Why Bother Applauding Volunteerism?

Why Bother Applauding Volunteerism?

As an elementary public school teacher, I teach all the subjects to my fourth graders; math, reading, history, science, and writing. I could teach one subject a day for a year and still not get through all the content of any one of the curricula. Though I know more about these subjects than my fourth graders, and consider myself a lifelong learner, my knowledge is not as deep as I would like it to be. So, I applaud the volunteers who willingly and without pay, spend time in my classroom sharing their expertise with my students and with me. 

      The Willing Experts

Fourth grade is the year students learn about the history of Idaho and this year I began with the unit on the geography of Idaho. Our state has some spectacular landscapes; deep lakes, raging rivers, steep mountains and volcanic rock beds. Since I don’t know everything about geography, I recently invited Tony, a retired geography professor, into my classroom to teach my students and I about the history behind how some of the lakes in our area were formed. I know some vague facts about the glaciers and how they shaped some of the landscape, but Tony’s life is steeped in the study of land formations. 

Tony tromped down to my classroom carrying a bag of rocks, his briefcase of brochures and large maps tucked under his arm. He taught at the college level, so I was a little worried about how he was going to relate to my high energy fourth graders who lack much self-control. But Tony was not taken aback by them.

He showed them pictures of wooly mammoths, let them hold various rocks left behind by the glaciers, and held up big colorful maps of our lake to explain its unusual shape. He held his audience captive for most of the time and when he didn’t, he knew how to capture it once again. 

Two days later, we met up with Tony again, this time on location. We drove to different points on our lake and Tony’s narration from the classroom came alive as we stood on the windy shoreline looking out at the lake and mountains. I could imagine the ice flow coming down from Canada, and carving out the landscape of where I stood. I’m not sure what my students imagined as they shuffled their feet in the rocks and inched their way too close to the drop-off.  But Tony was not taken aback by their high energy. He seemed to soak it in and enjoy it.  

Afterward, Tony and I exchanged a few words with each other. 

“God bless you for teaching these kids,” he said.

“God bless you for crossing over the threshold of your retirement and into my world,” I replied. 

Why bother applauding volunteerism? I am grateful for those who possess more knowledge than me and who willingly step into my world to share their expertise. We all benefit from each other.

Why Bother Talking About Family Trauma?

Why Bother Talking About Family Trauma?

I remember my mom often said, “Don’t dwell on the past.” But dwelling on the past and learning from it are different. To dwell means to put your stakes down, inhabit, and abide. To learn implies to realize, comprehend or get the idea. Though our past is behind us, it has a way of continuing to influence us, especially if we experienced any childhood trauma. At the age of twelve, my father committed suicide. Though my three brothers and three sisters and I all experienced the same trauma, we did not all experience it in the same way simply because of our age.

      Learning From Each Other

At the time of my dad’s death, my youngest sibling was nine, the oldest was twenty-one. We all went to bed one night knowing our father was alive, but the next day, everything in our lives went sideways. Suddenly, mysteriously and without any explanation, my dad had vanished from planet Earth. Back in the 1970s, suicide was not a topic families discussed openly and for that reason, my mother’s explanation to me about my father’s death went like this;

“Your father is dead.”

“How?”

“His heart just stopped.”

Her commentary on his demise left me with a load of suspicion and finding out the truth became paramount to me. In a large family like mine, the older siblings always knew more than me. If I asked an older sister for the truth, she would tell me. Indeed she did, yet her honesty left me reeling in confusion. 

Though Dad’s death was an enormous life changing event for each of us, no one ever said anything about it. In essence, we were all left to ourselves to sort through the rubble and find our own way to survive. And most of us did. 

Though my dad’s suicide is ancient history, only recently has it become a topic of discussion among my siblings and me. And in talking about it, I’ve realized I was not alone in some of the issues I wrestled with. It seems most of us grew up with a certain degree of mistrust, a bit of anger, some shame and a lot of confusion. As adults, we learned to cover our imperfections with busyness, appearing more confident than we felt and though we had it all together, and maintaining  an emotional defensive stance. Communicating with my siblings about our shared trauma, all of us longed for trustworthy intimacy, but letting down our guards was often, too much of a risk. 

Talking about the past with some of my brothers and sisters has given me insight into their struggles as well as my own. Sharing our common sorrow has brought us closer together and made us a little more empathic toward one another. 

Why bother talking about family trauma? Denying the bombshell that blew apart a family does nothing to mend broken hearts. Whereas talking about it can lead to understanding each other a little bit better and comprehending why it is the way we are.

Why Bother Counting Your Blessings? Part 2

Why Bother Counting Your Blessings?

Part 2

In my last blog, it seems that listing my blessings only made me think of more. So, I am going to continue with the things I am grateful for in this blog.

Why consider our blessings? Why take note of the great and small benefits in our lives? What do we gain when we acknowledge how fortunate we truly are? Allowing  ourselves to take inventory of our daily, bountiful gifts fills our hearts with gratitude and spills over. This gratitude in turn, creates a wave of gratefulness and splashes into the faces of others, waking them up to gratefulness.  

Mindset of Gratitude

Being grateful begins by paying attention and not taking for granted, the normal and the daily goodness we encounter.  Most days I wake up refreshed and energized with the ability to go through the routine of my day which begins with a swim at the health club, a run, or yoga. I am grateful my energy level and wellness is stable and health is not an issue, it is the norm. 

Friendships old and new bring comfort and encouragement. To share a meal, to take a walk, to converse about hopes for the future and our present trials is more than enjoyable, it is needful. We were created to relate, to know others and to be known by them. I am thankful for the people in my life with whom I have a long or short history and who are willing to call me their friend.

I am grateful for a car that runs, getting me safely from point A to point B and not stranding me by the side of the road. 

I am grateful I can take in the beauty of creation and all it offers in the fall season. It is hard not to appreciate the bouquet of colors displayed on the landscape this time of year. My favorite tree is the tamarack. Its needles turn golden and can be seen on the hillsides contrasted against the green pines. Though I know the beauty of fall is short lived, I get to live in it and enjoy it for the time it is here. 

Then there are the salmon colored clouds in eastern sky just before the sunrise and the orange orb of the sun as it sets. 

In short, there are more things to be grateful for than can be listed and being grateful is sometimes hard to express in words. Yet, I think we all know when we have been with people who are grateful and how being in their presence makes our heart glad. 

Why bother counting your blessings? It is worth it to begin listing the goodness in your life. When you do, you and someone else will wake up to gratefulness. 

 

Why Bother Counting Your Blessings?

Why Bother Counting Your Blessings?

Why consider our blessings? Why take note of the great and small benefits in our lives? What do we gain when we acknowledge how fortunate we truly are? Allowing  ourselves to take inventory of our daily, bountiful gifts fills our hearts with gratitude and spills over. Our gratitude creates a wave of gratefulness and splashes into the faces of others, waking them up to gratefulness.  

Mindful 

Being grateful begins by paying attention to the normal and the daily goodness we encounter.  When I set my automatic coffee maker at night, I get to wake up to the smell of coffee. Holding the hot, colorful cup in my hands, feeling the steam on my face and taking the first sip of the dark brew is how my work day begins. Seeing, smelling and touching are nothing that I take for granted, rather these senses arouse my heart to a feeling of gratefulness.  

I have a job that I mostly enjoy and am paid a fair wage. My co-workers spur me on in my profession so that I do not become stagnant. My students are lively, animated and unique, so every day has its own set of surprises. I get to go to a job that is both satisfying and challenging. Thinking this way about my work gives me the wherewithal to keep my focus and energy where it belongs for the duration of the school day. Having a grateful attitude energizes not only me, but all those big and little lives surrounding mine.  

Monday through Friday leaves little time for leisure, but my weekends open up at least a few hours for breathing space. I sleep longer in the mornings, linger over breakfast and read a good book later into the night. I don’t live for the weekends, but when they come around, I see and enjoy them for the gifts they are.  

Relationships are nothing we own, rather they are something offered to us. Some friendships are longer lasting, deeper and richer than others, but all have value. I am thankful for the one man in my life who remains faithful to me and to our marriage. When our union began, there were no guarantees of how long it would last, but our commitment to each other has lasted a long time. There is no one who knows me better and loves me in spite of all my obvious foibles. But, this lasting and happy marriage is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. 

Why bother counting your blessings? It is worth it to begin listing the goodness in your life. When you do, you and someone else will wake up to gratefulness.

Why Bother To Live Without Regrets?

Why Bother To Live Without Regrets?

Like being shackled to a heavy iron ball and chain around the ankle, regrets are weighty and encumber our lives. When we drag remorse around with us through life, we find our freedom limited. But, we don’t have to live shackled lives. We possess the power that unlocks us from our remorse.

 Begin Today

Every day is a new day and an opportunity for a fresh start. We may not be able to go back in our past and repair the damage already done to a relationship, but we can live in the present moment in such a way that nurtures the connections we do have and maybe even gain a few new ones along the way.

Displaying an attitude of humility and modesty disarms even the most aggressive and angry individual. Being right is not usually a matter of life and death, it only feels that way at times. When we allow another person to voice their thoughts and opinions with whatever degree of passion they feel, we are allowing them to be heard. We don’t have to take what they say personally, agree with them or even make a comment. They most likely don’t have a bone to pick with us, nor do they need our advice, they simply desire someone to hear them out. Just listen and validate them by saying, “It makes sense you would feel that way.” 

I admire the people who serve me; waitresses, grocery clerks, and anyone behind a counter.  They have a special knack for common courtesies, and kind and polite words. Even when it is not their fault, they know how to diffuse tension when there is a complaint or misunderstanding with two little words, “I’m sorry.” “Please and thank-you” roll naturally off their tongue and they are not afraid to make eye contact. Their smiles are genuine and done with ease. In general, they aim to serve  the general public to the best of their ability and when you leave their presence, it is usually with a pleasant memory of your experience with them. 

Be generous with forgiveness. Most of us are clumsy when it comes to communicating our thoughts and emotions. We say too much or not enough and are misunderstood more than we are understood. Yet our expectations of others can be too great. We want them to appreciate us, and get our ideas even when they are incomplete. But, when we remember no one is perfect or faultless then we put ourselves on the same level ground as the next human being. We all need to be generous and lenient toward each other. 

Why bother to live without regrets? It is worth our time and effort to be kind, polite, understanding, generous with forgiveness, humble and polite. Then we live unencumbered and freely.

Why Bother Telling The Truth?

Why Bother Telling The Truth?

There are two little words that reveal much about our character; “yes” and “no.”

If our yes means yes and our no means no, then others will know we mean what we say. But, if our “yes” is not an honest affirmation, then neither will our “no” be a legitimate “certainly not.” And if we cannot be candid with these two simple words, then how trustworthy are we? 

Pleasing Others

Pleasing others is a costly way to live; it costs us our authenticity. To say, “yes,” only because we think that is what someone wants to hear us say, is to live unauthentic lives. Try saying, “yes” while shaking your head “no.” It is not an easy feat, only a confounding one. When we say “yes” when we really want to say, “no,” our emotions are baffled by the mixed message. We know what we want to say, but we back down from stating our truth. We may think we should say “yes” to avoid conflict, or someone’s dislike for us, but our dishonesty with ourselves and others only muddies the water in a relationship. If we say “yes,” but really mean “no,” feelings of unmet expectations and resentments begin to form between ourselves and the other person. We may begin to blame them for always wanting something from us; our time, energy, or advice. Because of our pride, we don’t want to let them down, but always rising to the occasion and meeting their needs only cements a sense of dishonesty between us. We meet their expectations only to be asked again and again and again. After a while, we may use avoidance behaviors. If I avoid them, they can’t ask me to do something and I don’t have to tell them, “no.” But, wouldn’t it be easier just to tell them “no?”   

“No” is a very powerful word. Learning to say it saves us much time and energy at pretending. Saying “no,” informs others of my boundaries. When possible, I will give my time, energy or advice, but I am not always at someone’s disposal. I have my limits, I know them, and I can live comfortably within the parameters I set for myself. Saying “no,” without feeling like you have to attach a reason to it or a “sorry,” is a giant leap. Letting your “yes,” mean “yes,” and your “no,” mean “no,” is the easiest way for others to know what you mean. Standing in your truth can only make you stronger in your relationships. 

Why bother telling the truth? It is worth the effort to stand in your truth. It can only make for clearer and better relationships.

Why Bother To Be Influenced?

Why Bother To Be Influenced?

Who are those who influence our lives and how is it we allow them to influence us? I think one of the character qualities that allows someone to impel or direct our lives toward change is trust. Trustworthy people win the confidence of others and move them toward living better lives. Secondly, those who influence us, knows us. Strangers are not known to compel us, but friends and acquaintances give our lives directions.

 Good Guidance

When I began practicing yoga, I did so in a fairly small community of other yogis. Every Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon, I attended the classes offered at our local health club. There, unrolling my mat alongside the other practitioners, I learned the flow of breath and asanas. It was a friendly and unassuming group of men and women and I felt comfortable quickly. The teacher encouraged us to practice to the best of our abilities honoring our own level of potential. It was, after all, a one room schoolhouse, so to speak and we were all at different levels. Some had been practicing yoga before yoga mats had ever been invented while others, like me, were fairly new at it. No matter our ability, beginning or advanced, we knew better than to compare ourselves with anyone else in the room. Yoga, after all, is not a competitive sport.

Like churchgoers having their preselected Sunday morning pew, yogis too have a tendency to place themselves in the same space in a room. I liked unrolling my mat next to an elderly woman named Judy. Her calm and friendly demeanor made conversation before and after class easy and we became fast friends. One Saturday, she told me she was enrolling in a 200 hour teacher’s yoga training. I was impressed. She was at least twenty years older than me and yet her age did not inhibit her from taking her yoga to a deeper level. For the next several weeks she was gone from class and when she returned, she had completed her training and passed her test. Now she would be one of the instructors at the health club. 

I began attending Judy’s classes along with my other yoga classes and one day she approached me about becoming a yoga instructor. “You know, if I can become a certified instructor, you can too.” Her words caused me to pause. Her zeal for learning inspired me as did her courage to try something new. Her confidence was contagious and I was encouraged to consider the possibility of taking my practice to a new level. We discussed the teaching program, and the cost and by that winter I had enrolled in a 200 hour teacher certification class.  

Then I returned to class, this time as Judy’s substitute teacher. Our bond as friends  deepened and a respect for each other as teachers grew. Judy’s influence in my life changed my life, for the better. 

Why bother to be influenced? It is worth allowing a trustworthy person to influence our lives for the better so that in turn, our lives will be changed for the better.

Why Bother To Anticipate?

Why Bother To Anticipate?

None of us can predict our futures. And though we anticipate good things ahead for our lives, sometimes we are taken aback by how long we have to wait for those good plans to come to fruition. Our delayed ambitions are not easy to live with. They make us restless and hopeful, impatient and patient, all at the same time. To anticipate the future and wait for it at the same time is to live in a healthy tension, one that keeps us alert, attentive and ready, all at the same time.

  Good Plans

Growing up, I did not have any specific career plans, but once I was an adult, I fell in love and married. Parenting became my full-time job until my sons were grown and on their own, then I knew it was time for me to step into the workforce.  With my limited work experience, and a husband who supported my ideas even when they seemed only half baked, I decided finishing my education to be the first step of business. Returning to school as an older student had its benefits; I was not easily distracted. My focus was to complete my bachelor’s as quickly as possible. The two years were well spent and I crossed the stage with the rest of my classmates to recieve my diploma. With a four year degree under my belt, job opportunities were a little more abundant. I interviewed with the school district and became a paraprofessional, otherwise known as a teacher’s aid, at the junior high. 

Though I have friends who find great satisfaction as parapros, I knew after a short amount of time that I would not find contentment in the work. Working one-on-one or with small groups of students was not challenging enough for me and I found it boring. I knew I needed to be in charge of a classroom if I wanted to be happy in the workforce. So, I returned once again to school and two years later, walked across the stage, this time to receive my teaching certificate. 

Paraprofessional jobs were easier to find than teaching positions and for another year I remained a teacher’s aide and substitute, sometimes even doubting my choice to become  a teacher. At my age, I wondered if I even had a chance at a teaching job. Finally though, I got a call for an interview. It was not in my district, but I was willing to travel if it meant having my own classroom. 

For four years, I commuted out of district to a rural middle school and taught 6th grade English Language Arts. Those four years of traveling sixty miles a day were a practice in waiting. Every year, I applied for jobs in my district, and waited with patience. Though I enjoyed my job and my own classroom, I knew I did not want to make the commute for the rest of my career. Then finally, after my fourth year of teaching out of district, I had an interview with a rural school in my district and landed the job.

I had anticipated working in my district someday and that day finally arrived. Having the new job ended my sixty miles a day commute. Having the job I’d always anticipated ended my period of waiting. 

Why bother to anticipate? It is worth it to anticipate what it is we are waiting for. Though we do not know how long our wait will be, our patience has the opportunity to grow in the interim.

Why Bother Letting Go of Grudges?

Why Bother Letting Go of Grudges?

What is invisible, weighty, and clouds our perception of others. If left alone, this does not go away, and instead, only grows more toxic and infect us with bitterness. Though some of us know how to let these invisible, and weighty things go sooner than others, none of us are exempt from grabbing hold of grudges. Sooner or later, in one or more of our relationships, we will encounter someone who intentionally or unintentionally hurts our feelings. And what we do or don’t do with our hurt, will result in whether or not we will carry a grudge against the person or if we can let things go. 

The Heavy Weight of a Grudge

We learn much in our relationships with each other. Though some people claim they would prefer to live isolated lives, we are interdependent creatures. We rely on each other in more ways than we can count. People validate our feelings, offer advice, listen to our fears, share their friendship and companionship. Our personal defeats or sorrows are easier to bear when we bear them with someone who understands and knows us. Our victories are sweeter and felt more deeply when celebrated with someone besides us. But sometimes, even in the best of situations, a relationship goes awry. A misunderstanding, a careless word, or thoughtless action leads to an emotional hurt. Like a stubbed toe, the emotional wounding  may start out small and insignificant, but left unexamined, the injury may grow more painful spreading beyond the toe to the foot, and up the whole leg. What started out as something minor becomes something major.

We may not be fully aware of when we hold a grudge, which is all the more reason to take a look at how we are feeling after our encounters with certain people. Sometimes an encounter with a person may leave us feeling as though we’d just been stung instead of encouraged. We might be left with confusion rather than clarity, feel misjudged and misunderstood. We may have wanted to say something, but it went unsaid instead. We may have wanted to defend ourselves, but wondered if we really had to. If we answer yes to any of these questions, we may need to take a step back toward the person with the good intentions of clearing things up. But if we think we can brush the misunderstanding aside because it doesn’t really matter, then we can try that too. If we discover that we are attaching that person’s name to the raise we did not get, the unsuccessful job interview or that our life would be much happier if not for them, then we could safely say we are carrying a grudge against them. 

If done well, restoring ourselves to grudge less individuals is not complicated. Approaching the person with words such as, “I know you probably did not mean to hurt me, but when you said ….It made me feel.” Letting go of the grudge begins with being honest with ourselves and with the other person.

Why bother letting go of grudges? Learning to let go of grudges is worth it since it  steers us back on course to good relationships. 

Why Bother To Pause?

Why Bother To Pause?

Some religious people believe firmly that Saturday is the Sabbath, while others believe the official day of rest is Sunday. In the 1600s, the blue laws were written down establishing laws that the Puritans enacted to control morality. The sale of alcohol was prohibited on Sunday and  most labor on that one day ceased. Though the blue laws were difficult to enforce, the law ensured at least one day of rest from labor everyone. Later on, those same blue laws also gave recess to retailers. Grocery stores, gas stations and drug stores locked their doors from consumers.  For one day of the week, store owners were unconcerned with one day of loss from sales. Rest, not profit, was the bigger commodity.

How exactly, did abstaining from making any purchases one day out of the week lead to morality? And though the blue laws are extinct, are they worth reinstating even just for ourselves?

         Delayed Gratification

To buy what I need when I need it is convenient, to wait is to delay gratification. Back in the 1960s there was a famous marshmallow experiment performed with 5-6 year-old children at Stanford University.  The experiment began by bringing each child into a private room, sitting them down in a chair, and placing a marshmallow on the table in front of them. Then the researcher made a deal with the child. If they could leave the marshmallow alone for fifteen minutes, then the child would be given a second marshmallow. If however the child decided to eat the first marshmallow before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second marshmallow. A simple choice any child could understand: one treat right now or two treats later.

The experiment did not end there. Instead, these children were followed for more than forty years. The ones who delayed their gratification and waited for that second marshmallow grew into adults who ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures. This simple little experiment with a marshmallow and a six-year-old child proved that the ability to delay gratification was critical for success later in life.

These days we don’t have to wait. The blue laws are extinct. Stores are open seven days a week and even if my local food store closes at 10:00 p.m. I can still shop online and have my goods delivered the next day. Yet, I am wondering how many of us might benefit from delaying our own gratification. What would it be like for us to postpone our purchases? Could we set aside one day a week and press the pause button? If we choose to abstain for just one day then what would the benefit be? 

Self discipline is a virtue we are all capable of practicing and the pay off leads to success whether we are setting goals for getting out of debt, losing a few extra pounds or furthering our education.  

Why bother to press the pause button? It is worth ceasing from consuming goods, even just for a day. In doing so, we practice delayed gratification and grow stronger in self-discipline.