Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Random Thoughts on a Tuesday

Today I had one of those thoughts that runs through my mind from time to time...but I've actually been fortunate enough to remember it.  That's because there's a lot of "stuff" packed in the ole gray matter, and I've learned that it is absolutely necessary to write things down or I'll drive myself crazy trying to recapture a wisp of whatever it was that was profound yet slipped away like vapor.  I get frustrated with that and will often try to employ one of my superpowers (granted by God)...which is a photographic memory of sorts coupled with an inclination to remember things that matter not.

My other superpowers are retaining vestiges of every carb I've ever eaten, seeing things that are being missed in a given situation, and according to Big Dave...spelling.  But years of remembering names, faces, directions, routes, and everything else has caused a traffic jam or twelve and the wires get crossed.  That and turning 50...or so I'm told.  I refuse to buy into that quite yet.

Yes, I have stored in my memory a lot of things that probably should have been left out of it since I can now look up whatever I need to know online including the list of prepositions in alphabetical order from the 7th grade, the state capitals, the soliloquy from "Hamlet" (eh, some of it, anyway) and the lyrics to some truly heinous songs from the 80s.  I can remember the names of people I went to school with, several recipes (because I'm not a terribly adventurous cook), the proper care of violets, several muscle groups and what they are called, and pretty much a standard order at just about every restaurant in town.  There's some bible verses, the phone numbers of some people from my hometown and numerous birthdays stuck in there as well along with the birthdays of people's children who I rarely talk to anymore...but whatever.

I mean...I have trouble recalling people's names if I met them within the past five years.  But I can tell you what a friend was going to name her son in 1985 but changed it in the hospital to something entirely different.  Other than freaking him out by knowing this...I can't imagine why I held on to this information.

So, retracing my steps today, I tried to think about what it was that I needed to hold onto so that I could expand on it here in this format.  Knowing me, and the time of day I go to lunch, I was probably listening to talk radio.  Yes.  I listen to THAT guy.  And I like it.  Primarily because beneath all of the bluster and bravado is someone actually making sense.  Is he perfect?  No.  But he's obviously dang good to have survived these twenty years and helped revitalize the failing AM radio band.  Just saying.

Anyway, the conversation was about how people expect government to do more and more for us and how different that is from how it used to be.  How people didn't expect other people to pick up their slack and that it was actually okay if we didn't have everything we ever wanted.  It made me think...

Think about times that Big Dave and I did without because we couldn't do something called "vacations" because the money wasn't there.  So he and I would load up in our used car and drive to the beach for the day.  The entire trip would cost us $30...which now would probably equate to about $100.  We did this often during the first five years of our marriage.

We also didn't own a washing machine until we'd been married for two years, and a dryer until we'd been married for four.  We saved up money for a down payment on a house by living in what we affectionately referred to as the "Dalmation Arms" - a name given to it by a family member because the building was white with black mildew spots.  Yes, I had a friend who had the cutest decorated house in country blue with geese and the most precious dishes to serve guests on when we were invited over for dinner.  How she had curtains in her home, and how everything was utilized and had a place was a complete and total mystery to me.  Twenty eight years later...I still don't have curtains in every room.

So not kidding.

At that point in time, my house was a far cry from "put together."  It was functional...thanks to the fact that Big Dave's parents parted with some truly heinous brown and tan plaid living room furniture that was heavy as all get out...but worked and they were a bit tired of.  Right before we moved into our new house in 1989, my mother-in-law won a little table and chairs in a drawing at a furniture store and gave us the dinette set because we didn't have anything.

Bear in mind that Big Dave came into this marriage with student loans, a black trunk, a bag with softball equipment, mattresses that you could feel the springs through if you got too close to the middle, a bed frame and a picture of "Dogs Playing Poker."  Yeah, that picture didn't make it long.

Want it to be even sadder?  I brought my clothes and a small black and white TV that I had in my dorm room.  All of it fit into my 1978 slate blue Chevette.

Thanks to the generosity of friends and family, and the fact that I married six weeks after graduating from college, we had cookware, dishes, towels, sheets, and a few decorative items.  We spent our wedding money on a honeymoon to a family beachhouse and purchased a 19" Sony TV.  We had that TV until it finally died 21 years later.

Never once did we consider asking our parents for help...although from time to time they would do something for us that made it easier.  And I can tell you that it never crossed our minds to ask the government for anything.

Even though we make more now, have a fine home, a pool, two dogs and an outside cat, are content to know that we have or are educating our children in the best way we could/can, and we have first-world problems like trying to pick out draperies when we (me) are clueless about such things, I still don't think about how I might get the government to give me a little "help" so that I can live the life I want that doesn't involve getting up every day and going to a job.

I really don't.

I feel that one of the things that we have done to the current generation is to give them too much because we could.  We didn't want them to struggle getting out of the cocoon...so we "helped" them by cutting it a little so they can get out without as much difficulty.  In the process of doing that, we have actually hindered them from developing strength in the wings that they'll need for flying off someday and creating the life that God intends for them.

We give them pedicures when they are twelve and rent them limos for the Senior Prom.  We pay for Coach purses and Tori Burch flats.  We give them a string of pearls for graduation and decorate their dorm rooms/apartments/homes as if Southern Living were coming to film there.  And just as we think we have done an amazing job...they will inadvertently act as though our offering is "normal."  They don't mean to.  But it happens.

Not that doing for your kids is bad in itself.  It is not.  Okay, other than the purses and flats...which I think are ridiculously overpriced and I refused to buy into.  We had the ability to give them more than we had, and we looked around and saw everyone else pretty much doing the same.  We may have held back, or made them work, or even bought them a car when they turned 16 that was not from the current decade.  But it was a far cry from what we made do with twenty or thirty short years before.

A far cry.

Don't even get me started on the fact that we might have had one or two designer (ie "Polo") shirts hanging in the closet (in our generation it was "Izod" that later reinvented itself as "Lacoste") instead of one in every color.  That we might have had four dresses hanging in our closet...instead of thirty.  That our idea of "tanning" was baby oil with iodine in it.

I know that the past few years have been tough, and I will not go all into it from a political standpoint. People have learned to do more with less, and there are people who truly need help to get them from Point A to Point B.  I'm not looking down on that.  I am also not talking about people relying on Social Security that they paid into for years and years either or those that are truly disabled or in a tough place in life.  I'm really not.

I'm talking about those who are all "I'll get mine..." or who make lifestyle choices to follow a dream or career path that is valuable but may not have the financial payoff that they need to survive.  Yet they pursue that path and expect everyone else to pony up for the choices that they've made while others have slugged it out in the 8-5 world missing out on raising their children 24/7 and/or dealing with people who have run their stress levels up to "Danger! Will Robinson!" and beyond.

Yes, all of us would like to follow our dreams.  Some of us have to sacrifice ours to survive.  And in doing so...we may earn benefits like retirement or healthcare or vacation time.  I highly resent being made to feel guilty for making my choices while others made theirs...yet I'm expected to pick up their slack too.  I think not.

Life is a series of choices, payoffs, and regrets.  You have to do what you can live with...and not expect everyone else to make it "fair."  Life is anything but fair.  But it is beautiful and tragic and thrilling.  So there's that.

Fair would mean that I wouldn't be as blessed as I am since I'll be taxed more or maybe it would mean that I would have to make do on far less because what I need will cost more.  But I should be able to choose that.  I should be able to give my time, gifts or treasure to those I deem in need of it.  And due to other people making that choice for me...I may just get stuck being abused because I happened to get from Point A to Point B and it wasn't fair that others couldn't.  What they fail to recognize is what I gave up along the way to get there.  Time, energy, blood, sweat and tears that I'll never get back.  Please remind me how this is fair...

In the families that Big Dave and I were born into, we were taught to work for what we wanted.  How to shop on a sale rack for a deal.  That the world wouldn't end if we didn't have everything we wanted when we wanted it in the color, size, style and price range we wanted it.  We raised our children to feel the same way...although we did spoil them a little bit along the way by making it easier than we had it.  Fortunately, they aren't the worse for it.

That seems to be a little of what is wrong in America today.  Nobody wants to wait for anything.  We want instant food, so we swing through a drive-thru.  Our children begin wanting a boyfriend or girlfriend at age 12 instead of waiting until they are old enough to meet "the one."  The fashion powers encourage us to dress our 7 year olds like streetwalkers, and our government tells them that they are in charge of their own bodies should they get pregnant before they really understand what that means.

We like quick dry nail polish, DVR (so we don't have to endure commercials) and messages on our phones that let us know that someone needs to interact with us.  Entire industries are geared around getting it done better, cheaper, faster and more interestingly than ever before.

And for what?

I have come to the point in my life where I want to be more intentional.  I want to get out of the rat race and just love the people in my life.  I don't care if I ever achieve a perfect looking home or if I ever get to wear something that I feel pretty in again.  What I care about is trying to just enjoy what time I have here surrounded by people and things that bring me joy.

Everything else is non-essential.

I remember back to those days when Big Dave and I had a Christmas tree that we bought at somewhere like Fred's for $19.99 decorated with colored balls and lights.  How magical it was to have our own space and look at catalogs and dream.

I'm getting back to dreaming again...and being content to be without everything I ever wanted.  I understand how fragile life can be sometimes when people leave or age or move. How what is aggravating beyond belief one minute is something that you pine for the next.  How easy it is to get caught up in trying to do everything just right...before you realize that it is as futile as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

As for me, I'll be trying to keep my head straight and my heart guarded.  I will look up instead of "in" when I start to wonder what in the world is going on with everything I'd always taken for granted.  I'll be grateful for the fact that I know how to do more with less...because that's really my default setting...truth be told.

And maybe...if I'm lucky...I can get those prepositions out of my head to make room for something far more important.  Like plans for the upcoming holiday season and all that this entails.  On taking care of people who need it and loving people in my circle of friends.  Because that is what life is all about.

It really is.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Confessions of a 50 Year Old Lazy Friend

Unlike other Southern women who refuse to disclose their ages, I have always been a tell-all girl in this regard.  I realize that at different points in my life I have surprised people by looking older than my years, and in a couple of cases...younger...but it is what it is.  I say this not with smugness or pride...or even as the antithesis of my sweet 39 year old mother who is beautiful and vibrant in spite of the fact that I am now on the record for being older than she is.  It is just one of those areas that I have never really felt led to fudge or hide.

Unlike my drivers' license weight.  Or hair color.  Let's not go there.

No, seriously.  Let's not.

I am 50 years old.  5-0.  Nifty fifty.  Half a century.  Over the hill...or past the change...or whatever.  I'm on that side of life where the print gets smaller for most of my friends, and reading glasses are not optional.  Where turning in at 9:00 on a Friday night isn't taboo.  Where going to the grocery store looking like Sasquatch is perfectly acceptable.  Where "personal summers" are the norm.  Where I am over things like high heels, trying to impress people who are impossible, and being concerned with wearing anything fashionable...if it isn't comfortable.  And truthfully?  Nobody cares.

I'm someone's Mom, and old enough to be someone's grandma, although I'm not really up for that until I've been mother of the bride and/or groom.  I have good friends and know who I am...although I'm still up for learning new things and appreciate the effort people put into things far more than I used to when I was young and sleep-deprived.

 Yet for all of those benefits of impending maturity, I missed the very obvious fact that while I was out trying to survive the onslaught of raising children for nearly half of my life, working full-time, and trying to be a decent daughter, granddaughter, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, wife, sister, aunt, best friend, acquaintance, mother, employee, neighbor, co-worker, church member, great-aunt, cousin, alumnae, participant, counselor, friend, teacher, and whatever else...time passed.

Years where I stood under the tutelage of some pretty incredible women and waited for instruction of what to do in crisis situations.  Crisis situations being defined as illnesses, bad news, funerals, problems, and anything else that didn't involve celebrations.  Celebrations I could do.

Times that I wanted to do more but was afraid that they'd think I was out of my mind, didn't know them well enough, or was simply overdoing it. After all, enthusiasm in positive instances is often frowned upon in negative ones. The worry that something would be "tacky" or "inappropriate" or "too much."  After all, I've been "too much" a number of times in my life.

Instances where I wanted to intervene or help or just say the right thing...but I was silent for fear of saying something boneheaded.  Time that passed that was seconds and then minutes, hours, days, weeks...months...years...decades...

And now I'm 50.  Old enough to know what to do instead of expecting someone to pop up and tell me what the next step should be in certain situations.  Of course, I have no problem taking on big projects, and one of the gifts that the Lord has given me is the strong desire and ability to finish things.  I'm probably not the first person that would be assigned a leadership position, but when I am in most groups, I find that I end up offering input because I am not afraid to make a decision.   Usually, I find that people don't want to decide anything because they are also afraid of being perceived as being pushy, or over-the-top or a general pain in the posterior.  Probably because when we were young...we were reminded of how little we knew and how we were messing it all up.  At times...we were.

Recently, I discovered that I have been a bit of a lazy friend.  I have not checked in with people...because I figured that someone else was doing it.  You know...someone more responsible.  Someone older.  Wiser.  More pulled together.  I have known of situations involving hospitalizations and I have run the other direction.  I have not checked in with people on the anniversaries of traumatic events...and I have done little more than tell them I'll pray for them.

And I do.  But it is not at the level of someone who appreciates all of the wonderful things that she has been given in this life.  It is lazy.  L-A-Z-Y and I "ain't got no alibi."  Wish I did.

I realized over the past few days that the "someone" that is supposed to be watching out for the mission field that I have been assigned...my friends...is ME.  Not the person who can run circles around me.  Not the one who everyone assumes will do it.  Not the individual who always does it.  But ME.  That generation that I always looked up to to tell me what to do?  Uh, that's ME, too.

Part of this was being raised by a strong grandmother who had very particular ideas about how to do what when.  Another part is that I have friends who excel in this area...so all I had to do was wait for instruction.  But the sad part is that often it was that I just didn't want to deal with the hassle of getting in the trenches with my friends.  Lazy.

I realized that serving with a twenty-something in the kitchen yesterday.  She was so worried about doing something wrong (impossible...but still...) and disappointing the older women.  She didn't know that she couldn't.  But she was looking to me...and to the other women to give her some direction.  A wonderful, beautiful, capable soul who didn't need my approval or those of the other ladies serving in there.  But she wanted it.

I love that.  But it also woke me up to the fact that it is time for me to step up...and to be who He created me to be.

I have reached the age where I cannot hide the fact that by now I should have some wisdom to share.  That I know what to do in situations and that I shouldn't care how that is perceived if my motives are pure.  That I have the capacity to do certain things well and in those areas I should lead.  I should also acquiesce to those who are better than I am in others.  But I can learn to be better...I can be more intentional...and I can quit worrying about messing things up.

After all...I'm not 30.  I'm 50.  This isn't my first rodeo, so to speak.

I know that even at this age there will be disasters.  I will make mistakes, not handle things well, or burn something from time to time.  I will try a "fool-proof" recipe that is anything but.  I will go overboard or will miss the opportunities that are presented me to be Jesus' hands and feet.  I will still have times when I'm thoughtless...or heaven forbid...lazy.

I just don't want to miss it because I'm worried about how whatever I'm doing looks to other people.

Why?  Well, frankly, because it's not about me.  Never has been.  I wish I'd glommed on to that years ago when I was worried what people thought on one hand...or figured that they wanted someone better than me to serve them on the other.

Over the past year, I have had friends lose family members, get serious diagnoses, lose their jobs, suffer a major disappointment, get a divorce, or just lose heart.  I've watched from the sidelines in most cases...jumping in to do as little as I could because I was afraid.  Being the "invited" instead of the "initiator."   Because it was my fervent belief that someone more experienced would take care of things and would simply call me if I was needed.

If someone asked for my help...I'd give it.  However, this is reactive...not proactive.  In the process I missed out on the blessings of serving others and the joy of loving God's children as I was designed to do.

No more.

When you reach a "certain age" you have to decide how you want to be remembered.  As the person with the prettiest house or the perfect children?  As the lady with the yard that won awards or as a successful businessperson?  As the person who did the bare minimum to maintain a friendship?  As someone who was all fluff and no substance?

I want to be remembered as someone who loved.  Everyone.  Who tried to serve others well.  Who followed "in his steps" rather than with regrets, bitterness, or remorse.

So, I'm learning to be more intentional about my life and with my time.  Because God has a sense of humor...this totally means that from time to time it will not end well.  But I'm trusting that more often than not...it will.  I want every word to come out of my mouth to be truth.  Not fluff.  Not pumped sunshine.  Not Southern small talk...although there's room for a touch of that here and there.  Truth.

I also want to be a better friend to those that I have been blessed with than I have been in the past.  To be more aware of what is going on around me and less concerned with how I feel about something and less afraid to just jump in there and help.  To not be lazy.

That's the plan.  I'll keep you posted.  Because as we all know...when we plan...God laughs.  But as long as He is smiling...that's good enough for me.