Thursday, November 7, 2013

I Want To See How This Show Ends!

When he was a kid, my husband used to pretend he was in a television show. He narrated everything he did like he was “filmed before a live studio audience.”

He doesn’t play that game anymore, but it made me think about life in a smaller community and how it can sometimes feel like being on stage. I had that feeling recently when entering the high school gym for conferences. The gym was lined with teachers at tables and parents and kids walking around. In fact, it resembled one of my common nightmares of being in a crowd and feeling overwhelmed.

Quickly though, I noticed several friendly faces and started to chat with people. My daughter held our place in line when I got sidetracked in conversation, signaling me to talk to more of her teachers. Before I knew it we’d been there for almost two hours!

Later, a familiar sense of blessing filled me to live in a community where my kids have extra moms and dads looking out for them, where giving is just something you do and where the value of everyone knowing your business means that you get extra prayers and help when it counts.

I recently read a great book called “Wisdom Distilled From the Daily,” by Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun who provides a translation for living the Rule of St. Benedict outside the walls of a monastery. Chittister explains that personal and spiritual growth never happen in isolation. They develop and expand through the relationships, tensions and challenges of living in community. As we live with others who are different and similar to us, we see ourselves in new ways — sometimes wonderful and sometimes disturbing ways. But this awareness only happens if we are brave enough to persist in a community and gain wisdom from our experiences. People who move from place to place every few years never gain the richness of what Chittister calls “stability.”

I moved to Milaca in 2003, making this my family’s 10th year of living in community. As an adult, I’ve never lived somewhere long enough to experience roots curling into well-trod soil or clouds changing outfits across seasons. Here my children have grown from babies to adolescents. My garden has grown from four raised beds to ten. My pet count has grown from one to four. My marriage has grown from independence to teamwork. My spirit has grown in this soil and under these clouds.

Here is the best part about community. We get the privilege of experiencing relationships in which life isn’t always peaceful or friendly or joyful, but they move us to reach beyond our comfort zones, to listen and confess, to give of ourselves and hope in the best for everyone. Community is the sum of all its parts, not just the ones we like or prefer. If we’re growing with open hearts and minds, we will experience joy and sorrow, blessing and disappointment, hope and doubt. This is the common humanity of parenting, marriage, grandparenting, friendship, work, worship, volunteering and anything worth a broken heart. If our hearts break sometimes, it’s only because we care. The show goes on.

In community we have the space — the grace — to fail and heal. But we have to stand still long enough — sometimes years — to see things come full circle. Mobility, instant gratification and self may be natural desires, but community occurs through hand-knit sweaters and book reports, a plowed and seeded field, a bandshell restoration, building an entire house or making a five-course meal. We sweat and doubt and see progress slowly, but the result is beautiful.

If we can teach our kids anything about living in community, we should teach them to slow down, work with their hands in soil and paint, be gentle to friends and family when they fall, and wake up early to watch the earth reflected in new light. It’s not instant gratification and rarely fame before a live studio audience, but it’s worth tuning in.

Phil 4:8-9 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things...practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."

Friday, September 13, 2013

Create Good From Bad

I always thought I was an optimist, a glass-half-full kind of gal. I was Tigger, never Eeyore. I was Belle, never the Beast.

It turns out that my optimism was partly a learned behavior since adolescence to handle depression. Instead of responding to bad things in healthy ways, I would pretend they were better than they were…or pretend they didn’t exist at all. I would look for ways to fix things, smooth the rough road, build a bridge. The very idea that I couldn’t make things better all by myself just wasn’t acceptable.

I could outrun, outwork or outsmart anyone, including myself.

I mean really, who wants to accept a depressed personality? It’s not fun. It’s not popular. It’s not a banner to wave at a parade and say, “Hey, look! I can’t handle life!”

In fact, I was still posing as an optimist until last Christmas when my depression got bad enough that I thought, “No, you really can’t handle life and it’s not fun.”

By finally accepting my depression, I’ve moved into a healthier space of treatment with bright light therapy, exercise, good food and relaxation. In the process, I’ve learned that looking for the good in bad can be used in healthy ways even as I acknowledge the bad.

Bonus: It’s also a great teaching tool for kids.

Bad things happen, either through our own choices or through circumstances. When bad things happen through circumstance, we can look for opportunities to be supportive and helpful. We can join others to make improvements. We can express gratitude for the good things. In just the last few months, bad circumstances have resulted in good leadership opportunities for kids I coach as well as the opportunity to introduce myself to neighbors I didn’t know before.

When bad things happen through our choices, owning up to them is the first step to creating good from bad. We learn to change our behaviors, work on better coping tools, improve our relationships and increase our compassion.

Kids will experience and make mistakes. We need to help them either make good or do good after the bad.

It’s not easy, which is why kids need guidance. We’re often taught to hide flaws and deny or soften wrongdoing in the interests of keeping up appearances and avoiding pain. We also sometimes yell at the messenger who points out the bad. If instead we can acknowledge the bad and teach kids how to learn and lead through it, they’ll have more strength to deal with bad things than if we just punish them, tell them it’s not so bad or sweep their mistakes under the rug.

There is an ironic strength that comes from admitting wrongs and flaws and even from experiencing humiliation and shame from our mistakes. After days, months or years of loss and learning and recovering, the honest life is sweeter than denial. It’s sweeter than pretend optimism. It’s real.

In that space and freedom, we can tell kids they will survive their mistakes and the bad in the world. They can find ways to make good and do good. We can show them how to do it…because we do it.

"At present you may be temporarily harassed by all kinds of trials. This is no accident. It happens to prove your faith which is infinitely more valuable than gold." 1 Peter 1:6-7

“For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Friday, June 14, 2013

My Yoke is Easy.

In the rush of finishing another school year, coaching, working full-time and raising two kids, I would describe the last few months as brutal. Anyone from Minnesota also knows that we had one of the longest winters on record with not one, but two snowstorms in May.

It was enough to drive a person a little crazy, a lot depressed and mega-anxious.

I wanted to complain, I really did. Why should one person have to pack so much into one day and call it a life? It seemed inhumane and ridiculous. I thought about what I could possibly downsize, give up, delay or delegate...and the results weren't enough to bring any sense of relief.

As I sat at my computer to seek sympathy on Facebook (yep) a voice in my head suddenly spoke up.

"Oh, you got it so tough."

Actually, the voice belonged to my father-in-law. It was something he told my husband one early morning decades ago during his summer job in bridge construction. My husband, then in his early 20s, had complained about being tired. "Oh, you got it so tough," said Doug, a chain-smoking, hard-driving bridge superintendent who traveled thousands of miles before the crack of dawn to wherever the jobs took him. See, Doug knew that Andy was on his way to better things, but if he didn't understand his blessings then, he wouldn't later when life was different.

To this day, Andy and I still recite that phrase, "Oh, you got it so tough," when either of us starts to complain. Doug passed away almost a year ago, but this simple phrase keeps his spirit present as we walk through the middle of our lives.

After hearing Doug's words in my head yet one more time, I erased what I'd typed online before posting. Instead, I thought about all the ways I was blessed and supported. First of all, a toughened marriage brings multiple blessings. Where I fall down, Andy picks up the pieces and runs ahead. Then I catch up and lighten his burdens. As we work together, we learn to appreciate the other's strengths and allow a little more pride, a little more pain, to slip away...inviting the other person closer.

As we work together, our kids learn how to deal with stress, time management and relationships. They do better in school, they make friends, they get involved in activities that build their toughness for life without us some day.

When our family and home are healthy and managed, then we find that we have the patience, time and energy to devote not only to better performance at work, but also to friends and our community. We are present, engaged, and even enjoying the extra hours and commitment.

Suddenly, the burden isn't a burden at all. It's a delight to be needed. It's an honor to contribute. It's a joy to HAVE this life with all its surprises, struggles and triumphs. Whether it's in our homes or in various teams working toward a common goal, we ARE together.

And together, it's really not so tough.

Matthew 11:28-30
"Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke on you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Not Sure What to Do? Ask a Child!

I've been getting smarter about asking for guidance instead of worrying. I've done this through prayer, but more importantly I've started asking my children for ideas. They are old enough now to share their perspective on simple conflicts and worries...and I am amazed at their insight.

We usually think that our job as parents is to guide children toward good decision making and to help them avoid trouble. But communication is a two-way street. Children feel good about sharing advice and ideas that help their family live better. It's a team effort.

Here are a few examples of how to ask your children for advice or ideas to create better relationships.

A few months ago, I had a conflict with a friend and wasn't sure what to do. I felt hurt by circumstances and was disappointed in her lack of communication. One night, I told my daughter about the basics of the situation and asked what she thought I should do. Her answer: "Well, maybe if you talk to her about how you feel, you can work it out."

I knew in my heart that she was right, but my pride had stopped me from reaching out in a meaningful way. Soon after, I communicated with my friend. We have found a way to mend fences and feel like friends again.

This past weekend, I was feeling rather low due to the weather and tragedies in the news. I shared a bit of this with my older daughter and asked her what I should do. Her succinct answer: "You need to play more."

I realized that the long hours at my job, housework and responsibilities to others had left little time for play. So on Sunday I took out my paints and a blank canvas and played for a couple hours. My daughter was spot on. Creating a piece of art with no censorship and for no purpose really lifted my mood.

What I love about asking children for ideas is that their minds and worlds aren't cluttered with assumptions or past experiences that prevent them from brainstorming openly and honestly. They see through our excuses and fake wisdom to a clear and present truth: treat others kindly and be gentle with yourself.

We'd like to think that life isn't that simple, but these past sickening months of political wrangling around nuclear arms, guns, mental health, who should get married, and environmental extremes makes me wonder if it isn't just that simple. If we are healthy and if we value other people, how can we go wrong? Keep choices simple in your own life to endure the complexity of the rest of the world.

I don't recommend asking your children about every issue in your life. That's not their job, but including them in simple discussions about right and wrong choices can support open communication. After all, if you respect them enough to take their advice, they just might trust and respect you enough to get help with their problems later on.

One more idea: On a Sunday afternoon, my family sat down at the table to discuss our values. We came up with six values based on ideas from everyone. I was inspired by my children's ideas about what we value as a family. Our list of values — posted on the refrigerator — has helped us improve our behavior and communication.

Happy Earth Day. Life is good.

Matthew 18:3