Why Bother Being Grateful for Children?

Why Bother Being Grateful for Children?

I was not one hundred percent sure I wanted to become a mother. While some of my friends talked of their biological clocks ticking, I was just adjusting to being a wife. The thought of motherhood made me second guess myself. Would I be a good mom? Did I have the patience, skill and where-with-all to care for a completely dependent human being? Though I could not imagine myself as a mother, my husband could. He convinced me that motherhood would come naturally, and shortly thereafter, I became a mom, a role which significantly enriched my heart.

            Motherhood

With the birth of each of my three sons came a new and yet similar bonding experience. Holding them, I wanted to cry and smile at the same time. Each of my newborns had the power to hold my gaze with their beautiful eyes for long periods of time. They were the ones who molded me into their mother. They were curious learners with gentle and trusting hearts and their lives not only grabbed my full attention, but they also knit my heart to theirs.  

I did not know everything about parenting, but instead, learned along the way— setting boundaries, disciplining with love, teaching table manners and how to complete their chores cheerfully were as important as the academic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. Then, when they turned older and tested our love and the boundaries we’d set, I tied aprons around their waists and showed them how to cook. I introduced them to planning meals and following recipes and once a week, put them in charge of cooking supper.  Now all three are comfortable in their own kitchens. 

I am proud of my sons— of their independence, their work ethic, and the lives they have established with their own families. And I am especially proud of their talents in the kitchen. 

Consequently, when I broached the topic of Thanksgiving dinner this year, my oldest son took the lead. First, he planned the menu— prime rib, sweet potato soup, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, scalloped potatoes, cranberry relish, rolls and an assortment of pies. Then he assigned each of us which foods we were responsible to bring. 

On Thanksgiving afternoon, I opened my door to welcome sons, their families and a delicious dinner planned and prepared by someone other than me. Blessings abound when my children come around. And though at first I could not imagine myself becoming  a mother, it would be impossible to think of myself as anything other.  

Why bother being grateful for children? Raising sons and daughters is an honorable job, one which enriches the heart from the very start. I’m glad I didn’t miss my  opportunity to be blessed.

Why Bother Thinking About Divorce?

Why Bother Thinking About Divorce?

There was a time when I toyed with the idea of divorcing my husband. We’d been married for three years, we’d just had our first child, and were in the process of building our home. I still liked my husband, but I doubted I could spend the rest of my life with him. 

Marriage, like building a house, required more fortitude, endurance and hard work than I’d anticipated. Both involved the practice of patience—not one of my natural virtues. Also, there were compromises to be made— impossible for an inflexible, idealist like myself. Inconveniences also abounded—no running water or electricity and at times impasses in our communication with each other.  

The knight in shining armor, whom I thought I’d married, had not delivered me into a beautiful castle, or the blissful happiness I’d imagined in marriage. Instead, I’d stepped into a world of trying circumstances which for me, equated to ligament reasons for leaving.  

Thankfully though, I came to my senses before I made any regretful decisions. I did not leave an imperfect relationship, walk away from our marriage, or separate myself from the unfinished business of our house. Instead, I severed myself from the idea of divorce. 

Repudiating Our Thoughts

  On my wedding day, I’d walked down the aisle with a mind filled with uncertainties and fears. Though I’d fallen head over heels for the tall, lean, blue-eyed and soft-spoken man who had proposed marriage to me, I had my doubts. Was he completely trustworthy? Did he really love me? What if he left me? Before I stood beside my husband-to-be in front of our small crowd of witnesses, I’d made a promise to myself. If marriage did not work out, I could always get a divorce. 

The idea of divorce was my escape hatch, my ace in the hole, a resource and private vow I kept in my back pocket just in case I needed it. After three years of marriage, I pulled it out and examined it closely. Was it a pledge I wanted to keep? Was the vow a good one? Did it line up with my present values? 

I had to admit it was a promise I’d made in haste, and with fear, one which no longer fit who I aimed to be. If I wanted to commit to marriage it required me to close my escape hatch and discard the previous promise I’d made to myself about having a perfect relationship or else…  I decided to sever my idea with divorce instead of my relationship with my husband. 

Why bother thinking about divorce? Sometimes it is worth thinking about the erroneous pledges and vows we commit ourselves to and instead, divorce ourselves from them instead of from the people who love us. 

Why Bother Treasuring Friendships?

Why Bother Treasuring Friendships?

From the time I was eight until I was fourteen, my family moved every two years. As a result, none of my friendships during that time lasted very long. Even after my family settled down and lived in the same house until I moved away at eighteen, I’d learned not to trust in the longevity of most relationships. Changing addresses as often I’d changed mine, taught me to be wary. I lived with uncertainties, never knowing when my circumstances might suddenly shift and without warning, be forced to pack up and leave. Unconsciously I formed the habit of taking a precautionary approach in my connections with people. I  believed that the less I invested in a relationship, the easier it would be to part company, something which became an inevitable fact of life for me. 

But, that particular belief no longer holds true for me. Instead, I’ve learned to treasure friendships, no matter how long or short the span of time I get to enjoy them. 

Transitory and Long Term

Though I’ve lived in the same community for forty plus years, longevity in one place does not guarantee long lasting relationships, but friendships have a better chance to survive and thrive when we do stay put. The longer we live in one place, the more opportunity there is that a friendship will take root and anchor itself with strong, deep roots. 

Still, not all acquaintances desire deep friendships. They are more comfortable remaining casual and in the shallows. But when I notice someone’s interest to move from surface formalities to in depth exchanges, I am eager to nurture those possibilities. Yet, I have to remember there are no shortcuts to long lasting friendships. For some, it takes years to trust enough to confide in anyone. But when consistency, and integrity are in place, others will see our genuine intentions for friendship and the relationship will grow in its own time. 

I know from personal experience that having a few close friends who know me well gives me confidence to reach out and invite others into a friendship. Though I know not everyone wants or needs me as their close confidant, I also know it doesn’t hurt to make an effort to be friendly. 

With friends, we are supported in hard and harried times. They know our bents,  propensities and weaknesses, yet they do not use this information against us. Friends give each other the benefit of the doubt, and believe the best about us. They listen with patience and respect our opinions. No matter how outlandish we may think or behave at times, friends know how to bring us back to our senses. 

Why bother treasuring our friendships? It is worth it to value our friends near and far, old and new because without them, we’d be impoverished paupers.

Why Bother Caring?

Why Bother Caring?

I just finished one of the more grueling weeks of public school teaching. Our school district requires that we have parent teacher conferences every November, and these last five days were filled to the brim. After a day of teaching, I sat at a table in my classroom in the evenings, conferring with parents, grandparents, and even some great grandparents about their children, who are also my students. Though depleted from teaching all day, parent teacher conferences are enlightening and heart changing. 

A Child’s Life

No two children come from the same kind of home and talking with parents, I get a glimpse into the home life of each of my students. Though all children have two parents, there are no guarantees those parents are fully functioning, present, and committed to their child’s best interests. 

Some parents are divorced, and share custody, but not the responsibilities of making sure their offspring make it to school. Other parents have abandoned their children all together, leaving them in the care of  grandparents and sometimes even the great grandparents. Some students are homeless, and others come from single parent homes.  

Then, there are the few students who do come from two parent homes. But even the two parent homes have their share of misfortunes; the blending of two families, the struggles of a long term illness, or financial difficulties. 

My students, whether from the best or worst of homes, all share the same teacher, me. I have the privilege of spurring each of them toward their best potential, something I perceive even if they do not. I want them to succeed, and to see the value of their learning. I want them to persevere even when the work seems too hard and I want them to stay the course and finish well. My job is rewarding, but also a little heartbreaking. I am not sure my caring is enough for them. 

Then I remember the one teacher who spurred me on, Mr. Dupay, my biology teacher. I was a sophomore in high school, barely passing any of my classes and toying with the idea of dropping out of school. I didn’t think I was smart enough to graduate. But Mr. Dupay saw my potential and put me in charge of the green house. He trusted me to take care of the plants, and to record data from the various experiments he had going on. He tapped into something I could do, trusted me with responsibilities and I excelled in his class. 

It only takes one person with a little perception, one person who is willing to listen, one person whose heart is tender enough to care, to make a big difference in the life of another. 

Why bother caring? It is worth it to care because we never know when our influence will spur someone toward discovering their ability to succeed.

Why Bother Thinking About Prayer?

Why Bother Thinking About Prayer?

I grew up in a Catholic family and attended church every Sunday in a  cold cavernous building. Every little noise echoed off the tiled floor and bounced back from the tall arched ceiling.  The hardwood benches squeaked under each motion a person made and though I knew being quiet was the right thing to do, it was impossible. Every move I made reverberated. Just breathing made me feel like a “bad girl.” 

I tried hard to mimic my dad, who knelt in silent and unmoving reverence praying for long periods of time after communion. But kneeling, like the “stare down” competitions I’d have with my little brother, never lasted very long. Focused stillness was not in my chemistry. 

But church was not the only place where my family prayed. Before dinner, we’d fold our hands, and take a solemn posture with bowed heads and in unison we’d say grace, 

“Bless us, Oh Lord,

and these thy gifts which

we are about to receive from thy bounty,

through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.”

With the “Amen” came the cacophony; “Please pass the potatoes.” “Can I have more bread?” “Mom, Mark just spilled his milk.”

During lent, we said a loop or two of the rosary every night before going to bed. Mom or Dad set up a shrine of Mary on the stair landing and we knelt before her while repeating “Hail Mary’s” in unity. The droning voices only made me sleepy and I wondered if Mary even cared about our family’s devotion to her. 

As a kid, I did not know how my Dad suffered from depression or alcoholism, but I knew that when I made him a birthday card listing the number of prayers I’d said for him, fictitious as the numbers might be, he’d smile. But when he ended his life just before I turned fourteen, I surmised my prayers had fallen on deaf ears.

After that, I stopped praying. I’d witnessed Dad’s commitment to supplication, but it hadn’t “delivered” him from any evil, something I thought it was supposed to do. In my childlike mind, I’d equated my prayers to something similar to a one arm bandit slot machine; you say your prayers, send them off to God and then with any luck, you hit the jackpot and win the answers you’d hoped for. 

 I’ve moved beyond the one arm bandit slot machine idea and have instead experienced prayer differently. Similar to understanding how God can be three in one, prayer is beyond my limited thinking. And yet, I am drawn to commune with Someone I’ve never seen, cannot fully understand and yet believe is present and somehow hears. Prayer does not always or necessarily change my circumstances as much as it changes my view about my circumstances. I like how Madeleine L’Engle put it, “…the mind and the heart, the intellect and the intuition, the conscious and the subconscious mind stop fighting each other and collaborate.” 

Why bother thinking about prayer? It is worth our time to consider how we can view our present events from a different perspective than our current point of view and then consider how we might begin to change.

Why Bother Honoring Our Parents?

Why Bother Honoring Our Parents?

We do not choose our parents, nor do parents get to select their children. Instead, parents and offspring start off their relationship with each other as strangers, eventually growing and forming into a family unit. Over the course of time, and rather quickly, parents discover their child’s particular bents, personalities and idiosyncrasies. Even before a baby can speak any words, they can communicate to their parents what they are afraid of, what calms and soothes them as well as their preferences for food. Stubborn, or carefree personalities are easy for parents to detect in their offspring as well as any lackadaisical or lazy tendencies.  Parents also understand that among their offspring, no two are the same, rather, each one is a unique and separate individual. In other words, children are an open book. Parents, on the other hand, are a different story.  

The Life of a Parent

I became cognizant of my siblings and their individual personalities and quirks long before I became aware of my mother’s or my father’s. I needed to know my siblings well in order to survive. My oldest brother, I quickly surmised, was the one to avoid. His anger was dangerous. I steered clear of my youngest brother as well. He wore diapers and required someone else to feed him, something I was unwilling to do. My three older sisters were a world unto their own, playing records on the record player and wearing rollers in their hair. My safest sibling was my brother, who was just slightly older than me, never minded me tagging along with him when he rode his bike or played kickball in a neighbor’s backyard. 

In birth order, I am the sixth of seven and I am not sure how my mother felt about having yet another child. I know my oldest sister grew tired of all the babies which arrived on a fairly regular basis and at one point threatened to run away if Mom brought another one home. 

I could access my dad easier than my mom. He sat down more often. I would find him sitting on the front porch swing smoking an after dinner cigarette and he never hindered me from snuggling next to him or crawling onto his lap. 

As for my mom, she ran the house so she was mostly on the run. She was not the snuggling type. Though she had a few close friends, her personality lent itself to privacy. And though small in stature, she knew how to put her offspring in their place with “the look” and few words. 

I knew about the lives my parents lived when they were young. I knew my dad was a veteran from WWII, but I did not know how much of a toll the war took on him. I knew he loved to listen to music as well as watch a good rain storm, but I did not know how he battled with depression. I knew Mom loved to dance, laugh, and drink scotch and soda in the evenings.  

I knew these things about my parents, but my parents knew me better. They knew my stubbornness, vulnerabilities, fears and idiosyncrasies. They knew I was unique and never compared me to any of my other siblings. They saw my life unfold and watched me move forward, and grow up.  As parents, they gave me the best of themselves. 

So why bother honoring our parents? Whether dead or alive, our parents are worth respecting. They gave us life and showed us how to live, to the best of their knowledge.

Why Bother Noticing Beauty In Nature?

Why Bother Noticing Beauty In Nature?

I mostly grew up in the flatlands of Nebraska and South Dakota. As a child, I took for granted the tall, bright green stalks and leaves of the corn which grew in long straight rows along county roads, and the unobscured blue sky stretching across the whole landscape. No matter the season, winter, spring, summer or fall, the wind blew. Summer rain storms were usually accompanied by lightning, thunder and tornado warnings. Winter blizzards created snowdrifts as tall and stiff as any old farmer’s new pair of overalls. The endlessly flat, and windy landscape was all I knew until we moved West and lived in Colorado for a short stint.

          The Mountains 

My only knowledge of the Rocky Mountains came from the roll down diagram which hung in front of my fifth grade classroom. Whenever we took out our geography books, the teacher would always pull the map down and point to whichever state we were studying at the time. Those mountains, always represented by green humps and located in states other than the one I lived in, were an unknown mystery to me. Then, when our family packed up and moved from South Dakota to Colorado, I got my first real taste of those mountains. My dad pointed them out to me while he drove the family car stuffed with my siblings and me. The needle like peaks, still far off in the distance, woke me from the monotony of the flat landscape I’d grown used to. Those pinnacles were white with snow, and reached toward the heavens shimmering in pink sunlight. It was the first time I connected beauty with nature. 

We lived in Colorado for a mere eighteen months before returning to the flatlands of Nebraska. But in that frame of time, my ears became accustomed to the sound of rivers cascading over boulders, as well as the melody of wind stirring in the pine trees. My nose inhaled the scent of damp earth and cedar trees while tramping through the woods. It never bored me to watch deer spring away, their tails pointed skyward or observe a grouse strutting across the trail. Immersed in beauty and majesty, I sensed tranquility. But it was short lived.

We moved back to the flatlands and the city and I kept a lookout for the same feeling of serenity. I sat by man made ponds in city parks and watched the ducks. I’d stroll along quiet paths in botanical gardens. But of course, it wasn’t the same. Finally, old enough to move away from home, I chose a westerly direction, back toward the majestic mountains. 

I am once again surrounded by pinnacles reaching up into the heavens, damp earthy smells and the melody of wind stirring through pine trees. But my appreciation for this beauty goes deeper. Now I value the Artisan’s hand, the Creator behind the beauty and majesty from which comes my peace.

Why bother noticing beauty in nature? It is worth noting the beauty in nature wherever you live; in the mountains, in the desert, in the city or by the sea. No matter where where we reside, nature always points us toward the One who created it for our good pleasure. 

Why Bother To Honor Veterans Day?

Why Bother To Honor Veterans Day?

On November 11, my fourth grade class presented a Veterans Day program. Our music teacher worked hard to bring a harmonious sound to the voices of my fourth grade students. In the classroom each morning, I practiced the songs, God Bless America, The Star Spangled Banner, and My Country Tis of Thee to help prepare them for their performance. I never grew tired of singing these songs with my students, and I was proud of them for how they stood erect and respectful before the American flag for the few minutes it took to sing these patriotic songs every morning.  

Then, the day of their performance arrived and they were excited and nervous as they filed up onto the stage. But, looking out at their audience, they became serious. Their parents, some who are veterans, were there to watch them, along with a few guest veterans, some grandparents and siblings. When they began singing though, their voices were clear and their smiling and enthusiastic faces captivated all of us. I was proud.

After the performance, I shook hands with some of the veterans and heard portions of their stories. One man in particular, courageously shared how, even though he is home from Afghanistan, settling back into life as a civilian has not been an easy transition. As a combat soldier, he told me, receiving certain training to perform missions is not something you can use once you are home and the memories of what you encountered in battle are not easily forgotten. 

In a way, I thought, some of our veterans fight more than one war. They return home from one, only to continue another battle within themselves. I will never know what it is like to be a soldier, but I am grateful for the soldiers who fought to maintain the sweet land of liberty in which we live.

Then, driving home from work, and traveling down the main street of our town, I was saddened by the scarcity of American Flags flown by our local businesses. Not everyone had the colors flying and I wondered why. After all the servicemen and women have done for us, it would seem there should be no reason to remember and respect them by flying the flag. 

Why bother to honor Veterans Day? It is worth it to honor our veterans by flying the American flag. After all, even fourth graders know that is the right thing to do. 

Why Bother To Notice The Pleasant Surprises?

Why Bother To Notice The Pleasant Surprises?

I’ve noticed more pleasant surprises in my life than usual. Is it because there are more of them or am I simply becoming more aware and appreciative of them?  A delightful surprise takes us off guard. It is unexpected and nothing which we orchestrate for ourselves. When one receives a surprise, we feel valued, understood and appreciated.

Big or Small

Surprises come in various sizes. A short, handwritten note, a small gift wrapped in tissue paper, a friend’s carefully planned birthday getaway or someone new in your life who wants to be a friend. Having been a recipient to all of these large and small unforeseen gestures of kindness has warmed my heart and put a smile on my face. 

One year, my sons were too young to acknowledge Mother’s Day and my husband neglected to give me any small token of appreciation. Though I did not expect breakfast in bed, I’d hoped for a little recognition, but none came. The day was mundane and uneventful. The following day, when my husband came home from work, he gave me a card with a written apology which included his admission to being a jerk. His words and the fact he’d recognized my sentiments was the best surprise of any Mother’s Day. 

The biggest birthday surprise I ever received was a train trip to Glacier National Park. As per tradition, my husband took me out for a date, but this time, another couple joined us. We drove out of town for dinner and lingered long over a delicious meal. We leisurely strolled along the lake shore and then dined on delectable desserts at another restaurant. The evening lengthened into late night and I became curious. On our way home, we detoured to the train station. I wondered if my husband had planned a surprise visit from one of my sisters. Instead, my friend led me to the train platform and said we were getting on the next train. Dumbfounded, she told me of her carefully planned excursion for just the two of us. We’d ride the train into Glacier Park, spend the day and return again by train. She’d even packed an overnight bag for me. It was an unexpected birthday gift instigated by someone who knows me and I felt greatly valued.

Not everyone knows of the difficult events in my life, the ones which make my heart ache, but when they think of me, their thoughts turn into significant acts of kindness. Recently, I came home to a small package wrapped in tissue paper and left in a gift sack on my back porch. Inside was a card and a book of inspirational writings. It was from a friend, one whom I don’t see often, but one who knows how to encourage my heart.  

Why bother to notice pleasant surprises? Pleasant surprises are worth noticing because they become memories which can make us smile even in the gloomiest of times.

Why Bother Living Forward?

Why Bother Living Forward?

Someone once said, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.” Every day is a new day, a chance to begin again with a clean slate. Each new day gives me a fresh opportunity to live forward, not backward into the past. 

Grateful For A New Day

I used to be a worry wart who wanted to do everything “just right.” If anything “bad” happened, I told myself I should have foreseen it, I should have prevented it.  Anxiety, fretfulness and waiting for the other shoe to drop, was my “normal” setting. Maintaining the standard of perfection wore me down. It greeted me first thing in the morning and kept me awake through the night. It was a relentless task master whom I could never please. 

Then somehow, I woke up to the realization; striving toward an ideal and then analyzing how I’d failed to meet it, prevented me from living forward. Instead of beginning the day anticipating how I might do something a little better, I’d  drag all the previous day’s defects into the new day and hold myself in contempt. Finally, I made the decision to cut myself lose from condemning myself for my shortcomings and instead, began greeting each new day as a new beginning, a do over. 

I am not perfect by any means, but perfection is no longer my goal. I know my bents and I am familiar with my patterns of mistakes. Sometimes I say the wrong thing at the wrong time, get wrought up in the wrong things, and nag too much about trivial matters, which in the long run don’t matter.  Awareness of these tendencies is the first step toward healthy reflection and living forward instead of backward. 

I like to speak my mind and honesty is a virtue I value. But I cannot take back words already spoken. But, I can think before I speak. I know the topics which set off my passionate button, and raise my blood pressure. I can feel the energy rising up inside me when I want to defend a point. But, I can also prevent myself from stepping into those types of situations until a later date. I don’t always have to make a point when I think a point has to be made. Finally, not everything ever goes according to the best laid plans and when they don’t, flexibility with a cheerful attitude can keep things moving toward the right direction. 

Why bother living forward? It is worth living forward since we cannot change or remain in our past,  we can only learn from it.