No, Thank You

It has been a challenging summer, and my work-life balance has tipped too far to the side of work, forcing me to slip away from the “life” side of balance—at least from the life I want to live. This situation has not been good for anyone, not for me and not for the various young people for whom I am responsible.

My current state of imbalance has made me nostalgic for the days I learned to say “No, thank you” to the things I didn’t want. I was young when my parents taught me the words, “No, thank you.” That way, if someone asked, Would you like more peas? I would know the proper response. “No, thank you,” I would say, and that would be that. No more peas.

However, “No, thank you,” has become a bit more complicated as responsibilities have piled on with adulthood. As responsibilities grow, the questions become increasingly complex, and they are not as easily answered with a simple “No, thank you.” As a teen, a tougher question might come from an acquaintance: Hey, we’re all going to the lake for a party. You wanna come? Even though I might be thinking, “No, thank you,” my response might be something along the lines of, “I’ll let you know,” and I’d walk away thinking, Nope. No way. As time passed, the questions—and the factors that needed to be considered—grew far more complicated.

Life is a series of checks and balances, shifting attentions, and maintenance. As an adult, I need to take a long, hard look at my life, my priorities, my family, my work, and my mental (and physical) health. Daily, these factors change, priorities shift and balance has to constantly be maintained.

Sometimes, things get out of whack—like this summer—and that’s when I realize my skill of saying “No, thank you” needs to be honed and strengthened. Because just like a muscle, if this skill is not used enough, it will weaken with inactivity.

So today, I’ve decided to begin regular exercise of my “No, thank you” muscle. I’m excavating deep into my childhood to help me remember how it works. I think it will just take some effort to jump start, but with some elbow grease and a lot of persistence, I’ll get that skill sharpened up in no time!

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Patience in the Un-find-able

If I had a dollar for every minute I’ve spent searching for the un-find-able, I would be a rich woman. This weekend, it was a pair of shorts that we swore were in the house as both my son and I had “seen” them on Saturday. After a frantic search of the house, he returned to camp without them, and found that he had left them in his cabin when he left camp on Friday.

Over the years, there have been so many things. The “favorite” bean-bag dog that was pushed to the bottom of the sleeping bag in the night and ended up being rolled up inside it for months. The team jacket that we accidentally left (or did we?) in the locker room after the final competition of the year one June many years ago. I called the coach before she left the venue. On Monday, I called the school where the competition had been held. I emailed the coordinator of the event. We searched the closet, the car, and eventually, realized we’d have to buy a new one before the next competition season began. At the end of August, as we headed back to the studio, one of the other girls discovered my daughter’s jacket, along with her own, on the floor of her closet.

How many times have I heard: “Hey Mom, you know that form we were looking for…? It was in my locker.” How much time and energy have I spent searching, and in the end, the thing I am looking for turns up in its own time? Many such searches have confirmed that I can’t find the unfindable. That I shouldn’t worry about things that are out of my control. The things I am searching for will appear in their own time. Sometimes, lost items appear only to eyes that aren’t frantic from looking. And in this process, I have learned that (aside from endlessly searching) all I can do is be patient and wait.

This lesson is one that we learn over and over. The lesson reappears in small ways so we might recognize when it comes into our lives in big ways. We search for our career path, the fantastic opportunity, the house, the family, our way in life…. These things will all come in time and in their own way. When we are ready. When the world is ready. When God is ready. It’s important to recognize that the unfindable may be hidden from our view because there are situations that we cannot control—that we should not control.

When something is lost—or we are lost—remember to take a deep breath and let go. The simple act of letting go makes just enough space in our lives that whatever is lost might just find us.

Balance

Despite the fact that I started out July thinking I would “be bold” and post more frequently, I have gotten caught up in the crazy of summer life. I have gotten caught up in my work, reading the books necessary to complete that work, preparing for college, cleaning up and throwing out. All this amid the daily routine of household chores necessary to maintain a functioning home. Sometimes, I begin to feel I am losing my grasp on what is real and necessary and beautiful.

It seems out of necessity, I have been cramming too much into the summers. Actually… into life. I spend my days cramming too much into life. Too many jobs, too many chores, too many errands, too many appointments. These things take a toll, but as I prepare to pay tuition bills, I am hit broadside with the reasons why I constantly push, always taking on more. But cramming in so much is not always a good thing. Quality, simplicity, and reflection would be good things. These things would give me the ability to shift my perspective, breathe, and re-evaluate the crazy that dominates my days. Maybe find a better balance.

Each time I think I am almost to the end of my crazy, a new string of commitments and appointments makes non-crazy an un-truth. Once again, the crazy continues, off-kilter and out of balance, but next week looks promising….

Kinda funny about next week. There’s always next week, isn’t there? And next week always brings new hope for just a bit more balance.

Metaphors

Recently, I had the opportunity to try my hand at making pottery—wheel-throwing, to be exact. In truth, I think I did this once or twice as a kid, but it was long ago. I remembered only the feeling of wet clay slipping between my fingers, the gentle prodding of the clay to create the desired shape, and the uneven feeling of lopsidedness on the wheel.

This time, I had the benefit of a patient and experienced instructor, who led me—step by step—through the process. I threw the clay onto the wheel, missing the center by more than I’d like to admit. The instructor adjusted the clay, pushing it closer to the center, and started the wheel. He demonstrated how I should hold my hands to gently push or pull the lump of clay into the center, shaping it and rounding it out. The clay resisted. I pushed harder, using some muscle to move it beyond its resistance. I was a bit surprised at the muscle necessary to move this inanimate, shapeless lump.

I smoothed the edges into a disk, and I pulled up toward the center, raising the height of the nameless object on the wheel. I used the side of my hand to flatten the clay and push it into the center. I repeated this process of centering until I had a flat disk resembling a hockey puck.

I began to work the center, slowly and gently pressing my thumb into the clay to create a hole from which I would begin to sculpt the vessel. From here, the process became one of gentle pressure—make an indent and watch it slowly become deeper and wider. The next steps would take an increasingly gentler touch as I steadied one hand against the other to work the sides upward and outward. The farther out and up I went, the more I could feel a slight off-centeredness of the piece. While I wanted to pull it back in, I didn’t want to exert too much force.

In the moments before I declared my piece “done,” and the wheel was turned off, the metaphor of potter and clay was not lost on me. The fact is, it’s not easy to mold a shapeless lump of clay into something both beautiful and useful. The clay resists. It won’t stay centered, and if it’s off center, it will become increasingly lopsided until it ultimately spins out of control and falls apart. Sometimes, it takes greater force from the potter to coax a piece back to the center. Perhaps sometimes, when we get too caught up in our lives, we are particularly unyielding and need to allow ourselves to be pulled back to center.

Ultimately, I added a spout to my piece. I not only wanted a vessel that could be filled up, but I also wanted one that could be poured out. One that would easily contain and distribute ingredients. It will take some time for my bowl to be dried and fired, glazed and re-fired. At the end of this month, it will arrive, beautiful and useful. I can’t wait to see the finished product and recognize the steps—and the patience—necessary as the potter molds the clay.

Be Bold!

Each year, as I head toward January, I buy myself an inspirational calendar because… well, because it will be inspirational! And believe me when I tell you that I don’t flip through the calendar when I first get it to see what is waiting to inspire me each month. No. I wait. I am a delayed gratification kind of girl.

When I turned my calendar to July, I was met with a quote from Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it.” What a great thought to start the month!

And so for this month, I will be bold. For this month, I will write more blog posts. I will take more steps, set more goals, and implement more action plans. For this month, I will take more risks.

Because boldness has genius. And power. And magic. And for me, it’s all about the magic! Come on and join me. Just for this month, be bold!

Grow your Good

On Friday evening, I was driving to my daughter’s dance rehearsal. The sun was low and the traffic was heavy with summer weekend tourists. I was alone in the car, and my mind was flipping through the pages of the day, churning through a brutal narrative of destructive self-talk. I am not enough of this, and I am too much of that. It was the typical inner focus on my flaws and deficiencies.

As the weight of the evening’s inner monologue grew clear to me, I stopped myself and worked to redirect the narrative. You’re not stupid, I tried to convince myself. But that wasn’t much of a redirection. The statement needed to be positive rather than negative. You are much smarter than you give yourself credit for, I ventured. You have good ideas and you follow through. Better. A good deal better! You are enough, I told myself.

As I pondered my self-talk, I reminded myself that I’m not the only one who’s killing it in the self-bullying department. While so many people seem to believe in themselves without a problem (or they’re faking it), other people struggle as they navigate their daily lives. Our inner critics are not kind. But most people couldn’t possibly be as brutal in their inner monologue as I am. Or could they?

What if… just for today, we stop comparing ourselves to others? Everybody is unique, and everybody has their own talents that they bring to the world. We all have positive aspects and negative aspects, and most of the people I know spend inordinate amounts of time focused on fixing the negative when they should instead focus on growing their good. Despite what social media might suggest, nobody’s life is perfect. Accept what you have and work with it. Grow your good.

What if… we began to tell ourselves the truth rather than some warped version of the truth we use to make ourselves feel bad? We could focus on the child we made smile while we were standing in the grocery line. We might consider how well we handle the demands of our job. Or we might look at how a great sense of humor helps us through the day.

What if… just for today, we stop keeping a laundry list of all the things we have done wrong. Better yet, what if we rip up that laundry list and throw it in the trash? Or maybe we could bring it with us the next time we go camping. Then we could throw it in a campfire and watch it slowly melt away into ashes.

What if… just for today, we were to celebrate our successes rather than dwelling on our failures? We might recognize that we have raised good children, or that we handled the latest two-year-old temper tantrum with a patience we didn’t have yesterday. We might see that we walked half a mile more than we intended, or we beat our personal best in our most recent marathon.

What if… just for today, we rewrite our inner monologue? What if we focus on all the things we are rather than all the things we are not? What if every time we heard ourselves engage in negative self-talk, we changed it to a positive statement? By doing so, we might give ourselves an opportunity to see the good in ourselves and the possibility for our future.

And what if… tomorrow, we were to do the same thing?

Wonder

The other day, I was on my way out to the car for work when I noticed that the azalea bush at the bottom of my front steps had little pink buds on it.

Let me backtrack for a moment. When I say “azalea bush,” I am exaggerating just a bit. When I first moved here in 2004, there was an azalea bush there. Over the years, it was overtaken by some unexplained rot/mold/disease, and each spring, it appeared to be closer and closer to the doom of nonexistence. One year, when the condo association landscapers came to prune the bushes, I asked them if there was anything they could do to save it. The manager surveyed the sad little bush, shook his head, and told me that he would cut off the dead parts, but the bush would probably need to be removed. He worked away at it for a bit and when he was done, there was little left. “I don’t think that’ll help, but we’ll see,” he told me.

And for the past several years, my struggling azalea bush has been little more than a bundle of sawed off stumps with some dried twigs sticking up. Every now and then, a leaf appears, but nothing more.

So imagine my surprise when I walked out the door on a beautiful spring morning, and the beginnings of an azalea bush were growing from one side of the bundle of old rotten bush-parts. Tiny shoots flaunted bright pink buds that caught my eye. It wasn’t just one twig with a bud or two. It was a forest of shoots, each with multiple leaves and buds.

That afternoon when I returned from work, I gave the little bush some TLC. I carefully removed all of the rotten pieces, one by one. I pulled them out and created a pile of refuse next to my walkway. Now, there is more room for the shoots to grow and flourish.

I had almost given up hope on this little bush, but somehow I knew the life would return and the azalea would see spring again. And I was right—there was just enough life left in the roots connected to those old, dry twigs to send up shoots that will someday be a whole new bush.

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”     – E. B. White