Thursday, November 12, 2015

To The Bully

     You are now a guest in our home. You see, everything you do to my son, the name calling, the threats, all of it, follows him home every night from school.  It sits in our living room, it rides in our car, he wears it on his face, this venom that you see fit to spit at him because your have latched on to cruelty as your means of defense... or perhaps as your means of offense. Either way, you are hurting my child and that is not okay.
     Now, I know that you yourself are just a child. You are in my son's grade at school so I am assuming that you are 12 or 13. You are not old enough to wield the power that you hold. You are not old enough to understand that for the rest of his life, when he sees you on the street, when he thinks about you in the future, at class reunions, you are going to be the bully. You have pigeon-holed yourself. You will never be more than you are now to my son and to those of us who love him. What a foolish and childish thing to do. But then again, you are just a child. And for a child to say those very overtly "adult" things that you are saying to my son, I can only assume that there is little parental control in your home. Some might let that be the explanation and just shake their heads and let it be over. I won't.
     In case no one in the school system or your home environment has ever told you, I will make this very clear: It is wrong to call people names. It is wrong to tell people they should just go die. It is wrong to make people feel bad to try to make yourself feel better. It is wrong. I am sorry if it happens to you at home. I am sorry if it is happening to you at school. But I have told you that it is wrong. I am an authority figure. You should stop. You should have stopped a long time ago. Let me tell you why you should have stopped.
     Because sooner or later the flaws come out to play. My son's flaw is that he is fat and you think that makes him weak. Your flaw is perhaps hidden a bit better, but it is going to show up soon enough and when someone finds out that flaw and exploits it, you will be so shocked and shaken and lost. You won't be able to believe that you, the stronger, the alpha, the instigator, is being bullied. And you will be bullied, because everyone gets bullied. You, however, won't be able to deal with it because you have little to no compassion for others which means that you internalize everything and you will most certainly implode at some point.
     There is another, more important reason why you should stop bullying my son. That reason is this: he is a good kid. He is funny and smart. He loves to play video games and watch movies. He's a great cook and he's kind. He loves to do nice things for others. You are missing out because you have turned him into an enemy just because he doesn't fit into whatever narrow parameters you have for existing without the pressure of the torment that comes from your sad, uneducated mouth.
     I know all of these things because I was bullied when I was a kid. I would have been one of your victims. But now I understand that you are a coward. I understand that you have no coping mechanisms. I understand that you may suffer from a bad home environment. But mostly I understand that you are mean... that you enjoy being mean. You like laughing at my child when he doesn't know how to react to you. You like the power that comes with pushing other people around.
     That is why I am going to pray for you... for several reasons actually. I'm going to pray for you because I have watched my "fat" son knock an 80-pound heavy bag into a horizontal layout without gloves or wraps. I'm going to pray for you because any human being can only put up with so much and I sure hope you grow some compassion and back off of him before he has had enough. I am going to pray for you because I need to forgive you. I need to forgive you for ruining our evenings together as a family, for taking away his laughter, for making all of us hurt. I am going to pray that you will get a glimpse of how he sees you and that will scare into being at least humane.
     But mainly I am going to pray for you because the world is not tolerant or welcoming when it comes to self-important, cruel-hearted bullies. The world loves an underdog and hates an overlord. The world loves to watch the alpha become the omega, the meek inherit the earth and the stepped on climb to the top. I pray that you get over yourself before it is too late. I pray that you realize that everyone has value, including but not exclusive to you. I pray that you choose to learn the lesson before life says it's time. Because that never, ever turns out well.
     I don't want you to be friends with my child. I know that in time you will fade to the back and just be some shadow on his seventh grade year. That should make you sad, but it won't. Not yet. Not until everything evens out you see the light. It may be in the next year; it may be in the nursing home. I can't foresee the future, but I can foresee parts of your, there is the reason why the phrase "Oh how the mighty have fallen," exists. I just regret that you feel the need to elevate yourself to the category of mighty. Remember little one, there is only way to go when you are all the way up...

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Being Broken

     When I was about six years old, I did something horrible. My mother had this beautiful lead crystal vase that she kept in the kitchen window. The vase caught the light no matter what time of day it was and cast a prismatic rainbow over the entire kitchen. I knew she loved it because she had given me the "don't touch it" speech. Long story short, I touched it. I touched it so much that I broke it. The bottom was still in tact, but there were four pieces of glass where one beautiful piece of perfection once was.
     I had no choice but to gather up the pieces and take them to Mom. She was upset... upset that the vase was broken, upset that I had touched it when she had explicitly told me NOT to touch it, but mostly upset that I had picked up the broken pieces and brought them to her. "You could have really hurt yourself by picking them up," she said to me as she gingerly took the pieces from my hands. "The edges are sharp." 
     I got grounded for touching the vase - totally deserved it. And I helped Mom glue it back together. It took hours, putting glue on one piece and holding it until it bonded with the piece that would stabilize it, then adding another piece and holding it until it bonded with the two other pieces and so on... Finally, it was back together. We set it in the window and sure enough, the light still caught it. But the brokenness of the vase, despite the fact that we had put it back together, had changed the way the light reflected. It was almost twice as bright with new patterns of light bouncing both inside and outside of the vase. Mom stood back and looked at it... a pattern of blue and yellow prisms on her face and she smiled. "The seams where it was broken, they are letting the light through into the glass." 
     I've thought about that incident a lot lately. Mainly because of my brokenness. I never realized, when it was happening, that my mother was teaching me about living in that moment. The brokenness is where the light comes in. I have embraced that and there is no freedom like the freedom that comes with realizing that you are going to get hurt, that it is inevitable. You are going to be broken... it is a certainty. But it is what you do with your brokenness that matters. Will you hide it from the light and make it a crack that just collects dust? Will you set it on the window and wait for the sun to rise so that it can help make the light dance? 
    I often think about brokenness in relation to the church. Churches, the body of Christ, even in this day and age, doesn't accept brokenness well. Television commercials show perfect little hipster families, websites are slick and modern, worship services are more like mini-concerts... and these are wonderful advancements. Unless you are broken. When you are broken, you don't want to see that. You want to see people who might understand you. You want to know that when you enter into a sanctuary you are going to be accepted for your brokenness, not gossiped about or held up as an example of what not to do. 
     When my mother passed away almost a year ago, I stopped going to church. I'm not sure why. My faith in God was at a new place in its growth, a place I had never considered. But I couldn't do church. Maybe it was because the fellowship I needed at that point wasn't with people but with the Lord... maybe I was subversively angry at God and just didn't realize it. I look back now and I think that I didn't go because I was so broken and I couldn't bear the idea of no one addressing my brokenness because I was wearing it, I was living it and I was speaking it but it made me difficult to be around. I needed some light to shine through the cracks... I needed someone to recognize my brokenness in a loving, caring, Christ-like manner. Not with self-righteous indignation. Not with judgement. But with love, unconditional and firm. 
     Then it occurred to me that there is no wonder that most people are put off by Christianity as it stands today. We want perfect. We want perfect people to come to the perfect service. We don't seem to want to upset the applecart of Christian. We are the city on the hill, the problem is that the hill is one that we have built by turning the church into a country club for part-time sinners, a social center where the only outreach we perform is reaching out for more money, building, adding on, etc. The only currency that we need as the situation grows more and more desperate is courage and acceptance. And honesty.... oh to be able to enter a building full of human beings to whom I could open my brokenness, share it, allow them to carry it for me and with me. That, more than anything, more than a building or gathering of people, is what the church should be. We should be seeking out the broken and helping them carry the pieces. They are sharp, those pieces of brokenness and as much as the breaking hurts, carrying the pieces is even more dangerous. We should be offering to carry them. And it seems that we are not. 
     So I will start. I am broken. But there is light inside of me. And the light, should it ever shine on me again, might bounce right off of one of my broken pieces and blind you into believing that it is the broken who need what we have to offer... the broken among us and the broken outside of us looking in, hoping to catch a glimpse of something that might offer them healing.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Other Peoples' Junk

     'Tis the season of the yard sale. Brightly colored signs on street corners beckoning the savvy bargain hunter to an address that promises The One Thing I've Always Needed are as prevalent during the summer in the Midwest as the buzzy, angry June bugs. I grew up in a microscopic town, so small that there were maybe two or three yard sales during the summer. Thank goodness for the Shop N' Save. 
     The Shop N' Save was a dank second-hand store that was in the bigger of the "Shelby" towns in Shelby County. It was right across from the library, right beside the sale barn in the town of Shelbina. The Shop N' Save was a mecca, an aromatic, mysterious and mesmerizing mecca of stuff that I didn't know I wanted or needed until I saw it. Grandma went there for books; Mom went there for these pieces of junk that she would take home and turn into these amazing pieces of furniture. I went there because they went. But I was soon sucked into the magic of the hunt. 
     "Junkin'" is what Mom called it, but it never occurred to me that it was junk. I didn't know where all of the items at the Shop N' Save came from but then again I didn't know where all of the items at the grocery store came from either. So when I talked Mom into buying me the Operation game missing the funny bone at the Shop N' Save for $1 as opposed to the one at Ben Franklin for $10, I asked her. 
     "Shop N' Save is full of other peoples' junk, Honey," she told me one day as I was helping her put a second coat of paint on a dining chair she had acquired for a dollar. "It's a second-hand store." I didn't tell her that I didn't know what she meant by "second-hand." I figured it meant something like there were a bunch of people who had been born with one hand and were selling off all of their stuff to buy a second hand. So they sold their belongings in hopes of gaining enough cash to pay for the operation. Thank goodness I figured it out before I started a telethon or something...
     The other day I was in a second hand store and there was a woman in there who looked as if she was in a constant state of pre-sneeze. She was telling her friend that she didn't "do" yard sales or thrifting or second-hand. "If it's not new, I don't want it..." she probably didn't mean to sound like a snob, but she did... Her friend told her just that and then asked her what exactly she thought her antiques were. "They are expensive is what they are," she said. "They have value because they are special and unique and because someone loved them and kept them in good shape." Her friend saw me listening in on their conversation and smiled at me when I rolled my eyes. 
     I'm packing up my house to move. I'm moving into a second-hand house. It's not brand new. I didn't build it. But it's new to me. It's bigger than our current house... we will have my brother with us in this new/used house. Most of the furniture that is going in it is second-hand. I thought I would be really excited about picking out new furniture, but quickly discovered that I have acquired the pieces that I have through the combining of several households. As the women that came before me passed away, their prized belongings were passed on: bubble glass, Fiestaware, hutch cabinets, hardrock maple living room sets, and various "pretties" like a candy bowl that looked like a chicken... 
     I am of the school of thought that values the second-hand lifestyle. I like the dinged up wood on a cheap used coffee table where kids used to play with race cars or Play-Doh. I love that the leather side chair smells like a mixture of cedar and tobacco, deep and rich. It doesn't bother me at all that second-hand dining room chairs will be covered with an old tablecloth that my grandmother was going to throw out after Christmas my freshman year of college but I saved it, knowing that I would use it someday. 
     When my mother passed away I went through most of her things. I made snap decisions to keep or get rid of. I tried to be ruthless and it was going well until I stumbled upon the locket that was worth nothing...
     The locket bore the initials of my great, great grandmother on my grandmother's side. It was copper, but plated with gold and there were little marks all over it. I took it to a local appraiser to see if she knew what the marks on the locket were. "This is priceless!" She smiled down at the piece with tears in her eyes. My heart leapt into my throat. I had found a treasure! A REAL treasure. 
     "As far as money goes, it's not worth much," she explained. "But these little marks on the back, notice how some of them are darker than others?" I nodded. "Those are teeth marks... she wore this locket and babies would sit on her lap and teethe on it. There's at least three generations of teeth marks here. They get darker as they get older." Mom had never shown it to me; I wonder if she forgot it was there. It had been under the bottom board of the jewelry box along with a delicate, beautiful little bitty white gown wrapped first in plastic wrap and then in tissue paper. I knew the dress; she was photographed in it on her one month birthday. There was no tag in the dress and the stitches were hand stitches, crooked and determined. Grandma's mom had made the dress by hand. I figured that the last set of teethmarks on the locket, the newest set, were probably Mom's.
     I found a shadow box on sale at Hobby Lobby and bought it. I put the locket and the dress in the shadow box and hung it on the wall of my now-old house. I just packed it away the other day to hang in my newer-old house. A new piece of art from two old treasures.
     I couldn't help but think of the unhappy woman I experienced earlier in the week as I held the shadow box. I know that she is unhappy because she just doesn't get it. Maybe she has never lost someone she loves; maybe she doesn't know what it is like to want for fine things and know they are out of your reach so you make them instead. Maybe she is just shallow, it could be that simple to explain. I feel sorry for her. She is out of place in this world. There's no such thing as truly brand new. Even if you buy it and have it sent to you, someone else has tested it for you. So really everything that decorates our lives is other peoples' junk. Even we are other peoples' junk, products of their idea of usefulness when it comes to us and categorized by the value that they place on us. We are second-hand spirits, all of us shaped by what we have absorbed through our experiences with others, all of us dinged up or scratched by encounters that will never go away. I choose to accept that about myself. I choose to be grateful for my teethmarks, my scratches, my defects and the spots of me that are rubbed smooth from love and infinite care. It could be worse than being other peoples' junk. You could be other peoples' trash.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Daddy's Girl

   I was a rarity during my childhood. In fact, I'm pretty sure, that in the 70's and 80's in my small town, there might have been only one other child whose parents were divorced to the extreme. Let me explain: divorced to the extreme means that one parent is completely absent from the life of the child... at least that's how I viewed it. I was one of those children. 
   My dad pulled the disappearing act when he found out my mother was pregnant with me, but that's 44 years in the past. I want to talk about today... I want to talk about the phenomenon of the absent father. So this blog post goes out to all of the men, young and old, who are choosing not to participate in their children's lives... I say choosing because that's what it is, truly. A choice. 
   I am a daddy's girl. Not in the traditional sense. I didn't force my daddy to help me put diapers on my baby dolls. I didn't make him have tea with me. I didn't ask him to teach me to shoot a bow and arrow. He didn't make my prom date come in and meet him and shake his hand. I didn't look lovingly into his eyes when he saw me for the first time in my wedding dress... I didn't hesitate to let go of his hand at the end of the aisle. I never saw the tears in his eyes when he held his first grandchild. I wasn't with him as he passed into the next life. But I am a daddy's girl... all the way.
   My first instinct is to never trust anyone, especially men. My husband must be part saint to put up with me... I have NO idea how to relate to men. I have no idea how to let a man love me. I have no idea how I am supposed to be treated by a man... go through college with that in your suitcase, ladies, and you will rapidly learn that the daddy deficit in your life left you coming up short in so many ways. I am a daddy's girl. 
   I don't know how to honor a man. I'm bad with authority... really bad. It's not easy to hold down a job when you have a problem like that. It only took me forty years to learn how to deal. There was no father to tactfully and delicately show me that the job of a man is not to control and contain but to protect and encourage. I am a daddy's girl.
   I never went down this road completely, but there were plenty of times that I started down the road where all of the stops are leaving little pieces of yourself with any man that will have you because you think that physicality is love. It's the stray dog syndrome: If you feed me your leftovers, I will stay because I don't know what it is like to be fully loved with freedom and compassion and respect. I am a daddy's girl. 
   That's not what this post is about, though. It has taken me 44 years to get to a place where I can forgive and move on... where I can find other examples to follow. And I had an amazing father-in-law who taught me so much by his examples of compassion and quiet strength that I consider myself semi-recovered. This post is to all of those "baby daddies" out there, especially young men who are creating an entire generation of daddy's girls just like me. I want to tell you what you are doing to that little person that you created. 
   You are teaching her that men are the enemy. You are teaching her that she is not worth the time of the man who helped create her. You are teaching her that you don't have to love or respect a woman to father a child. You are teaching her to not trust anyone. You are teaching her that men serve no purpose but to hurt and leave. You are teaching her that there is no one she can rely on, that she will have to do it all by herself, that she is nothing special, that she is your living, breathing, walking mistake. 
   It takes two to tango... that's what my mother always said. She would never say a bad thing about my father, never. But it doesn't take long to learn who is there and who is not.... who is taking care of you and who is not... who is dependable and who is not. And young man, middle-aged man, old man... if you fall into anyone of these categories then you are taking the life of your little girl. Your blatant disrespect and disregard for her mother, not matter what the circumstances, is interpreted by your little girl that you don't care about her and if you, the man who is half of her, doesn't care about her, then no one will and why should they. You will ultimately be the reason for her failed relationships, for her fear of trusting, for her desperate reaches for love. And the chances of you becoming a grandfather sooner than you planned are greatly increased because of you. Because if she can't get the right kind of love from you, she will confuse the wrong kind of love as something that is better than nothing. And realize, in that statement, you are the nothing. 
   And as if that isn't enough, let me leave you with one last thought: You are the physical representation of how she views and relates to her heavenly Father. Whether she trusts Him, rebels against Him, has a relationship with Him basically comes down to you. That's a lot of pressure, isn't it? And none of that crossed your mind when you looked longingly into the eyes of the mother of your child, someone else's daughter, and made your choice. 
   It may sound like I am pointing blame. I am. Believe me when I tell you that this is temperate to what I would say to a young woman who won't be a mother to her child. So I will leave you with this: You have two options when it comes to being a father: Be the joy that she has now, train her and show her how to love herself or you can be the pain that scrapes her as she tries to squeeze through life later. You need to decide now and take responsibility now for what you are doing or have done. She is your daughter, she is your flesh and blood; don't blame her for your immaturity and selfishness. Don't make her pay for it with every relationship that she tries to have. Don't turn her into THAT daddy's girl. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Eye of the Beholder

   I just looked at three pictures of myself taken in the last week. In each pic I'm wearing a dress and each one of the dresses are too big... like WAY too big. And yet when I bought them I tried them on, a couple of them just a couple of weeks ago, I was convinced they fit perfectly. I maybe have lost a couple of pound of winter weight since I bought them, but not THAT much weight. I just realized that I default to the biggest size I can find because all of my life I have been convinced that I am the biggest person in the universe... or possibly that I am as big AS the universe.
   I am always my worst critic. While other female friends will pop the leg, put the hand on the hip, turn to the side and do the goose-neck in order to take the most flattering picture they possibly can, I just flop into the picture because I know for certain that I will look fat and that I am not attractive. After the picture has been taken, I am seldom if ever anxious to see myself. It's not that I don't care; I just don't want to be reminded.
   I don't have low self-esteem. I really don't and I know that I really don't anymore because I used to. One time, in college, I convinced myself that if I could just lose a few pounds I could make someone fall in love with me. Here's a progress report on that: it didn't work. I was once told that I would be so pretty if I would just lose a few pounds. My reply was this: Are you sure of that? Because what if the chub is holding up the best of my physical qualities? What if I lose weight and I'm ugly? Or according to them, ugly-ER... How much would that suck?
   I have diabetes, which is under control. I have high blood pressure as a result of my pregnancy. I have fat that is never going to go away because I have PCOS. But I am strong and I am active. I am relatively healthy and despite the fact that I am surrounded by beautiful, young ladies all the time, I manage to keep myself from flaking out about every little flaw I find without and within. That's healthy, right? I'm in a good place.
   Then I found myself doing something very, very, very questionable. More questionable than that 3D fingernail art phase... I googled the following question: Can fat people be pretty?
   I had no idea that I was so controversial because EVERYBODY and every BODY, including, oddly enough, the late Leonard Nimoy, had an opinion. Obesity is an epidemic, fat is where it's at, skinny guys love the chubs, Zaftig fetish, get in shape, your body is shameful, looking for fat chicks who party... But the one that really got me was Leonard Nimoy who evidently did a whole series of photographs of large naked women... dancing... naked. Beam ME up, Scotty... what the hell was up with Spock? I mean, he was like a twig, am I right? All angles and bones and hard corners. And he surrounded himself with all of that flesh. That blatant, in-your-face, cankles and rolls FLESH. Such an odd contrast.
   And so now I am absolutely flummoxed... I just spent $16 on a lipstick from MAC. Did I do it because I felt like I deserved it or because I felt like I needed it? And I have all of my dresses planned out for all of the graduation stuff coming up, but now I feel like I should try them on in front of someone who isn't me because even though they go over my head, arms, waist and hips, that evidently doesn't mean that they FIT?
   Have I tricked myself into a false sense of self-esteem all of these years? Do I really not like myself at all? Have I spent thousands of dollars over the past 20 years on someone who should have just bought clearance rack MuuMuu's and stuck with the clunky FloJo sandals I had in college? When I think of all of the money I've spent on trends and fashion and shoes and make-up and haircuts and hair dye and jewelry and all of that other junk and weigh it (no pun intended) against what I got out of it, was it all worth it? I don't get called "beautiful." I'm never "the pretty one" when I'm with a group of friends. The only reason I turn heads is tripping or thinking I'm whispering when I'm not... Was. It. All. For. Naught?
   This crisis of self-assurance lasted for about 30 seconds. It was not all for naught. I never did any of those things to get attention or approval because, quite frankly, I have never needed either but have been cursed and often avoided by one and/or both. Figure that one out... I buy what I like, evidently no matter how big it is. That is easily remedied... I'l just stop buying the stuff that feels like pajamas. And it also dawned on me that the reason that I don't like having my picture taken is because I don't like having my picture taken. I have resting sad face and, conversely, a really goofy smile where if I smile without showing my teeth, my eyes disappear and if I smile and show my teeth I looked like a deranged gila monster... And just so we are square, I am absolutely 100% aware that I am built like a potato on toothpicks. It used to bother me but my solution hasn't worked: gaining weight in your legs is hard, almost as hard as losing it in the rest of your body.
   So what is the point of this little self-induced Come To Jesus? I know there are many, many, many people out there who are displeased with the way that they look. I know girls who won't have their picture taken unless they are standing in the very back at a 30 degree angle while the sun is at a waning position and the wind is blowing from the south only. Stop that crap. It's really annoying. Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so behold yourself every once in a while. Oh, and live long and prosper. You rock, Spock.