Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wounded Earth by Carolyn

“Out of wounded earth, flowers come, pushing through the dirt.”
from Wholly Yours by the David Crowder Band

Those words stick in my head long after the song has ended, nagging at me to give them a voice. I know they speak of my mother, who had a beautiful spirit in spite of the difficulties she faced in her life.

She was born in 1935 in Alamogordo, New Mexico, the fourth child, third daughter, of a rancher and a homemaker. Eventually, the number of children would grow to seven. She was right in the middle: middle child, middle of the five daughters. The family struggled to make ends meet all of her childhood. She used to tell stories about her early years in Alamogordo, which is a mountainous area, and therefore gets quite a bit of snowfall each year. She spoke of sleeping in a bed together with all of her sisters crowded together for warmth. She recalled waking up shivering one morning feeling as if a huge weight was crushing her. When she opened her eyes, she realized that the weight she was feeling was a large drift of snow that had fallen through a hole in the roof down onto the kids huddled under the quilts below! I remember hearing her say once (whether jokingly or not, I’m not sure) that they weren’t even very upset when one of them wet the bed at night, because at least it made a warm spot! She grew up with little money, nothing in the way of luxuries, and lots of hard work. Yet she shone with good nature and hopefulness. To this day, her brothers and sisters will say that she is their favorite sister, the heart of the family.

Eventually, she met and married my father, and they produced two daughters, my sister and me. Suffice it to say, she was more committed to the marriage than he was. I think it might be fair to  describe my father as “hard to love”. For many years, after working a full day outside the home, my mother cleaned the house, did laundry, and made dinner for my father. He seldom came home to eat until it had grown cold and she had sent us to bed. He was seldom around to engage in father-daughter activities with us, so she filled the gap with a warm smile and vast enthusiasm. When their marriage finally ended in divorce, she was devastated. In spite of all the emotional pain she had been through, she still loved him and wanted the marriage to work. As a single parent, she raised us with patience and understanding. Her wisdom and generosity as a parent I could never hope to achieve, although I hoped I would.

Years later, she began to have severe back pain. She endured several very painful back surgeries, which never quite solved the problem. She was diagnosed with degenerative disk disease. For many years, every day was full of pain, yet it was difficult to tell when you were with her. She continued to smile and laugh and enjoy life. Eventually, when she was in her early forties, she could no longer go to work every day. Most of her days were spent in her recliner, but when she could, she got out and about; she was not a person made for solitude. Even when she was disabled, she still enriched the lives of her family and her many friends with her sense of humor, her ready smile, her generosity of spirit.  

In late December, 1986, my mother and I attended a Christmas celebration with her extended family. As we were driving home late that afternoon, she told me that if she had her life to live over again, she would not change anything. I was aghast. “What about all the heartache and the pain you have been through?” I asked. She smiled and said, “Without all of the pieces of my life, the good and the bad, I would not be the person I am today. I kind of like who I am.” I said something about liking her, too, and wishing I could be as content with my life as she was with hers. I’m smiling as I write this now, remembering that conversation. I am grateful to have had that time with her, because there would not be very many more conversations between us. She died at the age of 50, just a few weeks later. I miss her every day.

Now I have given the words a voice: my mother was a beautiful flower that had the strength of spirit to push through the wounded earth in which it was planted.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Perks of Being 50 (or 51)

I have never been afraid of aging.  I am blessed with great genes.  My grandmother passed away in her eighties with the smoothest skin one can imagine on someone of her age and my mother often confuses people when she doesn’t meet their expectation of what a woman her age should look like.  What I didn’t bargain for is the clarity and peace of conscience that has come my way, as I have gotten older.  Here are a few things I enjoy knowing, as I enter this stage of my life:

·         I cannot please everyone, all the time.  I want to.  It is the greatest pleasure of my life to bring joy to others, but it is not possible.  For one thing, if I were even able to do that, I would have to compromise at least some of my own convictions and therefore I would be a hypocrite.  For another, I cannot take on the task of satisfying other people’s expectations, some of which may be totally unreasonable; neither can I live another person’s tests.  All I can do is my best; to be kind, loving and compassionate, to listen and offer a helping hand.

·         Perfection is an unattainable destination, whereas, pursuing excellence is an exciting journey.  Striving for perfection causes anxiety and saps the energies required for moving forward, not just in me but in those around me as well.  It is such a burden to others when in the name of perfection I see the small defects and overlook the important big things in life.  But always trying to do my best, however short of target I may fall, and doing a little bit better each day, motivates me to show up and gives hope to me and to others. 

·        Women can have it all, but maybe not all at the same time.  I have had two careers so far, and enjoyed a fifteen-year stint as the mother of four, without having to work for pay.  It is never too late to start learning something new.  After a lifetime of keeping my nose in a book on a couch, I started running a little over two years ago.  I can now run up to six miles, and am hoping to someday soon run a half marathon.  I am definitely not competing with anyone except my own personal best. 

·        It is important to be conscious of the present in order to improve the future.  The real joy is experiencing this moment, with the family, at work or while serving others, without any expectations.  I raced through my youth, trying to do everything as quickly as possible.  I don’t regret anything, but I wish I had taken the time to enjoy the moments, and not been anxious to move on to the next thing.   Education, learning, life; these are not things to try and get them over with, but to savor and use as fuel to make every day a little better than the day before.

There are no short cuts in life and we learn what we have to learn when we have to learn it.  But, you don’t have to wait to be fifty to start enjoying these perks.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Who am I? By Andrea

When I was a kid, my cousins and I went to our grandparents’ house almost every day after school.  My granny was our bus driver so she would drop us off and continue on with the rest of her route.  Most days, rain or shine, we met my grandfather sitting on the back porch.  He would quiz us on what we had learned at school that day, but not with actual questions from our actual curriculum.  He would make us spell words like Mississippi or pneumonia. He would ask random questions about science or world geography.  Almost daily, though, he would ask us this question:  Which is more important- character or conduct?  My cousins and I would think really hard, trying to remember what we had said the day before and whether he had praised us for getting it right or teased us for getting it wrong.  Almost daily, we got it wrong.  More than poor memory (and after- school hunger pangs) was the reason for our error.  Our youth prevented us from genuinely thinking about and understanding what he was asking and, more importantly, trying to teach us. 

As I grew up, his question and definition of those words began to make more sense to me.  As I began navigating a more adult space of trying to answer the question “Who am I” or better still “Who do I want to be”, I began to think about granddaddy’s words more seriously.  I started to ask myself his question:  Which is more important- my character or my conduct?  From the beginning, my grandfather explained to us that character is who you are; conduct is what you do.  Strong character leads to good conduct.  Grounded, principled conduct builds deep character.  They are BOTH essential to knowing yourself and becoming who you want to be.

I do believe our identities are fluid, an ongoing process of formation, transformation and reformation.  Answering the question “Who am I” at12 years old is bound to have been different than me answering it today.  I am constantly framing and reframing who I am- even at my core in some ways.  My experiences broaden.  My understanding evolves.  I gain new or different perspectives. My paradigms shift.  I recognize some part of my life with which I am dissatisfied so I go to work.  I work on changing my habits.  Habits form my character.  My character largely drives my choices. My choices power my life, dictate my experiences and help to define “who I am.”

Most of the time, when meeting someone new, we ask ‘what do you do?’ as a way of trying to find out who someone is. Typically, the response includes one’s profession or roles one holds in life.  Yes, these are a PART of who we are, but they really do not define us.  Your conduct, what you do, gives clues as to who you are, your character. 

So who am I? 

I am a woman who is the sum total of my thoughts, my experiences, my environment.  Parts of the fabric of who I am rests with whom I have loved and been loved by, choices I have made, fears I have overcome or succumbed to, my hopes and dreams.  I have loved and been loved by people who have made me a better woman. I have made choices that have propelled me forward and others that have stopped me in my tracks.  I am a child of God and as such I am ever growing, ever changing.   I am a hopeful dreamer who loves helping others.  I am a leader and a follower.  I am a woman who does too much.  I am one who forgets the bad and remembers the good easily.  I am wife and mommy, a teacher and a friend.  I am a granddaughter and a daughter who should call home way more often than I do. I am a sister, in blood and in Christ. I am an avid reader and a wannabe writer.  I am always moving forward, but sometimes I find myself moving back.  I am an extrovert embracing a few emerging introvert-ish needs. I am a lover of all things academic. I am a big talker learning to enjoy and to seek quiet.  I am a woman learning to be comfortable in my own skin. I am sometimes Ernie but, most times, I am Andrea. 

I am who I am, but that’s not all that I will be as long as I breathe.

 So who are you?