispered to me again.
Currently, I’ve chosen to focus on the truths of courage over the lies of fear…but I still have my moments of not believing I can do certain things. Even now, I have some goals that leave me shaking in my boots when I think too long on it. But the things I want to conquer don’t have to be achieved all at once. I believe that some day I will be able to scratch each one off the list, but I have to be patient with myself and give myself the grace to persevere—one step at a time, if need be.
There are some fears I’ve fled from and didn’t triumph. And yet, I won’t dwell on the ones from the past which I may not have the opportunity to face again. Instead, I’ll find new things to find victory in. Whatever you may be facing, believe that you can declare yourself the victor. The feeling of accomplishment and relief…the burden of dread lifted…the surrender…it is so worth it. Will I ever bungee jump? Never will I ever. For me, today… in about 10 minutes, it’s going to be the pile of dishes in my sink that I will conquer. That mess seems impossible. But I believe I can tackle it, and so I will.
Mistakes. We all make them. We may wish we didn’t, but it’s inevitable. I burn the bacon all the time. I forget things all. the. time. Now that I’m thinking of it, I make mistakes all day long. Every day. And I’ve actually learned to love them. Okay…not all of them. Not the deep ones. In hindsight, I can appreciate some of those because of the lessons I’ve learned…or the providential way they may have brought me full circle to something that eventually turned for the good.
In this case, I’m talking about the little mess ups. 🙂 Calling out the wrong page number in the classroom. Dialing the wrong number. Showing up to the wrong room for a meeting. Buying purple potatoes for a husband who will not eat purple potatoes (yeah, that really happened). Going back into the house two more times because you forgot something on the way out. The small stuff.
How have I learned to love these?
Three little words: “You’re still cool.”
In my classroom, we use the class rules and many student engagement strategies from Whole Brain Teaching (WBT). Also incorporated in WBT are these five character traits: Glorious Kindness, Leadership, Courage, Invincible Grit, and Creativity. By the way, thank you to Whole Brain Platinum Certified Instructor and colleague of mine, Julie Neff, for showing me how to weave these traits into our daily academic procedures. These traits are reviewed each day, and it’s amazing to see the kids work hard at showing they have these traits within them. They love to be recognized for being awesome.
I got hooked on the phrase “you’re still cool” from hearing it in WBT training. It’s linked to the character education piece because most of the character traits listed above relate to the positive power that grace has over us when we mess up. There is no perfect. There is only your best effort in striving for excellence.
What is so incredible to me is that I knew how important this was for the kids. However, I didn’t realize the effect it would eventually have on me, as well.
“You’re still cool!”
How would you like it if all day long you heard that immediately after you made a mistake?
“You’re still cool.”
And that’s what we do. If a student makes a mistake in front of the class—or even if I make a mistake—the kids and I tell the mistake maker that they are still cool. While your head knows “Okay, let’s try not to do that again”, your heart appreciates the grace you’ve been given. It can work for those big mistakes, too. It’s beautiful.
Mispronounce a word? You’re still cool! Give the wrong answer? You’re still cool! Lock your keys in your car? You’re. still. cool.
In the past, I used to be really mean to myself when I made these little blunders. They sure did seem to pile up. To the point that there were times I was so petrified by the fear of making a mistake that I wouldn’t even begin something. But now I just remember those three little words, shake it off, and keep on moving. I love that my students do the same. Mistakes can be expected. It’s how we react when they happen that makes all the difference.
Hey. Remember…it’s powerful stuff: You’re still cool.
They could probably hear my screams all the way up in the lobby. I was around six or seven-years-old at the time, and in the middle of what was supposed to be a quick out-patient procedure. As a young urology patient, it was yet another routine test to make sure all was still well. I remember being promised a visit to Toys R Us and Baskin Robbins once it was over. That was what got me through it. Toys and ice cream.
I knew I had to to be there, because all my little life I’d been told about how sick I had been when I was a baby. I was no stranger to the doctor’s office. I also knew that the scar which traveled from the side of my waist to nearly my spine was from the kidney surgery I eventually had when I was nearly two-years-old. They say it saved my life.
Most of my checkups at the urologist went fine. Water fountain. Check. Urine sample. Check. Lollipop. Check. Easy peasy. But this one was not like the others. It involved
tubes and catheters. Bright lights. Noisy medical equipment…my grandma allowing me to attempt squeezing her hand right off her arm as she stood by my side.
In the end, I made it through, and so did my grandma’s circulation.
As an adult, my bribes whenever I go into a medical procedure that I am not looking forward to have changed from toys and ice cream to pedicures and Starbucks. One of my Worst Memory Procedures was dealing with two ingrown toenails. Now, this is a seriously minor ordeal, but it was during this simple thing in which I had a huge epiphany.
First of all, I learned quickly how sensitive our toes are. Forget the actual digging around with the scalpels and clippers or whatever is it they do behind that thick vinyl curtain that hung in front of my feet. The freezy stuff they inject you with to numb your toes was one of the worst things I’ve ever felt. If my lungs could leave my body from the effort to not scream, they would have. It was all I could do not to involuntarily (or if I’m honest, voluntarily) kick the podiatrist.
So when I had to go back the second time for the other toe, I was on edge. The painful memory of the freezy shot had been imprinted in my brain. I sat and waited alone in wretched anticipation. I prayed for courage. I was so tense I could barely breathe. Then a picture came to my mind.
Jesus on the cross.
In that moment, I remembered reading all that Jesus had gone through leading up to His death. The torture. The prolonged pain. The crown of thorns.
And then I looked down at my toes. And I breathed. I could do this.
I still wasn’t looking forward to the pain. Who would? But this time, I was able to dig a little deeper into my stores of courage. If Jesus could endure all of that, surely I could handle a little shot of frozen stuff to numb my toe. It still was unpleasant. The pain was still there, but it made me appreciate so much more what our Savior went through to save us.
When I feel fear start to creep in over my current or future health, I remember the day I had that realization. Whenever I have another medical procedure (and I’ve had some since then that hurt enough to cry), I bring this memory with me. It helps me to know that I’m not alone. That there was One before me who knew pain…and ultimately, beautifully, He triumphed.
Once in awhile I feel like I am back to being the 6th grade girl sitting alone on the bus with sticky, wet candy in her hair. Trying not cry. Wishing I had people I belonged to or were at ease with. Longing to be anyone but the new girl at my fourth California school who couldn’t summon up enough courage to speak even a “hello” to any of the other kids.
Chubby, shy by nature, and with a unique face kids often stared at, I’d already been through a lot by then. In kindergarten, the kids wondered aloud if I was from another country because of the shape of my eyes. In first grade, they commented on my little nose. By second grade, they would yell “Cabbage Patch Kid!” as they raced past me on the playground.
My one blessing, and the greatest of them all in my seven-year-old eyes, was my best friend Marci. She was a cool kid. She had confidence. She proudly hailed from New York. Most important of all, she was nice and she stood up for me. Hands on her hips she would yell back at the mean kids. Her envied freckles flaming, she would scrunch up her nose and give them a what-for. I always guessed it was because of her that I even got invited to parties. Kids like me usually were left out.
Then one early fall at the beginning of third grade, my mom and I moved to a new town. I found myself far away from the school I knew, away from Marci my Defender, and was plucked into a sequence of several years filled with new towns and new apartments. Which also meant new schools.
I was able to be inconspicuous at the first two new schools, mostly by reading alone by the classroom door at recess. Then I discovered band. I praise God for that. Learning how to play an instrument took my mind off the friends I still hadn’t made, opened a new place of wonder in my soul, and it also started to give me a little bit of a community I hadn’t been able to find as a shy kid. It wasn’t long until I did make a few good friends.
Then we moved in the middle of sixth grade. Twice. The first school that year was a monster of a junior high in a big town. It was navigating through asteroids in outer space. It was the rookie horrors of the P.E. locker room. My goal was to be invisible. I still hadn’t been able to get my “hello” out. I also didn’t feel like I mattered, compared with all the cliques and kids who already knew each other.
The second school was a K-6 elementary school. The hair candy bus school. I sat in the front near the bus driver while a small group of pretty, popular girls sat way in the back. The bus was mostly empty, and there was no one in between us. I heard a bunch of laughing. Then it got louder. I turned around and they all ducked, blond curls giving them away as the wind from the open windows whipped the tops of their hair around. Checking my own thick, permed hair to make sure it was in control, I felt the first Jolly Rancher. Then the second. I froze.
I lacked social skills, but I was a nice girl. I barely spoke to anyone. I was quiet, but full of love. I didn’t understand. Why me?
The school secretary found the third piece of wet, sucked on candy as they cut out the pieces for me. I couldn’t get them out myself. I’m not sure if I ever told my mom. I was humiliated. Thankfully, we moved again not long after that. Things got much better when I was able to stay in the same school district for the next five years. I came out of my shell a little more, although still shy enough that while I could talk to my band friends I could barely say “hello” to the students in my regular classes.
Thirty years later, I still think on that incident now and then. It comes to me in the moments when I notice others briefly glance at me, but make more of an eager effort to converse with the beautiful or fun people across the table. It makes me pause when I feel uninvited or left out. It haunts me when I feel not good enough.
I am much more outgoing these days. I’m better at conversations now. It may or may not be hard to tell, but there are still times when I’m secretly shaking in my boots when I talk to people. My confidence-in-training ebbs and flows like the oceans’s tide, but it strengthens with each small step of courage.
Despite all that, I am not sorry for my social hardships as a kid. Yes, the memories sometimes pain me in the moments when I feel lonely, but I know I still have growing to do. I could also make more of an effort on my part. Maybe accept more invitations. Or look for how people may need someone to talk to and listen to them, rather than hide in my own insecurities. It gives me opportunity to pray not only for myself, but for others like myself. And those times always draw me back to Jesus, who is now my most reliable and greatest best friend of all. He tells us He is with us always.
These days, I am not afraid to say “hello”. I make it my mission to smile and say hello to try to make people feel welcome and comfortable. I’m not Miss Sunshine 24/7…believe me, I have some cranky days! And I get in a sullen mood during some seasons. But within each child I meet, I can’t help but wonder if they have ever felt like I had when I was young. Within each adult, I imagine they may have had a painful, bullying experience, too…no matter what they look like. Or maybe they are having a rough day and need some friendliness.
I chose not to let exclusion break me into pieces. I found other things to hold unto while I grew my courage. Music, books, Jesus…journal writing. Eventually, I realized that even one person like me can make a difference in someone’s day who might be feeling alone. If just one word….”Hello”…can make things a little better for someone, then I’m going to summon up my courage and get it done.