Belated

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. Image result for heart clip art

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Broccoli Bird

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 WritersBird 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.

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Fear

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.)

“Yep.”

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.

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Mistakes

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. 

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