What I Stand (Up) For
Is there anything as moving as seeing former service men and women standing proudly at attention the moment they hear the first note of the song that represents their branch of service? The sight gives me chills every time I see it. One such moment occurred last November at our school's Veterans' Day celebration. Seeing their ramrod-straight spines, the looks of pride on their faces, and a few glints of tears in their eyes as they stood for their song, I began to think about what songs I stand up for.
I have never been in the military, so I don't stand up for "The Wild Blue Yonder" or "The Halls of Montezuma" or "The Army Goes Rolling Along". I do, however, proudly stand up when I hear the first strains of the national anthem or "America the Beautiful". I also rise and enthusiastically sing the words of "Texas, Our Texas" to show my pride in my great state. And, proud Aggie that I am, I will happily jump to my feet to sing along with "The Spirit of Aggieland". And, of course, I absolutely must link arms and sway along with my fellow Aggies as we belt out "The Aggie War Hymn". There is such a swell of pride in my heart when I hear any of those songs, because they are the embodiment of places I hold dear. There are also a few praise and worship songs that I stand up for when I hear them, because sometimes my soul won't allow me to sit and sing - I just need to stand up to worship God!
Thinking about the songs I stand up for led me to think about how that represents ME. If I care about a song enough to stand up for it, surely that shows where my allegiance lies. That line of thought also carried me to consider how else I show what I stand for. I regularly wear two rings: one is a claddagh my older son gave me for Christmas a few years ago. The claddagh is a symbol of Ireland which speaks of loyalty, love, and friendship. I wear that ring as a symbol of my love for Ireland, as a representation of my Irish heritage, and as a link to my family. The other ring I wear regularly is my Aggie ring, which of course represents my affiliation with all of the former students of TAMU. Although I didn't get my Aggie ring until more than 30 years after my graduation (thanks, Robin), it is very important to me. The rings I wear represent part of who I am.
I also realized that in our society, people often use bumper stickers to show their interests or affiliations. I have two bumper stickers: one says "Texas State University Mom" a gift I prize from my older son, a graduate of Texas State, and the other reads "Aggie Mom", which my younger son gave me as a surprise when he gained admittance to TAMU. Those bumper stickers proudly proclaim my pride in both of my sons who have shown great perseverance in pursuing their degrees in spite of the difficulties they have faced.
Considering how we outwardly show what we stand for has made me think about how we truly demonstrate our values in our daily lives. For instance, I've always been a little leery of posting a bumper sticker that boasts of my Christian beliefs for fear I would do something obnoxious while driving and reflect badly on God. Not that I am a particularly aggressive or reckless driver, but I do make my share of thoughtless mistakes behind the wheel that might offend another driver. I also know that quite often I see people, whether in real life or celebrities on TV, wearing a cross around their necks while behaving in ways that should mortify any God-fearing person. While I believe absolutely in the forgiveness of sin, I abhor the idea that we are free to purposely act badly because we have a merciful God. I don't ever want to bring shame on what I hold dear by my words or actions, so if I decide to wear a piece of jewelry, or stick on a bumper sticker, or stand up for a particular song, I must be sure that my life will promote, not detract from, what I outwardly proclaim.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Three years ago, out of the blue, I asked my friend Andrea if she wanted to train to run a 5K. She said yes. We bought an app for our phones to help with the training. It was called Couch to 5K. Very aptly named, because I for one have loved nothing more than sitting on a couch and reading for most of my life. The way the program works you start out running for 60 seconds and walking for 90. Gradually, over several weeks the run time is increased to 5, 10 and eventually 30 minutes. The day we ran our first race will go down in my personal history as the day I overcame my battle with physical inertia. The change happened so gradually, that I did not even notice it. It was “little by little, day by day”.
And that’s how change happens.
I could not have done it without my running partner. There is something about giving my word to someone other than myself that makes it sacred. When the alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. I jump and put on my shoes (I sleep in as much of my running clothes as possible to save time) if I know Andrea is waiting for me. But on days when I am on my own, the snooze button gets hit several times and eventually the alarm is just turned off. Change is always easier when we have a partner; someone to encourage us, share the challenge with us and keep us to our words.
And that’s what we need to make change easier and more bearable, someone to walk the path with us.
At the gate of the chemical plant where I worked for three years, there was a billboard with the number of days since the last accident. Every day the number went up by one, was one day closer to our goal of running a safe plant. But accidents did happen and the number would go back to zero. Then our eyes were set on bettering our record. Maybe this time we can go even longer than last time.
And that’s how we deal with setbacks. We re-start the counter and hope to beat our last record.
I heard a story on the radio about a woman in her 100s that realized she had refused a new room at the nursing home where she lived, only because the other resident was an African-American woman. Shocked by her own feelings, she began consciously working on becoming friends with the other woman and was there by her side when she passed away.
Change is an inevitable part of life. The day we stop changing is the day we are done with this life. Maybe the word I am looking for is not change but growth. It is never too late to grow. And growth is not necessarily measured by whether we reach a final destination or not. It happens gradually, imperceptibly along the path. What’s needed is a willingness to reflect often, a desire to try again tomorrow and a faith in God’s mercy and protection.
Friday, February 13, 2015
Utter the word grace and all kinds of associations and images come to mind.
Grace Kelly, Grace Jones,
God’s grace, in someone’s good graces
saving grace, fall from grace,
grace the stage, grace period
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…
Grace is my one word for 2015. Long before it was a trending thing to do, I have made a practice of choosing a word, or three, to be my anchor for growth and development in the new year. I examine my journal entries to look for the paths upon which God and life have been trying to lead me. I search for themes in my epiphanies, angsts and questions. I spend much time in prayer, meditation, and reflection to find the quality on which I need to focus. This process led me to grace.
My aim is to become a guide to grace- recognizing it, extending it and receiving it.
Something hit me not too long ago. When I look at my face, I see only my mother. There is no distinct part of me that is not mirrored in her. I see facial expressions, skin tone, contours of her features in mine. I believe this is an act of grace from God. You see, I have never known my father. He chose to leave my life when I was an infant. I've never seen a picture of him or ever met any of his family members. Though I have made peace with his absence in my life and truly harbor no ill will or thought, I think it would have sickened my curious, need-to-see-the-connections kind of heart to look into the mirror everyday and see unfamiliar, untraceable features in myself.
Grace abounds, but I don't always recognize it. Most often, it is not until later that I see God’s or someone else’s act of grace in my life. But the fact is when I’m looking for evidence of something, I always find it. You’ll see whatever it is you’re looking for and the more I recognize grace in my own life, the more I am able to extend it to others.
I am a teacher. I used to teach really little kids and now I teach bigger kids; kids who are a little more set in their ways. Kids who have much more of the personality and mindset they will as adults. With really little kids, it is so much easier to extend grace. They are new here. Though I held high expectations, I knew they were learning daily how to be the human beings they were put here to be. I found much joy and purpose in extending grace to little people. And they would respond quickly, happily and thrive because of it. Sometimes this is not the case with bigger kids. Oh yes, they need grace, but they do not always see the need or appreciate the extension.
Nonetheless, they still thrive in it when it is given freely and frequently. My motto is gentle pressure applied relentlessly to help kids move beyond the sometimes jaded perspective they can have toward all the things we grown-ups try to instill in them.
Sometimes, big kids can have bad attitudes, put in less than their best effort. Let’s face it, some have bought into the cultural lie that school is a place to dread despite the fact that this doesn’t match their daily experience. I didn’t know this about big kids. Little kids are not that way. They have great attitudes for the most part. They believe they can change the world and learn anything because we applaud everything they do because they are new here. Not so with bigger kids. Some become jaded because they have been told that something they’ve done isn’t right or good enough. They get told to try harder rather than being shown how to. Let’s face it, they are still new here, too. They need us to extend love, kindness, mercy, compassion and find favor in them. They need grace.
The truth is we all do. I always, always, always say that grown-ups are just like kids, only taller. Deep down, we all have the same core needs and we express those needs in so many of the same ways we did as children. We fight, flee or freeze. Big, small and all in between need grace like they need love because grace is simply an action of love. This is how we can change our weaknesses to strength. Maybe the more grace we extend the better we will get at recognizing our need for and increase our capacity to receive grace.
How many of us are gifted at giving but terrible at receiving? I will be the first to admit it. I know I need grace from people, but sometimes I hate that I need it. For instance, my husband is probably the most gracious man I will ever know. Daily, without fail, he exemplifies the disposition to benefit or serve others with me and our children. For the past few weeks, I have been abnormally fatigued. I fall asleep the way one would accidentally fall down- without warning and hard. Though he has always been an equal participant in the management of our household, he has had to manage just about everything lately: meals, cleaning, laundry (washing, folding and putting away), the bills, the kids’ stuff and whatever else I have left undone.
In 22 years, he has never complained once about taking care of me. He fills in every gap I leave open. He rescues me all of the time. I start something. He finishes it. I dream up something. He makes it happen. He is reliable. He forgives easily. He overlooks my faults. He gives without reservation.
Sometimes, I push back on this. I used to call it independence. Really though, it is an inability to receive grace, also known as pride (not the good kind). I have gotten a lot better through the years. He has told me so. But as with most of life, I am still in progress. I love to serve and give to people. I believe this is a major part of why I am here. Consequently, in order to do this well I have to continuously grow in the three aspects of gracious living I am exploring. Part of growing in grace for me has to be welcoming grace inwardly and with humility. In doing this, I bet I will grow in recognizing and extending it to others.
The more I explore, the more I am convinced that grace isn’t always all roses and rainbows. A proverb states: As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another. This too is grace. Sometimes sparks may fly as we do things that benefit and serve others. Sometimes grace is speaking the truth in love to help people change a behavior or character issue as they travel on the road to being the best version of themselves. Sometimes grace is letting someone make mistakes so they can learn and develop convictions of their own as you admonish and encourage. Sometimes grace is saying or doing nothing at all and letting people find their own strength.Every time, however, grace is giving others and ourselves what is needed, when it is needed. Grace must be thoughtful, genuine and intentional. It calls for our hearts and eyes to be wide open- to know and see what to give and when. The more we recognize acts of and the need for grace, the more we should be able to extend it. And extending grace changes us, moving us into a better state to receive it.
I do not understand the mystery of grace- only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.- Anne Lamott