The Twilight Zone

Recently I was wondering if we were on a movie set like “The Truman Show.” Is a director about to yell, “Cut!” And we’re all about to be told this is all a big hoax? Never would I have imagined our predicament were possible outside a Hollywood sci-fi movie. This situation has me recalling Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” and I think we are all starring in a strange, double feature.

We seem stuck in a time warp with people asking when we will get back to normal. I am wondering if instead, we are hitting an invisible reset button that will forever change our existence? We cannot assume immunity anymore. Terrorism was our greatest threat but now even terrorists are being terrorized. The entire world is being attacked collectively. We will all have to learn from each other to manage a future outbreak.

Last Sunday my husband pushed me to join our family for a kayak excursion. Reluctantly, I went and was pleasantly surprised at the meditative calm I experienced while drifting down river. The cool breeze under green canopies was peaceful. I also observed a large cross on someone’s waterfront that reminded me of the cross on the St. Lawerence River and El Cristo Rey in Cali, Colombia. It was huge and rustic and was stuck in the center of their peninsula. I was grateful for it and it’s unexpected appearance. It was like I was being sent the message, “Hey, remember me? Remember the suffering I went through? I KNOW what you all are experiencing.” That was a good reminder to continue to hope regardless of the daily news.

A major concern of mine has been my older ladies in a retirement community. They cannot go anywhere or visit one another. All activities and meals are cancelled. They cannot have visitors less immediate family. This virus has given even more loneliness to people who were already dealing with health issues AND loneliness. I call and send flowers (with MD approval) but that’s all I can do. It seems insult upon injury for them.

My home on the other hand is the opposite. I have everyone home all at once on what feels like an extended summer with endless dishes and laundry. I pine for peace and quiet yet know this is not forever. It is a moment in time in history. We will all remember it vividly as everyone and everything seems impacted.

We all are getting weary and restless. Someone today posted that if anyone was wondering, today is “March 97th.” That is absolutely what it feels like. And tomorrow is the beginning of a new month. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if someone could say April Fools! It’s all fake news and not really happening! I’d probably drop dead like the man on the Twilight Zone episode where his friends had him arrested for some unknown crime as a ploy to deliver him to his surprise party. He dropped dead in the doorway when everyone yelled, “Surprise!”

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION REDO

New year’s resolutions have always perplexed me. I understand why we make them but don’t understand how they seemed doomed and poorly adopted by most (including myself). Hearing about them on the radio, social media and in ads on TV, I’ve come to regard them mostly as holiday rebound. Pondering over mine for a week, I’ve gathered a few good ideas worth sharing.

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Melinda Gates has an original idea- not adopting a resolution- but focusing on a special WORD to center her thoughts and behaviors towards throughout the year. That’s a reasonable, and possibly attainable goal. A recent devotional challenged me to ask GOD what my resolution should be, rather than choose myself. I think that’s an excellent place to start. I dare not ask my family for input as I’d likely end up with a long list.

Our church has adopted the book of Proverbs from the Bible for us to study as a congregation for the new year. This has aided in getting my mind oriented towards a better ATTITUDE. Attitudes are the center of where our actions form so it’s also an excellent place to start.

Attending an event recently, I met an interesting person who discussed her PASSION and that she “couldn’t NOT do it” referring to her horse hobby. It got me to think about my passions and if those might need to be included in my resolutions? One did, but two seem in line. When I refer to “in line” I’m referring to God given passions. How does one know when it’s a God-given passion? It’s when it benefits you and others. Therefore, I realized one passion I have needs to go. (I’m not going to bore you here with details.)

What about CIRCUMSTANCES? Those may be beyond our control and quite taxing. When someone’s struggling, it’s nearly impossible to adopt new behaviors or set higher standards. So, going back to the second idea, asking the Great Creator above for input seems prudent. Resolutions are great ideals but don’t need to make us feel worse about ourselves if we fall short (and we ALL come up short).

Finally, there’s that “F” word- FORGIVENESS. It keeps popping up randomly. I’m wondering if I need to do that and/or if I will need to when I try to avoid my prior passion…..

“Happy Advent!”

Recently, a woman greeted me with the statement, “Happy Advent!” I had never heard nor used that as a seasonal greeting before and therefore, decided to do some research.

Over two thousand years ago, our Roman counterparts observed Advent to celebrate the Second Coming of Christ. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages when Christians tied Advent to Jesus’ birth. It then involved the four Sundays leading up to Christmas in which all were to anticipate the birth of Christ culminating in the Nativity. In essence, we Christians were anticipating Christ’s birth and His Second Coming in the future via special services on each Sunday during the month of December.

Today, Advent seems practiced, but not completely understood. We light candles and recite scripture, but are we truly preparing our hearts for the reality of the birth of the Savior of mankind? I definitely need a staunch lesson in Advent. I hate to admit that I’ve missed the joy and reverence that reflect true belief.

While watching a Hallmark Christmas special recently with my husband (yes, he’s a patient man), I finally remarked, “Why is every one of these about some Christmas recital or pageant?” My husband said, “Because they can’t talk about Jesus so all they have are traditions.” It struck me that Christmas for many, like Hallmark, is just a tradition like the Fourth or July. How weird it seems to “go through the motions” when God’s Son’s birth is our entire reason!

I find myself in a flurry of activities this time of year with some invisible clock ticking away my inadequate abilities to perform. Yes, it’s December 7, and no, I don’t have a Christmas tree. I want one but just haven’t gotten to it yet. Does that mean anything in the grand scheme of what I claim I believe? Nope, it doesn’t. Keeping perspective during this season of Advent is an act of discipline that seems unnatural.

I love decorations, trees, Christmas music and baked desserts. Eggnog with some assistance from Evan isn’t horrible either, I might add. But what in the world am I doing all this for if it’s just a ritual and tradition without deeper meaning? I find I can become a green-bodied, yellow-eyed Grinch if I’m not careful. It’s like default mode to get caught up in the flurry of activities but miss the point entirely. If Christmas is truly the grandest birthday party, maybe I should change a tradition or two to include that belief?

I’ll Be You

In 1989, the Replacements released a song with the lyrics, “You be me for a while, and I’ll be you.” Those words got me to ponder what it’d be like to temporarily be someone else? Being Hollywood’s most successful actor sound like a winner? Or how about becoming a gold medaled, Olympic-athlete? Maybe being royal would satisfy a fantastical life experience for some. I’d personally like to experience being Reese Witherspoon for a day due to her accomplishments: actor, author, and producer. She’s got a book tour, she’s beautiful and rich, however, I digress.

Contrarily, what if you were to swap lives with someone of a different gender, religion, or ethnicity? What about being a kid again and letting your kid be the grownup like in the movie “Freaky Friday?” Not quite as enticing is it? But it seems we may need to do just that to entertain being empathetic and potentially budge from our own rigid opinions.

It dawned on me this morning when I was getting ready for work the shirt I put on was a jewel-toned blue. I had scored a silk shirt of a favorite designer with tags on (!) from eBay. Strangely, the seller advertised it as purple. I realized the metaphor in that moment that each person sees things differently.

We each “see” based on our DNA, personal history, value system, and circumstances. Each of our views is limited in scope based on our location, both physically and mentally. It’s one of the reasons there are many referees on the field in college football. There is so much to see that it is impossible to assess from only one viewpoint. Watching games, we think we know what’s happened but after review, the head ref might change the call.  It’s because he gets additional input from others on the field (and a camera or two). In that same vein, what if we attempted to understand others by taking in many different viewpoints before coming to our own opinions?  Maybe we’d recognize we all want the same things and aren’t so different regardless our ethnicity, political beliefs, gender, or religion? Perhaps there would be less distrust and anger between us? It seems like a possible solution to all the polarization worldwide and even in my own home.

Perfectly Imperfect

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Ed Sheeran sings “Life is more than fittin’ in your jeans.  It’s love and understanding, positivity.”  Perfection, physical or otherwise, is an unrealistic, unobtainable goal. It’s an endless mirage that doesn’t exist.

It’s taken me decades to let go of perfectionism. That includes vanity, I hate to admit. My husband says that if anyone looked in a mirror as long as I did that they’d eventually find something wrong.  Now that I’m older and wiser, I realize it’s the caring, warm and funny people I’m drawn to, not the most attractive anyway.  I can remember being a one-time perfectionist about my home, exercise and initially, parenting.  God put my misplaced priorities in the blender and hit HIGH.  Having four children in under two years will make the most staunch perfectionist fold.

I don’t know if it’s learned or innate but some people demand excellence in everything and others could care less.  For example, one son years back was doing homework and repeatedly wrote an ‘S’ for the number ‘5.’ When I corrected him he remarked, “But isn’t it a pretty S?” Another son, in elementary school made an ‘F’ on an assignment. I admonished him about it and he said, “Mom, EVERYONE has to make one eventually!” They just weren’t that bothered by imperfection.  Others in our household put so much pressure on themselves I have to remind them to be nice to even themselves.

The perfect family, house, body, or face won’t grant love or security.  It’s all just  packaging for true riches: love, understanding, positivity. The original queen of exercise, Jane Fonda, was recently quoted as saying it took her until age 60 to become the woman she was supposed to be.  I hope to do it a decade sooner.

 

THE BLACK HOLE

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Does anyone else have a junk drawer that is basically a black hole? It’s full, but of who knows what?  Recently, I spent hours going through one of these looking for something.  Of course, it never appeared but some other really cool stuff did.  I ended up reminiscing through pictures, children’s art, cards and very old documents from my grandparents.  I highly recommend doing it sometime.  Just sit down and take an inventory of your past years. Updated perspective is truly remarkable.

Some of the amazing items found were over a hundred years old. I happened upon my grandfather’s 1926 certificate of initiation into the Alpha chapter of Pi Kappa Phi at College of Charleston. I also found a tenant farmer deed that was originally signed in 1884.  It was glued to the new one signed and notarized in 1909.  I have no idea what to do with it but just touching the papered history of my family felt special.  The children’s art is way too numerous to detail, but I loved the preschool mom letters.  Ridiculously cute, they described me as 45 pounds and basically perfect (where did that opinion go?). A prized find was a tiny journal I had jotted some hilarious encounters with my children in. If any of you still have small children around, it is so worth it.

One entry in the journal had me at dinner with two of them.  Apparently, one son wanted to say the Lord’s Prayer since he recently learned it. He began and then I noticed he said, “And lead us into temptation…”  Upon finishing, I corrected him that it was actually, “And lead us NOT into temptation.”  He shrugged and said, “What’s the big deal? It’s only ONE word!” Another was driving home from school, our daughter was reading about the Holocaust.  She shared a very tragic story of a woman whose husband was shot in front of her and she delivered a stillborn days later.  It was a very somber, quiet moment until my son said to me, “And you think YOU have stress!” (He had a very good point.)

As funny as the stories were, the art sweet, and the old pictures meaningful, I was amazed at the feeling of positivity that came from reminiscing.  It was like looking back through a filtered, edited frame that provided good light and a beautiful landscape of my life. Sometimes, saved clutter can be good thing (sorry, Martha).

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PLU or Who?

The first time I heard the term “PLU” was when I described a crowd. My sis-in-law said, “You mean PLUs.” I asked what that meant and she said, “People Like Us.” She nailed it. She wasn’t referring to people like her, but rather a group of similar people. The homogenous crowd I described WAS so alike I could have easily described one individual or the collective group and they seemed the exact same.

Recall being pigeon-holed by people as a prep, jock, or geek in high school? It was how kids identified themselves and each other. It was major effort to get to know someone outside your bubble. And more often than not, that cross- pollination didn’t happen that much.

Calling a crowd a “PLU” is not necessarily a compliment. When people only associate with like minded, like-appearing and like-interested groups, not a whole lot of influence or change occurs. It’s like we sometimes cocoon ourselves in familiarity, therefore protecting ourselves from appearing different from our perceived assigned group.

Growing up, our children were very open to a vast array of friends. Some were foreign exchange students from Germany, China, Roatán, and Poland that would visit. One of our sons called his friends “the misfits” in middle school. It wasn’t negative, just a description of his “Non-PLUs.” He already got how it was cool to get to know and get along with a myriad of people.

I used to be concerned with being in a PLU crowd. It was exhaustive trying to maintain the associations, relationships, activities and enrollments I self imposed on myself. Once I got over my petty insecurities, I realized I identified with all ages of people.  I met some of the coolest people in non-PLU territory. They are 81-94 years and I love them!  Had I not looked outside my PLU, I’d have missed that HUGE blessing!

U2 and Me TOO

40a46f00-bc99-42c8-be6a-baae3b06f233.jpegTheir mind bending words are,

“I can’t change the world, but I can change the world in me.”

The artist goes on to say,

“When I rejoice…”

No, this is not a contemporary hymn (it should be), but rather lyrics from the iconic band, U2’s song “Rejoice.” God resonates throughout their music. I confess I am an avid fan. Their story, their music, their lyrical questioning of how things are disturbs me in a good way. I’m impressed their band has not allowed egos or money to compromise their values and that giving back continues to be important to them. (Of course, a few zillion fans’ adoration, nice digs, and luxury travel aren’t bad either, I presume.)

Kendrick Lamar is another phenomenal, Pulitzer Prize winning (and a Grammy or so) influential artist with an important voice. His message to his fellow Compton- raised, struggling population is that they are visible and not forgotten. He said in a recent Vanity Fair article that he wants to give back and help rather than just leave it all behind and “luxuriate.” That is a powerful and promising choice he’s made.

What I’ve observed in my half century existence is that no matter our zip code, finances, or health status, there is a definitive choice we all have. We choose our outlook. I have known joyful people who have been through things that would buckle anyone’s knees and also the opposite. I gravitate to the former.

Circumstances are often completely out of our control. You can’t pick what family you were born into, nor your DNA (not yet, anyway), and sometimes, BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE. However, our perspective remains optional.

All can easily succumb to defeat when adversities bombard. Personally, I have been there but got really tired of my gray-skied view. I sought all resources I could to fight my own defeatism. Daily I guard myself against “Stinkin Thinkin.”

The brick wall of life will allow you to repeatedly beat your head against it as long as you’d like. There are certain questions for which there’s no good answer (or any, for that matter). Still, life goes on and we have to decide our position.

What then do Eeyores of the world do? They CHOOSE gratitude, kindness and positivity. I’m not fooling anyone that I don’t cry, get knocked down and suffer disappointment like anyone, but I won’t stay there anymore. I have found my own remedy for discouragement and bullying circumstances. My personal weapons of choice are: reading the Bible, prayer, practicing gratitude (a whole lot of it) and serving others. I haven’t found anything better to help me choose joy.

ABC Diagnose Me

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Howie Mandel had it right when he said, “ADD, ADHD, OCD…I wanna buy another vowel!” He was referring to the multiple diagnoses he had been given.

School-aged children tend to be stuck with the most vowels. Once they start school, their obvious differences in learning, self-regulating and temperament begin to emerge. Of course, when you put 25 children with one teacher in one room, there will be issues. Asking tiny people to be still and be quiet can be like asking social media users to post only kind remarks. It’s the impossible, yet we continue with this style of teaching, continuing to force squares into circles.

When a child’s behavior stands out exponentially is when the real fun begins. From the notes sent home, to the red marks on their schoolwork, to the teacher’s conferences (I must hold the world record for those), the message sent is “something is wrong with so and so and needs to be corrected.” My heart aches for children in that predicament. When possible, changing the environment, trying different schooling options is a luxury. More often than not, the parent is forced to send their child to a losing environment.

I’m guilty myself. By God’s good grace, my children got through it. It was ugly at times and painful at others but they did it. In hindsight, I recognize I nearly lost my mind obsessing over their behavior, grades and if their teachers liked them and what their diagnoses were. To medicate or not, switch schools (but to which and what kind?), and find therapies to correct our issues, were all consuming. After many MD appointments, we finally found a local specialist and he helped tremendously. However, it wasn’t a cure-all but another tool instead.

What truly mattered was how they, individually, developed as human beings, not if their teachers liked them (a few did), if they could read on time (a few did) and what diagnoses they had. Hilariously, I got the vowels myself seeking their’s! My point is that it’s great to decipher what issues are at hand, but not to get bogged down with them.

The point is to help your child navigate the process of growing up into a productive, self-regulating, caring adult. The world overall won’t accommodate because of a diagnosis. He or she will still have to perform and be expected to conform to the world around them. Focusing more on their positive nurturement is much more helpful. I wish I had done that instead of trying to “fix” them.

Once hyperactivity and impulsiveness were identified, I read every book available (not many back then) and made appointments with every expert I could find. I even flew to New York City and paid $400/hr to talk to the author of the only book I could find on the subject. For that costly hour, the doctor didn’t give me the secret tools of success or the magical cure, he simply spent the hour telling me to take care of myself first, as their caregiver, and to love and praise them! That was it! My $6.67 per minute consultation was spent learning self care and to cheerlead my brood. I was sure he’d give me something tangible and he did, he gave me a book about people who turned out famous with, and despite, their ADHD.

You can wear yourself out procuring knowledge on learning disabilities and the like. I did. But I’d suggest perceiving treatment as a tool or partnership, a more light handed approach. In the end, it’s most important they feel loved, supported and cared about. In the end, isn’t that what everyone wants?

STINKIN THINKIN

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“Get Out of Your Own Way” is a song by U2 that by intention, is politically charged, but by title, encompasses what we all need to do. It is a perfectionist’s battle song.

I was once told by a counselor that I needed to conquer the negative voices in my head. She said I needed to replace my detrimental “cassette tape” with a new, positive one. (Obviously the reference is betraying my demographic because it was the 90s.) However, a modern analogy might be to replace the “download.”

We can be our own biggest foe. It’s hard enough having difficulties or enduring painful circumstances then by default, adding insult to injury with negative self- talk. Destructive thinking can be worse than the actual problem or outcome we fear most! We can self-inflict more damage than an army of enemies by believing the inner bully. It is a learned skill to defeat and reprogram the banter from adversarial to realistic. I learned through counseling. It did not come naturally and literally took years. Today, if a hint of negativity whispers in my ear, I can easily relegate it to the “lies” section and move on. I have no energy or time for negative self-indulgence. I have too much to accomplish to be burdened with the impossible weight of self loathing. Amen!