Monthly Archives: May 2016

The lesson taught at my classroom door

Each day before each class, I stand at my door and shake the hand of each student as they come in the room. Or I try to. Some of them strategically sneak in behind others to avoid teacher cooties, while some wait until I rush into the classroom to deal with Crisis of the Moment, but I do catch most of them with a handshake and a hello.

One day this week, one of my students walked in, shook my hand and said, “You look beautiful today, miss!” I told her I had just thrown my hair up in a clip and barely put on makeup. She responded, “But you DID put on makeup. And jewelry. And you did your hair. That’s effort and you are beautiful!” I thanked her and basked for a moment in her praise, then remembered SHE’S that weird student that everyone tries to avoid sitting near, who wears unfashionably mismatched socks (not to be confused with fashionably mismatched socks and yes, that IS a thing), blurts out strange things in class and is just, well, pretty awkward. With her comment put in mental perspective, I taught my class.

Not four hours later, I was standing at the same door and a student shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “Your hair looks really weird, Miss!” Momentarily taken aback, I looked in the shaded window of my door to make sure my reflection wasn’t enhanced by a carefully tossed piece of paper or other student projectile sticking out of my hair. Satisfied that I actually looked much as I did when I was declared the Miss America of Dueitt Middle School earlier that day, I shrugged off his comment as just another sarcastic comment from THAT KID who always has a smart aleck remark or a carefully muffled rude retort to most things I say. With his comment put in mental perspective, I taught my class.

Yet, this question has been nagging me since that day: Why can I do this with 6th graders, but opinions from others can still swing my mental pendulum off kilter for hours, days or stupidly enough, even come back years later? Admittedly, I come by this somewhat naturally as my mother was raised in a home where what everyone else thought of you mattered way more than what you thought or knew of yourself. It didn’t matter if it was what you wore, how you spoke or how you breathed…how others judged you mattered. While she didn’t bring the full force of this to my upbringing (it was tempered by my father who didn’t care if people thought his was an opinionated jerk as long as they thought he was a principled opinionated jerk with integrity), it still pervaded my upbringing far more than I realized until the last few years.

To this day, I remember bathing suit shopping with my mom in my mid 30’s and trying on a suit that she felt did not cover my 35 year old cellulite enough. “Have you tried a suit with a skirt to cover ‘that’ up?” still rings in my ears almost 15 years later each time I try on something that shows an imperfection. I know my mom, a very loving woman with a fully loaded steamer trunk of her own childhood issues, was trying to help me in the best way she knew how…I really and truly believe that. I know she wasn’t trying to be malicious or hurtful, but I still mentally cling to that comment like it is real and true, while it is, in fact, just an opinion expressed, probably without thought, in a moment of time long ago

I can’t count the number of times in my adult life that I’ve been caught in the paralysis of analysis as I weighed the opinions of others, whether real or perceived, when making a decision. I remember when I was newly separated, I’d talk to so many people with so many opinions that my head would spin. It was almost as though if I could get enough of one opinion, it would tip the invisible scale in my mind and make things ok. Actually, it just left me dazed, emotionally exhausted and frustrated. If only I could burn calories with the mental gymnastics I performed as I turned the comments of others over and over in my head!

I will say that this character defect became very obvious to me when I was getting divorced (yes, the opinion factory worked overtime then too) and I’ve been diligently addressing it since then. Never do I want to get to the point where the opinions of those I love aren’t important to me, but I also don’t want them to be a deciding factor in all that I do. I knew I had made progress when I was looking at houses about 18 months ago. It was a huge goal for me to choose my own house when I bought it without being swayed too much by others’ opinions, including my own young adult children. While they were going to be living with me and I wanted them to be comfortable, I also knew they would eventually have their own homes and I needed to be the person who was happiest with my new home. So, neither of my dear kids walked into the house until after I closed on it.

I do value the thoughts of those around me and I think I’ve learned pretty well how to keep those in the proper perspective. The opinions I’m really trying to root out of my soul are the opinions of those who really don’t care more about me than the next person, or worse, don’t care about me at all. Unfortunately, over the years, I have let those type of opinions eat away at my mental well being and take up residence in the small holes they created. Unfortunately, my most numerous mental residents are often negative opinions rather than the positive ones.

Thankfully, I’ve evicted many of these residents and am slowly learning to keep the mental real estate open for my own thoughts and those that God puts in my head. Now, that’s an opinion that matters! And I know His thoughts, while not always “Atta girl!” are leading me in a positive direction of growth, not negative self criticism and mental gymnastics. Plus, He doesn’t care if my swimsuit has a skirt! Now, if I can only relegate most other opinions to the status of a 6th grader giving me a handshake, I’ll be in good shape!

A three year reflection

Yes, it is Mother’s Day and for the two kids that let me celebrate this holiday, I’m eternally grateful.  I can’t ask for two children who are more “right” for me…they challenge me, bless me, frustrate me, and help make me the mom and person I am today.  (I’m sure I perform the same valuable function for them)  I also am processing another milestone today that has made me the person I am today.  Three years ago today, my divorce decree was final, making me a single woman for the first time in 23 years.  (or 26 if you count the dating period as well)

There was a guest priest at my church today and and I sat down at the table where he and his wife were sitting during coffee hour.  He’s been at our church several times, but I finally sat down to talk to them.  I have come to the point where I am comfortable being “Diane, the parishioner”, but they started asking questions to get to know me and it came up that my ex husband was the previous priest at the parish.  As expected, I got the usual “how sad, how horrible, you poor thing” comments.  Several years ago, I might have eaten these up and lived in the pitiful admiration, but now I realize that, like so many, I have a unique journey and I’m just as grateful for that journey as I am for my journey as mother.

First, I need to make the disclaimer….were I to design my life, I wouldn’t be divorced.  However, circumstances in a less than perfect world led me to this point and I can only rely on God to use this situation to make me a better person, which I can honestly say has happened in ways that I would never have imagined.

As I sit here and process the previous three years, I look back to a woman on May 8, 2013 who was superficially strong, but had only a superficial understanding of the God who gave her that strength.  I have now become a woman intimately and imperfectly journeying towards God’s presence and thankful daily for His grace that gives me strength when I’m tired, lonely, sad, and self pitying.  My God lets me dwell there for a time, then reminds me to be grateful and focus solely on Him and me…not others as I used to do.

The woman of 2013 judged others…and was pretty highly skilled at it (yeah, I’m an overachiever, even in judging others).  Today, this woman tries with every fiber of her being not to judge others.  Sometimes people ask me what changed in me. I tell them, “It’s hard to judge when everything you used to judge about others has happened to you!”  I’m a single mom of a recovering addict (who thankfully has been sober and successful for 38 months) and a college dropout (who thankfully has returned to college successfully when HE was ready) who teaches in a high poverty, minority school.  I love the breadth of what this has brought to my life and the compassion I now feel where judgment used to reside.  EVERY person has their own journey to walk and it is not for me to judge where they are or what they are doing.  It is for me to PRAY for them, LOVE them and ACCEPT them.  As I’ve come to understand my faith, that’s what Christ did. I can’t do anything different.

The woman of 2013 had lost any sense of who she was and what she liked.  I remember my first date after being separated when the aforementioned date asked me what I liked to do and I responded, “I don’t know.  Really, I don’t know!”  I was being totally honest.  I had lost myself in being someone’s wife, someone’s mother, someone’s priest’s wife.  Today, I can say that I love being outdoors, hate closed minded people, love red wine and dark beer, dislike small talk, love kids who struggle and struggle with entitled kids, love to adventure, dislike being bored and am looking forward to all life has to offer to me.

The woman of 2013 held herself back so as not to make others in my life feel less. Today, I embrace my God given talents as well as work on my defects.  I can honestly say that I am a wonderful teacher, a good mom and a quirky woman.  I can also honestly say that I am awkward and overbearing, often lack the ability to pick up on some social cues and am a less than outstanding housekeeper.  I am a really good alto, a so-so fill in soprano, a good parish council secretary and at best, a mediocre gardener (who aspires to be much better).  I am ok with being ok and also great with being outstanding at some things.  I thank God for the gifts he has given me and work on the things that challenge me.  I couldn’t have said this a few years ago.

While I would never have chosen my journey, I exceedingly grateful for it.  God can work beautiful things out of the worst circumstances.  I am not one who believes that God decides we need bad things in our lives to teach us lessons…He wants good for all of us.  However, in our imperfect world, bad things happen.  And as I told the visiting priest and his wife, my life isn’t tragic or sad.  I am blessed beyond measure.  I have bad days, but I have an amazing and exceptionally wonderful life.  God is beyond our bad days and I’m so very thankful for that, even on May 8, 2016.

Of inertia, gardening and a tomb

For anyone who knows me, it comes as no surprise that I am a goal oriented person who doesn’t do “nothing” very well.  I function best when I have a project (or in most cases, several projects) in process as well as some big long term goals.  Without something to be busy with, work towards, or a list to systematically check off, I feel somewhat lost, aimless and frankly, useless.  In fact, I’ve mentally characterized the times where I’m not making forward progress as frustrating wastes.  Worse yet are those times when my plans get totally derailed and my life seems to be backsliding.

Goodness knows, the last few years have been full of many plans and relationships.  Many progressed nicely while an equal number have not exactly turned out the way I thought they would.  I find myself currently in a holding pattern in several areas of my life, just waiting and wondering how things will proceed with no clear indication of progress.  In case it’s not clear yet, this  condition is generally very frustrating for me.

This past weekend was Orthodox Pascha (Easter) and I’ve been thinking a lot about a sermon by our visiting priest at the liturgy on Saturday morning.  In Christian tradition, Christ was crucified on Friday and arose on Sunday.  That leaves an awkward downtime on Saturday to deal with, as the priest put it.  His point was that many people just ignore this time because it’s a time where nothing seemed to be happening…Christ wasn’t visibly ministering, He had lost his life, He hadn’t risen.  Just a weird time of nothingness and uncertainty.

For those not of the Christian tradition, I guess I could liken it in some way to planting seeds.  I don’t know how many times I’ve planted seeds and wondered if they would ever grow.   I check on them daily, reread the plant packaging to see the germination time, and even wonder if I should have put in full grown plants and skipped this frustrating time of nothingness.  Looking at that brownish black dirt where I planted the seeds and seeing no change day after day after day is just a reminder of how much I hate it when that happens in my life.  I just want life’s beautiful flowers NOW!

Returning to the priest’s sermon, his point was that those times of inactivity or even backsliding are not really a waste, but preparation for new life.  In Orthodox Christian tradition, the Saturday was when Christ was in hades actively conquering death, although to His followers, he was just dead.  In the gardening example, we all know that the seeds are growing underground even though we can’t see any growth for days or even weeks.

Intellectually, I already knew all this, but I’ve particularly been reflecting on how much I have, in my heart, tried to avoid the times of  inactivity and lack of seeming progress.  Moreso than most people, I’d rather skip over the “dead” time and get to the new life as soon as possible please. In so many ways, I am not well wired to patiently “wait and see”.

How arrogant of me to decide that just because I don’t see or perceive anything worthwhile going on that there must not be anything of value to these times.  In fact, in reflection, I can see the times of personal dormancy as very valuable to my life.  Like seeds growing under the ground, my mind and heart were being prepared for what would be ahead of me.  Sometimes things that were not useful in the long run were stripped from me, sometimes new ideas were introduced while old ones were rooted out, and sometimes I just needed to know that I couldn’t make everything happen in the exact way that I or someone else had planned .

That last one has been the hardest and most valuable for me. Oh, how I think I know best the way that each little thing should go in my life and the lives of those I love.  And oh, how wrong I can be.  What I’m being reminded of  is that I need to wait patiently on all things in my life to play out in the way they need to without me pushing, pulling or manipulating them.  At the right time, new life will emerge.  Not to say that I shouldn’t cultivate my mind, spirit and soul as I wait.  Christ’s follower’s kept checking on the tomb and gardeners weed and water as they wait for their tiny sprouts to emerge.  Likewise, I need to do the things that keep me healthy in all aspects of my life even as I wait to see how several things will unfold and progress.  For me, this looks like church, recovery meetings, time with friends and family, being outdoors, learning new things and having daily routines.

So, that’s what I’m doing for now.  And waiting.  And wondering.  And occasionally being frustrated.  Then smiling gratefully and waiting and wondering some more while I tend to life’s garden.

I waited so long for this bulb to emerge from the ground, but now its beauty delights me daily.

I impatiently waited so long for this plant to emerge from the ground and then to flower, but now its beautiful deep, rich color delights me daily.