Love, Grow, & Overflow

My cup overflows. My laundry does too.

Category: Self-improvement (page 1 of 2)

Waving

Photo Credit: zen Flickr via Compfight cc

[For AJK]

I teach preschool.  For a few hours a day, I join paths with four year olds whose view of life is much like looking out from within a bubble: the world’s a little wavery and unsure, but it’s bright and moving and streaked with rainbows. My kids find joy and truth in the smallest experiences: digging in the dirt, hitting a balloon, finding letters on street signs and license plates.

At my preschool, there’s a wall where a swath of sunlight streams over the fence near the sidewalk. Light stretches along the top half of the wall, angling down low enough for four year olds to stretch their arms up and cast shadows on the bricks.  We call it the shadow wall, and on sunny days you can see a bunch of chubby-fingered shadow arms bobbing and waving as we walk by.

While coming in from the playground the other day, I cheerfully exclaimed, “Wave at your shadows!” I was walking backward, leading but facing the kids, so I didn’t notice the two young adults coming around the corner on their way to a recovery group inside.  I almost bumped into them and felt sheepish, caught speaking to my kids in a singsong voice like sunshine was magic, like shadows on the wall were the most interesting things in the world. The women looked kind, wise, and tired, wearing comfortable clothes and carrying coffees. They gave us small, polite smiles as they passed us and headed inside.

I have so much respect for the women who show up each week.  I know nothing about their lives, but I know they are fighters, and that every day they come is a day when they’ve chosen to rise and keep going.   They walk past my preschoolers and I am aware that there’s a point where the bubble pops, where the voices don’t rise and fall like singing, where life gets dirtier in ways that can’t be brushed off quickly at the end of playground time. These women rise anyway. Wavery. Weary. They raise their arms alongside each other, face their shadows.  They stand, searching the shape of their own hands on bricks.

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Beds and Flowers

(c) Tambako the Jaguar

(c) Tambako the Jaguar

Last weekend, my mother-in-law came to visit, her car packed with luggage and her father’s old tools.  She and my husband spent the weekend building a loft for my daughter, four generations intersecting on sawhorses in our driveway.  Over the course of three days, hubby and his momma measured and cut, sanded and painted, drilled and assembled.  When they were finished, we had a beautiful loft, painted blue to match the sky on the rainbow wall in my daughter’s room.  There’s a butter-yellow platform with stairs that go halfway up, wide enough for a reading nook in the back, high enough to hide below.  It’s amazing.

The bed is everything we want for our children.  We’ve built something sturdy and beautiful, strong enough to support their wild moments, soft enough to catch them if they rise too high and bump their heads.  It’s a safe place for the quiet, vulnerable moments, for reading and resting and dreaming.  We try to parent like this, with great thought and labor.  We seek plans, lay foundations in measured care, choose values that will hold firm as they grow, that will catch them softly when they fail and fall.  We don’t parent perfectly, but we parent intentionally.

We are not nearly as intentional about our yard. Sometimes, when the weeds get too high next to our garage, I think I should just stick a scarecrow in the ground and call it our weed garden.  When I start talking scarecrows, my husband knows it is time to pull out the weed wacker.  This year, though, we’ve become accidental gardeners.  First, one of my daughter’s teachers gave her a pack of flower seeds, which we planted in finger-dug holes in the front yard.  Next, our neighbor offered us her gardening extras – two tomato plants and a pepper plant.  (We accepted, largely due to my daughter’s recent hypothesis that green beans come from frog legs.  Apparently we are in need of agricultural education.)   We dug up the weeds from a sad flower bed in our backyard and planted them, along with some chives that another friend offered.  We threw down a bag of mulch we found in a corner of our garage.  For the next few weeks we watered our gardens, the flowers in the front, the vegetables in the back.

Then, I got pregnant.  In the stomach-churning first trimester, it felt like we pushed the pause button on our lives – on play dates and museum trips and neighborhood walks.  On grocery shopping, whenever I could avoid it.  We were just getting by, and gardening was easily abandoned.  And still, as the weeks went on, blossoms formed on our vegetable plants.  Tomatoes started growing on the vines.  The cutest little green peppers soon joined them.  And, in our front yard, the flowers have popped up, blooming in brilliant colors on tall, leafy stems.

I believe our kids benefit from our measured parenting.  I think God blesses the work parents do, the hard labor, the long, seemingly endless battles.  Even at our best, though, we are limited.  I’ve seen much grace in our lives in the last couple months, in my plants and my kids.  The God who dresses the lilies of the field and the zinnias in my yard doesn’t stop when I’m exhausted and sick. In my just-getting-by days, in the times when intention fails, when my measurements fall short, he’s there.  God is at work in the dark and overlooked places, breathing life into forgotten seeds, calling them forth to bloom.

Learning to Swim

float

Photo Credit: Geoff LMV via Compfight cc

Swimming lessons did not go well last week.

My daughter loved every moment of them until last week.   She would skip around the locker room with freshly-toweled hair, pausing to say that she couldn’t wait till swimming again.  But after weeks of kicking and paddling, the teacher decided they were ready to paddle by themselves.  Although my daughter’s floatie was cinched around her waist and a pool noodle was looped under her arms, she was terrified.  When the teacher let go, she froze in the water, legs stick-straight, arms wide, fingers splayed.  She cried a guttural cry and then frantically grabbed for her teacher.  When her teacher backed out of her grasp, she got angry and began screaming “STOP! Stop it! Stop!”  until the teacher finally grabbed her pool noodle again.  She spent the rest of the time whimpering at the side of the pool, trying to convince me to take her home.

As a parent, it was excruciating. As she flailed outwardly, my stomach twisted and turned inside.  I’m wired to protect her and to keep her safe.  For one crazy momma-bear second, I considered hopping in and grabbing her, rescuing the little girl who needed no rescue but desperately believed she did.  But I know the way to keep her safe in the pool is to push through the lessons, even when she feels unsafe, so I relegated myself to cheesy thumbs-up signs from the bleachers.

I want her to be safe.

And this isn’t really about swimming.

Up until this point, parenting has been largely about enfolding.  Hold her in my arms.  Wear her in my sling.  Buckle her into carrier, swing, and stroller.  Make sure the gate is latched in the backyard, make sure I’ve got a tight grip on her hand in public places.  Parenting has been safety-by-containing.
And now both she and I are learning new skills.  Kindergarten looms on the horizon, school busses and mean kids and exposure to thousands of things that I’ve intentionally filtered out of her life so far.  It makes me sentimental and nervous and scared all at once to watch her grow. (“Stop it!  Stop!”)  We’re both a little terrified.  So she works on getting her ears wet, on her “scoopers and kickers,” and I try to figure out what she needs for the days when the buckles no longer hold her, when her legs are tall enough to jump the gate.

My husband always says that we can parent by building up walls to keep the world out, or by equipping our kids to thrive in the world.  Safety-by-containing vs. safety-while-engaging.  And although these heartstrings bind tighter than any five point harness on the market, I know this:

When it comes to what we’re building up, I choose her.

The boy across the street is learning to ride his bike.  Just a couple weeks ago his dad was holding on to his seat for balance, and now his son takes off down the street, at once wobbly and fierce.   His dad jogs behind him, close enough to scoop him up if he falls but too far to reach him before the ground scrapes his skin.  Seeing the pride on both their faces, I know it’s not a bad thing, this ever-growing distance, skinned elbows and all.

Outside the pool, there is this gigantic pedestrian bridge that spans the road – a hulking eyesore with peeling sky-blue paint.  My daughter’s fascinated by it.  I’ve promised her that the day she paddles across the pool, we’ll climb it.  I imagine us running up the ramps out to where the cars speed under us, our hair blowing in the wind.  We’ll yell “We did it!” through the fencing and our words will get carried off in the traffic and the breeze, the two of us together, learning to swim.

 

One Foot in Front of the Other

My 5K was a week and a half ago.

I was not ready.  I went anyway.

Originally, I enlisted a running buddy and we developed a pretty straightforward plan: do an eight week training program, run the race at the end of it.  Unfortunately, due to several different factors including crutches, crises and unexpected out-of-town trips, neither of us was prepared to run.  It was important to us to still complete the 5K, since we were participating long-distance in a tribute 5K in memory of our friends’ daughter, so my running buddy became my walking buddy.

Other than the Komen Race for the Cure several years ago, in which I bobbed down city streets in a river of thousands of pink-clad casual walkers, I’ve never participated in a 5K before.  There were a few hundred participants in this one, and most of them were runners showing off lots of thigh muscle in die-hard runner clothing, fancy smartphone armbands around their biceps.  And then there was me, wearing my race shirt (apparently most people don’t wear their race shirts to the race – who knew?) and baggy shorts.  However, I’m pretty sure that once I pinned my race number onto the front, no one could tell the difference.

In addition to the awesomeness of an official bib number, the race started with a pistol shot in the air.  (At least it sounded like a pistol.  I was pretty far back in the crowd because I didn’t want to get trampled by the real runners, so I didn’t actually see it.  But it’s nice to hear a gunshot in an urban area without feeling the need to duck and cover.)  And there were real tables of people handing out water along the way, with empty cups scattered across the grass by the runners who were so dedicated that they did not have time to use the trash can.  Hard core.  And there was a nice person clocking us at the end of the first mile, which was amusing – nothing like official proof that you are not very fast.

We weren’t running, but we clipped along at a pretty good walking speed for most of the race, close to the front of the non-runner crowd.  The race was two big loops around an urban park, which meant that halfway through, we got to watch people who were twice as fast as us cross the finish line.  A few hundred feet into the second loop, we noticed that one of the police cars on race patrol was coasting at our heels.  Apparently, most of the walkers had stopped after the first loop instead of doing the full 5K, and we were the last people in the race.  The very…. last…. people.

Well… we may be newbies to this 5K thing, but we were certainly not about to be last-place newbies.  So we started running.  We ran past several people.  We speed-walked past several more.  And then we saw the orange cones marking the finish lines, and we ran the rest of the way.  I’m sure it was humorous to the people at the line to see us almost-last-place folk carrying on like champions, cheering as we ran across, grasping each others’ hand victoriously in the air.

We felt honored to complete the race in celebration of the life of Samantha, and in support of our friends who will race this coming weekend.  Still, I expected the 5K to feel a little disappointing and anti-climactic.  After all, we’d failed to reach our goals.  Instead, I found it inspiring and fun.  I still don’t understand how people can get addicted to running, but I can see myself doing more 5Ks – and running all the way.

Unpretty Trees

There is a little tree on the side of our yard that I love.  Its branches are high enough to walk under, but low enough to reach up and touch (or lift a child to touch).  It stands about the size of our one-story home, so it fits well in our yard.  Its leaves are a deep, bright green, and it has lots and lots of branches that mushroom out into an almost perfect dome.  It is a fantastic tree to anchor a game of ring-around-the-rosy.  It’s just a great tree!

This spring, the tree didn’t bud.  All the trees in our neighborhood were in bloom or at least on their way, but my little tree buddy’s branches were stark and lifeless.  We rent, so my husband mentioned it to the property owners who asked their gardener, a mutual friend, to check it out.  He came out a week or two later and declared it alive and about to bud.  Sure enough, leaves have now appeared everywhere and are on their way to maturity.

In passing, the gardener mentioned that it was sort-of an ugly tree!  Our friend knows far more about plants than we do.  I’ve seen his work; he has a green thumb and a great eye for natural beauty.  We, on the other hand, are not landscaping people.  I have a hard time telling which plants in our yard are weeds and which were intentionally planted by the former owners.  I’m guessing most people who know anything about trees might find themselves sharing the gardener’s opinion.  I’m fascinated that the tree could be something of such great worth to one person and of such low value to another.  I guess it all depends on the rubrics we use to measure worth.

Ultimately, it’s just a tree.  Its success as a tree isn’t swayed by either the gardener’s opinions or my own.  The same idea applies to people, though.  I wonder how many people I have mentally marginalized because they’ve struck me as unpretty trees.  I’m not one to be intentionally cruel, but there are plenty of people that it’s just easier to pass by: that relative who always has something negative to say… the coworker who is so difficult to be around… that young adult who doesn’t say much and is hard to engage.  They are someone’s beautiful trees, in this realm or the next.  Perhaps, with the right eyes, they could be mine.

Training Wheels

Photo by rskoon

Today’s run was hard.

First, I psyched myself out.  The training for today called for running two shorter intervals and two intervals that were twice as long as I’d run previously (three minutes – not very long at all, unless you happen to be a non-runner starting a running program).  Also, on the advice of a more experienced runner, I decided to run outside today.  I really struggled with pacing.  Without the crutch of a mechanically-set treadmill, my body naturally matched the fast-paced tempo of my music. After my first short run interval, I was already feeling winded, so by the time I got to the first “long” run I really struggled.

I ran straight in one direction, crossed the street halfway through and came back on the other side of the street.  I’ve never quit a training session on the treadmill, but there is comfort in knowing that if I had to, I could.  As the blocks passed, I realized that if I collapsed into a puddle of quivering sweat in the middle of my run, it would be a long crawl home.  On the plus side, the second half of my session was easier since I was physically coming closer and closer to the finish.

At one point during a running interval, I approached a corner at the same time as a little blonde girl on a bike.  She was on the sidewalk and her dad was riding next to her in the street.   I slowed down and jogged in place to let her pass (which, by the way, seems a very runner-like thing to do, but I couldn’t really think about that because I was busy willing my legs to keep moving).  Instead of passing, she stopped directly in my path, put her foot down and gave me an open-mouthed smile, her tongue pressing at the back of her top teeth.  Her dad laughed apologetically as I circled around her and kept going.

After I’d passed them, it all clicked –the absence of training wheels, her dad trailing along, the back-and-forth shimmy of the handlebars as she stopped.  This is a kid who had just learned to ride.  She has worked and wobbled and now, she is a bike rider.

I’m realizing I need to draw a distinction between what I have done and what I am able to do.  I got intimidated by the fact that this run was twice as long as I’d previously run, but I was capable of running it.  It was double my previous accomplishments, but it wasn’t  double my capabilities.  My life is not static like a dusty record board etched with names on a gym wall.  In slow, small ways, my abilities increase.

She rides a bike.
And I run.

The Things We Hold

CRACK!

My daughter stared, crestfallen, at her broken teacup.  Her friend was visiting, and she’d asked me to let them play with her porcelain tea set, so I took down from the high shelf in her room.  They had played wonderfully together until, in a moment of impulsivity, a tiny hand banged it against the table.  The delicate gold-rimmed cup cracked into jagged-edged halves.

As I searched for shards and tissues, I had a bit of mom remorse, thinking I should’ve suggested the plastic set instead, and reconsidering whether a three-year-old should have something so fragile.  A couple days later, when the super glue had dried, my daughter handled her tea cups with a new reverence.  Little by little, she is learning to take good care of what is precious to her.  That’s a lesson she wouldn’t have learned with her plastic set.

I know the tea party phase will pass all too quickly, and soon she will be busy flirting and texting (or rolling her eyes at her lame mom who still thinks texting is the big thing).  I already worry about those tough years.  I’m encouraged, though, by the character of the middle school and high school kids I know.

In my pre-mom days, I got the chance to volunteer as a chaperone on youth events at our church.  On one trip, our group had stopped at the café in a grocery store for a quick meal, and on the way in, some of the girls noticed a cute boy working outside the store.  Unfortunately, one of the girls got a nosebleed in the middle of our meal.  She went to the bathroom and tried to get it to stop without success, so she sat, embarrassed, trying to look discreet while holding a napkin up to her nose.

Soon it was time to leave.  It was a mortifying situation for a preteen – walking by a cute boy with blood running from one’s nose.  She had friends who loved her, though.  The rest of the girls grabbed napkins and crumpled them up to their noses, too.  My favorite photo of youth ministry was taken that day: our cute girls, trendy boots and tennies crunching the snow, walking toward the car in a wide row.  Even with their faces half-hidden by napkins, it’s obvious that they are laughing.

This could have been a story about a cute boy.   I wouldn’t have remembered it.  Instead, it’s the story about the type of friend I hope my daughter has one day, and the type of friend I hope my daughter is one day – the kind who remembers that we take good care of what is precious to us.

Sometimes, that looks like a preschooler holding her teacups with deliberate gentleness.  Sometimes, that looks like twelve-year-olds holding napkins to their noses with loving abandon.  People-treasures or moment-treasures or thing-treasures – our love is shown in how we handle the things we hold.

Mean Girls

Throughout most of my years at our large public high school, my friends and I floated comfortably in the middle echelon of the popularity spectrum.  Due to my middle-school years at private school, I was largely unknown.  I didn’t usually draw attention, positive or negative, and that was OK with me.  So I was caught off-guard one day in sophomore year English class when I felt something pressing into my back.  It was the edge of the empty desk behind me.  Two girls sat at the back of the room, kicking the desk forward into my back, snickering.

As you can guess, it felt lousy.  One of the girls, Chris, was in my homeroom.  She was popular mostly because she had popular friends, and she kept her rank with sharp, cutting wit.  She spent a lot of time in homeroom making jokes about people who weren’t sitting in her corner – including my friends and me.  And now, here we were in English; they were bored, and I was an easy target.

Chris and I both ended up in the same Art History class senior year.  I shared one of the heavy two-person tables with my friend and locker partner.  Chris sat ahead of us with her friend, who dropped the class a couple weeks in.  One day, we decided it was time for paybacks.  We slowly pushed our table forward.  Chris scooted forward a bit.  We leaned on the table more, gradually inching it up until it was pressed against her chair, wedging her between her table and ours.  Chris got frustrated, turned around with an angry sigh and shoved our table back at us.  We were engrossed in the art history slides for a few minutes, and then gradually started pushing it forward again.

At the end of the class, she rushed out.  We felt victorious.  We rode that high for a good part of the day, but as the high wore off, it felt tainted.  Our happiness stemmed from her unhappiness.  Of course, I rationalized that she may have learned how hard it is to be on the receiving end of taunting, but her actions clearly stemmed from insecurity.  Disrespect and cruelty from us certainly didn’t make her more secure.  I don’t think she became a better person that day, but for part of the day, I became a worse person.  A vengeful person.  Someone who took pleasure in the discomfort of others.

Now, as a parent, I want to make sure I remember all of those feelings.  As they grow, I hope to teach my kids that being powerful is not the same as being honorable, that no one grows by stooping, that one person’s revenge is not another’s redemption.  On the other hand, being kind doesn’t always win people over either.  Neither arming my kids with witty retorts or boxing lessons will make people respect them, and no matter how much they want to be liked, not everyone will.  They have choices anyway – a million little chances each day to love louder than the haters hate. To choose to act in ways that make souls stronger, and in doing so, grow stronger themselves.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:21

Starting Somewhere

Photo by Sasha Wolf

I’m running a 5K.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened.  Those of you who’ve known me awhile know that my lack of athleticism borders on legendary.  But a couple friends have mentioned 5K training programs for non-runners, and it piqued my curiosity.  I downloaded an app to check it out, mentioned it to my husband, and recruited my pal to be my running buddy all before I was really sure I wanted to do it.  I’ve never even considered running a 5K before, but here I am.  (I plan to share more about the inspiration for my run in an upcoming post, so stay tuned.)

So… I am 5K training.  I’ve been going to the Y for several months now, but mostly, I do brisk walking on the treadmill.  (I tried an aqua fitness class which could be a blog post in itself – apparently aqua fitness classes appeal to very quirky people, and the fact that I am one of them is not lost on me.)  I love the treadmill, actually, but it feels pretty pointless.  Sometimes, I try to switch it up a little, so I put on Melissa Ethridge’s “I Run for Life” and begun to run.  It is a very dramatic and purposeful and stirring song, and I run very dramatically and purposefully until two minutes in, when I sputter to a walking pace, out of breath. The thought of running an entire capital K seems impossible right now, let alone 5 of them.

I am using a program called Couch to 5K, in nifty app form.  The first workout was hard, but not too hard.  And the next two workouts were just a little less hard.  I’m looking forward to getting in shape, and I’ve already convinced myself that I can see runner’s muscle in my calves and thighs.  But mostly, I am sold on all the perks of 5K training.  The program recommends three work days a week with rest days in between.  Those days when I don’t go to the gym aren’t lazy days anymore.  They are rest days.  I have to make sure my body recovers in between workouts.  It’s very athletic of me, you see.  And I only jog for a short time before going back to walking – not because I’m out-of-shape, but because I am interval-training.

This morning, I went to the Y at 7:30am.  At 7:30am, all the work people are off to work, but the casual-workout folks aren’t out of bed yet, so it’s just me and a bunch of buff old guys.  I walked in and thought to myself, “Hello, old guys.  How are you feeling this morning? I am feeling buff with all this training and athleticism.”  I hopped on my treadmill and did very well until the last run interval, when the plastic book-holder that someone had left on my treadmill clattered to the floor.  I thought one of them might shout “Imposter!” and recognize me as the clutzy gal who made a fool of herself a few months ago, but instead a nice gentleman picked it up and handed it back to me.  I didn’t know what to do with it, so I just held it awkwardly while I finished my run.  But, I finished.

All sixty seconds of it.

Gotta start somewhere, right?

Tea with My Daughter

Photo by left-hand

It’s been a long day.   One of the Roman shades in our living room broke awhile ago.  Every time we opened the shade, the cord rubbed against the ring it was threaded through, sawing back and forth until the string gave way.  Today I felt like that shade, hanging heavy and unthreaded, casting shadows instead of letting in light.

I battled with my daughter all day.  She pushed her brother, she refused to share, she screamed and kicked the back of the passenger seat with furious little three-year-old legs.  I battled myself, fought to keep my own emotions in check, to stay calm and in control, to not take it personally.   I never realized it would be this personal.  When she fails, it feels like I have failed.

I so strongly want her to be a person of integrity, of respect, of empathy and love.  I think of all the lives she will touch, people she will wound or bless, and how my actions as a parent today help to shape her choices in those situations.  It’s a staggering responsibility.  I take it personally; how could I not when her heart once beat inside my body?  I remember listening to the fetal monitor at the hospital, and I knew my life would be forever tied to that beat, the cadence of her life.

Tonight, when I felt like giving up for awhile, throwing on a video or opting for some mandatory quiet time (which is torture for a socialite like my daughter), I fought it.  I got out my daughter’s tiny new porcelain tea set.  We set it up in her bedroom with a couple baby dolls as guests.  We fed them tea with plenty of cream and sugar in flowered teacups with gold rims.  She doted on her guests, told them to drink slowly so they didn’t get tummy aches.

As we played, we fell into a rhythm: pass back and forth, ask and reply, pour and drink.  Our teacups clinked against their platters like chimes.  We emptied ourselves of today, its failures draining away until only drops remained.  We filled each other’s cups and drank in blessings, tea, and light.

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