Buddy Bench

Last weekend, I took part in an annual “Day of Service” with the students in my freshman class. On this day, all of our first-year students disperse to various organizations in order to perform community service work—from working with children or the elderly, to spring clean-up, both indoors and out. My class was split up between an indoor site and an outdoor site, and I put myself with the student group doing outdoor work preparing a summer camp for the upcoming camp season.

Our first task of the day involved raking leaves in the main area of the camp around the office—the area where visitors first arrive. It was raining in the morning—as it had been through the night—and the leaves were sticking together, heavy and wet. As we raked, the leaves rolled up toward us, making it easy to move them onto a tarp in large clumps. Once the tarp was full enough, we dragged it into the woods, and rolled the leaves out of it. We dragged the tarp back to our raking area and started again.

When we finished the main area, the Camp Director took us to a hill by the lake. On the hill, there were several benches placed in a half-circle overlooking the water. Our final task of the day was to clean the leaves and pine needles from under and around the benches. When we were done, the Camp Director told us that the benches were “Buddy Benches.” If campers were feeling lonely and didn’t have someone to play with, they would sit on these benches. Other children knew that those who sat here needed a friend. What a great idea!

This got me thinking… shouldn’t there be “Buddy Benches” for adults, too? How many times over the years could I have used a friend? Why couldn’t it be as easy as simply sitting on a bench and waiting for someone to come and sit next to you and talk. Or listen. Or just be a support system?

If you sit on the Buddy Bench when you are overwhelmed, someone will come and talk you through it.

Stop by when you are lonely or you’ve had a bad day. Have a seat when certain pieces of your life (work, finances, family, spiritual) just don’t seem to fit right.

Come by when you have received bad news, or you’re scared about something, or your health is declining.

Come to the Buddy Bench when your spouse leaves you for “greener pastures,” and you have to figure out how to raise a gaggle of children on your own.

Have a seat on the Buddy Bench when you have lost a loved one, and you don’t think you can go on.

So many people have been through these same things. They won’t make your pain go away, but they can gently guide you through and help you to keep going: step by step, minute by minute, day by day until you can see the light through your troubles.

A Buddy Bench would help you to recognize how many people can understand what you are going through because they have been through something similar. It can show you how many people care and are willing to help.

Because a Buddy Bench will help you to find the people who can best support you. It will give you a place to rest and find comfort and support. And … it will remind you that you are not alone.

We are all in this together. Come. Sit on the Buddy Bench and rest awhile.

{Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash}

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Un-Cloudy

Early this morning, the sunlight swept across the tops of the trees outside my front window in an amazing moment that held promise for a beautiful day ahead. But then I made the mistake of checking the forecast on my weather app. It instantly became clear that I was better off not knowing what the weather would hold for the next very-long-time. Every day, for the foreseeable future, held clouds and rain.

I determined that this discouraging forecast would not dampen my mood. In fact, the best way to face a soggy week is with a smile to (maybe) spread sunshine.

On my way to work, I had to stop at the Post Office to mail an Easter package for my son. The clerk at the counter was smiling pleasantly as he worked and chatting amicably with the customers. When my transaction was complete, he printed out an unnecessarily long receipt, grabbed a pen, and began to show me my tracking number, estimated delivery date, etc.

Then, he circled the QR code at the bottom of the receipt. “Here is a survey you can take to tell us how we did.”

“Are you going to offer me a gift card like they do at Lowe’s?” I asked, smiling mischievously.

He took in a breath as if to respond, but then his face clouded with a brief moment of confusion. He had no idea how to respond to that, and he burst out laughing. “I guess I can’t do that,” he finally responded, through his laughter.

“It was my job to make you laugh today,” I told him as I walked away from the counter, waving my receipt. “I am glad I succeeded!” And as I walked out the door, I could hear him still chuckling to himself.

A string of cloudy days that stretches as far as the eye can see demands a bit of laughter. That’s a challenge I am happy to accept!

Transformation

I’ve been away for too long. I haven’t been hiding (well, not really…), but life grew chaotic and crazy, and I’ve kept myself super busy swimming upstream. Responsibilities piled on top of responsibilities, and for a while, I felt like the donkey that got stuck in the well.

Multi-layered family obligations coupled with increasing work commitments and the normal operations of everyday life were nearly overwhelming and threatened to pull me under. But then I stepped back and looked at the big picture. It wasn’t that these things—taken individually—were overwhelming; it was that they all hit at once. If I plotted out a careful path and schedule, I could actually see the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.” So I took a deep breath, put my head down, and went to work. And surprisingly, everything got done.

Outside my window, the world reflected my inner transformation. Slowly but surely, spring emerged—because March and April are magical like that. Where the winter world is cold and bare, warming temperatures coax new life out of the ground in green shoots and tender flowers. Year after year, nature draws on its own ability to make spring happen.

I worked hard, drawing on what was inside of me, and I got through, but more importantly, I experienced my own transformation. My hard work brought tender shoots of possibility and promise, creativity and innovation. Just like the donkey, all the dirt and obligations that were thrown at me became my stepping stones. I drew on them for strength until I was no longer stuck at the bottom of a well, but boldly stepping out into the world, newly empowered and ready for the next challenge.

Beyond My Control

I am a worrier. I always have been. In fact, there is a story that my dad used to like to tell about my propensity for worry. Because the truth is, it’s been part of me since birth. Or maybe even before.  

When I was little—maybe around five or six…—we would sometimes go on Sunday drives into the woods on very narrow dirt roads. To my child-mind, the roads were too narrow for Dad’s jeep, let alone two cars passing in different directions. We would drive and drive and drive, and I would become more and more and more worried. Finally, I would pipe up from the backseat, “Where are we going to turn around, Dad?” as if it was my job to be concerned about all eventualities. But my propensity for worry prevented me from enjoying the drive, as everyone else in the car seemed to be doing. 

Last week, as I was going through my morning “pre-work” routine, I caught myself trying to figure out way too many pieces and bits of things that are attached to events and situations happening weeks in the future. It is as if somehow it is up to me to predict the future and troubleshoot every possible outcome—both good and bad—before the event even happens. And I do mean EVERY. POSSIBILE. OUTCOME. 

On the flip side, I have spent much parenting life convincing my daughter that there is very little in life that is worth the worry she tends to expend. I see her getting caught up in her thoughts and anticipation of situations in the future, and she is unable to experience the present moment to its fullest extent. Perhaps because I can relate, I work with her to stay in the moment and not worry so much. 

So last week, when I realized I was overwhelming myself, I stopped and took a breath. No, I thought. You are worrying about things that you don’t need to worry about. Most of these things are beyond your control.  

Beyond my control. True. And how much of my life have I devoted to worrying about things that are beyond my control? Too much. I am getting better, but I need to focus on taking things moment by moment. When I feel myself drifting to the future, I will work to pull myself back to the present and enjoy the journey. And I will take my daughter by the hand and lead her on this journey with me. The stress that is inextricable from worry is just not worth it.   

When we are able to step away from the worry and the unnecessary focus on the future, the view—right here, right now—is often pretty fantastic!  

{Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash}

Keep Going

As I have navigated my way through life, there is one very important lesson I have learned. No matter what life throws at you, keep going. Whatever happens, you have the strength to pull yourself through. Life is not always easy. It’s not always happy. But the tough times… they help you to see the good. They help you to grow. They help you to evolve into the best possible version of you.

Keep going. When life throws you a curve ball, and you are suddenly on a path you didn’t expect, keep going. Sometimes, the biggest blessings are found on the detours.

Keep going. When you think you can’t possibly handle any more and you are stressed and frustrated and you think you are going to collapse from the weight of all you have to deal with, keep going. Look around you. Gather some support. Find people who can help you carry your burden. But most importantly, keep going. You will get through this. And you will be stronger for the perseverance.

Keep going. When the plans you have made—for yourself, for your life, for your future—don’t work out, keep going. Often, those plans don’t work out because there is something better in store for you. Keep going, keep striving, keep searching, and you will eventually find it. Or better yet, it will find you.

Keep going. When you are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges like a solid brick wall in your path, keep going. Find a way to get over, under, around, or through the wall, but keep going.

Keep going. Use all of the support systems that you have in place. Bring in your friends. Bring in your acquaintances. Bring in the tanks, the armies, the teachers, and the pets. Bring in whatever you need to. But…

Through it all—tough times and easy times—you will discover much about yourself and others. You will learn what you want to be and what you don’t want to be. You will learn your limits and form your boundaries. You will learn to overcome weakness. You will learn to distinguish the people who are your friends from those you’d prefer to let fade into the background. You will find strength. You will find  beauty. You will find love.

And through it all, you will learn who you are.

Keep going.

Step Away

We were talking about writing, my daughter and I, about writing to an assignment when you’re not really sure of what to write. How do you not only answer the question, but write a three-page paper?

Without even thinking, I started tossing ideas at her. What is the story? Who’s involved? What is happening? Have you Googled the story and read through the summary/analysis online as a way to spark some ideas? Starting points… all things she had thought of, but approaches that weren’t helping her.

For me, talking about writing is nothing new—in fact, it is a daily conversation. This is what I do. I write. I talk about writing. I work with writers. It’s important that I include the phrase, “I write,” because if you don’t actually sit down and do the tough work of writing, it is difficult to talk to young writers about writing. And to speak authoritatively about the process of writing.

Our banter was getting us nowhere except frustrated. Sleep on it, I finally told her. The assignment wasn’t due for a couple days, so she had the advantage of time on her side. She agreed that was a good idea, and put the paper away for the night. However, she came back and texted me a bit later. “I took a shower on it, and I think I figured it out!” she told me.

That was it. She just needed to step away. In order to connect with the subject, she had to disconnect from it. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Not just in writing, but in the process of daily life.

If you step away, your thoughts can become clearer. Let your brain rest and move on to other tasks. Because sometimes, when you’re not putting demands on your brain, it will continue to process on its own terms. In fact, it is often when we are not thinking about something that it works itself out. When we are not focused on a problem, more varied solutions—those that are lurking on the periphery—become evident.

We all have situations we need to step away from. If you step away, often the things you are wrestling with—the problems, the situations, the frustrations—they all become easier to figure out, and your brain will come up with a solution you hadn’t even considered!

Step away, and have confidence the answer might come to you. If not, at least you will return refreshed and ready to dig in.

{Photo credit – my amazing daughter}

Reconnecting

Sometimes, I like to sit with childhood acquaintances and reconnect. These are the people I’ve known since I was very young—in grade school or high school. These are the people who knew me before I headed out into the world and discovered that the “real world” was maybe not everything it’s cracked up to be.

These people, they can often pull me back to my roots and ground me in “home.” They can help me remember both the innocence of childhood and the struggles of growing up. And they can remind me of the near-constant growth I have experienced since being on my own.

I like to engage these people in conversation about how life has turned out—what has happened in all the years since we last spoke? I will frequently get an earful of the good, the bad, and everything in between. Sometimes, if the friend is not local, these reconnections might involve long email or text exchanges.

Either way, my favorite thing to ask is the question: Has your life turned out the way you thought it would?

I love listening to the answers to this question. It’s a bit of a surprise question at first. The person wants the obvious answer to be, “Yes, of course it did.” But ultimately, the person stumbles through to the real answer. Though the responses vary from one person to another, they are always the same.

Here’s the interesting thing. When I ask that question, no one ever says, “Yes, my life has been exactly as I planned it all those years back when I was in school.” No one says that. Ever.

The fact is, life is not what we expect it to be. It is full of surprises—both good and bad. It is full of trials and triumph, pain and passion. Life is full. Sometimes, life is a struggle, and sometimes it’s a breeze. Sometimes life is amazing, and sometimes it is broken. But the saying is true: Life is what you make it. If you choose to take what life throws at you and make the best of it, then you will have the best life you can. Focus on the positive, weave yourself a network of support, and keep pushing forward.

No, my life is not what I had planned back when I was younger. But every day, I work on growing and moving in a positive direction. And even though it’s not what I planned, every day, I am very thankful for the life I have.

{Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash}