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Sunday, December 14, 2014

And The Truth Shall Set You Free

The statement, "The truth shall set you free" is universally known. It's used in movie scripts, satirical skits and everyday conversation. We hang on these six words as the bridge that opens relationships. Allows for emotional and spiritual cleansing. A justification to "get things off our chests." Actually, the statement is from scripture (John 8:32) and the "truth" spoken about isn't a human one but a spiritual one.

One of the basic values we're taught from childhood is honesty. To be true to ourselves and those around us. Because deceit and subjugating our feelings are synonymous and hurt us and our relationships. We're encouraged to be truthful with the caveat of "little white lies" for those we aren't close to. Socially accepted deceit to be socially correct.

Certainly there is value in honesty with those closest to us, but that needs to be peppered with compassion and empathy. Because what we perceive as truth, particularly in relationships, isn't truth but perspective clouded by variables like past experiences, current struggles and fears about the future. We can't truly call it "truth." What we individually see, experience and believe as "truth" is, in fact, our view of a situation through a kaleidoscope.

Our kids have no idea what a kaleidoscope is but we remember them as children. You stick your eye up to the tiny hole and see a plethora of colors. Then, with a slight twist of the end, everything shifts. The colors and prisms change.

This is the truth we live in within our relationships. What we think at a particular moment is black and white is actually the undulating change in perspective that happens with each moment we share with someone we love.

So as we navigate this thing called life with people that we choose to do life with, let us remember that our "truth" isn't actually truth but perspective shaped by variables that twist the end of the kaleidoscope. When we choose to share our "truth," let's be mindful of that.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Are you a mountain or a beach?

I love the beach. Always have. Growing up in Alabama, our family had limited resources so a trip to the Panhandle was a treat. Some of my favorite memories involve innertubes and waves pushing us across Panama City Beach. My Daddy would gently guide us to shore when we bobbed too far.

Today, whenever I sit on a beach, I close my eyes and hear the power of the waves crashing against rock and shore. I open them and see its vastness as it reaches beyond the horizon to places I can't see. Depths and worlds beyond my imagination. Yet, there's also a stillness and lull when the tide is low and the ocean seems to fall asleep. Leaving behind seashells, seaweed and other remnants of the day. 

This weekend, while in Monterey, California, we visited the Seaquarium. On its walls hung several quotes including these: "If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water." Loren Eiseley "It tunnels into solid rocks and bores...keeps alive the sense of continuing creation and of the relentless drive of life." Rachel Carson. This is the essence of the ocean.

My husband, who grew up in South Florida only miles from the beach, loves the mountains. The one time of year his eyes twinkle and his shoulders relax is the first day on the slopes in Colorado. Driving into Beaver Creek each year, his demeanor visibly changes. He's home on the mountain. Whatever stresses weigh him down in life, he leaves at its base. He's lighter. As evinced by the way he traverses the mountain. Quickly, smoothly, flawlessly. 

In our forties, we've begun dreaming of the perfect place to retire. He talks of the mountains of North Carolina. I speak of the shores of California or someplace tropical. Complete opposites. For years, I've looked at this through the lens of past experience. I thought: "He loves the mountains because he grew up in South Florida and the mountains are exotic. I grew up in Alabama and the beach was the Summer mecca." But recently, I've come to understand our preferences in a different way.

They're, in fact, reflections of much more.

Mountains are solid. Unchanging. The hazards known. Should you choose to climb one, you can plot your route for decades with only minor changes. After five or ten years, you can return to the same point and follow a similar route with only small adjustments. 

Oceans are uncertain. Each day, the place the tide registers in the morning is markedly different than where it moves in the evening. You can find rocks or landmarks with which to give reference to where you begin, but within moments where you stand changes. Should you return a year later, it isn't the same.

My husband is concrete in every way. His belief, his friendships, his goals. His focus remains steadfast. As long as I've known him, his friends have never changed. The same people who were in our wedding almost sixteen years ago are people he speaks to regularly. His best friend is the one he had when he was five years old. They're the ones he relies on for support.

My friendships are fluid. The women who were my bridesmaids, the one who saw the birth of my daughter, I speak to rarely. My closest confidant is a woman I've known for just over a year. I used to see this as some kind of flaw, but now I understand it's who I am. My relationships come and go like a tide. They're symbiotic. Relationships that don't have expectations. A few remain as jagged rocks off the shore. Constant but distant. Those whom I can speak to after a year of silence and it's as if time never passed. Others last for a season. Full of love and joy but shifting.

Our beliefs also show our proclivity for mountains versus oceans. My husband's beliefs are solid. Unchanging. Just as a mountain embraces tides, winds, and the harsh realities of time, its essence remains the same. Its immovable nature both defines and anchors it. Yet, this results in indecision because of the belief in the permanency of those decisions.

My beliefs mirror the fluidity of the ocean. Of course, a few things are concrete because there must be a beach. A grounding. But many things I ponder allow for pliability. I'm always open to new perspectives and change. I love to absorb the ideas of others and allow it to shape my consideration. This can be seen as "wishy-washy" or noncommittal  It also causes a quick decisiveness because of my belief that decisions can be revisited.

After pondering why Jamie and I have such different ideas of paradise, I now understand. Loving the beach and loving the mountains is a reflection of who were are and how we believe. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Are You a Life-Giver or Life-Taker?

Today we lost a beautiful voice. Maya Angelo died. Twenty years ago, I read her autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Her story of abuse and survival invoked both pain and hope. While a child, she suffered abandonment by her parents, sexual abuse, verbal and physical abuse from racists, homelessness and becoming a mother. All before the age of 16.

One of her most famous poems is "Still I Rise." In it, she proclaims:

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise. 

I write this not only as a tribute to a beautiful soul, but in honor of someone who endured so much but embraced hope and strength. More importantly, she embraced empathy. I once heard her interviewed and she spoke of the importance of how you make people feel. She said, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

I think of this everyday. Because of it, the first time I see my children in the morning, I hug and kiss them before saying a word. During the day, every time they leave my presence, I make sure that the last thing they hear is "I love you." To be kind, grateful and empathetic, they need to first know that they're loved.

I was introduced to Maya Angelo 20 years ago through a book and her words have grounded me over two decades. Her experiences and perspective despite them have molded me. I recently heard that every encounter with another (either in person or through knowing their story) either feeds you or takes from you.

In spite of an excruciating past, she touched generations in a way that will outlive her for decades. I can only hope that my interactions with people leave them feeling loved instead of drained, and inspire a small measure of peace.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Embracing Change is Embracing Life.

The TV show, "Criminal Minds" always opens and closes with a quote. Last night's episode closed with one by Joseph Campbell: "We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."

I'm a planner by nature and necessity. I like order and organization. Systems and structure. And living with three people with ADHD requires this. Nurtures my OCD by giving it purpose.

When I was 19, my college advisor told me I had enough credits to graduate a year later. I knew I wanted to be an attorney, specifically a prosecutor. One of the best traits of teens and twenty-somethings is the optimism and ideology that allows for unbounded dreams. Belief in the knowledge that you can change the world. You've severed the bonds of childhood but not yet tethered to the reality of adulthood's responsibilities of family, mortgages, retirement and college planning, and all of the other things that abruptly slap us in the face.

At first, things went as planned. I went to law school. I graduated. But when I sent resumes to over 20 District Attorney's offices, nothing happened. So I waited tables while studying for the bar, confident that I would soon be putting bad guys in prison. Making the world a better place. For me, becoming an attorney wasn't about making money but about making a difference.

But then reality set in. I didn't get a job in a DA's office, and my over $100,000 in student loans became a monthly payment. The legal career I'd planned wasn't going to happen, so I had to adjust. I joined a civil litigation firm in Miami. My new plan: make partner by 30, become a judge by 35.

Yeah, that didn't happen. I hated the practice of law. After some soul-searching, at 30 I realized that the life I'd planned over a decade earlier was not the life I was meant to lead. And now, over another decade later, at 43, my life has taken yet another abrupt turn. Twenty years ago, I'd never have imagined that I would be a producer for a Student Ministry in a church. Yet, here I am. And I am loving it. Every aspect of what I've been doing excites me. It never feels like work. Instead it liberates me and gives me a purpose beyond myself.

The life I'd planned for myself is behind me. And I'm embracing the life that is waiting for me.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Seeing your path, walking your path, and knowing the difference.

Last night, my honey and I watched "The Matrix." Even though it's 15 years old, it remains a cinematic marvel. Especially when you consider how movies have evolved in that time. Most of the thrill that is "The Matrix" involves the special effects and plot mystery of what is real vs. what is simulated. Buried within the special effects and bullet-dodging of the movie lay snippets of truth.

Every Sunday when I watch "Downton Abbey," I want to pause it a dozen times to ponder the profound insight uttered from the characters' mouths. Such a smart show, it inspires numerous rabbit-trails of thought, especially when Maggie Smith's character speaks. You must pay close attention to each scene, each line of dialogue.

"The Matrix" doesn't command such attention and doesn't create pause. Most of the movie evokes thoughts of "cool special effects, especially for the 90's." The plot, the character development, and the dialogue all follow a foreseeable path. But then the character, Morpheus, says, "There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path." And what was brain candy sparks an examination of how I traverse my life.

So often, we know the path we should take. Relationally, spiritually, practically, emotionally, philosophically. Our minds see a certain ideology or our hearts understand a certain core belief that guides our decisions and relationships. We strive to stay within the guardrails imposed by the constraints of the reality we embrace. We envision a life defined by what exists in that zone of understanding.

But in our daily lives, we find walking the path we've designed to be much harder than we'd ever imagined. The expectations we reasonably set for ourselves seem insurmountable in the reality of our daily lives. We realize the limitations of our humanness and resolve ourselves to the fact that we will never effortlessly traverse the path we'd envisioned. But that's okay. As long as we identify the path and do our best to seek it, we'll make steps toward bettering ourselves.

So let's seek to not only know the path, but follow it as far as possible and better ourselves on the journey.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A small but profound insight from the book, "Divergent"

Tonight I finished "Divergent," the first book in the newest Young Adult genre trilogy. Well-written, the book pulls you into a futuristic-dystopian Chicago in which society is divided into five "factions." The back story is that a war destroyed society, and when peace finally came the surviving population identified five traits that potentially caused them to fight one another: selfishness, dishonesty, cowardice, ignorance, and anger/dissension. To prevent another war, they divide the city into six sections, five of which adopt a manifesto while one is filled with those who've been kicked out of their "faction."

The faction that rejects selfishness is named "Abnegation." In their manifesto, they proclaim:
"I will war with others,
If I refuse to see them."

Profound. Simply profound. Think of the disagreements in your life. Whether they be within a friendship. Or a business relationship. Or even when evaluating politics. Our disagreements arise when we sit opposite someone who sees things through a different lens. Those who share our beliefs, preferences, politics, and opinions don't agitate us. We find a connection and sense of belonging when we discover common ground.

Does holding an opposite view require discord? No. Whether it be on the scale of my honey and I debating a social issue or two countries going to war, the reason for discord isn't disagreement. It's the failure to see the other person. It's circumscribing the other person, ideology, religion, or point of view through a backward lens.

We don't see without the filter of our own perspective, and that casts a shadow over so much of what we're trying to see. If, instead, we flip the lens to look at others without the constraints we believe people live within, we open ourselves to a deeper understanding of others. And a deeper understanding allows us to see them.

If we refuse to see them,
we will war with them.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Paper Beats Rock (Forrest Gump style)

Tonight, after dinner, we flipped through the channels looking for something besides the ridiculous number of reality shows to watch. We hit VH1 in the cycle and "Forrest Gump" was on. I've seen this movie dozens of times. It is truly one of the best movies ever made. At my wedding, when the videographer walked around to our guests and asked for wishes, my Daddy looked at the camera and said, "Don't forget how to get back to Greenbow." I'm from Alabama, like Forrest, so Daddy's statement made me belly laugh.

When we landed on "Forrest Gump" tonight, we didn't hesitate to join in at whatever point we'd caught the movie. As a family, we've seen it so many times we can quote it. My son loves the line, "I'm Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump." But tonight one of the quotes hit me for the first time. That's the thing about watching great movies more than once. You know it so well that the next time you watch it, you notice some incredible, intelligent nuance and you appreciate its genius.

We happened on the scene in which Jenny and Forrest take a walk and end up at her childhood home. It's never stated, but implied, that Jenny was horribly abused by her father. When they stumble onto the house, Jenny's face morphs. What had been a joyful walk between lifetime friends abruptly ends. Jenny sees the dilapidated house and begins picking up stones. One by one she throws them at the house. Most of them barely have an impact. Then, one breaks a window. She falls to her knees, covered in the dirt of her Southern home, and sobs. Forrest says, "Some times, there just aren't enough rocks."

An intricate part of being human is pain. We experience it physically, relationally, sexually, psychologically, even spiritually. When we're hurting, we lash out. We use our words like Jenny's rocks. Honed to hit a crucial spot that we hope will create the most damage possible. We say things we don't mean. We dig up the smallest infractions from the past to justify our feelings. Oftentimes, we wait years to give voice to them. Holding them inside and clinging to them as justification for our choices. But at some point, they become uncontainable. With each toss, we release part of what hurts us the deepest. We pick up stones and hurl them hoping that we feel better by simultaneously hurting the one who hurt us.

But in the end, the effort isn't worth it. Just like Jenny's childhood home, most of the anger projected doesn't make an impact. We expend our energy, our heart, and pieces of ourselves to simply scream into a void. Just like Jenny, we're throwing stones at an old, dilapidated house that no one lives in or even cares about any more. Sometimes, there simply aren't enough rocks.

So instead of expending energy throwing rocks, why don't we focus on laying paper. Because paper beats rock. Layers of paper in the form of forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance, grace, and love. Instead of picking up the painful stones, let's shroud them in the best parts of ourselves. While acknowledging the rocks, let's choose to defeat them with layers that both cover them and allow a blank slate.