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Friday, February 21, 2014

Tribute #6 What Connection Looks Like to Me

            I’ve been thinking about my uncle Todd today.  He is a possessor of my personal favorite spiritual gift, that of making people feel special.  And when I say ‘people’ what I really mean is ‘me’.  He makes me feel special and has done so for as long as I remember. As a well-respected leader in his immediate family, extended family, church, profession, and community, I’m sure he has a large network and yet yesterday I casually checked my email and found a page-long letter to me.  This might be my favorite ‘in-box’ moment of the day…on the occasion that Uncle Todd sets aside all of the other cares and relationships of the day and gives me a few minutes of his dedicated time.  This is a poor replacement to real face-time, but after all, we have lived over a thousand miles away from one another for most of my life.  How do we maintain such a bond?  
            Uncle Todd communicated to me very early on that what mattered to me mattered to him.  When I was a little girl…maybe in my early adolescence, I became a haphazard scrap-booker…not talented in the least, but may I assure you that what I lacked in talent I made up for enthusiasm.  The typical trouble of any hardcore scrap-booker is finding someone who cares enough to fully and deeply appreciate the hours of care that were poured into the glue, glitter, cut up photos, and random color-coordinated stickers.  But Uncle Todd did.

            Every kid wants a someone special to stop everything and just be interested in what is interesting in that random thing that he or she thinks is wonderful.  Having this intuition isn't easily come by, and every kid needs something a little different, but somehow Uncle Todd knew that this is what this kid needed.  On several occasions, he’d came by to visit my family and he’d spent an impressive amount of time looking at photos, asking about specific friends, pointing out especially well-crafted designs, and generally just saying ‘you matter’.  I feel a little bit weepy even composing this memory of his kindness.  Man, that was sure good of him. 

            The way he valued my opinion stretched into my adulthood as he would occasionally call or more frequently send over an email asking my opinion on an issue that he was facing in one of his many leadership positions in his life.  He would present me with a somewhat complex question and ask me what I would do about it.  I strived to squeeze out any trace of wisdom that I might have hiding within me for his benefit, always subconsciously bearing in mind that with his two-dozen years more of experience in all things life and leadership- related, my thoughts certainly would not enlighten him in any real meaningful way.  I think maybe he must have just enjoyed connecting with me and learning about how I saw the world.  Maybe what we talked about didn’t always matter.  He just wanted to reach out and say in his own unique way, “I want you to know that you are important and that you matter.” 

            Just recently, he had business in my part of the country.  He flew in and drove three hours to see me and my family.  We visited for two hours and he got back in his car and drove the three hours back to the destination of his business.  If you do the math, that just doesn’t make sense.  But it made perfect sense to me.  He loves me. He’s been quietly telling me that all of my life. I matter to him and that’s the kind of thing people do for those they love.   

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Tribute #5 My Own Story...

     I’m going to talk about myself this week…breaking my established protocol and acknowledging that I am neither quiet nor overly good on any given day.  But I have a story that is aching to be told, so tell it I will.  In my current graduate studies, the time recently came to seek out an internship. 
     I somewhat hesitantly confess that in approaching this chapter of my training I was completely unconcerned.  God, I had reasoned, had directly my path so entirely since the very beginning of my journey to this field, He would certainly continue to do so now.  I interviewed at several locations and felt extremely secure in two of them—having experienced what one of my favorite professors had recently called ‘kumbaya moments’ with both interviewers. We talked, laughed, very nearly cried; really connected.
     Fast forward a few days and I got my first rejection phone call.  Ouch.  This is actually the only site that I was interested in and it would appear that my positive outlook on the interview had more to do with the therapist’s skills at helping me feel accepted, heard, and felt, than it had to do with my fitness for the position.  
      A few more days passed accompanied by rejections from each and every internship site.
This is about the time that the panic kicked in.  I was baffled.  I mean, God and I had a thing going and He had helped me so much up to this point. Crumbling a little bit, I recalled the prayer I had offered continuously over the past few months appealing to Him to guide me to the internship that would help me have the experience that would best prepare me for the work He wanted me to do while not imposing too much on my precious family time.  When these words came back to me I paused and reflected that perhaps this painful moment was just a part of the fulfillment of his answer.
    Within the last couple of weeks I had had two very poignant experiences whereupon I had lost something insignificant—I think a text book and some swimming gear—and after having scoured my home, I had knelt and prayed to my Heavenly Father that he would guide me to my lost item. Upon closing my prayer each time, I had immediately stood up and walked directly to each of the lost items.  
     In my current distress, these small manifestations of God’s goodness flitted back into my mind. I knelt again and appealed to him that I knew that He could always find that which was lost—this time that which was lost to me was a bit more of a stretch…I needed him desperately to guide me as He had done before, but this time to my internship.
     Upon the heels of the final rejection, the crumble, and the prayer for strength to regroup and see God’s hand in this new development, I happened to be headed out the door to the temple—a place where, as a Latter-day Saint, I go to make and renew sacred covenants with God and moreover, a place where I go frequently to stay centered, safe, and guided by the hand of God in all of my various roles and responsibilities.  While driving this well-traveled route, my ‘auto pilot’ somehow misfired and I found myself headed in the wrong direction.  Before I could recalculate my journey, the distinct (and somewhat irrational) thought came to my mind that while I was already headed in that direction, I might as well stop in and visit a gentleman therapist employed by my church to re-enquire about an internship opportunity.  
      I chided myself—God’s prompting voice—in response to this impression, reminding myelf—Him—that I had already spoken to this particular gentleman, and that he had already said that he could not take on an intern.  “Go by his office and speak with him” came again into my mind with clarity and force.  Wow.  Okay, I thought.  This seemed crazy but I was admittedly desperate. At any rate, the odds were very high that he would not be able to see someone who just walked in off of the street.  But, I am familiar with these feelings and I have long since learned that sometimes the more irrational the impression, to more I ought to take heed.  
     So I did so, and turned and car towards this therapist’s office.  I walked in and was seen by him…immediately. This was uncommonly fortunate. He welcomed me to his office and in the stillness as I explained my plight, I felt a certainty that I was directed to him and that he would help me somehow.  He again reiterated that he was not set up to work with interns but brightened up in remembering that he referred frequently to a local private practice therapist who currently had an intern and may be interested in working with me. 
     A week has passed since this brief unfolding of events.  An immediate phone call to the recommended therapist was followed by a phone interview and a face-to-face interview and within only a couple of days, my completely ‘lost’ internship was found and secured.

     As I reflect on the clarity He lent me in these moments, I am amazed at His special attention to me. Certainly, I’m not saying that I’m his favorite. That would be silly.  But sometimes I think it is okay for each of us to look at a little series of incidents in our lives and imagine a loving Father turning away from the struggles and strifes of the more ‘real’ or ‘serious’ problems of the world out there (which there certainly are) as He looks upon one of us in our own personal extremities to show his loving kindness and special attention. And the real beauty about this whole thing is that He doesn’t have to turn his heart from you to show special attention to me.  That is the beauty of the nature of God.  Actually, I like feeling like his favorite every once in a while.  It’s a feeling that I hope we each feel before our time is up.  J

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tribute #4 Inner City Valiance

Visiting with our friend John is somewhat exhausting.  There is so much wrong in the world—this being a point on which we all agree—but when we get together, I wish that just even once in a while, we could just leave the world and its troubles alone for a brief moment and catch up on something more—uhm—shallow…(did I just say that?) like my discovery of a great new Greek yogurt flavor, for example. Whatever.  Just a few less rants…that’s all I ask.  

No matter where we begin, it is not long before we find ourselves immersed in a swamp of the world’s ineptitude, corruption, lack of discipline, and become privy to his general disgust for a variety of institutions large and small—beginning and ending always with the government and incorporating a heavy dose of the word “disaster”.  I leave these gatherings tired.  These issues are so much bigger than we are. We each throw our own tiny pebbles of good  into the ocean of need and hope that a ripple will form but soon walk away as the water envelopes our futile fragments, not even so much as forming a dent in the vast expanse. John’s passion is palpable and exhausting.

But far from exhausting John, I recently learned that it moved him to quiet and courageous action. A flawed world filled with suffering people.  What to do? Well, a few weeks ago, John knew what to do.  Late one evening I received a text from John’s wife that simply said something like, “John has gone downtown tonight to save his bridge people from freezing to death (literally). He doesn't think they will make it in this cold.”  I punched into my phone the city where John lives and was shocked to see that this normally balmy city’s temperature had plummeted to a frigid 20 degrees. 

Mind you, as his wife so succinctly said, these were John’s people. His passion for the injustices of the world indeed did not burn itself out in talk but rather ignited in him a desire to plumb the depths of human suffering with the homeless and nearly-homeless population in his own metropolitan area. That night, he left his own warm home and drove downtown, filled his vehicle with his homeless friends and found them a warm place to sleep that night. He has helped them learn employment and other life skills. He has bought them bicycles. He has even helped them with their laundry. He has shown a remarkable amount of courage, integrity, and compassion. He is fearless. Talk on, dear John.  The floor is yours. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Quiet Goodness Tribute #3  A Fiercely Courageous Father 

I want to talk about courage in the face of uncertainty and someone whose courage kind of blows my mind.  James spent many years pursuing an advanced degree.  When he finished his degree, I’m sure his wife and four children heaved the proverbial sigh of relief and looked ahead to easier times.  He got the first job and they were off to live real life.  Halt.  Shortly after having started said ‘real life’ James comes home with the melancholy news that he’s lost his job.

So James starts the job hunt locally and finds nothing.  No leads, no interest, and no hope of interest from any prospect.  Figuring that it is time to broaden the search, James and his wife decide that he will drive the 2000 miles to the west coast city where she was raised. He gets into their vehicle that could ill afford the trip one way (let alone the roundtrip) and alone and distressed, he is off.  Once there, it seems that James' stars are aligning.  He approaches four different firms, all of whom are interested in getting to know him better. 

As I am listening to this recounting (by his elderly mother) I am mildly interested but not fully engaged.  I wake up as I hear the next chapter of his incredibly story.  Shortly before his prospective interviews with each of these four firms, John prays from guidance from God and gets the clear impression to graciously decline ALL forthcoming interviews and to go home to his family and pursue work options in their hometown again.  At this point in the story I’m fully engaged and a little bit uncomfortable. Did I mention that he had already done that? Surely, I’m thinking, this guy wouldn’t be crazy enough to drop everything after all of the time and energy he invested only to go home empty handed!  I mean imagine how that conversation went with his anxious wife at home?  “Hey there honey!  Yeah!  I made it safe…the care was fine…made contact with four places, all liked me but… I’m headed home tomorrow…” Long pause…or worse, not a long pause at all. You know what I mean.  I think faith is sometimes doing what seems like utter nonsense. 

But what seemed like nonsense from where I sit in my soft computer chair looking in from the outside of this experience was unflinching courage from where he sat in his old car now turned eastward towards home and family. He respectfully declined all future interviews and obeyed the subtle whisperings of an unseen God.  Mind you, I did not call him an unknown God.  It is my belief that James’ relationship with God was not at all the unfamiliar, cordial, distant, call-only-when-needed kind of thing. He knew the God to whom he spoke that evening. He trusted. He did not flinch…at least he did not flinch when it was ‘go time’ and the calls needed to be made and the car gassed up. 

To wrap up…James came home and soon thereafter was connected with a gentleman who owns just the kind of company that John dreamed of someday owning himself.  This gentleman was looking for just such a man as James to come on and in a few years to take over full ownership. 

Of course James did not know this when he courageously turned his back on what seemed to be his only chance to succeed.  But God knew.  I love learning about people who are more courageous than I could ever be.    

Monday, January 13, 2014

Quiet Goodness Tribute #2--Watching the Mother of the Bride...A Naive Outsider's Perspective

Lets talk for a minute about irrational fears of the future, shall we?  I attended a wedding reception recently and found myself drawn not to the beauty of the dress, the glow of the bride, or the quiet anticipation of the new groom.  All of these elements were indeed present but they did not capture me as they usually do. I should say that they began to capture me until a thought wafted through my mind that I'd known this bride (read 'little girl') for ten years now.  When I met her, she was thirteen.  And now she was making one of life's most significant transitions--one that would invariably shape the trajectory of her life.

From that moment on, I couldn't think about this little girl...I mean bride.  All I could think about was her mom (ahhh...I'm getting old...associating more with the mamma than the blushing bride...). I was transported to ten years hence at the wedding reception of one of my own little girls or a few years after that to the wedding reception of one of my precious sons and all I could imagine was--is despair too strong a word? about gloom--that I might feel upon giving away a LARGE piece of me to another.  I felt a sweep of anguish at the reflection of mistakes made, opportunities missed, you know, the general flub-ups that are incident in all of our fallen attempts to mother well.

How could this mother of the bride look so joyful and calm?  I mean this gal didn't walk throughout the room greeting guests, she floated!!  Incomprehensible!  She reflected a pure undulated serenity that completely mystified me.  And to complete this delightful juxtaposition between my feelings on their behalves and their own real feelings, I looked over to the father of the bride to see downright jubilation. He was visiting with my husband and threw his head back as he gestured to the photos of the wedding party--taken in something like -14 degrees!  He was just delighted at the incongruence of the joyful faces in this photo-- quite literally as frozen in cold as they were now frozen in time.

Smiling faces in bitter cold. Joyful parents in letting their daughter go.  How was this so?  There is something that touches down deeply here.  Anyhow...the next day in a tender moment spoken by a tired mom-of-bride, I learned that her joy came from feeling at peace with her own inner compass.  She said that although she made a million mistakes and would love to go back and change another million things, she felt that her children all knew they were safe in coming to her and her husband whether blue with sadness or red with anger.  Well that is not exactly what she said but you get my point...They tried their hardest, mended fences as they fell, failed and tried again.  Sometimes succeeded.  Never stopped trying.  Gave roots and then gave wings.

In essence, my friend--the mother of the bride--was an engaged parent.  And according to the theories of shame and vulnerability researcher and expert Brene Brown--engagement is the only true marker of a 'good' parent.  I have no doubt that these parents of the bride did spend their share of time feeling the exquisite pain incident of transitioning through the beauty of life's changing seasons in our own and our loved one's lives. But after the pain comes an even greater joy, which I was privileged to see as the bride's father took his daughter in his arms for their first dance together as father and grown-up-married-daughter.  Very sweet indeed.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Quiet Goodness Tribute #1--Molly the Courageous Middle-Schooler

Oh my goodness...why is this so difficult?  I approached 2014 resolved to combine my hair styling entries with something of substance to most certainly myself and possibly someone else who might stumble this way.  Well, having resolved to begin this, here we are on January 8th and I'm already--or maybe I should say 'only'--a week behind.  However, having just now sat down to do this thing, I can truly say that I am already benefiting from my resolution to look around me and give tribute to those who inspire me in their quiet and un-flashy ways.  By consciously resolving to 'find' someone each week to recognize--even if it is just to this audience of one (me)...I am seeing quiet greatness all around me.  And naturally, these people have not just popped into my life.  They've been there all along, just doing their deal, and only now I am seeing things as I have never seen them before. Cool.

I want to start close to home by recognizing my 7th grade daughter Molly (all names now and hereafter will be changed to protect those who would otherwise be embarrassed by any notice).  Molly deserves a badge of courage just simply by way of having survived unscathed by the seventh grade.  I mean, seriously, when I think back on the seventh grade, my hands get clammy and I am immediately brought to that moment when I couldn't find any friend close enough to commit to become my locker partner.  Ugh.

And here she is, this Molly girl, actually enjoying it.  I figured she must just be made of stronger stuff than her mother was as a 13-year-old, or maybe that middle school had been easier on her than it was on me, until she started sharing some experiences she'd recently had.  We were driving warm meals around to some shut-ins on Christmas Day (yeah! for the good people at Salvation Army who gave us this AWESOME opportunity!) and Molly--seemingly out of the blue--cheerfully told us a handful of things that other kids had said to her over the past few months.  These are not nice things.  These things made me want to ask her for the name of that rude girl in her gym class (among others) so that I could go do what every mom wants to do when her vulnerable daughter is verbally assaulted by another not blessed with a kindness filter.  Anyhow, as I listened, it became clear to me by Molly's way of sharing these stories that though painful enough to remember--they were not personally defining moments to her.  The more she shared in a way that expressed her 'I'm okay-ness', the more I was able to be okay too.

In the end, we all laughed and congratulated Molly on her courage in having to share a world with a few--or might I suggest a whole bunch of--awkward, insecure, and filter-less adolescents who sometimes choose hurting others as their way of play.  I pay tribute to her because she did not see herself as a victim, but rather as a player in a play who could easily step outside of the role 'seventh grade girl' and slip comfortably into something far more comfortable...'daughter, sister, friend, helper, musician, child of God'...all places of relating that are safe and kind, and all places where I hope that she finds complete and total acceptance and warmth.  These safe identities don't change with time and enable those 'mean kid' comments of middle school to slip down to the place where they really belong...under the boots and into the slushy snow of a Christmas afternoon family service project.

French Twist with Embellished Side Ponytail

Lace Braid