True Empowerment for Women (It Isn’t in 50 Shades of Any Particular Color)

true power

In the crashing and crushing wake of nuttiness that is Fifty Shades of Grey I am compelled to break from my usual format to address the one thing that bothers me most about these books and now the movie.  Here’s a hint, it’s not the sex, though I’m not a fan of that either. Don’t worry, this isn’t a book review.

There are a plethora of criticisms for this series and movie, and I have no intention of addressing them all because lots of people who are more informed than I have already done such a thorough job with them.  My biggest issue is the one word I see repeatedly popping up about it, “empowerment”.  There are many times throughout this series where the poor little protagonist puts up with whatever because it supposedly gives her a feeling of power.  I can’t begin to guess how the author hoodwinks her audience into thinking this is real, I do know that even the BDSM folks have spoken out against this book as blatantly disrespectful to women and their own lifestyle. Maybe that should tell us something.

I absolutely agree with women being empowered, but apparently not in the same way as someone who thinks that empowerment means blindfolding her and whipping her before sex.

My parents raised me to be independent, to be smart, and to be as powerful as my little 5′ 2″ body could be (mostly by using my brains. Mind control is a huge part of this equation).  Here are some of the things they did that I believe actually empowered me to choose well in relationships, to protect myself in potentially dangerous situations and to keep myself as safe as possible.

1. My dad taught me the difference between flattery and kindness, and between attraction and love.

If a guy constantly stares into your eyes, tells you that you’re hot (or even if they’ve learned to use the word beautiful), makes suggestive remarks, but never actually listens to anything you say, I’m gonna go out on a limb here.  That “one thing” your mom, or aunt or dad told you that men want … that guy’s after it.  He doesn’t love you.  He loves himself.  Run.

My dad gave my sister and I another gift in this regards … he built us up constantly.  He was always telling us how smart we were, how pretty we were, how much fun we were, how valuable we were to the world.  There is nothing like hearing those kinds of words from a man who expects nothing in return.  If you’re reading this, daddies take note.  Someone will compliment your daughters.  Someone will make them feel special.  The more special they already feel, the less likely they are to get into a relationship built on empty words.

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2. My mom taught me never ever to put up with abuse, of any kind, from a man.

Here’s how she did this.  One day mom was on the phone with a lady who was lamenting that her husband had pushed her.  She asked my mom if this was abuse.  “Yes, of course it is,” Mom responded.

“I thought so.  So, I told him that if he did it again, I’m leaving.”

“Right. You’re missing a key phrase though.  Tell him ‘I’m leaving, and I’ll be back with a baseball bat, to bash your head in.'”  Listening to this conversation and those words coming from perhaps the kindest and gentlest woman I’ve ever met, had a dramatic impact on me.

“Did you mean that?” I asked my mom when she had hung up.

“Of course I did. Do you think for one second that I would allow some jerk to push me? Don’t you dare put up with something like that!”

I haven’t ever come close to being pushed, hit or even tickled too harshly by a man, but it meant something to me to be reminded that I also have power in a relationship … and so does a baseball bat.

3. My mom and dad both taught me that I am not physically stronger than a man.

In light of my last point, this may sound contradictory, but let me explain.  In most cases, no matter how many special secret agent women on tv single-handedly beat six men to a pulp with their mad kickboxing skills, women are not physically stronger than men.  Calm down.  I’m not saying we’re not strong.  I do know women who may be stronger than some men they encounter, but I am not.  And I won’t be.  I’m not built that way.

So, I protect myself in other ways.  I don’t spend my time surrounded by men who would use their strength to do me harm.  I pay attention to my surroundings when I’m out by myself.  I try not to look distracted or vulnerable. And I made sure in the dating world that anyone who wanted to date me talked with my dad or brother first.  Call me old-fashioned, but no man has ever dared to pretend like they would hit me after meeting my dad or brother.  Also, now I’m pretty sure anyone who intended to harm me would take one look at my husband and think, “surely there are less painful ways to die.”  Again, these are the cases where your attacker or abuser is someone you know.  Not all attacks are avoidable, but so many times they are if we just use our heads.

4. My mom, dad, society and all of my life experience taught me that you can’t change someone just by being in a relationship with them.

I actually heard someone rebut an article against the abuses found in Fifty Shades by saying that Christian clearly had problems and Ana was trying to help him.  Christian had been abused by his mother and therefore wanted to hurt all women who looked like her.  Ana loved him through it all, (not sure “loved” is the right word for that), and eventually he came to love her too.  Pardon me while I run for a tissue.

Let’s just not.  Loving people who are damaged is basically what life is all about.  I’m totally for it.  Loving people so that they’ll change … not so much.  That’s not even a good premise for a friendship, let alone a dating or marriage relationship.  How much would you appreciate it to hear someone say, “I’m just loving you in the hopes that you’ll be better than you are right now.”  Geez.  Thanks a lot!

Also, a relationship isn’t supposed to replace therapy.  A girl told me once that it was okay if her boyfriend hit her because he was “really going through something” and she had taken psychology classes on how to deal with people like that.  I’m guessing I don’t have to spell out my reaction to this “logic”.  Wait, is that a baseball bat I see swinging toward his head?

Of course your life is up to you.  Read what you like, watch what you like.  I’m also not trying to change you.  Just don’t deceive yourself.  What you read and watch and the way it’s presented affects you.  It can change your mind in ways you wouldn’t believe.  30 years ago no one would have thought that a book or movie like Fifty Shades would ever hit main stream and sell jillions of copies and make women think it’s cool for a man to control their every move.

Please don’t believe this is a step toward empowerment.  Please don’t think that abuse is okay as long as the victim chooses it.  Please don’t allow yourself to be treated like garbage.  Let’s use our heads.  Let’s find true power.  Let’s pray for the victims of abuse and not try to make it look sexy.  Completely your business.  I’m just sayin …

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Generation X and Y Raise Children … from our iPhones

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There are distinct advantages to parenting now days.  We have the internet to look stuff up on when our kids are sick.  We have the internet to look stuff up on when we need birthday party ideas.  We have the internet to look stuff up on when we need stocking-stuffer ideas. There are real disadvantages too.  We have the internet to tell us about GMO’s and high-fructose corn syrup.  We have the internet to feed all our children’s symptoms into when they’re sick and find out that they match up with either cancer, ebola or the common cold.  We have the internet so now we have to buy three different softwares just to protect our children from its content.

The bigger disadvantage to raising kids coming from our generation is that the vast majority of us don’t use our heads any more even though we have the bulk of the world’s knowledge on a palm fitting device in our purses. I personally cannot hold one single phone number in my brain.  I don’t even know my husband’s number by heart.  The only number I remember is my friend Jennilyn’s and that’s only because it hasn’t changed since my childhood and it has a very nice rhythm to it that stuck in my head like a commercial jingle.

Also, we’re not good at heeding actual human advice. Since we are children of the eighties and nineties, constantly told that “no one has the right to tell us what to do”,  we now all get on our tablets and get THEM to tell us what to do. Instead of calling our moms to discover how to fix a behavior issue with our children, like our mothers did, we now ask a million strangers in cyberspace what to do.  The good news is we avoid cluing our mothers in on the fact that we are ignorant of something.  The bad news is, we have no human contact and may all shrivel up and die.  But we probably won’t notice, we’ll be looking at cat pictures and arguing with a stranger on the internet up until our last dying breath.

The wealth of info at our fingertips would truly be awesome if it came from fabulous sources, right?  But, how many of our doctors in recent years have heaved enormous sighs when we admitted that we looked up our symptoms on WebMd before we came in … and that’s why it took us so long to come in … and that’s why it has now developed into bronchial pneumonia.  I’m sorry, Dr.  I was afraid you’d tell me I had lung cancer, so I was treating this dreadful cough myself.  Essential oils are a real thing … I swear.  I read it on the internet. (Just kidding, I actually use essential oils with some success).

But I digress.

A disturbing trend I’m seeing in modern parents comes from a mixture of inexperienced moms who write about their lack of experience as if they really know what they’re doing, and equally inexperienced people who “share” these writings on all social networks.  Here are a few recent “gems” the popped up in my newsfeed/twitterfeed, “Why I Didn’t Make My Child Share” – the sage advice of a parent with a three year old who uses 2000 words to explain why her child should never have to share anything they like … because they are the king of the planet and every other child should bow down to them.  “Why I NEVER Tell My Child She is Naughty” – this one was a well-meaning mom trying not to damage their child’s fragile self-image by saying “you are naughty”.  Instead she would affirm her daughter by saying “what you just did was inappropriate.”  I’m sure the subtle nuance totally got through to her toddler.

I have no problem trying out new parenting techniques.  And I certainly have no problem with people sharing blog posts on Facebook.  I learn from them.  I like them.  I HAVE a blog, so I definitely love that it can be shared!  But humans have a weird brain thing when it comes to things we see in print.  Especially things with swirling, beautiful pictures all around them, in professional looking font.  I’m as much of a sucker as anyone.  I read these posts and then wonder, “are my kids scarred for life?  I definitely said Lily WAS naughty the other day instead of saying her actions were inappropriate.  And I made Jack share his toys with his cousins who came over yesterday … and now they’re going to grow up and be ax murderers.”  And then I get a grip.

We’ve got to wake up and see, that the people we are flocking to for this advice are A) people we don’t know. B) more importantly we don’t know their KIDS?  If they aren’t ever taught that they are naughty and they have to share, I’m pretty sure they’re not delightful.  I absolutely don’t want my child to be in their vicinity. And C) they are people whose kids are only 3 and they really have no idea what the results of these ideas will be.

There are a trillion different parenting styles and my kids are still little, so I don’t judge.  What I’m saying is, perhaps, getting all our ideas from a very untested future is not the answer.  I always thought that finding a nice couple at my church, with children who are grown up and lovely and asking for their secrets was the way to go.  Unfortunately, these people usually don’t write blogs.  They either think computers are too “newfangled” or they’re too busy with their grandkids … or the worst one yet:  They have fabulous grown children who are successful and happy and they tell you, “Whatever you do, don’t do what we did.”  “If I had it to do over again, I would never yell at them.”  “If I had it to do over again, I would have prayed more and worried less.”  “I wouldn’t have spanked them … ever!” Wait what?  How is this helpful?  Your kids went to Harvard!  They are confident, brilliant and still manage to be sweet and compassionate.  Why do good parents do this, you wonder?  It’s because of a little thing I like to call, “the grandparent phenomenon”.  They aren’t really the people in those houses raising those currently fabulous people.  All the sudden they are afraid their grandkids will be yelled at, or grounded, or won’t be allowed to play with the new iPad they’re buying them for Christmas.  Now, as Bill Cosby would say, they are just old people trying to get into heaven. We are sunk.

So if we don’t trust the internet’s toddler parent offerings, and every old person tells us to do they opposite of what they did, what ARE we supposed to do?  If we’re smart, aware of the source, and paying attention to the results of our own attempts, then there must be an algorithm we can follow.  For instance, every time my child cries and screams for something and I tell them that they must stop or go take a nap, they stop crying.  Voila!  That worked … at least that time.  The sad truth is, there is no perfect trick to parenting.  Growing up I was taught that there are various promises in the Bible apparently like a magic spell (except magic was a sin,) that if we only lean on them, our children will all be doctors, or missionaries in Ethiopia.  The truth is, God Himself, the perfect father, still allows people their own free will.  Even your little people.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” is a principle, not a promise.  How could God possibly make a promise about the condition of the human heart when He Himself, refuses to dictate its actions?  My pastor pointed this out a few weeks ago, it’s not my own insight.  But it’s definitely a relief.  God doesn’t let parents off the hook.  We are supposed to train up our children in the way they should go.  But the results are not in our hands, they lie in the hands of free-willed human beings.  And free-willed human beings make mistakes sometimes.  Mistakes that lead to disaster in some cases.  My mom always says not to judge people who are in desperate situations because of their choices.  “We are all just three bad decisions away from disaster at any given time.”  So true.  Sometimes just one decision.

Are our children doomed because we yell occasionally?  I certainly hope not.  If we tell them they’re naughty?  Come on?  Really?  How many times did your mom tell you you were naughty?  You lived.  I’m pretty sure, if your child has any real problems, and any brains later on, a tiny change in syntax will not destroy them.

Jason reading

Maybe if we give them too many hugs.  Tell them we love them too much.  Spend more time with them than is strictly necessary they will do well in life.  My husband is good at stretching time especially when reading to them.  Books that I skim through as quickly as possible, sometimes skipping words for efficiency, he reads slowly, with big voices.  He points out shapes and colors, and spells the words with them.  He is awesome.  I usually can’t get the mound of dishes in the sink off my mind.  To his credit, or perhaps detriment, the dishes don’t come into his mind at all.

To make a short story longer than it should be, the real thing I lean on is love.  You can’t go wrong with love. I don’t mean doting on your children, giving in to every little thing they want and not ever forcing them to do something they don’t like.  I mean true love.  If you look up the definition in a dictionary it will suffice, but I prefer 1 Corinthians 13, because it is beautiful and full of poetic words that sound like music to me.  Love is patient, kind, long-suffering, keeps no record of wrongs … it goes on and on and if we take just this chapter and used it as our guideline for life, and teach our kids to do the same, I think our they will be just fine.  This is tested parenting advice.  It came from my mother, and my grandmother, and her grandmother… and I can’t get a single one of them to write a parenting blog.

The Eye of the Beholder

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I heard a quote the other day that I just love:  “Anyone can love a rose, but it takes a great deal to love a leaf.  It is ordinary to love the beautiful, but it is beautiful to love the ordinary.”

I have a conch shell on my bathroom windowsill that is impossible to dust. No one would think it was anything special, just at a glance. It is thickly coated in some sort of white crust, and into the crust is embedded all these tiny little shells that no doubt belonged to tiny sea creatures who wandered up looking for a spot to land. I’m guessing they finally just left their shells there after fruitlessly trying to disconnect from the muck. One can only hope they found a safe harbor before being eaten by something … probably the thing that lived in my conch shell. As unlovely as it is now, it was actually a slimy mossy green when I got it, and I bleached it and scrubbed it until it is now its white crusty, spiderweb catching self. I think it’s beautiful.

Here it is in all it's inglory!

Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I do not have an artistic eye, though I’m working on it. I usually last about 12 minutes in an art gallery. I look long and hard at sculptures that appear to have been dropped, then glued back together, and I see no deeper meaning.

I always wind up thinking, “My five year old could make that, and then we’d really be banking!” Those kinds of things are worth a fortune. So I spend my obligatory 12 minutes working my way through the art I understand and then, once I’ve passed the Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses stuff I’m all, “So, someone mentioned going for pizza after this? Is anyone else starving?”

America has a strange idea of beauty now. Have you noticed? Beauty is only attributed to young, smooth, perfect sorts of things. I mean, we seem to like weird artwork, don’t get me wrong, but when it comes to other stuff or people, we miss the boat a lot. Not all Americans, but mainstream folks, even Christians seem to place a higher value on that which is fun to look at. Just try finding a popular Christian musician that isn’t pretty. I’m telling you, IF they exist, they are super rare!

Not just Christians though, of course. Hollywood is kind of low on talent, but ridiculously high in the beauty category. It is full of gorgeous, young, smooth women who are twenty pounds underweight, and full of people of ordinary size who are all grocery store clerks in movies. I feel bad for Hollywood women.  They only have a shelf life of approximately three months.  Then they develop a wrinkle that can’t be airbrushed out and their career is shot, unless you’re Betty White who is adorable, or Meryl Streep who is just too fabulous to be shunted away. Still it’s pretty hard to get a job in Hollywood, even for a guy, if you don’t have just the perfect look. I guess if they feel you’re worth the trouble, they might also try to give you just the perfect look. Heaven forbid people just look normal. It might give people the impression that they are worthy of attention just like they are.

Anyone watching the night Susan Boyle debuted on “Britain’s Got Talent” knows exactly what I’m talking about.  You should watch it on Youtube if you didn’t see it live.  People’s reactions to her were incredible.  The obvious, not just distaste, but utter lack of respect shown to her before she started singing will blow your mind.  Also, everyone’s reaction AFTER she started singing will blow your minds.  How could someone with slightly crooked teeth, who doesn’t fall in the 16-22 age range and isn’t a stick figure possibly be talented?  An anomaly of the first order no doubt.  Someone completely forgot to tell her that she was worthless because she wasn’t a super model.  I think we should all use a little less plastic and paint.

Here is my thought about my conch shell, and unbeautiful people (I learned that word from a five-year-old. It’s so awesome that every word processor underlines it with a red squiggly line). I don’t think my conch shell is beautiful because I bought it at a shell shop somewhere in Missouri a thousand miles from an actual beach. You can find shells in places like that.  It’s just weird. I guess they’re there for people who spend money to have perfectly polished and beautiful things to decorate their house. I am obviously not one of those people. If you added up everything I’ve spent on my home decor, it probably wouldn’t equal what one of those pretty conch shells would cost you.

But I ask you this: Was your pretty and polished conch shell fished out of the sea for you on a mission trip to Belize?  Was it handed to you with love by one of the sweetest teenagers in existence?  Was it smuggled, somewhat illegally, through customs wrapped artfully in dirty clothes in your luggage?  I’m just sayin.  My story is cooler. Just so you know, I have nothing against spending money on your house … but I have nothing against my way either.

Everything in my house is either a token of an experience that I loved, or given to me by someone I love. I hate those random psych questions that ask, “If your house was on fire and your family was safe and you knew you could save one thing, what would you save?” I usually sit for a moment and mentally run through every picture, book, bottle of sand (yes, sand is a decoration at my house) and then flee the room in tears. I would want to save all of it. It all has meaning to me. That query is even more bizarre when they tell you you can only save one family member. My husband refers to a Captain Kirkism as an answer.  “I don’t believe in a no win scenario.  I would save them all.”   I refuse to answer altogether.  I don’t think Jason or I would do very well on a psyche evaluation.

It is my personal opinion that people are more beautiful the longer they live and the less they botox. If you will sit and share your life story with a kid for an hour, or if you can describe what it was like to huddle in a foxhole, or fearlessly march onto a beach in Normandy under constant German fire, or you still knit, sew or crochet, you are a beautiful person. If you sag somewhere because you’ve had three children, or your skin is puckered from surgery, or your hands are calloused from years of using them for your livelihood, that’s all because life has happened to you.  If you’re a single or foster parent, don’t even get me started on your level of amazingness.

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The greatest beauty lies in reality: in the depth of our experiences. Smile lines are a mark of a life spent finding joy in trials. Not the mark of a perfect life.

So, we should expand our definition of beauty a little bit, right?  At least enough to include ourselves, for pete’s sake!  It isn’t because we’re humble that we don’t think we’re beautiful, it’s because we’ve been lied to, we’re insecure, we’re inundated with plastic figurines all painted to perfect specifications by toddlers in China.  So forget the Walmart version of you, or the Dillards version if you happen to have more money.  We are my conch shell.  We have a story that is worth being a bit banged up for.  We are real people, with real purpose in life.  We are loved by God.  Jesus would rather die than live without us.  If nothing else in this entire world is beautiful, that is beautiful.  End of story.

Poisoning People for Fun and Profit

 

I have always had a thing for words. Like, since I was old enough to start noticing their usefulness in getting what I wanted.  Especially when this included grating on my older brother and sister’s nerves. It was big fun when, in an argument, Ryan would make some perfectly lucid 6-year-old point, and I would spout back in my three-year-old wisdom, “Well you’re just too preposition to know better!”. He would usually respond to this by running to Mom yelling, “Mom, Julie’s talking weird again!” Argument won.

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Words in pretty much any form are beloved by me.  Listening to a really fabulous speech or sermon took my breath away even when I was much too young for that to be cool.  Speaking them for myself was, of course, fabulous.  Written words … heaven.  You don’t even want to see my “written words” collection.  But just in case you do ever happen upon one of my bookshelves and feel the urge to pull a book out, please put it on the table for re-shelving by the competent maniac librarian who has them all categorized in a very specific order.  The pulling-books-off-the-shelves stage was a very hard moment in my toddlers’ lives.  I say moment, because I pretty muchly lost my mind over it, and they never tried it again.  I mean, really.  Have a little respect for the crazy person and her library.  18-month-olds.  Sheesh.

My problem is that words come too easily, too naturally to me. Just the perfect word to zap someone in their place is usually right on the tip of my tongue. This would be perfect except my Mom ruined it for me.  Imagine if you will the kindest, most considerate person on the planet.  I mean, so nice that it’s actually just ridiculous.  Now double it.  Now imagine they raised you.  Sigh.

65% of the conversations I had with my mother up to the age of like 17, were the following:

Me:  “So then I told them (insert brilliant, just-funny-enough-to-make-everyone-laugh, just-true-enough-to-make-one-person-really-pale comment)”.

Mom with a horrified and disappointed look on her face: “But you didn’t really say that, did you?” She always gave me the benefit of the doubt, knowing my love of words also extended to the ability to embellish details of stories after the fact.

Me: too honest to say no, too embarrassed to admit out loud that I really did say whatever horrible thing I had said.

Mom: (insert various forms of telling your child to go apologize immediately.)

Sad times, friends.  Apologizing for the perfect zinger tends to take the “zing” out.  Brutal for a budding verbal martial artist.

I can’t remember how old I was before I started to realize on my own that my words had the same effect on others that their words had on me. I do remember that I was much older than I should have been for that insight. I will also say that whoever made up that idiotic childhood taunt, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” had probably never been spoken to before. Or more likely, they had been talked to too much, and this fictional phrase was their defense mechanism. Today, I’m sure they would have been assigned a syndrome. Off the point a bit, my favorite version of this saying remains Gilligan’s from “Gilligan’s Island”.  His phrasing was far more accurate in my opinion, “Sticks and stones may break my bones … so please, don’t throw sticks and stones.”

In my childhood verbiage was fun to experiment with. The many sounds words made tickled my brain, sizzled on my tongue. I used them ecstatically, with reckless abandon. The more powerful the word, the better. In my adulthood, I have discovered the truth about them. They can be extremely dangerous in the wrong circumstances. Hitler used them to build his Third Reich, to justify genocide, to work people into a frenzy for his cruel, lustful regime.  When teaching on the Nazis in my World History classes I had many students ask me, “How could he ever get people to do the things they did?” Just with words.  What a frightening prospect.

So here is my happy note (I always enjoy the happy note). Like any powerful thing, language is also wonderful! The right word spoken at the right moment is pure brilliance!

My mom had a quote about kindness that I remind myself of constantly when raising my own kids, “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.” Really. Kindness is available to your lips 24 hours a day at no expense to you whatsoever. How much does it really cost you to say something healing, instead of corrupting? To be honest, instead of manipulative? To do a little research before posting some preposterous media-cooked-up horror story on your Facebook page?  Good words are just as free as terrible ones.  That is comforting to me.

Jason and I have four beautiful children … that we had in four not always-so-beautiful years.  An interesting phenomenon happens to you when you have more than two children, as anyone with three plus will attest to.  People have a weird idea that they are allowed to say anything whatsoever to you, no matter how personal, even if they don’t know you.

Ground breaking
The pretty lady on my right is my precious mom

It cracks me up the amount of people who ask us if we’re finished, to which I actually respond with a smile and a “We think probably so,” instead of what I’d rather say, “None of your cotton pickin’ business”.  They also feel free to ask us about our sex life.  “You do know what causes that, don’t you?”  to which I want to respond with either “No, can you explain it to me?  I was homeschooled.” or “Yes!  We LOVE doing what causes this.” depending on my mood.  I’ve even been asked on multiple occasions if I’ve finally taken care of that problem – Really?  I could go on a while, but I won’t.  I will say, that today someone spoke the most wonderful words to me when I was out with my four children at a restaurant.

An older couple were sitting beside us while we ate.  When they were getting up to leave, the man grinned at my kids and said, “Are they all yours?” I smiled back and said they were.  He got a little teary eyed and said, “The only thing that could possibly be better than this, would be to add a couple more.”  Love.

 They both smiled and waved at the kids as they left.  My heart just glowed from his sweet words.  The waitress came with the check and asked me as I was paying if they were all mine, and if we were done.  I smiled and said, “We think probably so.”  Nice moments can’t last forever.  That’s okay.  She had to clean up the mess they made, so she’s way more entitled to ask than that random lady in the toilet paper aisle at Walmart.

Because of their incredibleness, I’m fairly certain my love affair with words will continue as long as I live.  I will try to be more cautious though, remembering the impact words have on people.  I’ll keep in mind the next time the anger boils up and I just want to rip someone to shreds that it’s usually not the customer service representative’s fault that my phone bill was double this month.  Niceness will always get me farther than yelling.  I know.  I’ve tried both.

Our friends, children, coworkers, staff are collecting the things that we say and turning it into our legacy with them.  They don’t care how much money we make, or what car we drive or how nice our clothes are.  They only care about how our words make them feel.  So let’s make them feel awesome!  And whatever we do, let’s just please not throw sticks and stones.

Broken Crayons

Crayons
Image courtesy of trashfreeliving.com

I walk around this house all day picking things up.  You would think that my house would eventually get clean because of this, but the truth is there’s always “stuff” where it’s not supposed to be no matter how many times I clean.  Lately, the things out of place that I find most annoying are broken toys, particularly crayons.  My three-year-old is a little creature of habit and lately he has been cultivating a habit of breaking crayons for the mere pleasure of hearing them snap.  Also, there is a lovely feeling of power that fills him when something solid cracks between his herculean fingers.  Behold the mighty Caleb who has the ability to snap crayons in a single blow!  I guarantee you, he is thinking along these lines.

The most irritating thing about broken crayons is that all their potential for coloring is still intact.  They are still as color worthy as before, but now, no one will touch them because they present a slightly more complicated grip, pressure on paper, they aren’t as pretty etc… Grr!  Even Caleb, the great breaker of the crayons himself, no longer has any use for them once they are broken, unless it’s to peel the paper off and leave IT scattered around with the crayons.  Paper ripping is just an added bonus to ruining crayons.

There always seems to be someone in my life who is very difficult to deal with.  I used to think that they were placed especially in my path because I had some sort of knack for working with hardship cases, and now I’ve come to the conclusion that, as I am not the least bit adept at dealing with these people, they merely come into my life so much because there are too many of them to avoid.  Grown up people, looking for the rush that comes with the power to hurt something that appears solid, have snapped them in half with their words, or actions, or an artful combination of the two.  Unfortunately, broken crayons and people are everywhere.

Lately there has been a particularly hard individual.  Don’t worry, if you’re reading this blog and you’ve recently made my acquaintance, it’s not you.  If I thought there was a chance that the person in question read my blog, I wouldn’t mention them at all.  Now that we’ve got that settled, here we go.  This person is more difficult because unlike most of the broken people in my life, I have discovered that I don’t like her.  It’s a weird feeling for me.  I usually like everyone.  Truly, even people that are super broken, unlovely, hard to deal with, I’m all over it.  But not with her.  So here are things I’ve learned about dealing with difficult people …

1. Every person is important because they exist.

People don’t earn importance because of the things that they do.  People are important because they are flesh and blood.  They are living here on this planet, so they’re just as valuable as I am.  They possess just as much potential for coloring this world with their existence, and there isn’t any option about throwing them away just because they are broken in a couple of places and have some of their paper ripped off.  SOMEONE somewhere will have to deal with them.

2. I don’t like everyone and that is just life.  Unfriending them on Facebook just makes me immature.

Again, a very hard concept for me.  I can usually find something about a person that I just love and that makes me connect with them all the better and like them even more.  Enjoying people’s peopleness is usually easy for me.  Here is the shocker of the day.  I almost unfriended this person on Facebook.  I know, right?  The ultimate disgrace!  Being “unfriended” on a social network.  That’ll teach HER to be hard to deal with!  I didn’t actually do that, I just wanted to. But then I realized that, I am actually a grown-up so I should act like it, and all people deserve some dignity … even in the Facebookosphere.

3.  Everyone is broken, just in different places.

There are people out there who find me a difficult person to deal with.  Somewhere, someone might even be writing a blog post about me and how annoying I am.  It’s true.  There are no perfect crayons in the box of the world.  We are broken because the world is broken.  Because people say the wrong things at the wrong time.  Because humanity has fallen.  That’s all.  It’s just us here.  Some of us have just been melted, pressed back into place, and had paper rewrapped around the weak spots, but some people have no one to do that for them.  So their brokenness is just out there, for everyone to see.  It isn’t fair, but it is reality.  I have mostly surrounded myself with people who are willing to put up with my breaks and bulges where I got fixed.  They know that the paper isn’t hiding my other faults very well, but they don’t care, because they love me.  Everyone needs people who pretend the paper is doing its job.  We should be those people for the other broken people.

4.  Jesus liked the broken crayons best.

I imagine that if Jesus came into my house and sat down to color with Caleb, He would not reach for the newest box of crayons.  He would probably use the smaller pieces, the blunt edges, the ruined parts to make his work of art.  When I complained to Jesus about the person I almost unfriended on Facebook, He said as much to me (not out loud).  He reminded me of Mary Magdalene, one of His favorite followers, who was a prostitute before she met Him.  And of Zaccheus and Peter and … of myself.  All of us hopeless cases.  He had the time to mess with us.  He used our broken parts to make His story more beautiful and more interesting.  How could we not take the time for these others?

5.  People stuff does not fit nicely into a crayon box.

There are no really perfect categories for humanity.  We’ve discussed this before.  Shoving people into little boxes just doesn’t seem to work out.  We have no idea of the depth of most people.  I can’t remember who said it, but someone famous who’s name you would surely be impressed with said once that “The most complex character in fiction is not remotely as complicated as the simplest person in real life.”  Something like that was said by someone famous once.  I promise.  You get the idea, of course.  People don’t tell us why they are the way they are.  Most of the time, they don’t even know it themselves.  They don’t apologize for being hard to deal with, for lying horizontal, when you need them to stick up straight so you can fit more things into the box.  People just are what they are.

6. The Earth revolves around the sun … not around me.

Obvious.  I know that.  In my head I know it.  But still in my selfish heart there is the thought that this life is a movie with me as the main character.  Everyone that comes in and out of the scenes does so to further my story.  Wrong.  People who decide that life is all in the pursuit of their own happiness are delusional.  I’ve seen many quotes swirling around on Facebook and Twitter: memes to the effect of, “if someone is in your life that isn’t contributing to your happiness, walk away from them,  Life is too short for that”.  Some are a bit more subtle in their selfishness, “A person who hurts you gives up their right to be in your life”… blah blah blah.  It all comes to the same thing.  Broken people sometimes look for others to break because they think it will make them look less broken.  So they hurt people.  They hurt you, or me.  But life is not just about us.  Sometimes people-breakers have to have someone stick with them.  Someone they have hurt even.  I have had many people stick with me in the past even after I have stabbed them in the back, said the wrong thing to them … hurt their feelings.   I’m glad their only source of humanity wasn’t wrapped up in the wisdom of Facebook memes.  If any of you friends are reading this post, thanks for dealing with this difficult person.  I love you.

So maybe all of this doesn’t help when dealing with the crayon pieces scattered throughout your life, but it helps me.  A little more perspective is always a plus for a brain like mine.  I tend to think that everyone’s life experience is similar to mine, and therefore, they should all behave exactly as I do. However, the ramifications of there being 6 billion Juliens running around in this world are so catastrophic, I just don’t let my mind settle there.

 

P.S. Just to clarify, I am in no way recommending that someone stay in an abusive relationship.  I am talking merely about hurt feelings here, and figuring out people at large.  If someone hits you, or is cruel to you … get away from them immediately.  Someone else can help them with their brokenness.  That doesn’t need to be you.

Miscellaneous Monday….NEW stuff I gotta share

A fabulous post for a Monday! Love it!

Explore Newness

dixiecollage

It’s Monday {again} :o)!  How do the weekends fly by sooooo fast?!!!  I even took work off Thursday and Friday, and the weekend still zoomed by too quickly!  Last week, my hubby and I traveled south, to Utah’s Dixie.  It was really nice and WARM there!  The red rocks, blue skies, and blooming flowers made for nice NEW photos!

We made it a very quick trip and was back home by Friday evening – then Saturday I attended a GREAT Family History Fair and took a few NEW classes.  Now I’m motivated to ‘get back at it’!  (I seem to I do genealogy in spurts :o)  I also recently noticed this family history blog:  DearMYRTLE’s Genealogy Blog …I like to visit once in a while, to keep myself motivated to do more researching – (because sometimes, when those brick walls pop up, I can get a bit discouraged).

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Heroes in the Elevator

A couple of weeks ago, a group of firefighters answered a call to rescue a little family from an elevator.  Firefighters are pretty much always my heroes anyway … I mean, who else would sign up to run into a burning building to save complete strangers, except someone heroic?  Still, these kinda went above and beyond to, not only rescue, but keep calm a little four-year-old girl by singing “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen”.  Not sure why this story made me misty eyed, but it kinda did.

firefighters

Do ya’ll remember that question in your class at school … your third grade teacher or whoever would ask, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  Answers used to be awesome.  “Firefighter, policeman, mommy, ballerina …” now, and this is just from kids I’ve personally asked, more and more it’s “famous, in a band, an actress like so and so, Taylor Swift.”  Hm … our kids seem to be missing several crucial points.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with being famous, or being Taylor Swift for that matter, but I think they could aim higher.)  What our kids are reaching for are professions that they look up to, idolize.  People who they perceive as heroes.  Nothing wrong with that.  Mostly.

The term hero is badly misused I think.  Our kids use it to describe how they feel about anyone, from Hollywood actors to the X-men.  In my opinion, heroes are rarely famous.  Sometimes celebrities use their fame for good, certainly, and of course, some people are simply too heroic to ignore.  Mother Teresa didn’t seek limelight, but she was one of the greatest women of our time, and her selflessness threw her into the public eye.  I hope my daughters try to emulate her one day instead of some silly teen idol.  My personal favorite definition of hero comes from the wonderfully hilarious Dwight Schrutt, from “The Office”, who, after spraying Pam’s ex-boyfriend with pepper spray to keep him from beating up Jim, states, “I am not a hero.  You know who’s a real hero?  Hiro … from ‘Heroes’.”  Thank you Dwight, just for being you.

(This isn’t the exact clip, but it’s still pretty awesome!)

So, seriously though, I thought it would be fun to talk about some everyday heroes.  Things real people do right now, tomorrow, when the situation arises, whether they are ever famous or not.  So, here goes.  Some of my personal heroes.

I have a former student named Katy Lauderdale.  Katy attends UT now and has turned into a really fabulous young lady.  The other day, she found someone’s debit card on the sidewalk and picked it up. When she got home she looked up the owner’s name in their directory, got ahold of her and set up a place to meet so she could return it.  When Katy arrived, the other girl had tears in her eyes.  She confessed to Katy that it had been a really hard semester, and that her faith in the goodness of humanity was almost gone … until she got a call from Katy.  Katy hugged her and told her that she was going to be okay.

How great is that?  How broke were you in college?  That’ll tell you how great it is!  If you never went to collegeor did, but you had money, allow me to explain.  Picture standing in a Walmart and trying to decide between buying shampoo, or toothpaste that week, because you can only afford one or the other.  So, you think, I guess I can just put corn starch in my hair this week … and brush my teeth with water, because on a second glance at your bank account, you’ll actually be overdrawn with buying your weekly Ramen Noodles and can’t afford either.  That should give you a vague idea of college kid brokeness … or at least how broke I was!

M’kay, in case that one didn’t do it for you, here’s another fantastic tale of heroics.  Last year a friend of mine named Devin Dickinson collapsed.  He’s a normal healthy 30-year-old with very little medical trouble, so this is obviously hugely alarming.  They got him to the hospital and many days and tests later (Devin, correct me if my timeline’s off, buddy!) he was diagnosed with Guillian-Barr Syndrome.  If you don’t know what that is, it attacks the peripheral nervous system the way Multiple Sclerosis attacks the central nervous system.  So anyway, Devin is making huge leaps in his comeback, but it is a long slow process.  To celebrate how far he had come in his recovery, at his year anniversary of being diagnosed Devin’s entire family went to Disney World.

They were greeted at the door with buttons that said, “I’m Celebrating!”  After which, they were escorted to the front of every line, brought in to rides by separate entrances  and treated like royalty for their entire visit.  Brilliant!  Another reason I love Disney!  Sorry if you’re not a fan … actually, I’m just sorry FOR you!  You’re missing out on a lot of wonderful. (Of course “wonderful” is a noun.  I was an English teacher … I can make up nouns if I want to.)  There are two stories of awesomeness in this account, of course.  The Dickinson’s entire family, especially Devin, and the people who work at Disney World.

My last set of heroes are my favorites because they are heroic every single minute of their day and for the rest of their lives.  Foster parents and people who adopt.  I know a few couples who are brave enough to do this and, in my mind, they are real life superstars.  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Brian and Jasmine Jamar,  are now the proud parents of not just one, but three little boys.  All brothers from the worst background you could possibly think up.  They are now our official nephews and three of the most wonderful kids in my life.

Imagine the kind of courage it takes to not only Foster three kids who were three, four and five-years-old when they first got them, but to start out parenting with three children who have no connection to you whatsoever.  There is no logical reason for Foster parents who adopt to bring a perfect stranger’s children into their home and treat them with kindness, dignity and respect (something which these boys had never received before).  If you think the money’s good, you’re completely out of your mind, and after you adopt, there’s no money at all.  No one in their right mind would do this.  Thankfully, there is a force for which there is no explanation embedded in these people’s souls.  Love.  Nothing in the world is as weird or wonderful as that.  And nothing is as wonderful as witnessing the effects of love on a previously unloved child.  If you had met those three before, and then you met them again now, you wouldn’t even recognize them.

I could write an entire book about these kinds of people, but I’ll just include one more family and leave you to your happy and heroic thoughts.  My friends Andrea and Justin Chambers have been Foster parents for years. I don’t have all the details of the heartbreaks they have endured in that timeframe, but I can tell you every time they weren’t granted a child that they had Fostered their hearts were shattered because they just cared so much.  Every child that came into their home was treated as if they would stay forever.  There are not two more wonderful people on the planet and now, after all these years of giving many children a loving home for a few months or even a couple of years, Andrea and Justin have been able to and are in the process of adopting three precious children, all from different homes and backgrounds.

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Justin and Andrea’s Christmas card
I don’t think actors are beautiful really, I think Foster parents are.  That’s just an opinion of course, but still …

Of course the common denominator of all these heroes is so simple.  Just love.  Love causes firefighters and policemen to run INTO a situation when all normal people run away from it.  And gives them the kindness to sing to a little girl, instead of just telling her to calm down.  Love causes strangers to give special attention to a man in a wheelchair and insure that he has a wonderful time at “the happiest place on earth”.  Foster parents … no words for that kind of love.

I Corinthians 13 says that if we could speak with the tongues of men and angels and if we could prophecy and understand every mystery in the world and had all knowledge and could move mountains but don’t have love, we have nothing.  We ARE nothing.  Just think what we can be if we have love.  We can be anything.  We are heroes  just waiting to happen.

 

Please feel free to comment about your own personal heroes!  I would love to know about them!

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