Tag Archives: hope

What kind of neighbor are you?

Do you know your neighbor? Do you? Do you know what’s going on in his world? Do you know the difficulties she faces? If they were in an emergency situation, could they come to you and ask you to watch their daughter for a couple of hours?

wilson_fencePerhaps you say hello when you walk your dogs in the morning.

Perhaps, when you meet across the mailboxes in the afternoon, you chat casually.

But do you know your neighbor?

I can’t say that I really do. As I get ready to leave this home I have lived in for three and a half years, I find myself convicted. I don’t know my neighbors–not really. We’re friendly. We say “hi” and “how are you,” but with the exception of one (and I’m so glad we became friends, Tianna!), the truth is, I’d be hard pressed to tell you their names.

Shame on me!

My whole life I have dreaded living what I have coined the “treadmill existence.” To me, this is the daily grind. We wake, we go to work, we come home, we sleep, we wake, we go to work . . . over and over again.

To avoid this, I thought I needed to do something exciting. I needed to live overseas and be a missionary. Or I needed to be a best selling author. Or I needed to find something other than this ordinary, soccer mom (or in my case football/gymnastics mom) existence.

Ironically, God seemed to determined to keep me in that soccer mom sort of existence–and if so, either he was okay with the treadmill existence–or (much more likely) I was missing something!

No, huge surprise here, but I now realize, I had it all wrong.

themostinterestingmanintheworld_1426The treadmill existence is not about the job we do or where we live. It’s not about a great list of accomplishments or a wall full of awards.  You don’t need to be the Dos Equis’ most interesting man alive to get off the treadmill.

It is about our mindset. It is about seeing the opportunity for the divine, for change, for influence in every moment.

Perhaps it’s a little easier for me to see this than most. Being a psychology professor, I see how the impact of what I teach has the possibility to change lives, and it transforms the way I look at those moments in the classroom. They are loaded with possibility, potential. What I say today has the potential of altering the course of a life (in a positive way, or possibly, even in a negative way–very humbling thought!)

But the truth is, every moment of our lives is filled with that same potential.

7089479-business-woman-rushingThe other day, I was cleaning up after my work out at the gym. I was in a hurry. I was running late for a conference call, and I needed to get ready to meet one of my friends for a night out. Just as with my neighbors, though I’m friendly with several people at the gym, I don’t really know anyone by name or well, so nothing should have gotten in the way of my mad dash for the door.

But there was this woman, a woman I had never seen before. And she sighed. Not just the “I’m tired” sigh. Not the, “this has been a really long week sigh.” No, this sigh was something different, and I couldn’t resist commenting on the weight of her sigh.

She responded that her workout had knocked her on her butt.

I made some comment about that being the sign of a good workout.

despairTo which she responded, “No, you don’t understand. It literally knocked my on my ass. I have MS. This is my therapy, and I can’t even do it.” And she sat down and started to cry.

I didn’t know this woman. If not for my inane comment about her sigh, I would have walked right on past, and never known the despair that was eating her up inside. I would have made my conference call, hung out with my friend, and this woman would have left with her burden of despair still firmly on her shoulders. Instead, I found myself with an opportunity of helping a fellow human being. It was time to get off the treadmill.

I didn’t know this woman, but I knew her pain. And I knew that I needed to stay and listen, and offer what comfort I could, conference call be damned!

That moment was one of possibility. It was an opportunity to be God’s hands’ extended. And I could easily have missed it.

How many times have I missed those moments, caught up in the hustle and bustle of the treadmill life, the relentless daily grind? How often, with my eyes focused at the task at hand, have I missed the divine, the chance to get off the treadmill, and to make a real difference in someone’s life?

Too often I fear.

Which of my neighbors has cried out to God for help? And I could have been part of the answer. Who has needed to know that they aren’t alone, but I’ve been too wrapped up in my own world to see?

I despised the treadmill existence, and yet I have had opportunity to get off that treadmill,  time and time again, but I have been too blind to see the opportunity.

In his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg put it this way:

sonrise-burning-bushAnd Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” Everything turned on Moses’ being willing to turn aside–interrupt his daily routine to pay attention to the presence of God. He didn’t have to. He could have looked the other way, as many of us would. He would have just missed the exodus, the people of Israel, his calling, the reason for his existence. He would have missed knowing God. But he didn’t miss it. He stopped. He “turned aside.”

I don’t want to miss the reason for my existence. I don’t want to miss my calling because I can’t see what’s right in front of me.

I need to live my life in this way. I need to have my eyes open so that I see the burning bush moments, the moments when I get to be the arms, and the voice, of God.

I need to get off the treadmill.

And it starts with seeing.

Seeing our neighbors and their pain. Seeing our coworkers and their struggles. Seeing the needs of our community and stepping out of our daily grind enough to be the one to meet those needs.

Our society, according to a recent gallup poll, is one third Christian. Nine out of ten Americans say they pray everyday. And yet, we are notoriously bad about living with our heads in the sand, being too consumed with our own lives to see the struggles of those around us.

handsThis is what Jesus means by reaching the lost–and most of us are failing.

It is time for us to embrace our purpose. To see that each moment is heavy with possibility. To get our heads out of the sand, and to see.

Will you join me?

We don’t want to miss our burning bush–because that is what it’s all about.

 

Father knows Best–and it’s time we start believing it

My son is 12. (any of the parents of difficult tweens out there, you felt the sympathetic wince that statement elicits)

angry-teen-boy-350Yep, he’s twelve–and it’s been baptism by fire.

You see, he’s our first, and our most difficult. And this year has been hard.

I was a teacher, now am a professor, and I have a graduate degree in Psychology, so I should have been ready for everything this year and this stage were going to unload on me–right?

Sadly, no.

I have been pushed to the limit of my parenting skills and my psychology skills. It’s just been plain hard.

You see, my son is hard-headed (that’s the understatement of the century!) He might only be twelve, but he thinks he knows better than everybody else. And the kid has always known what he’s wanted and has had the stubbornness and tenacity to go after it. The combination of these two traits has been a nightmare.

That was unacceptable behaviour, young man

In one of our most recent battle of the wills, we tried another tact. Instead of addressing Gavin’s behavior (which was mean, spiteful, and disrespectful), we addressed it’s effectiveness.

We pointed out that his approach was not meeting and gaining his objective. In other words,

“You’re not getting what you want when you act this way! So why not change your behavior, and see if that gives you the pay out you’re looking for?!!”

I wish that my son would choose to do the right thing, because it is the right thing. That’s what I want, but sadly, he’s not there–yet.

But when we pointed out that what he considers his shortcut, is not only not a shortcut, but is preventing him from the desired end all together, he finally started paying a little bit of attention.

As I explained to him that my desire is not to hurt him, but to ensure his well being and his happiness…when I explained that we correct his behavior because we see and know more, and that he just needs to trust us, even if he doesn’t see how it makes sense or why it should work that way…I couldn’t help but see the correlation to my own relationship with God.

We know where we want to go. We see what we want.

And we see the quick route–the direct route–to our destination.

But most of the time, that’s not the route we find ourselves on. We find ourselves on what appears to be a circuitous route, one that sometimes seems to go backwards, wanders to rabbit trails, and even sometimes seems to end in dead-ends. Much of my life I have felt like Moses wandering around in the desert, knowing where I need to be, but unable to get there. Or like David, the anointed King of Israel who, instead of ruling as was his right, finds himself moldering in a cave for years.

long-winding-road-p92b_saint_gothard_pass_switzerlandWhen there is a disconnect between the life that is, and the life that we feel like we should be living, we become confused, disgruntled,  angry, and often bitter.

“Why, God? Why?” we rail.

He gives us the dream, He sets our path, but instead of the path leading to our expected destination, we find ourselves in the desert, or hidden in a cave, forgotten, moldering away into anonymity.

I’ve had lots of these moments in my life. Moments when it seems like God stopped listening, stopped caring, and certainly stopped guiding.

But as I talked with Gavin, I was convicted.

That was the child’s response, and I am not a child. It is time to put away childish things.

Just as I am asking Gavin to trust that my way is better, I need to trust that God’s way is better.

Just as I tell my son that I am looking at the big picture that he cannot know, I need to trust that God is seeing the big picture that I cannot see.

This place, where I’m at, this isn’t what I wanted. Or at least, this was not the way I wanted it to be.

I thought I’d be much farther by now.

Next year I turn 40. By 40, I thought I would be established.

I’m not.

I have a fledgling writing career.

I am an associate professor, not a tenured one.

I’m not in the ministry.

My goal to change the world and help people in some large way, has translated into a much smaller sphere of influence than I anticipated.

And it’s taken me almost 40 years to get here.

But, I think I’ve been missing the point.

I’m a writer and a professor, and that’s what I always wanted to be.

And occasionally, God has used me to touch a few, not as a missionary, not in some defined role, but as I rub shoulders with people in my daily life.

waysThe road was not the road I would have chosen, but, I have to believe, it was the road I was meant to take–the road I needed to take. God sees the big picture, the destination and the necessary journey.

It’s time I started giving God the trust He deserves. I need to have faith in a Father who loves me and who knows more, sees more, than I do.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

I Choose Happiness; What are you Going to Choose?

I’ve been doing a lot of research on happiness lately.

As many of you know, I started a new position as a professor of Psychology this January. It’s been a good ten years since I’ve delved into all things Psych, and I’ve enjoyed diving back in. What I’ve been finding excites me. Some of this I had known, but haven’t thought much of in the intervening years. But much of it is new. The research keeps revealing new information, and the more we understand about happiness, the more I find myself in awe at the intricacy of our biology, our emotions, and ultimately, our spirituality. We are not an accident. Our design is not an accident. We are amazingly and wonderfully made.

happiness-flowchartThe more that is learned about our biology, the more we realize it is wrapped up in our spiritual/emotional self. We are also beginning to realize that we have more control over who we are, what we feel, and even sometimes, the health of our own bodies than we previously understood.

This excites me. We are not at the whim of fate. We are not a pawn in the hand of chance. Our happiness is not contingent on what we have/don’t have or even what happens/doesn’t happen to us. Our happiness is not determined by outward forces, but rather by inward resilience, and everything is indicating that this can be learned. Happiness is quite literally a state of mind.

I’m a bit of a control freak, so I can’t help but love this. I can control my own happiness. I’ve always believed that, but now all the research is backing up that belief. I might not be able to control the random hand of chance as it forces itself into my life, but I certainly can control how I respond to it.

I have often wondered why two individuals can experience the exact same conflict and yet have a completely different response to it. Is this merely the result of personality differences? Is it simple genetics? Are some predestined to be more capable of handling conflict than others? Are they simply, genetically speaking, more resilient? Is there an X factor–some unknown factor that creates resilience? What exactly is resilience anyway?

I’ve always struggled with the idea that it is purely genetic. That simply isn’t fair. Why should some be given the ability to deal with life’s difficulties and others not? It simply feels a bit too Calvinistic to me, stinking too much of predestiny. Would God really stack the deck against us like that?

My husband and I have both experienced a lot of grief and loss in our lives, an exceptional amount, at least by American standards.

(Nolana aplocaryoides) Pan de Azucar National Park

I tend to bounce. That doesn’t mean that I never feel depressed; I most certainly do at times. It doesn’t mean that I never get angry or feel twinges of bitterness; I’m no stranger to either of these feelings. What it does mean is that, no matter how horrible the circumstances, the sun peeps through the clouds. I see a solitary flower growing in the desert. It might be scraggly and undernourished, but I still find that flower. The weak ray of sunshine somehow manages to find its way past the cloud cover.

In other words, I always find hope. Hope in today. Hope in a better tomorrow. Hope that if I keep fighting, there will be something good at the end. Hope that there is a purpose to all the pain.

lostgirl05-300x168Sometimes I feel like a prize fighter. I scrape myself off the mats, still sore and bruised and bleeding. I’m barely able to stand, but by golly, I’m going to stay in the ring and give it another shot. I’m going to keep fighting, and when I feel like I can’t fight anymore, I’m going to dredge up some more chutzpah and somehow keep going even if it’s on will alone.

Sometimes I question my sanity. I know I’m going to get knocked down again. I know that by putting myself in the ring, the blows are inevitable, but I do it anyway. One would think that after being beaten to a pulp, I’d have a better sense of self preservation than that.

Or maybe, at an elemental level, I understand something hugely life altering…that life doesn’t exist outside of the ring. That life, with it’s blood, bruises, and broken limbs, is still vastly superior to a life lived in the bleachers–observing, but never participating.

Bobo-Doll-experimentAll I know is that, no matter how many times I get knocked down, something inside of me makes me bounce back up again. I just keep getting up like one of those bobo dolls, no matter how hard you hit them, no matter how hard you try to keep them down, they somehow keeping getting up.

Sometimes I’ve compared myself to a buoy. Buoys can be submerged, but they always rise. I know that no matter what life throws my way, I will rise. Life will be good again. And the hope of that sustains me in the periods of drought and famine.

Aaron, on the other hand, doesn’t bounce. He reminds me of a rock thrown out on the water. He tends to sink. When things get dark, they tend to be black. He can’t find the sun. He begins to wall himself off, protecting himself. He is like a turtle that crawls into his shell and no amount of coaxing will get him to come out.

We are polar opposites in this. I am an optimist and he is a pessimist. I bounce whereas he sinks.

optimism-pessimismSo, does he just throw in the towel and say that, “Well, since I’m genetically pre-disposed to sink, I guess I’ll go ahead and lay down and die. What’s the point anyway?”

Obviously not. Giving into hopelessness and depression is never an answer.

What the research shows us is that though it might be much more difficult for the self-professed pessimist to rise back to hope and happiness after a huge blow, it is still in the realm of possibility.

Blog-Entry-1-AmeyGod made us all capable of great resilience. It just comes easier to some of us than to others.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share the tools I have, along with some of the new research out there. I haven’t figured all this out yet–no one has. I am not claiming to be an expert, but more a pilgrim. I am pooling my knowledge of psychology, my understanding of God and the human spirit, and my own hard-won experience in an effort to share the the wisdom I’ve learned and the tools that have proven to work.

If you’re an optimist, you probably do some of this instinctively, but we can always get better at how we manage stress and crisis.

If you’re a pessimist, don’t throw in the towel and consign yourself to a glass half full mentality. It’s a lot of hard work, and it takes some dedicated cognitive therapy, but you too can begin to experience the buoy experience of resilience.choose-happiness

 

 

I Dare you to Fail–it might be the best thing you ever do!

mean-old-ladyI had the worst first grade teacher ever. She was a cranky old bitty who thought I was stupid, who broke all my pencils, and who threw my shoes in the garbage. I hated it her.

But I owe her a huge thank you.

She was my introduction to difficulty. She was my very early initiation into the practice of not perseverance, but of overcoming.

I could have accepted her early analysis of my intellectual capabilities. I could have started the inner monologue of my incompetence, my inability, and my general suckiness, but instead, despite my immature, impressionable six year-old mind, I made impossiblemy very first decision to overcome, to confront her analysis head on, and to prove her wrong.

That was the first time I confronted an obstacle, and I believe it set the precedent for how I would handle all the obstacles to come.

Where did my courage to deal with the difficulties that have come my way over the last several decades come from?

I believe that it came from that very first experience with her. She had told me I couldn’t. She had told me I was dumb. She had labeled me and written me off. But I didn’t accept that, and by third grade I proudly walked the long hall to her room to hold my report card full of A’s to her startled face. Dadgummit! I had done it! I had proven her wrong, and if I’d proven her wrong, why couldn’t I overcome the next obstacle, and the next one? I had overcome, and that overcoming gave me faith that I could do it again.

Because of her, from the very beginning, I was only too aware of my imperfections. I never labored under the false perception of perfection, so when I screwed up, as I inevitably did time and again, it was not  the end of my world. I did not label myself as a failure, but instead, I recognized that I could do better, be better.

failure-and-successI was very aware of my ability to change and to grow, because I had proven that ability from the tender age of six. I had proven to myself that I could be better tomorrow than I was today. I never thought I was perfect, but I knew that with effort, with tenacity, I could be more than who I was currently.

If I had stepped out of the gate with straight A’s, if it had come easy to me from the very beginning, if I hadn’t had the very early lessons in difficulty, would I have had the courage to confront obstacles instead of just avoiding them? Would I have been scared to risk failure and take chances if I wasn’t thrust into it so early on?

According to Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset: the new Psychology of success” I very well might not have. How we deal with failure early on, predicts how we are likely to deal with it our entire lives–unless me mindfully make a decision to deal with it differently.

If, when we are confronted with difficulty, we choose to overcome it, we will keep daring, keep risking, keep pushing our limits to see what we are capable of doing.

If, when confronted with difficulty, we back away, and stay in our comfort zone of what we know we do well, in our zone of tried and true success, we are likely to never find the true potential of what we could do.

failureAnd it all starts when we’re just little peanuts. If we allow our failings to be an impetus for growth, rather than a label of who we are–a failure–we can become so much more.

It is that very willingness to confront the obstacle that I learned way back then that keeps me blogging. I have blogged for years, and yet my following consists mainly of my mother, a couple of loyal family members, and a handful of faithful friends. Logic says that I should have given this up long before now, but am I going to quit? Nope. I’m going to keep doing it, becoming better, working out the kinks, until one day, I firmly believe, someone (hopefully lots of someones–and this isn’t to say I don’t appreciate you, my faithful few!) is going to notice.

And my novel. I know it’s going to get rejected. Probably many times. Is that going to stop me from writing it, or from sending it out to the inundated world of agents and publishers?

The-best-success-stories-often-begin-with-failure_-8x10Absolutely not. It didn’t stop Stephen King and it didn’t stop J.K. Rowling, and it’s not going to stop me. I will keep working on it, tweaking it, taking the advice and suggestions I am given, until finally, one day, someone says, “Yes. I’m going to take a chance on you.”

Sometimes, this mountain I’m trying to climb seems insurmountable, and I am tempted to throw in the towel, but I just can’t do that.

Thank you, Kelly, for the nudge I needed through the book “Mindset” you sent my way, and thank you Chris, for the nudge you gave me with the book “Daring Greatly.” It is a good reminder to keep going, keep trying, and keep believing, that by daring to it, and myself out there, I am doing something worthwhile.

And thank you Cassandra for telling me you “want to be [me] when you grow up.” You say that to me now, not as a published author, but as one who is daring to try to become one. It reminds me that it’s not the success I achieve, but the willingness to dare to achieve it that is truly admirable.

So, if it’s the willingness to try that sets us apart, what is it that you need to be willing to risk? What is it that you need to dare to do? Aren’t you curious of just how much you can achieve?

Daring to risk and failing, does not make you a failure. It makes you courageous. I dare you to dare with me.

Sometimes No Answer is Exactly the Answer We Need

As most of us tend to, I find myself reflecting on what I’m thankful for as we approach Thanksgiving Day.

Five orange pumpkins sit in a row in front of a distressed, wooden background.

There are many things I’m thankful for: my family (near and far, big and little), my country (and all the freedoms that come with it), safety and security in the light of the turbulent world we live in (I think of Syria, and Paris, among far too many others), my health (in a time when I hear about a new person with cancer at least once a week), my family’s health (which I know only too well is a gift), enough food to fill our tummies and then some (I’m thinking turkey and stuffing right now)…

There are so many things I am thankful for, likely we have more to be thankful for than any previous age of man, and yet, the thing I find myself reflecting on the most this Thanksgiving season is Unanswered Prayers. I am thankful for so many of my unanswered prayers.

Wait a minute…what?!

There are certainly many prayers that went unanswered that I am not thankful for–the top of the list would be those for my beautiful daughter, Serena–but there are so many others that I am grateful that God did not give me what I asked for, and it is for those I find myself thankful today.

garthAs so many from my era, when I think of the phrase “unanswered prayers” I can’t help channeling my inner Garth. Garth hit the nail on the head with that song. Sometimes, the best answer God can give to our prayer, is to not answer it.

The twenty something Heather had no idea who the almost 40 Heather would be, much less what she would need. I am glad that young, naïve girl wasn’t the one calling the shots for the map of my life. She would have gotten it all wrong.

There are so many places in my life where I find myself thankful that God did not give into my pleas. So many times when He, knowing me better than I know myself (both the person I was, and the one I would become), did not answer, not out of malice or indifference, but because He saw the me then and the me to become. He saw my life both today and tomorrow, and He knew what the end result could be.

gods-plan-vs-my-planHad He given me what I so diligently prayed for, I’d be married to a man who, though a good man, was very ill-suited for me. My life would have likely headed in a very traditional direction, which, though there is nothing wrong with that, again, it doesn’t really fit me.  I would have lived a life that I could imagine in my finite humanity.

My prayers would have had my life follow the lines of a DaVinci, beautiful, amazing even, but one that fits my scope of imagination.

picassoBut God had something else in mind, more of a Picasso, vastly different than I could have imagined, sometimes, jarring, even bordering on discordant at times, but somehow coming together to make something unique and moving and utterly different.

I am thankful that God does not cave to my whims like a weak-willed parent, but that He holds out, that He withholds, that He stretches me–sometimes even prods me–to be the best version of myself that I can be and to live a life that He envisions rather than allowing me to be limited by my own powers of imagination.

I am thankful for the husband God led me to, who, though we have had more than our share of struggles, has helped me to believe that I really can achieve this dream of being a writer, who pushes me to not give up. I am grateful that he not only accepts my inner geek, but brings it out and encourages it. I am grateful because he challenges simple minded thinking and makes me consider life in all its facets: God, philosophy, science. I am grateful for his out of the box thinking that challenges me to look at life not within the confines of practicality, but instead to push the edges of the box and look at the possibility for life beyond the normal limits. Had God answered my early prayers, I would not have him in my life, and I would not be me. I would be less than I am today.

I am thankful for this crazy journey that God has put me on. Many times it has felt like wandering in the desert. Often I have felt lost at sea. But just as the analogy I heard as a child, I have only seen the underside of this tapestry–my understanding is so limited. God has begun giving me hints of what the full pattern might look like (or at least, a part of it) and I find myself once again grateful for unanswered prayers. What He planned, when it is done, will be something so much more than I had planned.

We all have our unanswered prayers. We tend to feel abandoned, forgotten, or ignored when God doesn’t answer. But we’re not. He’s in the unanswered prayers as much as the answered ones.

Whatever your unanswered prayer is, be it big or small, know that it is not indifference that keeps God from answering.

Some, like the death of Serena, we may never understand or even fully accept–but if I can see God in so many of my unanswered prayers, I have to believe He is there, somewhere, even in those.

the-greatest-giftsAnd with so many others, if you have eyes to see, you will see God’s hand in the silence, in his withholding. Take heart. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows what He is doing.

He is devoted, not to your comfort, not even to your happiness, but to you becoming who He has planned for you to be from the beginning of time. His plan is bigger than your plan. It’s more.

That unanswered prayer is not a mistake. It’s part of the plan.

Know that, take heart, and watch and see what He will do.

Two of the Most Important Things Every Parent Needs to Teach Their Children

This is a big transition year for me and my crazy household, and if I needed any visual reminders of this, I wouldn’t have to look far. I can find those reminders all over my house…most frequently in the form of training bras.

Wait a minute…what?!

Yep, you heard me right. Training bras. And I keep finding them everywhere.

As if it is not weird enough that my little baby girl is wearing a bra, I am confronted with this reality on a regular basis. No out of sight out of mind denial allowed! Nope. They are everywhere, and no, that is not an exaggeration! It’s like having a constant visual reminder of the new territory we have entered.

I find them in my bedroom (not mine, hers, in my bedroom!). I find them in my bathroom (again not mine!). I find them on the dining room table (what the…?!). I find them folded and nicely sitting on the bottom of the stairs… (again…why?!) I find them in the middle of her bedroom floor (at least this makes a little more sense)…hanging from her bathroom door knob (again, makes more sense). But the point is, I find them everywhere!

And if I needed further reminders of this weird threshold we’ve crossed, the eye rolls, shrugs in answer to my questions (questions that in the past would have initiated long, enthusiastic conversations full of hand gestures and sparkling eyes), and the exasperated groan that the address “Mom” has taken on (I miss Mom sounding like an endearment…) readily supply all the necessary evidence.

Only my littlest still calls me Mommy–and she makes it sound like a badge of honor!

The other two make it sound like a synonym for silly or stupid or embarrassing.

We’ve definitely crossed into a different world, one in which mom is no longer cast as the hero. (Sigh… I liked being a hero!)

I have to face it. Suck it up, Mommy! It is time to adjust. Take the bitter pill and swallow it down.

My babies are no longer babies, and every year that passes, they are going to need me a little bit less.

But that’s the point. That’s the objective. It’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay–it’s as it should be. I’m teaching them, and  giving them the tools, to be independent, capable, mom-free individuals.

birds1Fly, little birdies! Fly!

It’s right and it’s good, but it also puts things into perspective. I find myself really taking stock of our time. It’s like I feel the sands of the hour glass sifting through my fingers. My time is limited. My impact will change and lessen. I want to be sure that what I give them is what matters most. I feel a sense of urgency, as if my opportunity to imprint upon them with what is most important will soon be gone.

What do I what to imprint on them? What do I want to make sure they take away more than anything else?

When I ponder this, I come down to two things that I want to make sure that my children leave my home knowing.

loveThe first is the most important thing that anyone can ever know: that they are loved unconditionally. That no matter where they go, who they become, what mistakes they will make, there is always someone in their corner who will love them, fight for them and never ever give up on them–no matter what.

How do we communicate this to our children?

By doing.

By loving them through every mistake and every disappointment. By spending time with them and talking with them. By giving hugs and kisses and snuggles. By taking long walks and listening to their anger and tears, disappointments and fears. By laughing together and playing together. By forgiving and being humble enough to admit when we’re wrong and forgiving some more.

Too often I see families who are so busy, they forget that it is these simple moments that build the foundation of a family.

It’s not the gifts we buy, the activities we do, or the vacations we go on.

Your child doesn’t need the latest and greatest this, that, and the other thing. They need you. They need to know that you care, that you are engaged.

mother-sonIt boils down to quality time simply being together–and that doesn’t have to cost a dime. A game of cards or a walk before bed–one on one time with your kiddo where you are 100 percent focused on being with them, listening to them. No cell phone. No TV. No distractions.

When my children look back at these years, what are they going to remember?

Are their memories going to be of a short-tempered, overworked mom who was rushing them from one activity to another?

Or are they of snuggles and cuddles? Walks and laughter?

Are the latter moments frequent and strong enough to outweigh those short-tempered, frazzled moments, because we have those too…we’re only human after all!Which will leave the strongest impression?

I need to self-check. I need to continually remind myself to make a focused effort to make sure that, no matter how tired I am, no matter my level of stress, when my children need me, I turn off the TV(or in my case, put down the book), turn off the cell phone, and pay attention.

I need to model what being engaged means. I need to model love and forgiveness, humility and compassion–so that they know they are loved and so they know how to love.

give backThe second thing that I want to impress upon my children before they leave the nest is that they have a responsibility. They are not put on this world to be happy (though I hope they will be). They were not put on this planet to achieve their personal dreams (though my hope is their dreams will be molded by this understanding and so they will find them fulfilled). They are on this planet to leave it a little bit better than when they found it. They need to give back.

I remind my children on a regular basis that it is not simply about what they want…Yes, I ask them what they want to be when they grow up, but I follow up with a reminder that it’s not just about what they want to be, but what God wants of them, and how they plan to give back to this world.

I refuse to have my children leave my home believing that they are entitled. I want their focus not to be on what they deserve, but on what they can do for others, how they can make this planet just a little bit better.

Of all the lessons I can, and will, teach my children, these are by far the most important.

the_sands_of_timeAs time slips through my fingers, I am making a concerted effort to ensure that they will leave my house knowing how greatly they are loved (because my heart aches with love for them, in their highs and in their lows–in their triumphs and in their failures), and also being equipped to love and spread that love wherever they go–determined to give back.

If I can teach my children these things, no matter my failures as a mother, I will have succeeded.

Sometimes You’ve Just Got to Jump off the Deep-end to See if You Can Swim

kid-writing-600xFrom the time when I was small, I wanted to be a writer. I remember starting my first journal when I was in the fourth grade–when I didn’t have anything more interesting to say than a play by play version of the events of the day.

A few years of maturity gave me the added medium of poems (not very good ones I must admit!) and finally, in High School, I started my very first story. It was awful–and I knew it was awful. It was so awful that for a long time I convinced myself that my dream of being a writer was nothing more than a pipe dream.

I was a good writer in general; I knew that. Every professor I’d ever had told me I was a good writer. My poetry became better as I matured too, and I was even able to publish a few of them. By the time I wrote my master’s thesis, my professors were telling me I should consider publishing. I didn’t take them very seriously though. I was good at things like essays and poetry, but I just didn’t have what it took to write a novel, or so I thought.

Every time I thought of trying a novel, I thought back to that first failed attempt. I was a high school kid trying to write a historical fiction novel without any research…or any real concept of where it was heading. I just jumped in and started at the beginning. My dialogue was stilted, because I didn’t know who my characters were and I hadn’t had enough life experience to know how real conversations went…it was a train wreck!

Add to that my husband who is amazingly gifted and talented. He’s written a fantasy novel and I was his main editor. I marveled at his gift for dialogue and his ability to create a whole new world. My imagination didn’t work like that. I was talented, but not like he was talented.

For years I left it at that, but then I started to realize something. I knew a whole lot more about writing today than I did when I was a kid in High School. Dialogue wouldn’t be a struggle anymore because I knew how real adult conversations played out. Not only that, but I now understood that I needed a plan. And, though I wasn’t talented like my husband, I didn’t need to be. It was apples to oranges. My talent was going to be different than his, that didn’t mean it was less. It was just different. andrewstanton-ted_poster_translated_v21

So I began thinking of all the books I’ve read (and believe me, there are a ton of them) and I asked myself what made the best ones better than the others. I watched what they did. I watched their character development, I watched the dialogue, I watched how plot was built, and I watched how the best had something deeper going on beneath the surface–ways that the reader could relate to them and how they had the potential to change the reader or their outlook on the world.

I took all this knowledge and I thought of what I have so often heard stated–write about what you know. For this first story, I didn’t write a historical fiction, though someday I could see myself writing in the vein of Kate Morton or Susanna Kearsley, and I didn’t start with a fantasy or dystopian book (well, I have started one, but it’s on the back burner) though that tends to be my favorite genre, I started with what I know, and I spun out from reality and created something different. A character who resembles me, but who makes choices I didn’t make, who responds differently, and who almost loses everything before she realizes what she has.

a-63And you know what, I think it’s good. I started my first book 25 years ago and almost gave up altogether, but I finally faced my fear of failure and tried again. And I’m really glad I did. I am 80% done (or there about) and I likely will finish in the next couple of weeks. And then I will have written a novel–one I actually believe is good. I know that is only the start of the road. The road to publishing and actually getting people to read the thing is one fraught with rejection, but I’m going to stick myself out there, and hopefully, someone will see a book with believing in.

So often in life, we think we can’t so we don’t try. Our early dreams fall by the wayside. Some we’ve outgrown, but some, some we bury because we think we can’t, but the reality is we don’t know what we can do until we try. I’m glad I tried–even if no one ever reads it, I’m glad I’ve taken the chance.

What is it for you? What dreams have you told yourself you can’t reach, or aren’t practical, or whatever excuse it is you apply to it? Is it one you’re really okay letting fall by the wayside? Or is it one that you will always regret not at least seeing if it might be possible?

Carpe Diem–Seize the day! Or in my case, Seize the pen

feature_799_storyWhen I was a young girl, you were much more likely to find me sitting on a bench or under a tree with a notebook and pencil– or a book–than flirting with the boys or gossiping with the girls. When other girls stayed up late talking on the phone for endless hours, I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning reading my latest binge–historical romance, Agatha Christie, Austen, Elliot, even Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. In fact, my father and I had a little two step that became a tradition of sorts.

“Heather, ” he would call up the stairs to me. “Turn off your light and go to bed. It’s late.”

“Aww…Dad! One more chapter? Please? I’m at a really good part!”

To which my father would always sigh, but relent. “One more chapter, but that’s it, okay?”

And I would always agree, even though he knew, and I knew that he knew, that that one chapter would likely turn into several more and he would be repeating our little verbal dance an hour, and two hours, and even as many as four or five hours later. But he let me. Because this he understood. Most of me, my dad never could really understand me, but this? This I got from him, and this he understood.

My mother, on the other hand, never understood this side of me. I think she genuinely worried about me. She would continually encourage me to call a friend, go out with a boy, to get out and do something, anything, that didn’t have to do with a book. What she never understood was that that held so little appeal to me. What boy could even come close to keeping pace with Mr. Darcy? What friend could equal Dianna Berry?

Girl-writingMy books, and even my own imagination, offered far more than anything my little rural community could offer. So, I was very content to live within the pages of my books, and in the dramas I created in my own mind, until life could keep up with the worlds I had experienced through my fictitious wanderings.

It took a while, but eventually real life did catch up, in all its many joys and horrors, to the worlds between the pages. And I knew exactly what to do when it did. Write.

You see, since I was young, I always wanted to be a writer. I knew I had something inside me worth saying, but in my youth? Any attempts at a novel fell flat. I hadn’t lived enough to have anything to say that was worth reading. So, my only real successes were in poetry and in essays. My poetry was good enough to get published in various anthologies, and my professors always came back with strong praise for my essays, and even my thesis, stating that I was a gifted writer and that I should consider publishing.

I appreciated their affirmation, and believe me, even before they gave it, I considered publishing, but how? How did I take my passion for words, my life experience, and this living, organic thing inside me and make it into an actually story?

paint-colors-bursting-out-of-dress-shirtFor years it has felt like I had this…this…something, living inside of me, not a beast or a monster, but something alive, something waiting to get out, but not yet…it was asleep, it was waiting…for what I didn’t know.

Perhaps I was too busy living life, experiencing it, to put it together into something cohesive. Perhaps there was some deep instinct in me that recognized anything I wrote now would be premature, stillborn.

Whatever the reason, it was dormant. I would blog, I would write the occasional poem, but my novel? It remained a dream on the edge of my consciousness–until about three years ago.

Three years ago I gave birth to an idea, the basic (very basic) concept for the book I am now writing.

So I started to write this fledgling idea. I started it, and stalled, I’d write a little and get bogged down. I’d nail an idea, and then get stuck as if in quicksand, there was no movement, no momentum. There were holes I couldn’t fill. Ideas that just weren’t organic. I eventually abandoned it, saving it for another day.

I moved on to work on the book my husband and I are co-authoring. I started my first YA dystopian novel. And all the while, this idea germinated in the back of my mind, my subconscious taking over. It was there, but I didn’t spend much time mulling it over. It was just there, growing, without my conscious knowledge.

Until about six months ago when it stood up and pounced.

bursting_with_creativity_by_chumpinator-d4lvt3lWhat was an embryo when I put it to bed, woke up as a full grown, fully viable creation. There were no more holes. The concept seemed to grow and expand of its own accord. The something that has been in me, waiting, since I was a child, has decided its time is now, and it flows out of me in an almost effortless stream. What once took plodding, sludging effort, and was oh so agonizingly slow, just…comes.

I am almost forty. This has been my dream for the last thirty years. And I feel this sense of “carpe diem.” I must seize this day, hold on to it. I must let it come now, not later, or it will shrivel, it will die, and I will be back to the mere hope of a dream, not the very real possibility of seeing it to the finish.

So, this is the summer where I give my dream a real chance. I am well aware of the uphill battle ahead of me even if I manage to finish it (no, not manage to, I will finish it by the end of July. No ifs, no excuses). I know that in this world where writers are a dime a dozen getting a work published, or even read, is a battle all its own, but that battle is for tomorrow.

Today, I commit to myself, and I commit to you, fellow reader, that I will write this novel. I will give it a chance to be, to become. Whether it is truly good, whether it has any potential at all, I cannot say for sure. What I do know is that any chance it has, it has now. It’s time is now. I can feel it.

The waiting is done, the moment is now, and I cannot let it pass me by without seeing what this is that is really inside of me.

Deferred today, but not Dead

I have found myself contemplating the nature of dreams.

The last unit of this school year was titled “Dream Deferred.” I think it might be my favorite unit of my teaching career. So often, in this technology filled world, we do not give our children (or ourselves) the opportunity to reflect, and that is what this unit was really about.

What are our dreams? Are deferred dreams always negative? Are dreams worth pursuing at any cost? How do dreams, and the pursuit of dreams, change as a result of our society and culture, religion, SES, etc.?

I think our answers to these questions change a lot over time.

dreams4American culture is a highly individualistic, even narcissistic. We ask our children what they want to be when they grow up. We talk to them about their dreams and aspirations, as if it is entirely up to them. We tell them they can do anything if they work for it hard enough (which simply isn’t always true). We send them out into the world, believing that they can do it all–without having realistic conversations with them about what it all means. It’s a dream it–achieve it mentality. It sounds great, but tends to lead to disillusionment when the realities of life–family, responsibility, they need to pay rent–start pushing their way in.

STEM-LogoMy Asian students approach dreams very differently. Their culture is not one that promotes individualism, but rather community. Their aspirations are not a result of personal passions, so much as the dictates of their family and cultural expectations. Very often, their pursuit is not of a “dream,” but rather for status and wealth, which bring honor and prestige to their families. Many of them struggle as, the society they find themselves in and which naturally affects them  (American), comes into conflict with their heritage.

As with so much of life, things on either extreme lead to dissatisfaction. Life tends to be lived in the middle ground, but when our expectations don’t match up with that…someone, or lots of someones, are unhappy.

I, being a product of my culture, started my path with much of the mentality of the typical American perspective. My aspirations were big, larger than life, and I do think that I probably could have attained at least some of them by now–but at what cost?

Years ago, I remember one of my coaches telling me that I could be a truly amazing basketball player if I really worked at it. I was a good basketball player all ready, but not great. If I were to work year round, every day, if I were to dedicate myself to it, I had a chance of being something special.

I was in high school at the time. I remember thinking about what he said, weighing it, and deciding that I didn’t want it that badly. To be truly excellent at basketball meant that I would have to give up theater and music. I would have to give up cheerleading. I would have no time to practice the piano. Would I ever have time to read a book again?

I suppose my coach may have been right, but just because I could have that, didn’t mean that I should.

kiddosIn the same way, the young me, hadn’t thought through the affects that meeting and marrying my husband, and our subsequent children, would have on the attainment of my dreams. Had I never met Aaron, I think I would have been closer to fulfilling, or possibly even have fulfilled, many of my dreams by now…but at what cost?

Are my dreams so huge that I would throw love and family to the curbside to attain them? If I had it to do over, would I change the path I took?

Absolutely not. My family, despite the personal sacrifices I have to make on a daily basis, are worth the deferment of my dreams. I do not exist in a vacuum, nor would I want to.

American society, does its children a disservice when they approach the concept of dreams. We hold the dream up, as if it were worth any cost, without bringing the conversation of family, love, and responsibility into the conversation. This leads to disillusioned young parents as they struggle to make their concept of a dream match the reality that they find themselves in.

This isn’t to say that I believe that the Asian families have hit the mark. I think that they too, have fallen short of what leads us to happiness.

dreams 5If we live life solely for the accumulation of status and wealth, solely for responsibility, we will find that our lives are spent on a hamster wheel, every day the same with no sense of fulfillment. Humans are passionate creatures. We need time to allow the sides of us that feel, that create, to have their time too. To be a lover of art, to create art, does not mean that I must be an artist as a profession. Just because I am a businessman by day, does not mean that I can’t indulge in my need to create art. Our dreams do not need to be synonymous with our professions.

And deferred dreams are not dead dreams. Just because I am a teacher today, does not mean that I can’t be a writer tomorrow.

And as with so much of life, isn’t it the waiting, the dreaming, the anticipation of the dream happening, that makes the attainment of it that much sweeter? Like a child waiting for the gift that he knows is under the Christmas tree…if it were easy to attain, I wouldn’t value it quite so much.

 

“My doubtful heart, which trembling scarce believes…”

When I was younger, I thought I knew the voice of God.

Tell-Me-What-I-want-to-hear
As I’ve gotten older, I realize that the voice of God is easy to misconstrue. There were many things I attributed to God that were merely my own desires. We have a tendency, as human beings, to hear what we want to hear, and too often, I heard God saying what I wanted him to say–whatever it was that would make me believe that what I wanted was going to happen–almost like He was a fortune teller, or a wish-granting fairy.

For instance, there was a boy I liked. And, of course, I was looking for hope that he would like me too, and even more than that, that we were “destined” to be. I wanted to believe that he was the one, and so I convinced myself that God wanted it to be.

When it never happened (Thank God!! He’s a great guy and all, but we definitely were not a good match!), let’s just say I was a bit disillusioned. It was my first realization that maybe some of what I attributed to God was just my own inner dialogue. How could I tell the difference?

jesus-not-meantOther times, I heard him, but I misunderstood him. I drew the wrong conclusions.

When I was in the eighth grade, I had a life changing moment. It was in the middle of my World Geography class of all places. We were talking about current events, and a cyclone had just devastated Bangladesh. In that moment I felt something stir inside of me. I needed to go there. I needed to help. I felt it as strongly as I have felt anything.

I interpreted this to mean that I was going to be a missionary to Bangladesh. I believed that for a long time. I now know that I misinterpreted what God was saying.

I did go to Bangladesh, for three months as my internship in college, and it changed me forever. It was one of the most life altering experiences of my life. Not only that, it was the door through which I met my husband (a much better fit for me than the guy I was so convinced I was supposed to be with btw!). I was meant to go there, just not when and how I thought I was.

These experiences changed me, and they changed my understanding of God. I had been naive, and it was good to know the truth, but now, I find it hard to know when to trust God’s direction. How do I know it is him? Is it really Him guiding me, or am I looking for divine intervention in random circumstances? Is it His voice guiding me, or simply my subconscious hearing what it wants to hear?

These questions are crippling and they leave me wracked with indecision.

I always believed I was meant to live overseas. So did my husband. As he finished up his undergraduate degree, we prayed and contemplated. We waited for a sign, and when none was forthcoming, we made plans to move to Saipan to teach in a school there.

Your-plan-RealityInstead, we got pregnant with Serena, and the timing was such that we couldn’t go. We unpacked our stuff and decided to wait a year.

When Serena was about six months old, we resurrected the dream of teaching overseas, and this time we were in conversation about positions in China. We were hammering out the details when we found out Serena was sick and our lives were sucked into a whirl pool.

In the aftermath, this dream laid dormant.

I thought about it often, wondering if that dream had “shriveled like a raisin in the sun.” Had it run its course? Was it just another example of my penchant to misunderstand the voice of God? I thought about it, but felt no inclination to pursue it.

For years, we were wracked with grief. Like a leaf caught in an autumn wind, we were dried out, brittle, damaged. We were blown wherever circumstance chose to take us. We could barely keep our heads above water much less think about going overseas.

Eventually, we felt less brittle, but the dream of moving overseas was replaced with a need for safety and security. Losing Serena had taught us of the transience of life, the unfairness of it. The hand of fate could reach down at any moment and tear our world apart. So we attempted to fill this lack of control with things we could control.

We surrounded ourselves with stuff–stuff that gave us the illusion of permanence. We got a big house in the suburbs complete with pool and hot tub in the backyard. We got a shiny new SUV. I decorated my house with care and creativity to resemble the houses in “Good Housekeeping” and “Better Homes and Gardens.”. I signed my kids up for football and baseball, ballet and gymnastics. I dressed them in trendy little outfits from the Gap and adorable outfits by Matilda Jane. In essence, we became the typical suburban family, living the stereotypical suburban life.

broken heartI feel like we have been in stasis the last three years, a holding pattern. We have lost the brittleness. The desperate need for security has lessened. Don’t get me wrong, we have not healed–I don’t think we ever will really heal. My heart is a web of cracks, any one of them can start throbbing or even begin bleeding again with the slightest of pressure. My daughter is not with me. I buried my first born–time cannot completely heal those wounds. But I am not a whirlpool inside any longer. I don’t feel the emptiness, the black hole, within me. I don’t need to try to fill it with “stuff.”

Instead of feeling sheltered by the “stuff,” I feel as if I am a mouse on a wheel, running, stuckrunning, always running, but nothing ever changes. I am on a treadmill, the suburban treadmill, and just as I always knew, I do not find it satisfying. It leaves me feeling vaguely empty and unsatisfied.

And so I feel the dream stir.

Where in this broad world can I go? What places can I see? What adventures can I have?

I want to make a difference. I want to, at the end of my life, know that I have truly lived, that I’ve given back, that I have made this world better for having existed. That I have not simply gone through the motions.

dream deferredBut I question.

Is this stirring I feel the hand of God or is it merely my own thirst for adventure and meaning?

Am I going to step out, and reach for this dream knowing that the last time I did so, fate crushed me? Am I tempting fate by daring to dream this dream once more?

Or is it the voice of God I hear whispering in the corners of my mind? Is this not a dream that “fester[s] like a sore” but instead one that has spent the intervening years as a chrysalis–waiting to emerge as something I never could have imagined?

Did I hear the voice of God, but misconstrue the form it would take?

Is it the same dream, evolved, reformed, reborn?

How do I know the difference?chrysalis

Do I wait until I know that it is God’s will?

I fear that, if I wait, I will never move, because I will never know for sure if it is His voice or my own. And it is safer, more comfortable, to do nothing.

But I can’t. Though my heart quakes, I think I would rather risk it, than grow roots and never move at all.

I think I’d rather hope for the butterfly, than settle for the treadmill.

treadmill

I don’t know where,

I don’t know when,

and I don’t know how,

but for the first time since my world fell apart, I am ready, and willing, to leave comfort and security behind, and to see what else there is in this world of ours, and to see if, perhaps, this dream, rather than being a “heavy load,” might instead provide me with wings that will take me far from the treadmills of life.