What If Today…You Named This Post?

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21 years ago with the first two of 9 children, Allison and Brody

“James is supposed to be in Kindergarten.”

“Why?” I asked as I drove into the night.

“Because I’m in first grade,” Kenny said with an unexpressed “Duh”.

“But he has to be five,” I answered.

“Oh.”

James’ll enter Kindergarten in the Fall, later this year.

That teeny weeny conversation was all it took to open the floodgates. I was glad it was dark and that we were almost home. Yeah, I’m a baby, and I cry easily when a certain spot in my heart is touched.

Touch the part of my heart where “Lasts” live and I’ll wander off for a while. And when I come back I’ll look deeper into your soul as you speak, and hold on tighter when I hug you.

I believe in Forever, but I value Life, too.

I treasure the feelings that children’s belly laughs and strange jokes give me.

I love how puddles tempt them to swim, even in the dead of Winter, and how wet shoes and neighbor’s gasps are sacrifices they make without a second thought.

Again, I could go on and on, but I have another thought to wrap things up here today.

I got a notification in my email this morning about someone’s new job via Linkedin. Do you want to know what my knee-jerk reaction was?

I wanted to have some fun and add “Brings to-die-for brownies to all get-togethers, meetings, and important events.”  to my profile. I wanted to shake things up and play.

I still might.

Will that ruin my professional reputation? Hmm? Let’s see…. as Pooh would say, tapping his head, “Think, think, think…”

I’m a mom.

Don’t think so.

Go enjoy a child today. 🙂

What If Today…You Valued Monotony?

Woods at Walden Pond, two year abode of Thoreau

“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” ~ Albert Einstein

Really? Laundry? At 5 in the morning? Really?

It would be there later, whispering taunts from the basement, knowing I could hear it, laughing at my disdain for it.

It was so fun to ignore it. And it seemed somewhat important to ignore it, too. Who was really the boss here?

I’d descended the cellar stairs for one reason- to turn on the heat because my toes were getting cold as I sat at my computer. But the thought, “Why not?” tied itself to my ankle as I made my way to the furnace and the laundry flirtatiously pulled me back to the overloaded basket of ready-to-fold clothes.

The task was done in five minutes but not before I’d been reminded of something I’d known and lived for years: monotony never dies. It lives and grows after the newness of everything new and exciting wears off.

And there is a purpose and value in monotonous tasks: a slowing down and a deliberate simplicity is experienced in mundane and repetetive tasks.

But more than that, I felt alive and unburdened when I was finished.

How many times had I stood at a ballet barre knowing exactly what the instructor was going to tell us to do within seconds of her opening her mouth? We’d do the same thing every day for the first half hour, the music and the arrangement of movements being the only variations. Then we’d move into the center exercises, and finally onto choreographed work.

The pattern of the class never changed.

The work done there was  foundational to the dancer. It was where the root of all technical problems began and where we’d be sent to resolve them.

Everything of value was built on the strength of that foundation work.

For so many years I had the habit of waking at 5 am, robotically doing laundry first, then reading, writing in my journal and finding my thought for the day. My day would unfold around that one thought. I always felt peaceful because I’d finished what needed to be done and the rest of the day flowed joyfully and effortlessly. My day would always end around 7:30 when I’d crawl under the covers and relax with whomever showed up.

I’d taken the strength of that habit for granted. I’d let upheaval in my life distract me.

Yes, it seems monotonous and predictable. But so is nature in a way.

The sun rises and sets, life comes and goes, wind disrupts, rain feeds, light warms, and cold freezes.

It lives in the background, the foundation of my day. Every day.

Living a simpler life that allows for the mundane and important tasks of my day to be done joyfully is my goal. Those chores are not my life, but they are essential to the overall flow of it; I enter the rest of my day peacefully, having done “first things first” . I have to clarify that “chores” can mean anything from household chores, to prayer and journaling.

For some reason I’m drawn to thoughts of Thoreau’s  book, Walden, that I read when I was a teenager.  I’ll have to leave you to find the relationship between the following quote and my ponderings about monotony. Somehow they are related!

They must be or I wouldn’t have thought them both at the same time!

It might take me the day to make the connection…perhaps the cellar is my Walden? (I made myself laugh!)

Here’s the quote:

  I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.” (WaldenHenry David Thoreau, 1854, chapter 2)

I hope your day goes well – that you live it purposefully and simply. I hope that it feels like you have chosen a quiet and deliberate life, one that feels joyful to you.

I hope that you find purpose in the monotony…

What If Today…Your Heart Was Touched?

Where do you go when you want to feel life and alive, grounded and connected?

I go to the beach. It’s special to me because it’s where I grew up. It where memories live.

If there was ever a time that I needed to feel peace it was then.

So many hats that I wore every day were piling on top of my head and I couldn’t think or feel any more. I felt like I was failing at everything and I didn’t feel comfortable living in that discomfort because there was the nagging thought that there was some truth to it-

That I was failing (or so it felt with so many things) and I had to come to terms with that and let it go.

No better place to let things go than at the beach.

Two weeks earlier I’d thrown a message in a bottle off the rail of the lighthouse and into the ocean. It was symbolic to me.

The waves carry things and toss them ashore randomly. Randomly to us probably, but never truly random I think.

It was an ordinary walk this time, no different from any other. I collected the sand glass that was “done” and threw a few back that needed more weathering in the waves.

I stared at the blue piece of glass in my hand for a few minutes, trying to  justify why I could keep it even though it had jagged edges.

I threw it back and pulled my sweater sleeves over my hands, covering my ears to keep them warm as I searched for more.

I was a  quarter-mile down the beach when a wave of emotion came over me. It was the spot that my dad had moored our boat so many times, allowing us time to jump off and swim for hours.

I wasn’t sad. Don’t misunderstand. I was overwhelmed with the truth that I’d walked into the waves of another world – my past. It was as if I was supposed to be paying attention to something, but it wasn’t clear to me what that was.

Why, of all times, when I was struggling and needed to focus on my present, was my dad who’d been dead for a few weeks, floating off shore and staring in my direction with a cigarette dangling from his mouth?

Why?

Tears came and froze on my cheeks. I wiped them off and pulled myself away from the spot.

And I kept walking.

Two dogs, minutes apart, separated themselves from their masters and ran towards me barking. They took my wrist in their mouths and pulled me in the opposite direction from where I was walking as if they wanted to play.

This happened twice, not at the same time.

I laughed and shook them off after giving them each a pet and a hug and they ran back to their owners who waved an apology.

After reaching the jetty I turned around and headed down the beach with the sun now warming my back.

Reaching the same spot where I’d felt my dad, the water was now a blue-green, just like the waters on the beaches of St. Thomas where I visited my grandparents for years,

New emotions flooded in and I walked away from them, too, admitting privately to how strange it was to be bombarded by the dead among the living when I hadn’t consciously tried to think about them at all.

My walk was over. I knew it. There wasn’t anything left in me. I still had forty minutes before meeting my mom, so I climbed into my car and looked for something to do after emptying the twenty-five pieces of sand glass from my pocket.

I marvelled at the loot the ocean had generously deposited at my feet and wondered about the rest of my free time. Why had I felt drawn to come back to the car?

I hadn’t brought a book. That was unusual. It was too peaceful to listen to music. So I waited and looked around.

Lying on the floor a green folder peeked out of my bag, begging me to pick it up. I’d decided last week  to put together some administrative paperwork that I could review periodically just in case I had the urge to become a better director for the Family History Center where I live and breathe.

Hate is a strong word. I use it sparingly.

I hate sour cream, blue cheese, and administrative paperwork.

I read as slowly as I could and bored myself to tears.

Without a thought I pulled out a paper from the pile tucked into the pocket on the right. I’d never seen it before. If I’d never seen it, how did it get there? I’m not a keeper of papers. I throw a lot away all the time so that I can stay semi-organized and feel uncluttered.

I read the paper. It was an oral history of 35 of my relatives that my grandfather’s brother had given to one of his children. It was neatly typed and full of names and dates and random facts that I hadn’t known.

The most powerful thought I’ve had in a long time settled itself in my mind and attached itself to my heart:

No matter how messed up I feel, no matter how much of a failure I think I am, or how confused I might be, I have a work to do that is separate from all that.

They knew I needed to know that I’m not all of my dashed hopes and dreams, mistakes and wonderings.

That in this thing called life there are things that matter – things that remind us of who we are and why we’re here, and how easy it is to only see and experience the waves and forget that it is the waves that carry the treasures…

…treasures that will randomly appear if we’ll keep living and allowing them to surface.

I read the paper four times and cried. Most of these people I’d never heard of. I could add them to my collection of names on my dad’s side of the family and start researching their lives and getting to know them.

They’d drawn me to them because they knew we could and would serve each other. They’d be a part of the treasure that I always turned to to find peace, strength,wisdom, and my place to serve.

There is wisdom that reminds each of us of our unique mission – the one that feeds our soul as it serves others, and whose fulfillment isn’t dependent on our ability or lack therof to make sense or order out of the rest of our lives.

It is dependent on our willingness to stay in the game, regardless. There’s that word again.

How random is that?!!

What If Today…You Did Your Part?

 

 

I had a thought I wanted to share.

Guess what it was about?

Complaining.

Guess what I set in motion with that thought?

A bunch of complaints.

I’d started to write, had to leave what I was working on to do early morning driving, start some chores and get kids up and ready for school.

Then everything fell apart.

I got derailed emotionally because there was too much to fix and none of it had anything to do with me except that in the end it had everything to do with me and my leadership at home.

So here’s my new thought:

Instead of berating yourself for getting derailed, why not look at how important it is to teach those that you lead to do their part – to function as a whole?

********

“Is she ALWAYS like that?”

Always like what? I hadn’t done anything but ask someone to do his part – something he’d agreed to do.

What was “THAT?”

Direct? Clear? Bossy? Intimidating?

I was perplexed. I crawled back into my rabbit hole and reviewed the past hour.

I was called in as a support to a woman who was having some problems with an organization she was leading. She explained her predicament and admitted that she didn’t know what to do.

I asked her who had the authority to help her. Lo and behold, the man whose help she needed was walking by.

I called him into our meeting, and asked if he could do X, Y, and Z  for her, and when?

He wrote some things down, grinned, and said, “Sure.”

Easy enough. Right?

Then why pull my friend aside and ask, “Is Betsy always like that?”

Could it be that people don’t like being exposed? Was I out of line for asking him to do his job?

That experience has stuck with me for years. I pondered it on my drive this morning…before everything went nuts in my house.

I can put the pieces together now – the leadership pieces.

I might feel like I can do it all. I might even look like I can do it all. I may even like  to do it all.

But that’s not my job.

My job is to do my part.

As a mom that means training people to do theirs.

As an employee it means asking for help from the higher-ups in the chain of command sometimes so that I can do my job better.

It’s also to take a step back when everything gets derailed and see where the problems are,  getting things back in working order as quickly as possible.

Easier to do with a train than people, but just as important.

Gotta run. Hope you can fill in the blanks for me. I’m sure that there are many!

 

What If Today… You Were Gentle?

One of my works in progress. Pen and ink 11×17″

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” ~Saint Francis de Sales

“That’s not a tree! That’s a lollipop!”

So, at six-years-old, after a good cry from behind the book I had propped up in front of me, I woke up and started drawing trees the right way.

Mrs. S. never noticed my intense obsession with drawing trees that she’d set in motion. If she did, I never knew. More importantly, I didn’t care.I became acutely aware of her presence in my aisle and hid anything I was working on from her critical eyes.

A year later I was sitting on the side of the hill outside of the classroom of the same school with another teacher – an art teacher.

I remember her voice and her face. Mostly I recall how peaceful I felt. She talked about sunlight and shadows  letting us take our time uncovering the mysteries that were her reality.

This teacher had helped me fall in love with trees and art in general.

She was a gentle soul and if it’s not obvious to you, she made a very strong impression on me.

So, here are  my questions:

Back to my first grade teacher.

If Mrs. S. was pivotal in the discovery of one of  my latent talents, was there a better way for her to have served me?

And was that the only lesson Mrs. S. gave me?

I think it’s a shame that my relationship with her was damaged by this one incident. She might have been a very nice woman having a bad day. But she watched me shrink under the weight of her words. She was right there as my best friend wrapped her arms around my quivering shoulders and snapped at her, saying, “That was mean!”

When we choose anything but gentleness during a teaching moment, the message will be delivered, but that’s not all that will be shared.

We choose how we will be received and remembered.

I wish that Mrs. S. had turned around, squatted next to me and said something like, “Betsy, I’m sorry for my tone of voice. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I want you to see what I see in you. I see a budding artist. I just wanted you to know that I think you can do so much better and I’d like you to try harder.”

This morning I feel sorry for the loss of what could have been, grateful for her part in my life, and hopeful that she knows that I forgive her.

Her heart was in the right place I think.

After all, she was a teacher.

I hope to remember to choose gentleness in all of my teaching moments and to seek forgiveness whenever I forget…

…because I’m a teacher, too, whether I know it or not.

What If Today…You Went to Higher Ground?

Rose Island Lighthouse, Newport, Rhode Island

Gravity loves me. I know because it follows me everywhere.

I don’t know if my getting weak in the knees when I climb ladders means that the feeling’s mutual. I don’t think so.

All I know is that I was going to stay as far away from the trap door I’d just popped my head through as was possible in a 5’x5′ room.

I could feel gravity’s hands on my legs and I wasn’t going to let it pull me back down the ladder to the tower room I’d  climbed for the second time in 24 hours. As long as I ignored the hole, it’s strength would wane.

That was my hope.

I’d come for an answer to a question and I needed to have a clear head to listen for an answer if there was going to be one. First I had to stop the chatter in my head that told me I was going to be sucked into and out of the tiny holes where the sea breeze was leaking in, and that I was going to be dashed to pieces on the rocks below just as a gull would a shell that he needed opened for dinner.

No sooner had I settled myself on one of the two stools and finished wrapping my bathrobe around me, that I had the thought, “look.”

So I looked out at gulls and ducks swimming in the still water of the Atlantic Ocean near the beach I’d run over as I raced to take a dip the day before.

“Look up a bit.”

Off shore and leading out to the harbor’s mouth were colored buoys bobbing and staring back at me.

“I won’t give you the answer you’re looking for. But I’ll give you direction. Just watch for buoys on your journey.”

I liked that answer. I was free to live my life, and to have adventures.

I was at peace and reassured that when I needed to know which way to go, there would be many good choices, and the only thing I’d ever really need was a warning if I was going toward a hidden danger- one that I might not be able to see while at ground level.

I made my way back down the ladder, carefully replacing the wrought iron door that seemed to weigh more than I did, struggling to stay balanced as I watched the daylight from the tower room grow dimmer.

I passed the alcove under the ladder where a desk with a typewriter sat next to a window with a chair tucked beneath it. I wondered about how many ships had passed by that window and about the persons who’d sat watching, pausing in the middle of a story, to enjoy the view.

How long had it been before someone had realized that the light from the tower wasn’t enough? and that the simple act of placing permanent markers over potentially dangerous rocks was needed?

So simple, and yet I’d had to go to higher ground to see it.