Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Life Can Be Rough When It Isn't Hard.

Inspirational reading has surely always been popular.

Whether it is the Bible, an autobiography, or even a dislocated quote hovering over a beach scene on someone's Facebook (nay, Pinterest!) page, humans continue to draw benefit from reading something that inspires them.

In times of weakness, it is fortifying to read about how we can be strong.  In time of hardship and sadness, it is heartening to read about why we can still be happy.  I can recite Bible verses that I memorized years and years ago, simply because they enlightened me at a time of distress.

So, what about the times when we are simply OK?

When everything is normal: not too good and not too bad, where is the need for inspiration?  Where is our need to fight and strive for... aw, crap, I can't even think of what to strive for.

As I lay draped on our worn-in couch, listening to the sounds of a weed whacker just outside my window and hoping it doesn't disturb my son's nap, I am struck by the reality that when everything is a-OK I forget to need inspiration!  It almost frightens me how lazy my spirit becomes when nothing is extraordinarily wrong or right.

At the risk of sounding completely disrespectful (boy, am I a risk-taker!) I would venture to say: it is harder to live with purpose when things are just fine.

Brave people standing in the picket line with a sign in their hands know where right and wrong lie.  Captured soldiers on their knees refusing to denounce their country have a fire kindled in their heart bolstering their conviction.  When the jeers and insults and maybe even fists start falling down on them, their road becomes difficult and almost impossible, but they know where the road is.

It is more pleasant, yet much more dangerous, to go lazily picking dandelions and lose the road completely.

 If you're like me and enjoying a perfectly pleasant humdrum day, I'd like to inspire you to get inspired.  Pick up your Bible, pick up your running shoes, open up your windows and imagine your favorite quote in your perfectly pleasant humdrum sky.

It can be extraordinary to be ordinary.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What's The Rush?

When I was in kindergarten, I couldn't WAIT to go to middle school.  When I was in middle school, I couldn't WAIT to go to high school.  When I was in high school I couldn't WAIT to drive a car.  When I could drive a car, I couldn't WAIT to move out of the house.

Are you seeing a trend?

As I was growing, each milestone that approached gave me a rush.  Just as if the turbo-button had been pressed on my spaceship, I'd be propelled forward by a momentary burst of excitement, freedom, and awe.

I still experience the rush of approaching, smashing, and passing milestones: engagement was awesome, my wedding was beyond awesome, and becoming a parent is simply indescribable.  I even enjoy less common milestones: end of deployment, moving back to the states... heck, sometimes I celebrate the passing of a rough week!

I wonder, am I so enthralled by the passage of time or am I simply entertained by newness?  Perhaps I feel that with each milestone passed I have entered into a new realm of personhood. I am slowly being inducted into the club of people who have Been There and Done That.

Since becoming a parent, I have frequently caught myself thinking, "I can't wait until..." I can't wait until he laughs.  I can't wait until he can sit up by himself.  I can't wait until he crawls.  But, HOLD THE PHONE!!!  I try my best to stop such nonsense from leaving my brain by way of my mouth.  My son's approaching, smashing, and passing of milestones is all happening way too fast for my comfort.

I now think back to the adults who have told me "don't be in such a rush."  I will probably hear myself tell my son the same thing.  (Probably sooner than I expect!)

I wonder, will I clench my fist in triumph when my long-awaited AARP card comes in the mail someday?  Will I feel the rush of excitement and freedom as I purchase my first senior-priced item or get an invitation to my very first colonoscopy?  (SCORE!)

I realize I have an opportunity now, while I'm young, to make a life choice: get stoked about the experiencing of milestones or get stoked about the experiencing of moments; the grand and the minute.

I think I'll choose the latter... and I can't WAIT to pass that on to my son.  I just can't wait.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Divine and The Dummy

On our recent trip to Paris, I was most excited to visit the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

Steeped in a history of love, charity, and true miracles, I have been reading about this place for years.  I've had such a special experience with the Miraculous Medal and been so touched and inspired by the story of St. Catherine LabourĂ© that I made it a priority to visit this sacred location and see where St. Catherine's body is on display, peaceful and incorrupt.

Walking into the courtyard of the chapel, I silently prepared myself for an emotional experience that I'd get to share with my husband and son.

We entered the chapel just as the Eucharist was being received.  The line was short, but we hadn't been present for the entire Mass so I didn't think I should get in line to take communion.  We stood hesitantly on the sidelines for a bit, then decided to leave until Mass was over.  When we returned I made a beeline to the front of the chapel to an elevated glass coffin.  Here she was! Here was the woman that had played such a big part in the changing of my life!

For propriety's sake I'd sidled into a pew not-too-close to the front of the chapel.  As I gazed into the contents of the glass, I felt terribly underwhelmed.  I stared past the people taking pictures in front of the coffin and I couldn't help feeling that something was just not right.  Why did she look so fake?  Why didn't I sense anything special?  Why did I feel like just a dumb tourist looking for a photo opp?

I watched another line begin to form at the center of the chapel, probably people there to offer Mass intentions or prayer requests to the nuns in attendance.  I felt a desire to join the people and quickly dismissed it because I don't like being part of a fuss; part of a crowd.  Then I thought of my husband waiting for me at the back with my son, so, without uttering even a short prayer, I snapped a picture and hastily left.

The historic chapel was beautiful and I felt the satisfaction of checking a spiritual to-do off my list, still I was left with a feeling that something was missing.

It wasn't until the next evening, searching online for an answer to my disappointment, that I discovered my blunder: in my attempt to make my visit quick and not get in anyone's way I had snapped a picture of the only glass coffin I'd seen, the tomb of St. Louise.  In fact, the "person" inside wasn't a person at all, but a plaster representation of the saint housed below the glass.  My dear St. Catherine's body lay not 20 feet away at the other side of the chapel.

Had I gotten in line to receive the Eucharist I would have seen her.  Had I stayed in the chapel to see the end of the Mass I would have seen her.  Had I not avoided the crowd and simply gotten in line to see what the other people were fussing about I would have seen her.  Had I taken my time and not worried about what my husband and son were doing I would have seen her.

When I realized what a dummy I'd been, I cried.  I felt like such a fool for giving into impatience and missing the very thing I'd gone to see.

This is not the first time this has happened to me; not the first time I've pridefully given an unfamiliar situation a half-hearted effort and bowed out early.  This is, however, the first time I've felt so bitterly the disappointment of trying to be in control.

My husband assures me that we'll go back one day.  Until then, I'll be reflecting on my dumbness, my humanness, and learning to simply let go.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Bionic Man

My dad will undergo surgery to have his hip replaced today.

For months upon months he's lived with a ball and socket joint that clanks around like rusted auto parts.  He still walks, travels, cycles, golfs, and skis with amazing strength and skill, but he must do all these things through a curtain of pain.

I have a creaky knee that complains when I don't treat it well, though I certainly can't compare that to the pain my father endures.  Still, I know that when my knee hurts I simply cannot remember how it feels to be pain free.  The same goes for when I'm ill: my body cannot recall the feeling of being healthy.  Pain and discomfort take over my mind and sometimes even my spirit.  Not knowing when I'll feel better can put me in a rather hopeless mood.

My father, for all these months, hasn't known when he would feel better, yet I've never heard him utter a word of complaint.  If you were to ask him why he endures his discomfort in silence, he'd probably tell you that complaining doesn't fix anything.  He'd rather keep living his life in pain than sit around moping.  (This is the same man who, at the first sign of a cold, showers and gets dressed and resolves to accomplish anything that gets him out of the house.)

Today he will begin a six to eight week long process of pain with a purpose.  This isn't his first hip replacement surgery.  He knows exactly how the grueling experience will go this time.  I have no doubt his attitude (and, frankly, his stubbornness) will contribute to his unnaturally swift recovery.

I'd like to think that my father's hip replacement is inspiring something in me: an attitude replacement.

I am humbled by my dad's quiet strength and endurance.  The everyday wear and tear of our bodies (our homes, our belongings) needn't cause us to sink into hopelessness or disappointment.  Life happens, might as well get yourself dressed and get out there to enjoy it!

Thanks, dad, for teaching me that enjoying life despite difficulty is a choice.  I love you and I'm praying for smooth sailing while you're on the cutting board! 

Talk to you soon, Bionic Man.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"Girls Hate Girls"

I grew up around boys.

Between eight and eleven years my senior, my relationship with my three cousins shaped how I learned to relate to people.  I spent my entire childhood, adolescence, and even part of my adulthood trying to prove that I could hang with the guys.

Perhaps you've heard one of these before:
"I can't stand females."
"I have mainly guy friends."
"Girls are too much drama."

My husband once summed this phenomenon up with a simple declaration:
Girls Hate Girls.

The first time he made this utterly sexist remark I was offended.  I don't hate people!  Slowly, though, that simple observation began to sink in and I recognized the truth in it.  Far more complicated than jealousy, I believe girls and women expect such perfection from their own selves that they will ultimately dislike other women for surpassing or falling short of their own impossible expectations.  I believe girls may gravitate towards male friendships because the expectation is different; it is based on achievable things like how fast you run a mile or how much you can drink.  (For the record, those are both areas in which I've nearly killed myself trying to keep up with a man.)

What I am discovering now that I am "growing up" (I use that phrase loosely) is the joy and the importance of female friendships.

Perhaps I have come to a point in my life where I am satisfied with who I am and, therefore, I can appreciate other women for who they are.  I no longer feel the need to prove that I can hang with the guys.  I can hang with the girls!

I have friends who are smarter, more crafty, prettier, more ambitious, more accomplished, fitter, and more spiritual than me.  Sometime in the past three years I've started to admire these traits rather than dislike them.  In the same three years I have developed some of the dearest friendships I have ever enjoyed.  Even meeting new women acquaintances is more rewarding, now!

This may not be news to some girls out there.  I know many women who have girlfriends they've known since childhood! How awesome!  It's too bad it has taken me so long to figure this out, but now that I have I am enjoying making up for lost time.

To my girlfriends:  I am inspired by you and I love you.  I truly do.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

3 Most Important Things: Kitchen

Playing Mad Scientist in the kitchen is one of my favorite domesticated pastimes.

The habit began when I was living in Chicago; living month-to-month in Humboldt Park.  I'd go grocery shopping once a month after the rent was paid, and whatever I bought was what I ate all month long.  Armed with few utensils and my trusty skillet, I became an expert at opening the fridge and making it work.

Over the years, I've honed this improvisational skill.  I made lunch today this way, actually, and it got me thinking... if I had to choose, what would be the 3 most important things to have in my kitchen?  What do other people consider to be their 3 most important things?

I put the question out there and got some awesome responses (in order of age because we get smarter as we get older:)

Female, 29 (this one's mine!)- a cast iron skillet, tomatoes, olive oil

Male, 29- The fridge, the microwave, my wife

Male, 29- garlic, my knife (7" chefs knife, super sharp), room temp unsalted butter

Male, 30- a wife, French press, eggs

Female, 31- food, Italian stove top coffee/espresso maker, first set of nice dishes I bought for myself

Male, 31- frying pan, George Foreman grill, blender

Female, 35- microwave, refrigerator, oven

Female, 62- my window, my microwave, one good sharp knife

Female, 67- a sink, my stove, and my petite chef's knife

Female, 70- my electric mixer, my fridge, my sharpest knives

Male, 71- microwave, dishwasher, wine opener

Wine opener. Truly, wisdom comes with age!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Marks on the Furniture

No home could possibly be perfect.

Even the most pristine of abodes must have memories hidden under coats of touch-up paint.  Even the wealthiest, the cleanliest, the most organized of residents must certainly harbor evidence of imperfection that makes them cringe.

The other day, as I bustled around my home in a fit of what can only be described as Spring Cleaning, I came upon a few marks on the furniture.

A cluster of dings on the coffee table:
The most adorable cluster of dings, to be sure!  This is the first of the furniture that my baby made his mark on, practicing his motor skills with a set of plastic coasters.

A totally thrashed kitchen table:
About three years ago, my husband and one of our dear friends began home brewing beer.  Their brew sessions became an awesome time for them to connect and experiment.  One of those experiments resulted in my husband and our friend pounding large ziplock bags full of hops and grains on the kitchen table with my rolling pins.  Our friend gave his life for his country the next year... but the divots and speckles he smashed into our table remain.

Wax splotches on the couch:
My husband and I have two different recollections of what really happened here.  He remembers throwing a pillow at me and knocking over a burning candle.  I remember him blowing that candle out like the Big Bad Wolf on his fiftieth birthday.  Either scenario makes me chuckle.

Ice cream drips on the antique trunk:
One evening, in our perilous first year of marriage, I became so frustrated with my husband that I temporarily abandoned my ability to reason and hurled my bowl of ice cream across the room.  I remember slipping away, afterwards, to lock myself in the bathroom and have a good cry.  When I came back out, the pieces of broken bowl had been picked up and the ice cream carefully cleaned from the carpet.  I cannot remember what I was so upset about.

Nail polish on the couch cushion:
I confess, I painted one of my dog's toenails bright red.  He was a very good sport about it, but didn't grasp that he needed to wait to play until the polish dried.

I'll mention here that it would be a presumptuous fib to state I've purposely been keeping these marks where they are.  The marks on the furniture are by no means a conscious exercise in humility.

Chip in one of the nice salad plates:
There is no story behind the chipping of the plate.  It happened.  The chipped piece was tenderly glued back onto the plate and now it is a reminder of a declaration I made when I first began keeping house...

I never want to be the type of person who freaks out over a broken dish.  I want my home to be comfy, not perfect.

The marks on the furniture make me cringe, but here they are and here they shall remain.  Perhaps, if you come for a visit, you'll help us make a few more.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Best Friday, Ever.

The knowledge that today is Good Friday has barely affected my day.

Isn't that terrible?

It crossed my mind this morning when I woke up.  I was reminded, again, when I went to get a haircut and found the salon was closed.  Only after some half-hearted dinner plans were cancelled did I think, oh, well, that's good... we shouldn't really be having fun today.

As my day drew nearer to its end and I drew my son close to rock him to sleep, an awareness came over me: I'm not the first one in history to have embraced a precious son.

Throughout this day that has barely been affected by the knowledge that today is Good Friday, I have taken care of my baby.  I've fed him, clothed him, cleansed him, and even provided learning opportunities.  Halfway through our day, in a moment of preoccupation and fatigue, I abruptly left my infant to cry in his crib.  I regret that for a brief moment he felt quite alone.

God let his Son feel alone, once, too.  Only He wasn't busy cleaning, organizing, or resting his brain surfing the internet on his smartphone.  God let his Son feel alone because he knew one day I'd be doing all those things.  He knew I'd fall terribly short at showing my family how much I loved them.

Tonight, as I cradled my baby's warmth, I watched him stare into my face as he drifted off to sleep.  He was perfectly happy just to be with me.  He didn't remember the days business or how I'd left him to cry.  Because he loves me so much, he simply forgot.  I'd gotten another chance to love him right.

What do you start calling chances after you've blown through seconds, thirds, fourths, and beyond?


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lost + Found

In college I found a little silver ring with a black stone.

Simple and dark, with an unknown story, I felt a strange kinship with this tiny object.

Over the months that followed I was constantly losing and finding this ring.  Sometimes I'd lose it for a day or so.  Sometimes weeks would pass between sightings.  It would disappear, then pop up, in the unlikeliest places!  I was both perplexed and comforted by the strange relationship I was having with this ring.

The last time I lost the ring it failed to materialize after the "usual lost period."  Weeks turned into months and I came to believe I'd lost it for good.  This was some six or seven years ago.

Today I put on an ancient pair of jeans (in order to justify my keeping them past their expiration date.)  Then, for no good reason, I curled my finger into the neglected fifth pocket.  I felt something.  A coin?  "What a find," I thought, "if it ends up being a quarter!"

What I pulled out was the longest running inside joke I've ever experienced: my lost and found ring had been found once more!

News like this just had to be shared.

The finding of this ring rekindled a desire for sharing that had been smoldering in my heart for quite some time.

I've lost and found this desire over the years (most notoriously here.)  It is a desire that I've always felt was unfortunately narcissistic, however I realize that I not only have something to share but a reason to share it.

As I continue to reshape the "about me" section of my life, something stands out: I will never lack for things I want to say.  I now choose to curate my thoughts to reveal that which has some purpose.

Here we go...