Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gardening and the Ability to Be Here Now

I started my garden today. What a job. I'm planning a 10'x20' garden plot. Probably going to make it a salad garden. If all goes according to my plan. But jeesh! Breaking ground is a tremendous amount of work. There are so many roots, rocks, branches and such that it is such slow going. I hope I have what it takes to stick with it. Otherwise the pain I caused my knees using the spade to dig was for nothing, right?

Well...maybe not. I have been kind of rethinking how I approach my life lately. See, for so many years I have been focused on the end product of anything that I do or produce. If the end product isn't going to be something special, then I haven't really wanted to put in the effort to do whatever it is. I think it's that New England, Puritanical work ethic thing rearing its ugly head. Don't get me wrong, I value a strong work ethic. I think its an important way for a person to find a purpose in life. But sometimes...every now and then...I think that maybe, just maybe, there is tremendous value in just BEING.

This is not exactly a new concept for me either. It's just one that I am revisting I guess you would say. When I was in college all those years ago, part of the Core curriculum was an Outward Bound-type experience called "La Vida." All students were required to go on La Vida or take the equivalent course as a weekly gym class. As anyone who knows anything about Outward Bound knows, there is much camping, hiking, bush whacking, cooking over open fires, eating of "gorp" (good ole raisins and peanuts), rock climbing, rapelling, partaking of nature, reflection, and an extreme lack of showers or toilet paper.

One of the first things we had to do before we left for the trip was to agree to leave behind all signs of iPods(back then they were walkmans), no cell phones, no watches, no radios. The reason for this? To make sure that we were experiencing our lives in the moment. The idea of La Vida is to slow down and take time to reflect on what is happening in your life right now. My particular group had a motto, "Be Here Now." All these years later, I still remember it. I still try to remind myself to Be Here Now. I don't remember the names of the "sherpas" or leaders we had for our trip (Pam and Larry maybe?), but I remember the motto. I remember enjoying the La Vida experience thoroughly. I remember buying into what they were saying lock stock and barrel.

For that trip, I was a lonely, overweight young woman who truly felt that she was part of a group for once. The others that were in my group (Mike, Jack, Rick, for some reason I don't remember the girls though...interesting...)included me. I didn't feel like an outsider for once. I was not in great shape. I know I slowed everyone down, but I loved the outdoor experience.

We hiked for miles as part of that group, carrying 50lbs in our backpacks. Sometimes we were on marked trails, but sometimes we were not. Sometimes we had to hack through bushes, bramble, and thorns, hoping that at least one of us knew how to use a map and compass. Thankfully, Jack was an Eagle Scout if I remember correctly. He was very confident about making his way through the bush as I recall. The only thing that seems odd to me is the pairing of my memory of Jack as an Eagle Scout with another memory of him...getting hypothermia...and having to be warmed up...or did he volunteer to help warm the other member of our group up? I believe it was one of the other young women in the group...hmmmm....

I remember Mike Fink. He waxed very philosophic. He also reminded me of John Cusack in "Say Anything," because he refused to say what he was going to be after college. He didn't know and didn't want to go on job interviews to try to prove to human resources at Company X that their company was "THE" company for him. He didn't drink the kool aid. He didn't want to buy anything sold or processed, sell anything bought or processed or process anything bought or sold. I admired that in him and I wonder where he is now and what he is doing these days. Did he finally relent and drink the kool aid or is he somewhere living a fabulously free life?

And I remember Rick. Rick was a music major. He seemed to want to dabble in a lot of things. He had a lot of different interests. Mostly women it seemed. But he liked to read, he liked to be out in nature (I think), and he loved music. He helped me deal with a lot of the physical challenges of LaVida by singing with me. He was friendly, and could at times be really funny. I remember him singing "Don't worry be happy" at a campfire. We somehow altered the lyrics in some cute way I don't remember very well and co-opted the song for our group for the trip.

I remember a part of the trip we had to do without our guides or "sherpas." We had to find some campsite with the clues that they left for us. We found said campsite, pitched camp, and started our own private rituals for relaxing. I remember deciding it was a beautiful night and that I was going to sleep out under the stars. I laid all my things out...put down my ground cloth and sleeping bag. I remember talking with Mike who made himself a little ditch to put his sleeping bag looked pretty snuggly. So he went to sleep in his little cocoon in the ditch and I fell into my exhausted slumber under the starry night sky...and woke up to the cruelest, iciest rain I can ever remember. It felt like the sky literally opened up its wrath on me alone. I was freezing...and I started crying immediately. It was awful. My friend Mike fared no better except he didn't cry. His sleeping bag became drenched as it was, as we said earlier, in a ditch. Said ditch filled with rain. Icy rain.

I remember our "solo" experience. For part of La Vida we had to be by ourselves in the wilderness. We could only have a journal, a pen, a whistle, a canteen of water, and our Bible. We were supposed to reflect on things. To think, to sleep, to read. To "Be Here Now." I loved having that time. I looked at the rain on spiderwebs, I read a bit of the Bible (don't remember which passages), and I wrote. I still have the journal somewhere back home in all my stuff.

I remember a twelve mile hike during which...we were supposed to run, but I was not in good walking was the best I could manage for most of it. I remember that Jack and Rick promised me a steak dinner if I ran the last five miles (so if you are out there somewhere Jack and Rick, you still owe me). I ran those last five. But not really for the steak dinner. I ran because they convinced me I could. I ran because I wanted to be part of the group. I ran because I could "Be Here Now" and screw the aches and pains I would feel later.

I don't know if Mike, Rick, Jack or any of the other members of my group remember any of this. Maybe they do. Maybe I made some kind of impression on them. Maybe I didn't. Who knows. But I DO know that they reinforced for me the importance of enjoying the moment you are in. Of valuing doing something for the sake of itself. That sometimes, the end product doesn't really matter. Sometimes, just doing something because you want to is good enough.

So, if my garden doesn't produce a bumper crop, don't be sad for me. All the work of cutting roots out, of digging up stones and moving earth will still be worth it. I will lay a layer of compost, mix it in with a layer of manure, and seed and weed. I will water, debug, and put up fences to keep the rabbits and deer out. I will do all the things you are supposed to when you garden, but I think I will do them for the enjoyment I feel while doing them. If we are able to actually eat salad from the garden, so much the better. But that will not be my goal. My goal, I think, will be to enjoy working with my hands, to feel the sun on my neck, and to savor the exhaustion that comes from working hard.

My five things:

1.)I am glad that winter is finally over
2.) I am grateful that my body is capable of stooping, bending, digging, moving
3.) I am grateful to feel the warmth of the sun, even if it is only briefly
4.) I am grateful for this moment
5.)I am grateful for the ability to do, feel and say

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On Sleep Apnea and Feeling LIke Darth Vader...

I get to be fitted for a CPAP device, YAY! As if I didn't already feel unattractive enough. It seems that I have "obstructive sleep apnea." What this means in a nutshell is that when I am asleep, the muscles in my jaw and throat relax so much that my airway becomes blocked. Since blocking my airway keeps me from breathing, my sleep is interrupted. This happens several times a night. The result is a sleepy, cranky woman who is not functioning at full potential. What's even better is that I apparently am waking up in the middle of REM sleep. Know why that's even better? Because apparently, when you are in REM sleep, you are dreaming. Your body's way of ensuring that you don't kick or punch the daylights out of your partner while sleeping is to put your body in a state of paralysis. As you come out of REM sleep into some of the lighter phases of sleep, this paralysis is lifted. But if, like I do, you wake up smack in the middle of REM sleep, you can be fully conscious, yet unable to move or even open your eyes.

I have found myself in this condition on about six occassions. It is REALLY freaky let me tell you, and one of the most frightening experiences I have ever had. So, even though I had previously decided NOT to get the CPAP device, due to concerns with keeping my husband awake, it keeping me awake, the lack of sex appeal ("Oh honey, no offense but looking at that puts me SOOO NOT in the mood.")the lack of comfort it will probably provide, dried nasal passages, etc, I have been scared into being willing to try it. Suffocating while being fully conscious has a way of doing that for you.

I commented about it on facebook and my brother-in-law made a rather funny crack about getting a CPAP that made me sound like Darth Vader. After wiping the tears from my eyes from laughing, I got to thinking about it. Why not? Why shouldn't I have some fun with this? I think I WILL see if I can somehow get one that sounds like Darth Vader. Maybe I could even dress as Darth Vader before bed and play the Imperial March as I enter the bedroom. If I have to be stuck with this stupid crap, I may as well get a laugh.

But I will have to make some preparations. If one of my children gets up in the middle of the night and comes to my room, I don't want the little tykes to be frightened. That will not do. So perhaps we can address this like we are having a costumed slumber party. Maybe ALL of us will have to wear costumes to bed. That way, when they come down the stairs and approach my bed they will be prepared, somewhere deep down in their sleepy little psyches, for the image of their mother hooked up to the "Darth Vader-like" breathing apparatus.

If I could lose the stupid weight it is possible that I would stop having sleep apnea and this problem would go away. I am trying to gear myself up to go back to Weight Watchers and perhaps finally get serious about losing weight. Up to now I have been unable to be disciplined enough to lose the weight I need to lose - almost 100 lbs for your information - I know intellectually all the reasons I SHOULD care, all the reasons I NEED TO care, but really just don't ACTUALLY care enough to get it done. So the question I pose to you is this: if you are an undisciplined person, how do you develop discipline?

Here are my reasons I SHOULD care:

1.) Being overweight sets a really bad example for my children and the choices they need to make to be healthy individuals. I mean, you can blather on all you like about how important healthy choices are, but if you don't actually MAKE healthy choices, your children will eventually decide you are full of shit. I mean, if all that stuff is REALLY important, they will reason, then why aren't you doing it yourself?

2.) None of the really cool clothes fit me. Although we have come a long way, most fashion designers that I can afford still seem to think that purple mumus are what I really want to wear. The best thing I have found recently are some jeans that were on sale because Steve & Barry's went out of business. I got 5 pairs of jeans for $10. That's $2/pair. These jeans are from Sarah Jessica Parker's line, "Bitten." They are supposed to be high fashion for the middle class I guess. They fit ok except for one thing: they are low-cut...hip huggers I guess you would call them. That would be fine except that they come with a custom installed plumber's butt. Maybe on the sexy models that sold them that is cute, maybe even a tad sexy with the thong peeking out (do guys really like that sort of thing?), but on me it just looks gross. So I now wear a belt all the time, to prevent the whole butt cleavage thing that I think is oh so disgusting.

3.) I can't relate to anyone on television. I mean, when I want to see someone that looks like me that isn't on a Jerry Springer episode I have to tune in to programs like, "The Biggest Loser." Boy, that will really give the ole self esteem a boost. I've only seen part of a couple of episodes of this show, but please shoot me in the head if I ever tell you I am considering being a contestant. Don't get me wrong. Kudos to the contestants that are on the show for realizing that they needed to lose weight and that they needed help to do it. That is a huge step (pun definitely NOT intended). But the ratings whores that are the networks do everything possible to go to the extreme. They force the contestants to wear the most unflattering, bulge emphasizing, clingy materials possible when they select wardrobe. They show each person competing in their most obnoxious, indulgent persona possible before they actually begin the weight loss journey. They also force these poor souls on National television to cry, sweat, and stand on a scale to show the world just how big they have become. How horrifying must that be? I mean, when I go to Weight Watchers it is considered truly awful if one of the people weighing you in says your weight out loud so others can hear it. They get spoken to about that kind of insensitive behavior. But these people have to stand on a scale in front of America wearing the most horrible fat revealing clothing possible.

4.) I feel like a hypocrite when watching programs about the grossly obese. I am amazed, horrified and disgusted that a person could let themselves get that big. Aside from the outright lack of self-discipline and self-respect these people have, WHO THE HELL LIVES WITH THEM? I'm sorry, but if my husband was hitting the 400lb mark (or even a lot sooner truth be told) I would outright REFUSE to buy him any food but salads, carrot sticks, and chicken breasts. When you cannot get yourself off the floor and on the couch again, you need to deal with your problem. And I am heading in that direction. Someone help me stop. Hold me accountable for my health and self-respect before its too late.

5.) I'm too tired most of the time to do the things that I like to do. Believe it or not I love to hike, swim, take my dog for walks, canoe, walk and bike. But I am tired ALL the time. Hopefully the Darth Vader mask will help with that, but let's face it folks, I am tired because I am carting around an extra person all the time. I don't have the energy to accomplish what I want to because of the weight. It causes depression, I mean, who wouldn't be depressed having to carry an extra person with them at all times?

As for the reasons I NEED to care? Well, judge for yourself:

1.) I have a poor body image. I feel terrible about the way I look. I won't get into specifics here as I do not wish to publicly humiliate myself any more than necessary.

2.) My family history contains a recipe for disaster: my father has diabetes, high blood pressure. He has had 2 strokes, a quadruple bypass, and now has limited function of his left side and some impairment of his speech. He's not that old either...only his 60's. My brother was recently diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes. So it's there...waiting in the shadows to pounce upon me. Sure, right now I have low-normal blood pressure, good ratios of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol, no sign of diabetes...but that all could be changing if I don't do something. Soon.

3.) I have children who need me. Whether I want to be here or not, it doesn't matter. I created these beings called my children and they need their mother. I may not be perfect, in fact far from it, but my children need their mother. If I don't take care of myself it is entirely possible that I may not be here for them when they need me. I almost wasn't last summer. That should have shaken me up enough to do something. It should have, but it didn't. I often wonder what it will take.

So why don't I ACTUALLY care? Why can't I get myself to commit to taking off this weight, to working the program and changing my lifestyle? I know it isn't about dieting. I know deep down that I will never stick to a diet...that just isn't my m.o. I need to feel that I am not being deprived. The weight loss has to be a result of a choice. I know that I need to choose to be healthy, but I can't seem to make myself do it. Why is that?

Until I can answer this question, I guess I will just don my Darth Vader mask and meditate on how to use the force to my own purposes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thoughts on Standardized Testing...or No Child Left Behind... I am. Planning to write. I have a number of things on my mind and I'm not really sure which I will choose to write about...but here goes nothing. If nothing else I am hopefully sharpening those writing skills I keep blathering about.

First, I have to say that I have found myself shaking my head in amusement or disgust a number of times today. I'm not really sure which emotion is being evoked, but either will do I guess. First, I have to say that what my beloved husband shared with me today makes me want to laugh out loud long and hard. He has recently gone from being a pariah at work to being the hero of the day. The funny/disgusting part? He hasn't changed what he has done and continues to do at work one iota. The only difference? His boss' boss publicly complimented something that he did. His direct boss had previously reamed him for doing exactly what he was being praised for. But now that boss' boss is complimenting the work, Steve is to be high-fived. Steve is ALLLLLL RIGGGGHT. Until the next whim, right? Perhaps he is working for Dr. Jekyll...or Mr. Hyde.

The second thing I am disgusted/amused with is our public school system and this "No Child Left Behind" crap. The complete idiocy of the standardized testing that is in place. Where I am its called MCAS...and it has become the public school's religion, it's ridiculous. I have several reasons for feeling standardized testing is a load of crap, but here are a couple of my latest reasons. First, my daughter is in fourth grade. This is the first year that MCAS is "serious" and the grade counts. Not the first year that she has been forcefed MCAS til she was having nightmares about it, but the first year it "counts." Allison averages about two hours a night of homework, and that's not including the "Study Island" packet they sent home at the beginning of the year to "help" her study for MCAS. She has no learning disabilities, is quite intelligent, has a terrific vocabulary and reading ability and is very responsible. She stays on task quite well for a 9 year old, and does not need testing of any kind so far as I can see. Her last two quarters showed straight A's on her report card. She even got a letter from the school commending her for her academic performance. So why two hours of homework a night? Simple: because in order to cover all the material that needs to be covered to test for MCAS, she has to do two hours of homework a night.

How is she supposed to be able to be a kid with that kind of pressure? She gets on the bus in the morning around 8am, is in school until 2:30pm and doesn't get dropped off at her bus stop until after 3pm. Most days she comes home, has a snack, and does her homework until dinner unless its Tuesday. If it's Tuesday she has a friend over until dinner and does her homework after. Figuring in things like emptying the trash (her chore), showering, brushing her teeth and any extracurricular activities she may have, how is she supposed to have time to just be 9 and think about what 9 year olds like to think about? This Spring is going to be crazy. She has soccer, softball and karate to add into the mix.

I know what you are thinking...well, just eliminate some of her activities. But if I do that she doesn't get enough physical activity to stay physically fit. We can't have that. Plus the activities give her the opportunity to interact with kids her own age outside of school. She needs that. In school they don't have time to actually socialize...they aren't supposed to talk too much remember? They have to pay attention to the teacher so they can learn all their lessons for MCAS. They have abbreviated recesses so they can spend more time learning for MCAS.

I was at my sons' karate class the other day conversing with another mother who is a third grade school teacher in another town. She was telling me that her town, for budget reasons, is being forced to cut 20% from every town budget, including the schools. What this is going to translate into for her is that she could lose her job. She doesn't have tenure. Even if she doesn't lose her job, she was telling me that her principal said that she may have 40 children in her class next year. Can you imagine that? Forty children in a class? How does any learning take place in that kind of environment? Forty children ages seven and eight? At that point its really only crowd control. She was sharing how because of MCAS she has to gut her curriculum too. She can't do most of the enrichment aspects of her lessons because she has to ensure that she has time to teach everything that MCAS demands she teach. To forty students. Yeah. Right.

If that example doesn't scare you, think of this one. I was speaking to another mom tonight, while I was at a meal assembly place (think Dream Dinners). She was telling me that her 9 year old daughter broke her right arm playing basketball. Well, actually her thumb. In two places. She has had her arm in a cast for four weeks. The school keeps asking this mom when her daughter will be out of the cast. Mom has been saying, "I don't know, the doctor is making that decision, and he and I are talking next week." The school's response? "We need her score from MCAS, she can't miss the test." See, her daughter is one of the upper level students and they are afraid of blowing the curve for their school. So because they are concerned about what her missing test score would do to their funding, they are pressuring this little girl about getting out of the cast. I asked mom about whether the school is making special accommodations for her injury, since the cast is on her writing arm. "You have to jump through hoops," she tells me. First, you have to get an explicit note from the doctor outlining what accommodations are necessary. Then, the note must be faxed to "the state," whatever that means. Assuming you get approved for these accommodations, the school must hire someone to transcribe this little girl's responses. According to mom, the transcriptionist must write down exactly what this little girl says for her answer. If she clears her throat, "Ahem!" they transcribe that as part of the test. If she says, "Um..." they write that down. And by the way, they DO NOT write down commas, spaces, capitalizations, or any other grammatical piece unless this little girl specifically tells them to. Geez, no pressure on this little girl, eh? I'm not sure I could pass that test, nevermind a 9 year old.

What the hell is wrong with us? Why are we putting this kind of pressure on our children to perform? Why do our children need to lose their childhoods to prove that they are competitive, smart and talented? Instead of ensuring our children's futures, we are dooming them to becoming monkeys pushing buttons... We are forcing larger class sizes, less creativity from our teachers, and more conformity. Anyone who is different for any reason is being crushed under the wheels of standardized testing. Why can't we offer more room for creative thinking? Why can't we encourage learning through play, which according to Jean Piaget, is the best vehicle for educating the young?

Is there a place for testing of some sort? I think so. But it should be modified somehow. Perhaps the testing should be of the teachers and what they know. Maybe we should have teachers prepared to have a visit from some board or group to observe their teaching style on a regular basis (every three years?), review their lesson plans and comment on the interactions they see between students. Maybe they could look at a portfolio of work made up of various students' assignments and test the teachers. Perhaps this board could review teachers' gradebooks and assess what percentage of the students in the class are succeeding...maybe THAT could be used to evaluate a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom. This board could make the rounds and review various teachers and render decisions about their license to teach.

Maybe if we did that there would be less teachers in the system that play political football with our children's educational needs. Less children who get put off, as a couple of my friends are experiencing, because the school just doesn't want to deal with them. Fewer teachers who want to pass the buck because of a lack of funds, lack of interest or just plain lack of talent. Let those who are burnt out step aside. Those who aren't suited to the job of teaching young children need not apply. And those that pay lip service to wanting to educate our young will be revealed for the snake-oil salesmen that they are.

And lest you think I am making light of the job of being a teacher, allow me to tell you that no I do not. My father taught middle school Spanish for many years. He taught in a tough school system. Often he could not send home textbooks because he knew if he did they would never come back. Many of his students would be out until 3 or 4 in the morning, running with gangs or whatever. If he tried to have a parent/teacher conference it was laughable most times he told me. Of the few parents that DID actually come, most of them would look at him like he was crazy if he tried to suggest that anything going on at home had anything to do with the education of their child. It was, after all, his job to educate their children, not theirs. They had to work for a living, they couldn't do his job for him.

Teachers are often not given the tools they need to do the job they need and want to do. They have to learn to do much and accomplish much with very little. But they have to keep on keeping on. They need to take joy in the victories, no matter how small, and not become jaded and indifferent to the failures in the system. That is their charge. That is their responsibility. And I think we should take it very seriously if the pressure of that responsibility is being shifted onto our children, who are still learning how to learn. That is what I believe standardized testing is doing. And I am disgusted.

My five things:

1.) I am grateful that my daughter has no learning disabilities
2.) I am grateful for childhood
3.) I am grateful that public education isn't the only choice available
4.) I am grateful for a sense of humor
5.) I am grateful for my keyboard

Monday, March 16, 2009

Forgetting the Past

"I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven" Phillipians 3:13-14

So it's been a couple of weeks. Not much going on, so that is the reason for the silence. I've just been thinking lately. As usual. About what? Hmmmm....let's see...forgiveness, religion, community, marriage, family, career...what it means to be an American...let's just heap it ALL on there. It's hard for me to limit what I'm writing about, so I apologize in advance for this post if it is either ridiculously lengthy, boring or disjointed. But I won't apologize for posting it. It's what I do. Read, don't read, criticize, don't criticize, like it, hate it, agree wholeheartedly or think I'm a fool, it's here. And I have to think there is some courage involved with just putting this out there for others to see. Or maybe it's just another weirdo form of exhibitionism. Who knows? All I know is that it seems to help me deal with what I am thinking and feeling, and hopefully I am becoming a somewhat better writer by the mere practice of writing. Either way, here it is.

The above quote from the bible has been on my mind a lot lately. Probably because I posted it on my refrigerator a couple of months back while I was despairing the kind of parent and person I am turning out to be. A good friend of mine sent it to me. She has taken the time to write me and let me know she cares on several occassions. She has shared herself with me...and not just the parts she likes. I think that she is a deeply caring person and I am a better person for having met her. When she sent the quote, she was encouraging me to be a tad easier on myself and not quite so critical. I accepted her concern and caring, and hung up the quote on my appliance, hoping to use it as a daily affirmation of the fact that God is not expecting perfection of me. Especially not right now.

Something interesting is happening. I don't know if this is God-inspired or not. Maybe it's just because I am relating to the quote from my own experience. Maybe it's both. As I reach inside to get the milk or juice or whatever, I am confronted with the same quote each day. Sometimes I don't think of it at all except to be reminded that I have a good friend out there who really does care. Some days it blends in with the pictures my son has added to the front of the refrigerator. And when I first read the quote I read it for it's beginning..."I am still not all I should be,..." then there was the middle stuff, and then I focused on: "I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus is calling us up to heaven"

But it's different. Today, as I was reaching for the milk for my coffee, my eyes focused on this part: "but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead..." Ladies and gentlemen, that is where I have been stuck. The past. Learning to let go of the past. I think that I have been unable to grasp what God has for me in the present and the future because I cannot let go of the past. It's the same mistake that many of my family members before me have made. And continue to make. Being bitter over past hurts. Losing opportunities for relationships. Fearing what the future holds because of what was unleashed in the past. My inability to let go of history. While it is true that if we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it, I think the same is equally true if we do not learn to let go of history. Let go of the past.

There are so many things that have happened over the years that have caused me great pain. Due to these things I have curled into a tiny emotional ball and stopped growing. This is a problem. A problem that I do not know how to solve yet. How do I learn to let go of decades of painful shit? See, I know in an intellectual way what I must do. I must forgive and move on so that I can fully live. But I have absolutely NO idea of what that looks like in action.

I have no desire to continually whine. I often choose not to say what is on my mind to friends and relatives because I don't want to sound whiney. I can't stand people who ALWAYS complain but refuse to actually DO anything about it. This is NOT by the way, the same, in my humble opinion, as seeking out a listening ear once in a while. It's okay to vent your troubles with someone you care about and whom you know cares about you, but over the course of months and years those troubles should be different troubles. You should not be venting about the same things in 20 years as you are right now. If so, my thought is that you are not learning and growing from what life has to offer.

This makes me think of another quote: "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." (I Corinthians 13:11) The time has come to stop whining. Great. Terrific. I'm on board. Does anyone have a magic wand to make that happen for me? I know...childish thinking again. I know what I'm supposed to do, just not how to make it happen. See, I have become painfully aware that I am a whiner. No one has pointed this out to me, so it isn't like I have been insulted into finally shutting up.

It's just that I am sooooooo sick of being upset about the same stupid things. Mostly things that I cannot change. Things that feel unfair to me. I have this big thing about being fair you see. I want so badly for life to be equitable, and life just isn't that way. I played by the rules of the game, so I should be counted one of the winners, right? So why are all these unfair things happening to me (boo hoo), and why are all the rule breakers of the world prospering? What's the damn point in having integrity when those who are succeeding don't?

For a perfect example of what I am talking about, check out this article: "Commentary: Cheney says U.S. can torture but can't heal" (link: )

This is an article posted today on

In it, it says
"According to recently released legal memos from the Bush-Cheney administration, the former vice president believes that the federal government can ignore the First Amendment and suppress free speech and freedom of the press as part of its "war on terror."
An October 23, 2001, memo from Justice Department lawyers John C. Yoo and Robert J. Delahunty said, "First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully."
Former Vice PresidentCheney also believes, according to these same memos, that the federal government can send troops to burst into the homes of American citizens without a search warrant, despite the Fourth Amendment's protection against such unreasonable searches. He believes that the federal government has the right to arrest an American citizen on American soil and hold him in prison without charges. He believes that the federal government can listen in on your phone conversations without a court order."

Before I let you go on this, CNN also said, in this same article, that Cheney believes torture is perfectly acceptable...

"In fact, Yoo has said the federal government has the power to grab your young son and crush his private parts if the president thinks that will help the "war on terror."

Think I'm kidding? Here's the verbatim exchange from a debate between Yoo and Notre Dame professor Doug Cassel:

Cassel: If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?

Yoo: No treaty ...

Cassel: Also no law by Congress -- that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo ...

Yoo: I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that."

Contrast these comments, with others the article points out:

"Thanks to John King, we now know: Cheney believes that the government cannot help with health care, improve education or wean America off Middle East oil. I'm not kidding.

Cheney, whose authoritarian impulses run deep, is suddenly worried that the federal government might become too powerful under President Obama.

"I worry a lot," he told King, "that they're using the current set of economic difficulties to try to justify a massive expansion in the government, and much more authority for the government over the private sector. I don't think that's good. I don't think that's going to solve the problem."

Set aside the, umm, irony of a guy who is alive, thank God, because of government-provided health care opposing health care for taxpaying Americans. And set aside the hypocrisy of the Bush-Cheney Medicare prescription drug entitlement, the greatest expansion of the federal role in health care since President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Focus instead on Cheney's alarmist rhetoric: "a massive expansion in the government", "much more authority for the government." Cheney is comfortable with a government that has the authority to torture, imprison, censor and kill. Just not a government that has the capacity and compassion to write a health insurance policy or take on Big Oil."

If this doesn't scare you it should. Not only should it scare you to hear this in my opinion, it should embarrass you. To think that we elected this man to the second highest office in the country...oh wait...we didn't. Remember? We elected someone else...unless you trust what happened in Florida that election year.

Whether we elected him or not, people like him, people who were like-minded were running our government for eight years. Why? Because he has money? Because he had connections to the oil industry? Or because we voted along party lines and didn't think about what bill of goods our party was selling? Or perhaps it was because it was the "lesser of two evils." No wait. Maybe it was because we were apathetic. Our vote doesn't matter anyway. Hmmmm....gotta think about that one. So apathy allowed this man to disguise his derranged view as the majority opinion?

Who was it who said that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing? Was it Batman? Liam Neeson? Eleanor Roosevelt? Teddy Roosevelt? Lincoln? Whoever said it was right. And that is exactly what many are doing. Nothing.

But I think I made my point. A man who took the oath to uphold the constitution is now suggesting that suspending civil rights that are the very fabric of that constitution is acceptable. This same man is also implying that compassion and humanity are "a massive expansion in the government."

So this joker has been successful? I shake my head at the absence of logic here. How is this fair? Or just? I worry about what a man with this kind of philosophy and the kind of power that he had may have done. And I can't be the only one who is worried. I am hardly the most politically savvy, well-informed, of age voter. I'm sure that there is already much more urbane discussion of this topic in many places around the world.

But nothing I say on my puny blog will change a thing (I don't never knows). I'm just venting dear reader. I'd like to think that I have more integrity than our former Vice President. But I must confess I know little of Mr. Cheney. The little I do know about him scares me, but I cannot say I am a student of his life or even his policies.

And that is why the Cheney's of the world succeed I think. Those of us who know right from wrong become fearful. Life's complexities beat the stuffing out of us. We become frozen, a deer in the headlights, convinced that our opinions aren't informed enough, or defended well enough. We know evil when we see it even if we can't define it, but in the face of the majority, we clam up. Like a punch-drunk fighter, we dodge and parry the blows of a world that lacks nobility, but we lack the depth of understanding to know where to land the knock-out blow on our enemy.

At the risk of sounding like I am campaigning for our already in office President Obama, I am hopeful that Mr. President DOES know where to land the knock-out blow. He has studied his enemy and knows when to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. He is optimistic enough to believe that caring DOES matter and that "yes we can" make the world a safer place without sacrificing our beliefs.

I am hopeful that I will not be proven wrong over the next four years. I am not naive enough to believe that Mr. Obama will solve all our problems. He has a tall order to fill during the course of his presidency. He is young. He may be inexperienced. We'll see. What I DO believe with all my heart is that he truly cares. He cares about your average "joe the plumber," (more than McRage truly does), he cares about smoothing the ruffled feathers his predescessors left in the wake of their "war on terror." He cares about bridge building, community and integrity. He cares about fostering a supportive environment where Americans are free to pursue their own brand of happiness.

God I sound ridiculous. Why didn't I just write his speeches for crying out loud? But you know what? I'd rather sound ridiculous and hopeful than cynical and dejected. And this is my blog anyway. I can write this if I want to.

And I want to. I want to sound hopeful. I want to feel hopeful. I want to believe that people matter. That you can be successful AND care about those around you. I want to. Really.

My five things:

1.) I am grateful that I live in a country where I am free to read what I want and to have an opinion about it...publicly

2.) I am grateful that our nation chose a new path of leadership

3.) I am grateful for the opportunity to put childish things behind me

4.) I am grateful that you are reading this

5.) I am grateful that God does not expect perfection of me

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reviving a Value System

What matters to you? Let's get this question right out front. What is the most important thing to you? That's my first question tonight. My second is, if you have children, do you communicate what is most important to you to them? Do you think you communicate your values to others well? I don't mean do you lecture people ad nauseum about what they should be doing. I mean, do you live your value system? We can all talk the talk, but can we walk the walk?

You are probably sitting there wondering why I am asking that question. Well, I'll tell you. I've been reading a book called "Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls." I'm reading this book because in the not-to-distant future I will be raising an adolescent girl and I have never been comfortable with the adolescent thing. I didn't do it well myself, I had several jobs throughout college that reaffirmed that this stage of life was "not my area," and the inherent conflict that seems to come with raising teenagers scares me.

Another reason I am reading it is because I remember being in junior high school and high school. It was not fun for me. I remember it being painful, confusing and brutal. Girls can be very mean and ugly to each other at that age. Many (although not all) do things that are exclusionary, thoughtless and viscious. I worry about my daughter having to cope with that. I worry about my ability to help her navigate what is coming.

The images and ideas that young girls are assaulted with very often are disempowering, soul-draining and disheartening. They are told by magazines that their role in life is to look pretty, make a man feel good, enjoy shopping, and to never ever make waves by standing out. One must blend. Do not attract undue notice. If you do, you will be cut down.

Want an example? Okay, I'll give you one. I have to change the names and circumstances because I am talking about minors here and I don't want to identify them in such a way as to expose anyone to harm, so here goes. I know some young girls, about 10 or so. Through my contacts I have learned that "Melissa" almost broke her wrist. She was pushed down an escalator. Yes pushed. Intentionally. By "Sarah" who was approximately the same age. It wasn't an accident. It was an intentional shove, witnessed by a group of adults. Due to the incident, "Sarah" is no longer welcome in the location that she pushed "Melissa" in, and she was kicked out of "the Girls Group".

My first thought about that was how viscious that was. What could a 10-year old be feeling that would make her feel so angry and justified in her actions? Hasn't she been told from the time she was a toddler that hitting is not okay and that you should use your words? Now before you start getting all "don't be judgemental" on me here, I am NOT repeat, NOT blaming the parents. I don't know them. I heard this story second hand, and I have no idea what kind of parents "Sarah" has. They could be Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful for all I know. They could be Mr. and Mrs. Apathetic. Or they could be Mr. and Mrs. Hooray for Me and the Hell With the Other Guy." I don't know.

What I do know is that a group of girls went on an outing to a public place. They were all part of a group. One of the girls either did something, or was perceived of as having done something that one of the others did not like. The injured party (perceived or truly injured, we will never know) then reached out as they were walking to the escalator, and shoved, hard, on "Melissa." We are not talking about kindegarteners here. These girls are in fourth and fifth grade. They know that someone could get badly hurt doing something like that. So "Sarah" either didn't care that "Melissa" could get seriously injured, or that was her intention. Either way, the idea that "Melissa" could break her neck falling down the escalator was not a concern that she had. Only retribution for the perceived infraction of whatever social rule there was.

So to bring it back to my question, what values are we teaching "Sarah" as a community? We pay lip service to the idea that everyone has the right to be treated with respect, honesty and fairness. But do we REALLY act that way? What in Sarah's experience has taught her that her course of action was acceptable?

Let's think for a moment. Sarah is immersed in the world around her. Like it or not, ten-year-old Sarah is receiving input from all around her about how to make her way in the world. How is she to get along? How is she to get her needs met? The meek shall inherit the earth but the squeaky wheel gets the grease. There's no "I" in "Team," but there is a "me."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Now I'm self conscious. I started this blog so I could get out how I felt without being self conscious, and at first, it worked. But now I'm feeling self-conscious. So I am going to work at being genuine here. I'm not sure I can write honestly right now, but I'm going to try.

See, I said some things. I started talking here about some feelings that I was having, some frustrations I was experiencing and I think I scared some of you. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare anyone. I want so much to take back what I said so that you won't feel worried or uncomfortable. But I can't. I can't do it if I hope to get beyond these feelings I am experiencing. To stop, as someone I love dearly said, grumbling, and live my life fully.

This someone, who I will not name lest they feel embarrassed that I singled them out, means a lot to me. They wrote me an email telling me how worried they were about me. They want me to stop holding on to the things that cause me pain and to forgive as Christ has forgiven and to embrace the life that He has for me.

I find the sentiment touching, but the thought quite frustrating. This person, whom I love dearly and do respect, just doesn't see that I am trying to do just what she is insisting I do. The issue at hand is not whether or not to forgive but HOW to forgive.

As discussed in a previous (though brief) post, forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is not turning a blind eye to something either. Forgiveness requires you to know about the wrongdoing. Forgiveness requires an awareness of error. Forgiveness happens when in spite of this knowing you are able to leave your heart open to relationship again. I have not learned how to do that. I'm not sure how to acquire that skill.

When you see someone else capable of a desired skill, it can look effortless. When you watch figure skating, for instance, it is beautiful. The partners skate, arms outstretched, wearing colorful leotards, and spin, flip, figure eight and glide. It looks so easy. Have you ever tried to skate though? Have you ever been out on the ice, weak ankles wobbling, trying to get yourself to go OVER THERE!? I have. It isn't easy, effortless or graceful. At least it isn't the way I do it. I find it awkward, stressful and painful. I shake, go much slower than any professional skaters pair would, and am lucky if I remain erect more than 20% of the time.

I think learning other things, like how to forgive, is like that too. And so far, I haven't even managed to learn how to stand. I'm just watching the experts, trying to get a sense of what it is "supposed" to look like. So you'll have to forgive my wobbling and awkward attempts at grace.


"forgiving - allowing room for error or weakness"(Merriam Webster Online)

"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:13-15, New International Version)

I think tonight is the first time I actually looked up the definition of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a big subject in my life right now. It seems like it should be something simple. Someone harms you in some way and you make a choice to forgive them. Pretty easy, right? RIGHT? Wrong!

Want to know why I don't think the concept of forgiveness is simple? Well, here it is. Too many people confuse other things with forgiveness. So I want to do what I can to clarify what we are talking about here before we discuss anything else. Forgiveness is NOT forgetting. Being willfully forgetful does not qualify in my estimation as forgiveness. Pretending to forget is not forgiveness either. If Joe borrows $500 from you knowing that you need that money to pay your rent, promising that he will surely pay you next Tuesday and he doesn't, choosing not to remember what a jerk he was for getting you evicted is not forgiveness. Neither is "letting things go." If Sally was your girl, and you made plans to marry and you found out that she was dating someone else the whole time you were planning your wedding, choosing not to fight about it and to focus on the future is not forgiving her either. Not if it means that you can't open your heart to her again. If your heart shuts down, even a little, you haven't forgiven her.

I am so tempted to write about this in an academic fashion. To compare the sacrifice Christ made for us despite the fact that we did not deserve his sacrifice with your relationship with Sally. But I stop short of doing that. Why? Because I am not fully convinced that humans are truly capable of forgiving. To forgive, or to "allow room for error or weakness," implies that you are above that error or weakness yourself. In my humble opinion, none of us are above the possibility of the same error or weakness we hold against our friend/lover/sibling/parent. Only Christ is capable. Not only is he capable, but he has a track record. He made the ultimate sacrifice even though he knew what we were/are. He knew/knows what we are capable of in our blackest moments. He knows this of individuals and he knows this of humanity as a race. Christ knew there would be Attila the Hun, Hitler, and Saddam Hussein. He knew that there would be you and me. But he still was willing to hang on that bloody tree for humanity.

So I get the whole "He died for our sins" idea. What I don't get is how I am supposed to forgive someone that I feel has wronged me? Not because what they did was so horrible...I mean, if you compare the hurts I have suffered against what people who have endured the Holocaust have for instance, my suffering is nothing. My trouble lies in the fact that in order to be able to "allow" for weakness or error you must first be sure it IS either weakness or error and second you must be able to open your heart up to being wronged again. Otherwise you are allowing for nothing. Choosing not to spend energy thinking about something is not the same as allowing for.

Let's chew on that for a while. I'm going to bed...hopefully to sleep, but maybe to think about how to forgive others in my life who I have felt wronged by. Hopefully I am forgiven for my wrongdoings.

My five things:

1.) I am grateful that Christ has made the sacrifice he did for the sake of forgiveness
2.) I am grateful that I have a brain and a heart to contemplate the meaning of forgiveness
3.) I am grateful that I can type
4.) I am grateful for friends and family who love me and want to help me embrace the idea of forgiveness
5.) I am grateful Monday is over

My bucket list:

1.) I want to learn how to truly forgive others
2.) I want to learn how to humbly accept forgiveness
3.) I want to feel less need to forgive
4.) I want to show my children more grace
5.) I want to go to a Jimmy Buffett concert