Tag Archives for " Choice "

Good. Acceptable. Perfect.

Me and My HeroOriginally posted in March 2013

We always draw the attention of strangers as we—nearly 20 of us—claim our spot on the beach. It’s impossible for our cumbersome crew to go unnoticed: a half-dozen pale-skinned adults slick with sunscreen, eight bathing-suit-clad Caucasian cousins ages 9 to 18, and one African preschooler whose skin tone matches the color of rich, dark chocolate. So even on South Carolina beaches where almost anything goes, we are the exception.

It all started when my cousin lost her ever-loving mind. I found out from my mother, who called me to give me the news.

“You are not going to believe what your cousin Kathi is doing. You are. Not. Going. To. BeLIEVE it.”

Kathi is about ten years older than I am. Despite a life laced with heartbreak and disappointment, Kathi has done well for herself. She’s always been employed: factories in the early years, grocery stores for most of the last twenty. She owns her own home and has developed a network of faithful friends and beloved family. Her two sons, who she raised without the help of her ex-husband, their dad, grew into responsible, hard-working, family men.

“Kathi is taking in a 3-year old African child,” Mother said.

“Come again?” I figured I’d misheard.

“Your 50+ year old cousin is taking in a toddler from another country.” Mother proceeded to tell me the rest of the story. (For the sake of privacy and protection, I’ll refer to the child as Little One.)

Little One’s mother, a friend of a friend of a friend, was incarcerated and needed someone to keep her child for just two weeks. Kathi didn’t know the mother and neither did the woman who called her. To sane folk, the whole thing sounded like a legal disaster. We cautioned Kathi. We advised her. We insisted she procure some official statement of custody. She listened, but as I said, she’d lost her mind right about the time she learned of this child in need. (It might also be possible that Kathi’s mind was right where it was supposed to be, being transformed.)

Little One moved in and soon everyone who loved Kathi loved the child. Two weeks came and went ten times and after five months the mother saw fit to reclaim her child. By then, the bond between my cousin and Little One was strong enough to last.

So for the last three summers, Little One has been with us on the beach: playing in the surf, building sand castles, looking for shells, never out of sight of this new family-in-love. And at some point, salty and sleepy, Little One seeks out Kathi and climbs into her lap.

“It’s not that big of a deal,” Kathi says in response to our praise of her selfless actions. She enfolds the sandy brown hand resting on her knee into her own; the child leans back, snuggled against the shoulder that has proven so reliable. “Little One needed a place to stay. God told me to offer my home. So I did.”

And to Kathi, it really was—is—that simple.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

Depression and medication

Depression: Taking Antidepressant Medication

Though I was in my early 30’s when I was diagnosed with chronic depression, I had gone to counselors from time to time since my teens. And listen, I’m a big believer in therapy. Frankly, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t go to see a counselor.* I mean if you can afford it, for heaven’s sakes get into therapy. Actually, even if you can’t afford it, check into some options for inexpensive or even free services. Really.

Anyway, counseling was familiar and comfortable and not at all scary. Antidepressant pharmaceuticals? Pills that chemically alter my brain? Yikes!

Plus, at the time of my diagnosis, I was nursing my youngest child; I was wary of anything that might affect her nourishment. So, I did my research, using a new resource called the world wide web, and asked my medical doctor and counselor lots of questions.

(An aside: I learned how to do efficient and thorough research thanks to my undergrad degree in history from Campbell University. History majors—and other liberal arts grads—learn how to collect and process information, and to draw conclusions from that data: helpful skills in any career. Hire a liberal arts major. We are good deciders.)

After weighing the benefits and risks, I decided to give Prosac a try. The initial dose was ineffective, so the doctor increased my prescription to the next level.

Now remember, pre-antidepressants, I cried a lot. Everything made me sad. I had to be careful watching movies or reading books, listening to the news, whatever. Crying was the norm. It was as if I put my whole self into the story—true or fiction—and experienced the same reality as those in the story.

  • Flooding in the Midwest? Like everyone else, I would think of the loss of loved ones and pets, and the pain of losing things like heirlooms and family photographs. Yet, not only did I grieve with these strangers, I could almost feel the despair of sorting through soggy belongings, hoping to find any tangible shred of family memories.
  • Character kidnapped in the novel? What must the family of the missing one be experiencing? And how did the kidnapper become this way in the first place? Was this person a victim of child abuse or neglect? What makes someone do this to another human? I truly ached for the real people the characters represented. Agony.
  • And the TV show Roots, based on Alex Haley’s biographical novel of the same name? I may never recover from that one.

I upped the dose of Prosac. Soon, I realized I wasn’t constantly on the verge of tears. In fact, I felt almost nothing at all. It was glorious (in the beginning). Freeing. I flat did not care! My mantra may actually have been the original “sorry, not sorry.” Then came the night when I was watching 60 Minutes or 20/20 (one of those human interest/news shows). The story that night told of a man and his wife, their beautiful love story that began in grade school and continued into their golden years, and her agonizingly pointless battle with pancreatic cancer. Her dear husband cared for her tenderly until she passed away; now, according to the show, he grieved so profoundly that he struggled each day to achieve basic function. It was a gut-wrenching TRUE tale of love and loss, pain and death.

And yet, as I watched the weeping widower on the screen, I thought, “Dude. People die. Get over it. What? You didn’t think she was going to die? We’re all dying. You, me, all of us. Geez, get a grip.”

I talked to the doctor the next day about considering another medication.

Eventually I tried Effexor and did really well with few side effects. I did so well, in fact, that after just a few months (never mind I’d struggled with depression for the better part of three decades) I decided I probably didn’t need medication at all (raise your hand if you’ve been there). I contacted a local psychiatrist and scheduled the next available appointment; my visit with him lasted an hour. It started with me telling him I thought I could come off the medication, continued with me giving him a detailed history of my depression, and ended with him giving me a prescription for double the dose. True story.

There’s been a time or two over the years that I’ve tried something new on the market, wanting to see if I had fewer breakthrough episodes and if the newer med suited me better. Not a good idea for me: I've just never done a great job of transitioning off one and onto the other. I always ended up under my covers, curled in the fetal position, overwhelmed by such things as poverty, oppression, and world hunger (which I think we can all agree are, in fact, overwhelming in nature).

So now it has been about 20 years since I started taking antidepressant medication and I no longer try to rationalize myself off of it. Here’s why:

  1. The medication does not conceal my true self. Instead, it removes the barriers that block me from feeling like me.
  2. Chronic conditions of many types require medication for relief. Diabetes. High blood pressure. Migraines. Think about it. No one says, “Don’t you think that insulin is covering up your true self? Being in a diabetic coma is just part of who you are.” They also don’t say things like, “You know, if you had prayed more, you’d never have gotten high blood pressure.” Instead, they say such things as, “Wow! You must have gotten your migraines under control! You seem like your old self again!” Depression is like these other chronic medical conditions: when you treat it, you feel better.
  3. The medication is one part of a three-part treatment plan I follow. I exercise regularly and attempt to consume healthful foods. Additionally, I take an antidepressant. When the three of these are in place, I can manage the depression. Without one of those parts, I don’t feel my best. Simple as that.

Bottom line? If you’re on the fence about taking antidepressants, keep researching, keep talking to your doctor, and keep considering your options. But remember that taking a medication is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of wisdom. And it is okay.

What about you? What are your thoughts on antidepressants?

 

 

*One thing about counseling: it’s hard; exhausting at least, grueling at worst, but in any case, seriously hard. And it often takes a while to find the right counselor. I have the world’s best therapist now, but it took many attempts. If you need a break from the effort, I get it. But don’t give up. Finding the right counselor is like finding true love: totally worth kissing a bunch of toads to get there.

snowless snow days and automatic experts

Snowless Snow Days and Automatic Experts

Complaining about snow days. It’s what we do here in Western North Carolina

The problem? The weather here is anything but homogenous. Seriously. A friend who lives less than five miles from me can get six inches of ice and snow when I get not one flake. The southern part of the county might get a foot of snow while the northern districts get only a few inches. At my house, I can have just a dusting, then hear from a friend in the western part of the county who is looking at a two-inch sheet of ice on her street. It’s crazy.

Not only are the conditions markedly different from district to district, we have roads that coil around the mountains and are tricky when it’s 70 degrees and sunny. And that’s in my Honda. Can’t imagine what it’s like on those roads in a school bus. (Nor do I ever, ever, ever want to find out.)

All this creates a situation uncommon in counties where the roads are straight and every resident gets equal precipitation. I call it the Snowless Snow Day.

Here in Western North Carolina, we have all at some time experienced the Snowless Snow Day. Consequently, we start talking about whether or not schools will close as soon as we see flakes in the forecast. We are not at all deterred by the fact that it does not matter what we think. Indeed, no one cares if we want or need a snow day. The principal of our school doesn’t care. The superintendent doesn’t care. The weather channel certainly doesn’t care.

Truly, the question, “Do you think we should have a snow day,” is about as relevant as “Do you think penguins prefer salmon or flounder?” The answer to either question has no impact on upcoming events. (Unless, of course, you are a salmon. Or a flounder. Or a chef for penguins with discriminating tastes.)

Me, I’d rather schools be closed when there is a chance they could have operated without incident, than to be open when safety is questionable. I think about the teacher driving a mini-van risking a wreck trying to get out of his icy neighborhood; the school bus driver traveling those icy corkscrew roads; and the teen driver who hasn't had nearly enough experience driving in ice and snow.

But I do know that it is not that simple for some folks. As I see it, these people fall into two groups.

  1. Those who lose income as a result of the closing. (For example, you have to stay home with young children so you miss work; or you work for the school system in some capacity that doesn’t include the benefit of paid snow days.)
  2. Those who are at risk because of the non-closing. (Such as when it is truly unsafe for you to leave your neighborhood, but if you don’t work, you aren’t paid.)

Obviously, even if you do have a valid reason for your frustration with the status of school closing, it won’t change the decision. But at least you have legitimate cause to be upset. The rest of us are merely inconvenienced know-it-alls who have suddenly become experts on road conditions across the county.

Snow days are wonderful or hideous, depending on your circumstances or maybe your perspective. But one thing I know for certain is that all the fussing in the world (even if it’s on Facebook) won’t change a thing. So I’m going to try to spend the mental energy I would have wasted on school closings on something more important. Like, what kind of fish do penguins eat?

 

new years resolutions

5 types of resolutions for a Happy New Year

When my kids were younger, around the first of each January we'd sit at our kitchen table together and make our New Year's Resolutions. We've gotten out of the habit, but what we did back then was shoot for five resolutions, one in each of five categories.

  1. Spiritual. This goal that has to do with spiritual formation. Maybe "Join a Bible study," "Read through the Bible," "Start a prayer journal." Make your goal reasonable but challenging. Consider enlisting a friend to join in this resolution. Having a partner makes goals so much more attainable.
  2. Social. Set a goal that has to do with relationships. "Call my grandparents weekly," or "Set a weekly date night with my spouse/significant other." Maybe "Join a group where I can meet peers (mommy & me, book club, senior center, whatever)." You'll want to schedule this one, put it on your calendar. Things on my calendar tend to get a higher priority. True for you?
  3. Intellectual. Do something for your brain this year. Have you read War & Peace? This is your year. Or you could take a class. There are classes at community colleges, universities, even at your local craft or home repair store. Too daunting? Then learn a new kind of puzzle or game. Sudoku, acrostics, crossword puzzles: all of these boost brain power. Make your goal specific, though. "Finish War & Peace by April 15," or "Work five crossword puzzles a week." If your goal isn't specific, you'll have a hard time knowing when you've achieved it.
  4. Physical. What can you do for your health this year? Resolve to "Join a fitness club," "Start a walking club," or "Try one new healthful food each week." Remember though, sometimes we fall short of our goals. If this happens, cut your self some slack. No one's perfect. Just pick yourself up again and get back on track.
  5. Financial. Set a goal that has to do with your finances. "Start a Christmas Club savings account" or "Meet with a financial advisor." Even better, link your financial goal to your spiritual goal and resolve to "Increase charitable giving."

After making these initial five resolutions, break each one down into little goals, small steps, that will help you achieve your resolutions. For example, if the physical goal is to run a marathon, then running shoes might be in order. (Or in my case, a lobotomy.) These short term goals help measure success and help us stay motivated to keep our resolutions. Try to come up with at least three mini-goals for each resolution. Maybe you can break it down even smaller--setting micro-mini goals for each mini-goal. Each time you achieve any of these goals, make sure to reward yourself with at least a pat on the back and maybe even a latte.

In my opinion, goal setting is always good. Even if we fall short of our own expectations, I suspect we accomplish more than if we didn't aim for anything at all. So gather up your kids, family, or friends and plan now for a successful year.

Do you have tips for making resolutions? Share in the comment section. Already made yours? Tell us about them!

Parenting: The Success of Failure

Parenting: The Success of Failure

Coping with failureWhen is the last time you experienced resounding failure? When you really bombed? Remember what you learned from that? Of course you do!

See, whether we like it or not, we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. Failure underscores the lesson, highlighting it for future reference. It points to areas of growth and opportunities for improvement. Success feels good in the moment, but failure can benefit a person for a lifetime.

Still, the mother in me—and the aunt for that matter—hates to see children I love experience the pain of disappointment. I’ve seen it plenty of times though. Here are just three of examples.

  1. My oldest, an 8th grader at the time, had spent months preparing her History Day project on Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the United Nation’s Human Rights Initiative. The topic was complicated (it took me awhile to understand it myself). She’d done fastidious research, using mainly primary documents. She compiled her sources in an annotated bibliography and wrote a script which she committed to memory. She also created a backdrop, pulled together a costume, and collected vintage props. After a successful district performance, she headed to the state competition with high hopes. The results? She lost to a student whose mother had admitted to me that she wrote most of her daughter’s script.
  2. It seemed as if my son only got on losing teams. Whether it was little league baseball or church basketball, more often than not, his team would lose. No one played harder, practiced more intently, or came to games more prepared. Regardless, game after game, his teams fell short of the mark.
  3. When she was in the 6th grade, my youngest daughter challenged a teacher. It’s a long and complicated story (believe me when I tell you that you do not want me to get started on it). The short version is that the teacher was about to read aloud from a popular trade paperback (not a classic by anyone’s appraisal) that I had not allowed my kids to read due to the mature content. My daughter asked to be excused to another room. This launched a controversy that led to a number of lengthy emails that flew between the teacher and me over the course of several days. Suffice to say, we disagreed in the extreme. Shortly after that, grades were due. My daughter had an A average, but her participation grade dropped suddenly and she wound up with a B in the class. She was beyond furious.

In each case, though, my children learned more from these failures than they ever would have from succeeding in the same situation. My oldest learned that careful research is actually its own reward, no matter what an impartial judge may say. My son has developed persistence that is unrivaled; loss never diminishes his resolve. My youngest, still spunky and opinionated, discovered that true conviction is more important than academic assessment.

None of those valuable life lessons could have been acquired through success. It took failure to teach them the hard lessons.

Knowing this does not mean I want my kids to fail. I don’t. I never celebrate when my beloveds fall short of their objectives. (Frankly, if I had my way, my kids would never even have a bad hair day, let alone a true heartbreak.) When things don’t go their way, I grieve with them and share their disappointment.

But over time, as tears dry up and emotions settle, I do my best to uncover the blessing in the setback. And it’s always there. Always.

college choice

Choosing a College: 4 TRUTHS, 4 MYTHS

Choosing a collegeIt's that time of year: admissions decisions are being finalized, scholarship applications are due, and students are trying to decide where they’ll attend college in the fall. They get lots of advice: sound counsel that really does help and trivial platitudes that don’t do anyone any good.

Here are a few of the most common statements I've heard.

  1. Truth: Waiting until the last possible minute might be good. As other students turn down scholarships, money is made available to holdouts. In the last week of April 2014, my son’s scholarship awards went up daily. DAILY! So take your time. It might just pay off.
  2. Truth: Visiting campuses also pays off. Sometimes, when you are on the actual campus, you just get a feeling. Trust that feeling. You want to be in a place where you feel comfortable, at home. I’d argue that the feeling is more important than the quality of the major. (Students change majors all the time. The feeling is a lot more reliable.)
  3. Truth: You might not get that feeling right away. It might have to grow on you; trust yourself. Some people fall in love more slowly and more systematically. It’s the same with choosing a college.
  4. Truth: Talking to other people helps. Talk to teachers, mentors, and adults who care about you. Talk to friends, current students, and alumni. You’ll gain new information and insight that will make it easier to make your choice.

Unfortunately, students also hear things that are more myth than truth and are neither exceptionally helpful nor entirely true. Here are just a few of those.

1. HOPEFULLY FALSE: “This will be the best four years of your life.”

Really? It wasn’t the best four years of my life and I had a great collegiate experience. But best years of my life? Not even close. Frankly, there’s not much that compares to my childhood summers: homemade ice cream under the carport; watermelon seed spitting contests; roller skating, bike riding, playing in my playhouse. Those were some great years. But then, the last four years have been good too. And the four before that. Life is full of great years, so at the very least, you’re overstating.

But there’s a bigger problem with this statement. Expectation. Expectation can just flat slaughter reality. See, no matter how good college is for you, I promise you it won’t be perfect. You’ll have some life-changing experiences, but some of those you would just as soon have lived without. College can be wonderful. It can be difficult. It can be wonderfully difficult and difficultly wonderful. But don’t set students up to approach the next four years as the highlight of life. That’s just not true. And if it is, that’s sad.

2. SOMEWHAT FALSE: “You’ll meet the best friends of your life while you’re in college.”

For me, this is somewhat true, but I’ve also developed friends since graduating college who are more like family than friends to me. Before Facebook, I’d kept in touch with three or four of my closest friends from college. Now I’ve reconnected with many I’d lost contact with and I’m grateful for that. But I’m also in touch with childhood friends and friends I’ve made since the late 80’s. You can make friends whenever and wherever you are. My brother-in-law’s closest friends are high school buddies. My sister’s besties are co-teachers. So yes, hopefully college students will meet and keep new friends. But I for one am grateful that I didn’t stop making friends when I left college.

3. POSSIBLY FALSE: "You’ll be fine."

This may be one of the most dangerous things we say to students. Here’s the deal: way too many college students are anything but fine. Depression and anxiety spike during these stressful years. Suicide on the college campus is consistently on the rise. If students go into college thinking everyone else is fine and they are the only one struggling, they can feel isolated and resist mental health resources because of the fear of being different from the masses. A lot of college students find these years difficult and confusing and lonely. So adults, instead of “You’ll be fine,” how about we say, “I’ll always be here for you,” and mean it. And students: it’s okay if you aren’t okay. I promise you are not the only one. Reach out to people you trust and look into collegiate mental health services. Sometimes, we all need a little help to be "fine."

4. FALSE: “It doesn’t matter where you go.”

First of all, this is flippant and dismissive. If you are trying to make a decision that affects your future, it is not helpful for someone to say the equivalent of “Stop whining and get on with it! Your concerns are invalid.”

Secondly, it does matter, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. It’s not because of the college's reputation or status; the quality of the school and its majors are important, but the truth is you can find quality at just about in college or university. There are exceptions, but mostly academic experience is shaped by personal investment.

But it does matter where you go to college. It matters because of the connections you will make both personally and professionally. How many people do you know who are married to someone they met in college? A lot, right? And that best friend thing—most college graduates have made dear friends along the way, friends who have shaped their lives in profound ways.

That’s not all though. During the next four years and beyond, your professors and advisors will share more than academic knowledge with you. They will also pass along information about job openings and career opportunities; they will be your references for graduate school or employment. It matters that you choose a college where the faculty appeals to you.

Indeed, it doesn’t necessarily matter where you go in terms of national ranking; but it totally matters that you choose a college that feels right to you.

So good luck students! And no matter what other advice you get, remember this:

Choosing a college matters; YOU matter more.

pool of bethesda

By the Pool at Bethesda

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethzatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" John 5:2-6

pool of bethesdaWhen I was in Israel in 2008, we went to the pool mentioned in this text. We stopped there for a bit while Dr. Robert Canoy, Dean of Gardner-Webb Divinity school and leader of our trip, led us in a devotion. Interestingly, a few months later, my pastor at the time, Dr. Guy Sayles, preached on this text. I’m indebted to these two theologians for much of my understanding of this passage.

The Pool of Bethesda is huge. And since the water is all drained out now tourists can walk around in it, amongst the porticoes and down the stairs. You can see the Sheep Gate from there—the gate that the faithful would enter when bringing their sacrifices to the temple. And just a few steps away is the door to St. Anne’s church.

Do you know who St. Anne is? I didn’t, but I’ve learned that she was Mary’s mother. If tradition is correct, the church stands just over (at least approximately so) the spot where her home had been. How about that? The pool of Bethesda was located in the neighborhood of Jesus’ grandmama’s house. Follow me now. For as long as Jesus could remember, this man had been lying there by the pool. When Jesus was a toddler, the man was there; when Jesus was playing stick ball with cousin John, the man was there; and when Jesus began his ministry, the man still lay there.

So what does Jesus say to him? He says, “Do you want to be made well?” That’s all. He’s not sassy or flippant or sarcastic or anything. For example, Jesus did not say, “Hey Mister, I’ve been watching you soaking up the sun there for a quarter of a century; I’m starting to think you like your problems, bucko.” He did not say, “Man would you dadgum swim or get off the deck? You are flat wearing me out here.” He did not say, “What is your problem dude? You are seriously wallowing in your woes.”

“Do you want to be made well?” Jesus asks.

And me? I’m not sure I do. Sometimes, often, I prefer lying by the pool watching others dive into the pool of wholeness.  I prefer inaction. I prefer woe.

But Jesus says, “I’m not forcing myself on you. It’s your call. Do you want to be made well?”

Too many times I don’t have the strength to accept wholeness. But Jesus, amazing sweet Jesus, keeps asking me, every time I’m sprawled out, paralyzed by self-pity, “Aileen? Do you want to be made well?”

I say, “Jesus look at me! I’ve been soaking up the sun here by this pool full of the same old problems for a quarter of a century. What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I just swim and get off the deck? What is my problem? I am just a wallowing, woe-loving mess.”

Jesus looks at me with love’s eyes and extends love’s arms.  “I know exactly who you are. I’ve been right here your whole life. So,” Jesus says to me, to you, “Do you want to be made well?”

Just for today, I’m going to try not to point out all the reasons why that’s hard and just say, “Yes.” How about you?

Thanks Grace Gift

Thank You for a Gift of Grace

It was, no question, one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.

We had met years previously at a community center program when our kids were little. I think it was called Tiny Tots? Maybe Toddler Time? I’m not sure.

Anyway, we had a lot in common. Her two kids were the same ages as my older two; we were both stay-at-home moms; and we had a similar sense of humor. I was always glad to see her at Tiny Toddlers where we would exchange stories of runny noses, sibling squabbles, and pet escapades. Soon, our kids went to each other’s birthday parties and enjoyed playdates outside of the monthly Tot Time at the community center.

Surely before we ever had our extracurricular get-togethers, she knew the truth about my . . . well . . . my tendency to underestimate the amount of time it takes me to . . . um . . . get places. I can’t prove it, but I’m sure there were times I wasn’t exactly punctual to Time for Tots; so she had to know that I had this shortcoming.

By the time of the one-of-the-nicest-things-anyone-has-ever-said-to-me comment, our kids were in elementary school, so we’d known each other five or more years. That day, we were supposed to meet at a lake; Lake James, I think.

Oh wait. There’s something else. See one of the many reasons I underestimate the time it takes me to get to my destination, is that I so often get lost. You see, I was born without a sense of direction. It’s a serious disability. No kidding, I even got lost in Buies Creek, NC when I was a student at Campbell University. Now, if you are unfamiliar with Campbell, just know that Buies Creek is every bit as small as it sounds.

Okay, so I had looked at the map—luckily, I can read a map—and I thought I knew where I was going. No, I did. I did know how to get there. The problem was (I so hate to admit this) I . . . um . . . how should I put this? Ok fine, I’ll just blurt it out: I managed to get on the interstate going in the opposite direction and didn’t realize this for a good 15 miles. No, of course I didn’t notice the exit numbers were going down instead of up. I had three children and probably a beagle in my van so I missed that little detail. Whatever.

I did have a cell phone with me—a flip phone with an antenna as I recall—but back then it was so expensive to make calls, I rarely used it. OKAY fine! I’d probably already used up all my free minutes for the month. Sheesh. The point is, I didn’t call my friend until I knew I was going in the right direction and I had a good idea of when I might get there.

By the time I called, I was in a frenzy, on the verge of tears, furious at myself for doing this, again.

“Hi Tamara,” I said when she picked up. “I’m so sorry I’m late. [Insert the long explanation of my untimeliness from above.]”

And that’s when she said it.

“Aileen, I learned a long time ago that you run late. I decided that I value our friendship enough that I wouldn’t let that one little thing get to me. So relax. It’s okay. I’ll be glad to see you when you get here. We’re fine.”

Ahhhhh. Go ahead: take a sip of that tall drink of mercy. Sweet, isn’t it? Refreshing. Life-giving even.

Surely I thanked her then; but at the time, I didn’t know how that moment of grace and forgiveness would inform future relationships in my life. It turns out that since grace was given so abundantly to me, I, in return, am more gracious with others. Grace works that way.

So this thank you note is for you Tamara. Thank you for a comment you probably don’t remember, one you made a decade ago, that continues to bless me to this very day. I will forever appreciate your generous gift of grace. And I promise I will continue to pay it forward!

things no one says

10 Things No One Says

I've seen lots of memes lately that say something like, "I just love meetings that last twice as long as they should, says no one ever." So here you go: my very own "Says No One Ever," statements.

  1. The sound of my dog’s incessant barking fills me with joy. It’s like a gentle lullaby.
  2. Our family just isn’t materialistic enough. I wish I’d spent more money on gifts.
  3. My kids have grown up so slowly. I know exactly where all the time has gone.
  4. I hate the smell of fresh baked cookies. Hate it. Bleck.
  5. I wish I’d worked late instead of leaving early for my child’s ballgame. My job is so much more important than my family.
  6. I am so glad I dropped out of high school. Best decision I’ve ever made.
  7. I overate so well today! Those extra 2000 calories will really help me achieve my long-term health goals.
  8. I love potty training! I wish my kids had not caught on so quickly. In fact, if I could go back to one time in my kids' lives? Potty training, that'd be the time.IMG_8736
  9. Not voting in that last election . . . great choice. I’m so glad my voice wasn’t heard.
  10. I wish Christians would point out to me more ways that retailers fail to honor Jesus through their marketing plans.

That's what I've never heard. What about you? What can you add to this list?

Fresh Water From Old Wells

Please welcome guest blogger, author Cindy McMahon. She brings to the blog today an excerpt from the prologue of her newly released memoir, Fresh Water from Old Wells. If you are intrigued, as I was, go on over to her website at www.freshwaterfromoldwells.com to find out where you can pick up a copy of the book. Until then, here's a virtual glimpse inside its pages. Enjoy!

Memoir southern historyIt began before daylight: a wide-awake feeling that led me to a quiet room, journal in my lap. My pen told me that I could leave my full-time job and be at home for a while. Find wholeness. Live in hope instead of fear.

I did resign. The rest proved somewhat more elusive.

After watching my dad die and quitting my job, both in the spring of 2004, I spent a year and a half careening from “I’m amazing! If I believe in myself, there’s nothing I can’t do!” to “What in the world was I thinking?” and back again. In between, I remembered how to play with my children, drove on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and spent a lot of time wondering about this thing, this important thing that I could feel waiting out there for me to do. I barely recognized myself: I’ve always known exactly where I was heading, what was coming next, and what I was going to get done once I got there. Living in indecision, in the unknown, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Somehow the idea finally bloomed in my head. I could write a book. About my liberal white southern family. About my crazy, idealistic, violent, tree-hugging father who started out as a Baptist preacher, tried to save the world, and ended up living in a tent and criss-crossing the country with his thumb out. About my distinguished maternal grandfather, also a Southern Baptist preacher, who quietly brought factions together without ever making a fuss. And about the women who somehow managed to hold it all together without anybody knowing what it cost them. And I could write about me—maybe I would finally begin to understand where I came from and how in God’s name I survived it all in one piece. Perhaps others would one day read my story and find inspiration to shine a light on the dark places from their own pasts.

The thing is, when you have the idea of writing a book, at least in my case, you have to spend many months exploring all the reasons why it’s a completely cock-eyed idea. Even if there’s a voice deep inside you, first thing in the morning and last thing at night that says, “This is why you’re here now. You have a story to tell. Tell it.” Even if the first tentative steps are ridiculously easy and you feel like you’re being pulled down a path by the hand, you still tell yourself, “Nope. Not me. Can’t do it. Don’t deserve it. Not good enough.” Until the Moment comes.

For me, the Moment was at a February church retreat, in a two-person chair by a roaring fire, snow pouring down outside, in a house on a hill full of burbling women filling their bowls with oatmeal. There were several of us in the conversation at first, talking about trusting the flow—getting into it, being open and prepared, letting it take us where we’re meant to go. As I sat quietly with the conversation swirling around me, I found myself getting angry. Flow, schmo. I had been holding my arms out to the flow for the past year and a half, to no avail. I was losing faith in the whole idea.

As others drifted off towards the oatmeal pot, I turned to my friend Jeanine, sitting in the chair with me. “You know—that whole getting in the river thing . . . I’ve been letting myself float out there for nearly two years . . . it’s always been clear to me before . . . I’m caught in some sort of eddy in the shallows. I’m going NOWHERE, and I’m getting frustrated.” Jeanine let loose a flow of perceptive questions. What was I resisting? Why was I resisting it? Every reason that I could give her that I shouldn’t write a book, all the barriers that I had so carefully constructed over the last many months, got knocked down like glued-together toothpicks. So you’re an extrovert? Find non-work ways to meet your social needs. You see yourself as a leader of people? What better way to lead than by telling your story? Worried about money? Trust the process.

She left me with nothing but belief in myself and a clear path ahead. By the time I filled my own bowl with oatmeal, I knew I was going to do it. The sensation was one I had felt before when jumping off a high rock into an icy-cold stream: that moment in mid-air, knowing the splash is coming, followed by the tingling of every pore. I was exhilarated and full of wonder.

And so I devoted myself, heart and soul, to this project. I went through my mother’s address book and got in touch with anybody and everybody who might be able to tell me more about my story. I drove up one Georgia road and down the other, knocking on doors of people I’d heard about my whole life but had no memory of, people who welcomed me with open arms, loved me simply because of who I’m related to, and generously shared their stories with my tiny tape recorder and me. I even ventured to the faraway land of Alabama. I dug through church archives and read their histories, visited cemeteries, and found old homes—mine, my grandparents’, and my great-grandparents’. And all along the way I shed springs, creeks, and rivers of tears as I watched my mama following her own path away from me into debilitating dementia.

This is my story—fresh water from many old wells. It is the story of an amazing time in my adult life, as well as my childhood and the family who got me here. And it is a goodbye to my beloved mother, who spent my whole childhood making sure our story would never be told. It is out of love that I finally tell my story.


Memoir southern historyUnplanned youngest daughter of activist hippies in the turbulent South, Cindy Henry McMahon survived family violence, fire, flood, poisonous mushrooms, and an ice-cold outhouse. She now lives a decidedly normal life in Asheville, North Carolina.

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