Monthly Archives: February 2014

Winner Peace

whatlieswithinus

What lies within us is the steering wheel. It’s the very history of our path, and the map of our adventure, all tied up with the determination or the self-doubt that has either steered us in the wrong or right direction, and also will carry us forward or allow us to stagnate depending on who we are and what we are made of.

Are we the sum of our experiences? Or are we constantly changing? Do we settle for what’s comfortable and live in familiar boxes? Or do we push ourselves outside of self-made limits, and create the kind of stretching of our spirits that ultimately  perpetuates growth?

At 5′, I AM small matter. I’ve never really considered my past or future as small matters though. I’ve also never thought of the core of who I am as being anything close to small, even though at times I have doubted myself, my choices, and even my own thoughts. It’s one thing to be self-aware. It’s another thing to be self-destructive. When you’re both at the same time, well, that’s definitely no small matter. In truth, It’s downright scary and threatening.

But think about this. When you are faced with confrontation, do you face it head-on in an attempt to just ‘get it over with’, or do you find the tallest excuse and stand in its shadow? For as long as I have been able to get away with it, I’ve been the one in the shadow. I will admit that…shamefully.

Life doesn’t always cater to cowards though. And that’s the toughest truth to swallow for me. As I mindlessly hopped into my mom’s shoes at her passing, and took over the helm of her cleaning business, this was not something I put much thought into. Yet, in the almost 8 months that have passed since, I’ve had numerous run-ins with my own shadow, Mr. confrontation evader himself. And guess what? When you run a company, you can’t run from unruly customers, disgruntled workers, or moody staff any more. There is absolutely no mountain tall enough to guard you.

The crazy thing though is that I can feel already how the whole experience is changing me. As a parent, I’ve always been the ‘pick my battles’ mom. If it’s big enough to make or break my child’s future, health, well-being, self-worth, or respectability, it’s a battle worth fighting. All others can sail on without me.

As a business owner, every battle is part of the larger war to keep the ship afloat. How you sail that ship directly affects not just you and your paycheck, but also the jobs of countless employees, hundreds of customers, as well as my own two boys and their well-being. So when I got the call this morning from a new customer that I pretty much knew would be unhappy, I felt all nerves kick in to overdrive before I heard her first words.

This was a customer that I had gotten entirely from the internet. I had priced the cleaning of her home via e-mail, spoke with her very briefly over the phone, then sent the girls to go and clean. What I hadn’t counted on was the fact that the homeowners had probably not dusted, scrubbed, vacuumed, mopped, or even washed dishes in at least a year. The girls were overwhelmed. So when they called me from the house around five, I told to leave a note, leave the house unfinished, and close out the day. I knew the customer would be upset, but I also knew that I had hired girls to work 9 to 5, had very much under-priced the customer, and we were quite simply out of time, and under-prepared for what needed to be done.

The customer, who also happened to be pregnant, became so agitated with me at the beginning of the conversation that she handed the phone to her husband. He was livid to say the least. But after venting all of his frustrations, and hearing that I was more than willing to send the girls back out to finish the job, he settled into friendliness and I felt like a superstar. It was just like getting a shot. The dreadful anticipation leading up to the moment when his sharp words would enter my fragile little ears had been much worse than the actual sharpness. I had stepped out of my box. Not because I wanted to, mind you, but because I had no other choice.

And I think that is how we growth happens; out of necessity. We grow because we are faced with feast or famine. We are faced with either moving ahead with all the strength we can muster from our core, or sitting still and wilting within our own fears.

I will be the first to admit, wilting still sounds like a safer option to me, but pushing and stretching myself beyond what I thought was possible made me…well… matter. And that made all the difference.

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Choosing Solitude

For the first time in my adult life, I have chosen solitude. In some ways, it was chosen for me. When my mom passed away, I felt like a lost little ship, floating around in a great big sea of strangers. No one knew me like my mom, and certainly no one would sympathize with me like her.

Since her passing, many people have reached out to me in an attempt to ease the loneliness, lessen the pain, and take the edge off the grieving process. While I’ve been through many deaths, and handled them all like a pro, my mom’s has been very different. Her life was longer than my dad’s, and fuller, but it was much too short for me to accept entirely. On so many levels, I find myself wanting to be just like her. At the same time, there are many things I hope to accomplish that she did not. One of those is that I want to live, not just work, not just go through the motions. I want to touch lives and have the lives of others touch me.

She grew into this idea when she was diagnosed with Cancer. But at that point, her path had been limited by her disease and the weakness that it brought to her physically. Her spirit was full of determination that her body could no longer fulfill.

So why, with this ‘touching others’ mentality would I choose solitude? In short, it’s because I want there to be more of me to give, and I want to be present enough to receive.

I remember when I was younger, sitting back from time to time, and going through the memories that I had made. Looking back was a healthy and healing process, and it created a big picture that always brought me to a center. As a mother and a boss, I often get so caught up in directing others that I lose my own way. In a sense then, solitude creates a void that can only be filled with reflection. I see it as part of my grieving process. Not a part that will become my existence, mind you, but a part that’s absolutely necessary in going forward.

We all have our ways of coping. Some people cope in the wrong ways. I’ve done that too. But I found that I really wasn’t coping as much as I was escaping. When I sobered up, I always found that I was more lost than I had been before the escape itself. Everything we do, every place we end up, is because of how we cope. I guess the biggest rule that I’ve come to live by is this; in order to be who I want to be, and to serve the purpose God intended for me, I need to first understand my poor choices and correct them. I can’t expect for God to change my life if I’m not first willing to change myself. For me, that begins in solitude and (hopefully) ends in acceptance, and the determination to live stronger, not harder. Life is hard enough. Fighting the current only perpetuates misery. I choose happiness.

Negative Spaces

In high school Art class, we learned about composition. We learned to fill the space unpredictably, to off-center the focal point in order to create interest. We learned that negative spaces, the shapes – both organic and geometric – left white or blank were equally as important as the filled or positive spaces.  Compositions without this negative space revealed a busy-ness that created chaos and evoked stress by adding clutter. Sometimes compositions were so small and meticulous that the negative space outweighed the subject matter and created its own emptiness, taking away from expression altogether.

In a sense, negative spaces exist in our own lives. Think about conversations you’ve had with loved ones. Have you ever noticed that the better you know someone, the more you’re affected by what they do not say in response to your stories or explanations?

I remember conversations I had with my mother. When I would describe a dialogue between a friend and myself, or an argument with a husband, I could tell when she was repressing her true opinions simply because of the silence – the silence was her negative space. The moments of pause created a thinking space. And rather than adding to my stress in the re-telling, or drudging up my defenses, those moments forced thought and reflection. She never returned to the negative spaces in order to fill in the gaps with her opinions or direction. Instead, she let them stand for themselves, leaving me to fill in the blanks.

Since her death, I find myself still having those conversations with her, sometimes as if she were right beside me. Amazingly, I still know where to insert those negative spaces. I still pause for reflection, and wait for an answer to come to me from somewhere outside of myself, and separate from her. Those pauses are pivotal and decisive, and sometimes louder than the conversation itself.

I’ve noticed the same negative spaces in conversations with my best friend over the past weeks.  Without her saying a word, my mind fills in the gaps for her, and her restraint reveals a respect for me more than words ever could.

With so much talk about negativity, and how we should steer ourselves away from dark thoughts, anything described as ‘negative’ can get a bad rap. In truth, negative spaces are nowhere in the same universe, they are a thing to be relished, admired, and practiced. Because in the art of conversation, negative spaces are just as important, and sometimes more-so than the words themselves.

Speak often, listen frequently, and allow for negative spaces – they are positively and politely pertinent.

Chasing Sunsets

As we were traveling west this evening, making our way home, Jason and I gasped at the sight of an amazing sunset. The sky was clear, except for a few brushstrokes, but the colors moved from an electric blue blanket to corrals and oranges so vibrant and exciting that it was hard to turn away and focus on the drive. With each hill and valley, the sunset revealed itself, and hid, only to return again with a different glow. We chased that sunset for miles, trying to find the perfect perspective to capture it in a picture. But it was elusive, and there were power lines, lights, and cars with which to contend. It became a frustrating adventure, that in the end grew to be more about the chase itself. And we both sighed and laughed at our behavior, knowing that we would never see that sunset again.

In retrospect, I appreciate the chase, savor the adventure, and will forever keep the memory of that picturesque sunset in my heart. Yes, it’s disappointing. But it’s also hopeful, because it existed, even if only for a brief moment.

In church this morning, I remember our priest quoting a verse, saying that our lives were but a blink of an eye. Sunsets are the same. Love is also a blink. Sometimes we can capture it, but usually we only get to experience it momentarily. If a love elludes us, it’s only because it wasn’t ours to keep. It wasn’t ours to capture.

There will be more. There will be more sunsets, more sunrises, more loves. And eventually, one will take. But it’s in the beauty of those loves that we chase and lose that we find our own unique painting – complete with brushstrokes, the right amount of light and happiness, and the understanding that we cannot keep the beauty for ourselves. At least not until it is ours to keep.

Faith is chasing sunsets, and understanding that finding the right perspective has everything to do with timing, and nothing to do with want.

The Hardest Part

The hardest part of saying ‘hi’ is that one day, inevitably,  you will have to say goodbye. I was thinking of this the moment that I met my new assistant. I was also thinking this at the beginning of every friendship and relationship I’ve ever experienced. Maybe that means that I am a pessimist. But maybe it just means I see the big picture, and I’m a realist. Whatever it means, it doesn’t mean I’m special, depressed, or crazy. And although it sounds a little negative, it doesn’t mean that I am without hope.

My mom said goodbye to my father when he took his last breath. My stepfather and I said goodbye to my mom as she took her last gasp of life. Goodbyes are as much a part of hello as life is to death, light is to dark, and happiness is to sorrow. Without question, goodbyes are the hardest part of life.

When a mom takes her child into his first day of Kindergarten, when she helps him move into his dorm, when she watches as he takes vows to his wife, these are all goodbyes that build up to the biggest goodbye of all; the one where hello never happens again. When the first frost seals the earth under ice, or the last leaf falls to the ground, there are more goodbyes that will eventually lead to more hellos. Each season, each person, each relationship, each friendship, each day, each moment has its own beginning and its own end. In life, the hardest part is the endings, the final chapters, the changes, the breaking of hearts, and the loss of hope that ultimately leads to new beginnings, and new hopes.

I like to think of us as trees in this way. My freshman year of high school, our English teacher gave us the assignment of writing from the perspective of a tree of our choice. In retrospect, I could’ve been a smartass and written ‘ouch’ on the sheet of paper, I guess. But instead, I chose to be a cactus. I thought that was a clever choice. I mean, being a cactus has its advantages if you really think about it. It’s self-contained and independent, requiring very little rain, low maintenance, a tiny amount of moisture, and almost no nutrients. Yet it thrives in a barren desert, with only a few companions. It also has the built in protection of thistles; pokey little reminders that to get close, one could get hurt. It protects itself from strangers trying to uproot it from its comfort zone. But a cactus is lonely. And in my older age, I would choose differently, no matter how much I would like to believe I can fly solo and be just fine.

Today I would choose to be something more like an Oak. Oaks have rings, which is how scientists gauge their ages. Rings are subtle reminders of beginnings and endings, like wrinkles. Forest fires bring death so that birth can transcend goodbyes and lead to more hellos.

What I’ve learned from so many goodbyes is that I can’t lie down in an attempt to avoid the hellos. Every goodbye builds character. I heard someone say this once. If this is true, many of us have more character than we know how to handle. And that is okay. At the point in our lives where we say our final goodbyes, we will hopefully be able to look around the room and see all the many hellos we’ve had throughout life. Those give us full lives. They are the very reason it’s hard to let go, but they’re also the very reason we kept fighting against this goodbye. They are  the ones that keep living with the memories of that first hello when we entered their lives.

No matter how bad the pain that followed the farewells, each life enriches us, teaches us, builds and wrinkles us into fulfillment. So in a sense, the hardest part is also the most satisfying, the most beautiful, but also the most meaningful.

We will all be uprooted eventually, but the rings tell our stories, and the other ‘trees’ get to tell those, so that they too can share the legacy of hello and goodbye. Life goes on, until it doesn’t, but it’s the growth that measures and defines us in the end.

I’m not a father, and I don’t play one for E.

In the last two years I’ve heard almost as many stories as I did for the six previous while I was married to Ethan’s father. He didn’t give him a bath because he couldn’t get the water hot enough. He couldn’t bring him home because his dad wouldn’t let him borrow the truck. He hasn’t gotten a job in all this time because his dad holds him hostage and duck-tapes his rear to the couch. He hasn’t gotten him anything for his birthday yet (the day before) because he’s still awaiting pay from his under-the-table job. Whatever. I’ve heard it all.

Today was the worst though, because today was the 2nd school day in the last week that I’ve gotten a call from Ethan’s dad at exactly 2:45 letting me know that he hadn’t gone to school. Both times he told me that Ethan was ‘sick’. Both times he called me exactly two minutes before I received a call from Ethan’s after-school director asking about his whereabouts. I felt my heart fall to my toes, and felt my fuse completely burn out. How could he? And then it hit me. How could I?

On Thursday, Ethan had been legitimately sick. He had a fever. Today, however, I knew it was a lie before Ethan’s big-daddy-liar even let the words fully escape his mouth. He couldn’t afford the risk of driving the truck to Ethan’s school. The tires have almost completely given out. While I appreciate him trying to keep Ethan safe, I do not appreciate him being too prideful or ‘scared of’ me to tell me so that I could get out child to class. He’s in Kindergarten. He’s learning to read and add and socialize and he can’t do that at daddy’s house. Daddy is his buddy. Daddy is not a father. Even beyond all of that, Ethan’s make-up work from Thursday still sat untouched in his folder, so that mommy could help him with that tonight. And here I will say it again. He is not a father.

I couldn’t let it go. I’ve been brewing since the call at 2:45. I didn’t want to go off on him in front of Ethan, but I did want Ethan to understand that daddy will no longer be able to keep him on school nights because daddy was dishonest. I explained to Ethan that if daddy kept him out of school too many times, mommy could get into serious trouble. I asked if he thought that was fair. After drying his eyes and saying that I was being mean, he replied ‘No mommy, that’s not fair. You didn’t keep me out of school.’ And there you have it. The early beginnings of learning fair from unfair.

I’m telling this story for many reasons, but the first is so that I can show how even a mom who says she’s got this whole co-parenting thing down (me) can be way off the mark. When Ethan’s dad called last night, he never asked for me to come pick him up, but I sensed a hesitation that I should’ve pushed because my gut was loudly saying ‘something’s not right’. But I didn’t. In my odd rationalization of people and why they do what they do, I reasoned that surely his dad would get him to school today. I excuse him for the sake of Ethan spending time with his dad, because he longs for that, and wants to be with his dad. But the more I see, the more I understand that maybe Ethan loves being with dad because dad is his friend first. His dad feels so guilty about everything he did in our marriage, and feels so badly that he can’t provide anything but himself for Ethan, that he lets our child get away with anything and everything.

In the end, Ethan will learn to be just like his dad. He will learn to lie to get out of trouble. He will learn to manipulate others through guilt and pity in order to get his way. And he will learn, just like his dad, that’s it’s okay to point fingers in order to take the blame off of himself. These are all the things I try each and every day to weed out of our son’s personality. They just don’t belong.

While my first co-parenting experience with Jason’s dad has been comparatively smooth and harmonious, this experience with Ethan’s dad has been anything but. So I called Ethan’s dad, made him tell me the truth about today, and let him start on his finger pointing. Then I promptly stopped him, told him I’ve heard the same stories long enough, and that it’s time to hold himself accountable. There are shelters that will help you find housing, work, and even transportation. ‘You just have to be a man and be willing to go it on your own, without the so-called help from your dad, who apparently only wants to hold you down’. The truth is that no one holds us down without us lying down to let them step all over us.

Ethan will go to school tomorrow, with completed homework and a hand-written note from me to his teacher that simply reads ‘Ethan was unable to attend school yesterday because of his father’s transportation problems’. When what it should say is ‘Ethan was unable to attend school today because his father put pride before his child’s education. So sorry.’. It’s frustrating to say the least. I’m still picking up his pieces, but only because I have volunteered to do so. Hopefully the garden of Ethan will flourish and grow, but only with hard work and some extensive tough love weeding.