George Bailey & Me

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“Why the heck does it have to be SO HARD?!?!” I wailed to God that Christmas Eve.

Once again, wanting a loving, Christmas Eve family experience, I attempted to force the concrete square through the circular opening and failed. We were all dressed up and driving into town to attend Christmas Eve services. The children were in their early teens by now. I thought surely we can do this! However, my anxiety was at a fever pitch and my tolerance was shot. Five minutes on the way into town, loud arguing was beginning in the back seat and I just couldn’t handle anymore fighting. So, I did what any rational parent would do. I turned the car around, drove myself back home, got out and told my husband to take them to church by himself. How kind of me. And that saint of a man did.

Back inside the house, I poured myself a huge eggnog and put on “Its a Wonderful Life” to distract myself. I fussed at God, “Why would you allow it be so hard if you know I am trying?” All of a sudden a near audible thought ran through my head, “The journey is worth it. I sent my Son into the world knowing He’d be rejected and crucified by man, but sent Him anyway bc His life on Earth mattered. Your journey is worth it too.” I nearly fell off the couch. This jolted my mindset just like George Bailey’s in the movie I was watching.

Ever since that moment I’ve quit expecting things to be easier. I realize it’s not about comfort or lack of conflict. This life is a gift with all the good, bad and ugly. It’s a process. But if God loves me enough to send His Son even though He knew we’d reject and crucify Him, I suppose I can handle some conflict and difficult circumstances myself. Praise the Lord for His infinite goodness where a worn out mama can belly ache to Him and He will answer our prayers- just like He did for George Bailey in the movie “Its a Wonderful Life.”

“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?

THANKFUL? No Way!

Reflecting on our recent holiday of Thanksgiving, I felt challenged to thank God for things I wish I didn’t have to. The saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” makes me cringe because I know for a fact He will give me whatever it takes to draw me to Him. He will do the same to you.

The reason He gives those He loves more than we can handle is because He knows we need almost brokenness to get past our human selves to seek Him.

If everything were manageable why would we need God? I also believe He wants us to thank Him for the things that break us because it’s then that we are able to grow into His likeness. He has to stretch us beyond comfort. It’s a dichotomy, but it’s very real.

I had been very self sufficient and a hard worker since my youth because I believed that if I put forth 100% effort and gave my everything, good would come my way. I relied on that mentality and it served me well through high school and college. Sure, I had many positive accolades and awards, but it still didn’t prepare me for what was to come.

Once, when my husband and I were early married, we served as ministry staff at a retreat. We were prayed over and the lady praying was taken aback. I didn’t understand at the time but now I get it. She stood up and said, “Oh my, you have a powerful path in your future.” We had no clue what she meant and just went about the normal business of living. Little did we know, she was foreshadowing our future.

After praying for years that I would be able to have children, low and behold, I got WAY more than I ever could have hoped for. I had a beautiful, little girl and a year later came identical, natural triplet males. Sure, our cup runneth over and yes, we had a quiver full, but the pathway there was a frightening trial.

I found out I was having triplets while having an ultrasound at the local hospital. My husband was home on his lunch hour while our one year old daughter was napping. Another family was also in the waiting room but had many family present for their baby’s first, grainy photos. My mother, afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease couldn’t be there nor could my in laws who both were working. I sat all alone waiting my turn for the cold metal strobe to tell me all was well with my baby.

I was slightly afraid because I had experienced a complication. However, that wasn’t near the complications I would be having shortly! As I lie there having the ultrasound, my technician abruptly stopped and said, “Oh my! I see two- you are having twins! You can cry now.” I lay there thinking, “What? Twins?” And then she became startled and said, “Wait! I see another. Wait. Let me go get the radiologist. I’ll be right back.” I lay there dumbfounded. How in the world could this be happening? I’m barely a mother. My mother is dying of Alzheimer’s disease down the street and I don’t know enough on how to mother that many children. I began selling my too small car and home when she came back to the ultrasound room. My first comments were, “Are there any more?” Once she said no, I began the task of realigning the Earth on its axis.

After arriving home, I tried to tell my husband the news but no words came. Instead, I handed him three stuffed animals. In true, pied piper sense his response was only, “Cool!”

I haven’t been as cool. This journey has broken me many times over the past two decades. Remember, I’m a believer in hard work and effort overcomes all. But guess what? Nope, it doesn’t. You can’t work good to occur. You can’t hope people will change. You can’t pretend good is happening when it’s not. You also can’t ignore difficulty and pretend it doesn’t exist. All of it is very real. We all struggle. We all have something or someone that brings us to our breaking point.

I recently read the book “Prison to Praise” by Merlin Carothers that says we need to thank God for the very painful, difficult situations we have. He says it’s then that God can unleash His power to make change. Usually, it seems, that powerful change is in our attitude and therefore, our behaviors. I’m no Pollyanna and I am real in that I struggle mightily. I wrestle against circumstances and their perceived unfairness like anyone. However, I’ve grown weary trying to make things like I think “they should be.”

Letting go of results and expectations seem to be my struggle. I’ve wanted things to be just so and people to do this or that but have only met frustration over and over. I suppose God wants me to let Him be God and me be Katie? Maybe I’m supposed to leave results to Him and enjoy the process of raising children the good and the bad?

I’ve found the self restraint required to let things be almost impossible. I’ve wanted so much to “fix” things to how in my mind seem appropriate. But where has it gotten me? No where I’d like. So, in an effort to do the unthinkable, I am going to try thanking Him for things I don’t like and for those I want to change. I am going to ask Him to do His bidding rather than my all too faulty, presumptuous ideas. Maybe then, I can finally relax? Thankfully, it really doesn’t matter because I’m not in charge anyway. That much I DO know.

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.

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!

SECOND PLACE

Sometimes, we get what others might conceive as “the shaft.” Second place can seem like failure to some: very, very good but not quite good enough.

Recently, the world was engrossed with the World Cup. Us fans observed when Croatia, who effectively battled their way to the final, ended up coming up short. They got second place and not their desired outcome. But, considering the fact the country hasn’t been to the finals of the World Cup in decades, they were quite successful. In reality, they had a great showing and proved that a lesser populated nation could produce an outstanding team of players on the world’s pitch.

Second place can actually be quite a relief. I remember my school’s spelling bee when I placed second and my opponent advanced to the county level. I also recall Girl’s State when I lost to my opponent at the gubernatorial level. I was relieved to stop with both those levels of loss/success. I wanted the opponent to advance so I didn’t have all the additional responsibility. I got a modicum of success without further responsibility. I gained “partial noteriety” with which I was satisfied. My resume was filled but I had no further obligation.

Another example could be observing the American princess, Megan Markle. She made her official appearance with the Queen and royal family recently at Buckingham Palace. She was observed as being positioned behind Princess Kate And Prince William and some interpreted this as insubordination. But in fact, it was planned that way due to the hierarchy of succession. We can only speculate the relief she must have felt in being behind the experienced royals and not thrust straightaway into the world’s spotlight. Second row could have been welcome relief for her. Pressure was abated due to her physical positioning.

It can be a gift to be second place or runner up. It can be a blessing to obtain the experience of the trial, game, match or race and not gain all the pressure to move on to the next level. Or, the failure, per se, can be what makes us stronger. Sometimes, life allows us the gift of experience rather than that of prestige. Prestige is fleeting and bases itself on success and winning. Experience, our perpetual teacher, bases itself on failure as well, thus, nothing is wasted. In actuality, failure is what makes success so sweet. Second place can very much be a gift.

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.

Tattoo Who

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I always thought tattoos were interesting. I have no idea why, but I would look at them and think to myself, “What does that mean?” and “Why do they have that?” I was inexplicably drawn to them and could only imagine the story behind the ink. I even researched what the Bible said about them. However, I was raised by a father that said a tattoo was a “permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.”

Throughout history, tattoos have sometimes had negative connotations. My husband had a grandfather who was a merchant marine that was embarrassed of his – so much so, he hid his with long-sleeved shirts in sweltering heat. Cher even had hers lasered off. Yet they seem more ubiquitous and socially accepted now than ever.

To me, tattoos are interpretive, personal art. The only thing that stopped me from getting one was the fact my intuitive husband said I’d want to change mine out after a month like an accessory. His opinion was correct in that I was easily bored with decor and fashion. In those areas, he had me pegged.

There were, however, nonnegotiables in my life: my devotion to my family and my faith. To explain, it takes supernatural, God- equipped strength to raise  (much less live with)  4 teenagers. So, when I hit a particularly difficult, rough patch, I decided to take a personal “break.” I have no clue how to define or what constitutes “a break,” but I will say it was the healthiest choice. No kidding, I hit a very high, hard wall in parenting. So, I separated myself to avoid perpetuating anymore negativity and to gain perspective. I went to the beach and started praying fervently. I had no idea what to do, how to do it, or what could come of my quandry.  I just kept seeking divine guidance.  I knew God was there and would help me but I didn’t know what that would look like. The more I prayed, the more God drew closer. I felt His comforting presence and sensed my job was to back off and let Him do His work. I felt without a doubt that God was telling me to “Be still” and just “Be Thankful.” That message, after days of prayer, was all I needed to stop trying so hard to force change. My role rather, was to rejoice and be thankful for all God’s blessings. This was new for me: I was to stop micromanaging everything and just “be.”

After contemplating this reality, it dawned on me that I felt a permanent reminder was in order. It was like I was driven by an external force that sunny weekday to go to the beach tattoo parlor. Yep, a middle aged, mother of 4 had an unwavering plan to commemorate this “God moment” in ink.

With their high-tech, graphics design program, and medical grade equipment, the artist created a light- hued, grey scripted message on my inner wrist. It was and is my permanent message from God to be still and be thankful.

It has induced hilarious banter from some like, “Did you get that in prison?” I also find it humorous that I am the only one in my family with one- none of my college kids do. Interestingly, it has also been the impetus of deep conversations with strangers regarding faith.  I don’t regret it and haven’t for one moment wanted to change it out either.

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!