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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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.

The Lesson of the Donut Vendor

This morning, my daughter and I were racing to get her back to college before the impending snowstorm settled in. The drive is a pretty one—over rolling hills, alongside rivers and train tracks, across farmland, and through the center of an occasional small town.

We chatted as we drove, and as we wound our way through one town, we noticed a crowd gathered near what looked like an old-fashioned carriage. As we drew closer, we could see that the crowd was actually a line, and the cart was some sort of vendor. Only upon passing the scene could we read the bright pink wording on the side of the black carriage: DONUTS!

“Donuts!” we both exclaimed.

I turned to her briefly, keeping one eye on the road. “Do you want to stop?” I asked.

She thought for a minute. “Well, I don’t really want a donut…” she replied as we continued our journey. After a pause, she said, “But we should go back.”

“You want to?” I questioned. “I’ll have to find a place to turn around.”

“If you want to,” she told me. “But we do have to get back before the snow.” And there it was. The reality check to an otherwise whimsical and fun idea.

“Ugh. You’re right. I guess today’s not the day,” I said to no one in particular. And I kept driving. But I also kept thinking about the donuts and the donut vendor. What a great idea—to spend a Saturday morning selling donuts on the town green. It reminded me of the idea my dad had when I was younger to buy a popcorn wagon and sell popcorn on a busy street corner.

I thought about that donut wagon and the vendor for the rest of the day. I decided if he was still there on my return trip, I would stop and buy some donuts for my boys. After all, the line by the cart certainly hinted that his donuts must be good. But when I drove back through town over an hour later, the vendor and his wagon were gone.

This moment—the choice to stop or not stop—was an example of me being 2018 me. I was on a journey from point A to point B, and the destination was my goal.

But what if the destination is only part of the goal? What if the true journey lies in the adventures along the way?

Driving home, I decided that next time, I am going to stop when I see something interesting. From now on, I am going to work on not being so focused on the destination that I miss the experiences that might come from an occasional detour or two. Next time, I will stop when I first think of it, and I will buy donuts!

{Photo by Charles “Duck” Unitas on Unsplash}

Looking Ahead…

At the end of year, I was going to write a wrap-up post, talking about all of the things I learned in 2018. But that didn’t happen. And then when we got to 2019, I was going to write a “looking forward” post, telling you all about the exciting steps I am taking toward self-improvement, life improvement, and blog improvement. But that didn’t happen, either. Because right after Christmas, a winter cold-virus caught me… and I have not had the energy to pry myself from the rut into which I fell in the last half of 2018.

The last half of 2018 was taken over by changing schedules, different demands, and shifting priorities. As I have mentioned once or twice, my blog suffered, but the lessons of the past months were well-learned. The biggest blogging lesson of 2018 is that creativity is fleeting. Like a flowering plant, creativity must be fed, watered, and cared for daily. With the proper nutrients, attention, temperature and light, a tended plant will grow and bloom and thrive. If it is not nurtured—constantly—it will wane and fizzle and wilt and die. The same is true of creativity.

But this is a new year and we are starting on a positive note. So for 2019, I will commit myself to once again uncovering and nurturing my creativity. I know it’s in there somewhere, and with a bit of attention, it will peek from its hiding place, step out into the open, and begin to grow. With a little daily writing attention, the ideas will start to flow once more, and the floodgates will open up.

Of course, daily writing is a challenge, especially with my schedule ramping up in the next few weeks. I’m hoping the experience of last year has helped me to recognize the importance of maintaining creativity, something that comes into play in so many parts of my life. But if I am writing regularly and nurturing my creativity, the freedom and ideas will scatter and spread like a fine mist permeating all aspects of my experience. Creativity will become a way of life and a way of thinking rather than an “extra” that requires its own attention.

As I look forward, deep into 2019, I am excited! I am approaching the year with a lean in attitude. With creativity and positivity, I can lean in to the experiences that come up. I can create new opportunities through the ideas and plans I put in place. And I can make 2019 a wonderful year of growth and development that will push me to be the best I can be.

Here are some steps I’m putting in place to help me expand myself and lean in to all that  2019 has to offer.

Daily

  • Set aside a few minutes of reflection time
  • List things I’m thankful for each day
  • Engage in (and share) exercises in creativity
  • Stretch myself to think (and act) outside the box (my normal box, that is)

Weekly

  • Plan one new experience
  • Keep a list of life possibilities (as if they have already happened)
  • Write about my journey

Monthly

  • Take one risk that “2018 me” would not take

What’s on your list for 2019?

{Photo credit: Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash}

Family Time

Yesterday, I was with my three nearly-grown children, and we stopped at Panera for lunch. At the table next to us was a young family. Mom and Dad were there with two young daughters—one about nine or ten going on sixteen, and a younger daughter of five or six. In the middle of the meal, Dad said good-bye and left to go to work. Mom stayed at the table with the girls while they all finished their lunch. As they sat there, it was hard not to notice that Mom’s cell phone was sitting on the table, loudly and regularly letting her know she had messages and notifications. Each time the phone alerted her, she looked down and responded.

Lately, I have noticed more and more parents interacting with their phones rather than their children. And I have heard from my children that many of their friends are on their own to make food at home, eating on the run, in their bedrooms, or in front of the television. So here’s my question: when are you spending uninterrupted quality time with your children? How do you show them that they are important and worthy of your time and undivided attention?

I have written about this before, but early in my parenting—and even when our family structure shifted, and I became a single parent—I established dinner together as a deeply important part of our day. This is the time when we come together as a family—and we are together for an important purpose: eating our evening meal. But dinnertime has become so much more over the years. Dinnertime is when we connect. We check in on each other. We talk about life, issues, morals, values, and what is happening in our individual lives and in the world. This meal has become a regular and expected time together as a family.

Now, I have two children in college, and they are home for the Christmas/winter break. Still, each night when I get home from work, we sit down together to consume our evening meal. We laugh, we talk, we eat. And now that they are older, we hash out political issues and share our views, we discuss environmental dilemmas, and we weave together the fundamental pieces of our day into an intricate tapestry that solidifies our family connection.

The unwritten rule, and one that is mostly followed, is that there are no devices at the table. This is family time, and devices are a distraction. Constantly looking at a device and responding to notifications demonstrates that we are not giving others our undivided attention. And it pulls us apart rather than bringing us closer.

And so… about childhood—this is time you will not get back. Establish a daily time to put away your devices and sit down with your children. Talk to them. Listen to them. Learn from them. They are amazing little people who will grow up to become wonderful adults. And those adults will need to know how to connect—deeply and meaningfully—with others. Scheduling some daily time to connect with family can make all the difference.