Monday, September 9, 2013

Windy Afternoons

Anyone who knows my sister, Rebecca, and knows her well, would know that she loves kites.  This started way back when we were children and on windy days would scout out open parks in the midst of our flat Texan suburbia just to sail our sunburst-faced kite with the crinkly red cellophane tail that seemed to go on forever.  We called him "Firecracker," and I well remember the time his string broke and he soared away unfettered.  Our parents drove us all over until we found him tangled across the dry-grass furrows of a lonely, undeveloped field.  It was like looking for a lost pet, accompanied by the same sinking fear, the same elation.

So it shouldn't have surprised me when, several years later, I saw her look longingly out the window at the Spring-bright leaves thrashed by wind.  We were both sitting in a quiet dorm room kitchen, both now college students, both studying furiously for final exams.  April is a cruel month to schedule final exams in, with the world awaking from winter and the warm sweet smells of outside calling you incessantly.  Rebecca liked to unwind by going up the hill to a large field perfect for kite-flying, and wile away a few hours under the shadow of her kite.  But today, it couldn't be done, and I knew she regretted that.

And then she said something that was more profound to me than I think she knew, something that has stuck with me over the years.  "Life is long, and there will be many windy afternoons."

We recently celebrated my husband's birthday.  I have always enjoyed my birthdays, so it is hard for me to relate to his displeasure as he marks progress in this journey we call "getting older."  He sometimes complains that he hasn't done enough with his life, that he expected to achieve more by this point, and compares himself to others his age or even younger in his profession who have far greater credits and accolades.  I sagely try to remind him that his path has just been different from theirs, that we have tried every step of the way to chose what was right, not necessarily what was "coolest" or "most impressive."  And we have felt clearly guided in all our decisions.  So how can we complain?  If he was feeling any sense of yearning for something more than the opportunities and experiences we have been blessed with, then he needed to rethink his priorities.

And then it happened to me.

For my husband's birthday, we spent the day with our 5 young children, exploring the historic and sentimental spots downtown in the city we would soon be moving away from.  One of the places we visited had a gallery of beautiful inspirational artwork.  There was a small display of paintings by an artist I greatly admire, and as I pointed these out to my husband he looked past me and said, "Well, she's right there!"

Right there.  Doing a demonstration.  Her easel set up, her palate perfect, a skillful portrait starting to take shape on her canvas.  She was casually bantering back and forth with her model, a bevy of young art students arrayed before her on the edges of their seats, sketchbooks on laps, being inquisitive and subtly showing off at the same time.  My first reaction was delight!  I sidled up to the group, listened briefly to the discussion, nodded intelligently, tried to be a part of the moment.  But suddenly something else touched me and made me feel a gaping emptiness, some chasm of separation.  My baby, my newest little girl, was strapped onto my front in her baby sling.  I grasped her soft hanging feet and felt the tears come on unexpectedly.  I looked at this remarkably beautiful young woman with all her accomplishment, and felt a tinge of jealousy.  I don't know if she is a mother, and if she is, I don't know how she manages motherhood on top of her blossoming career.  Some women can do it.  I have tried and find that I can not.  And in the grand scheme of things, I know that between my art and my motherhood, the most important achievement by far will be raising my children the very best I can.  But still, there is something that stings a little, something that aches when I think of what I might have been able to do if I had thrown more of my time into developing my art.

As soon as I realized the emotion that was seizing me, I decided it was time to go.  Even though I tried to smile, my husband saw my tears, and very quietly, graciously, put his arm around me and walked me out, all my little brood milling about us as we made our way though the doors and down the city sidewalk.  He didn't say, "Now you know how I feel," or "See what I mean?"  He probably wasn't even thinking that.  But suddenly, I did know, and I did see.

Sometimes we look through a window and see the wind beckoning, and we can't go out to play.  Duty or pressing responsibilities hold us back.  But there are seasons for everything.  This is a season that requires so much of my time and attention to be focused on just the daily grind of meal-times, cleaning the same messes over and over, doing hair on 5 different heads, endless laundry and dishes, homework, mentoring, and loving.  Some of those things will lessen or go away in time, and they will be replaced with other things.  Maybe I will find time to do art again.  Maybe I won't want to by then.  My desire has certainly decreased over the years.  But if it is meant to be, for whatever reason, I'm sure I will find the time.  Life is long, and there will be many windy afternoons, many chances to play again, many seasons for other things.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I Am a Morning Person

"They're so beautiful when they're asleep.  I mean REALLY, REALLY beautiful.  Exquisitely, divinely, transcendently beautiful."

I believe God crafted children to require a couple more hours of sleep per day than their grown-up parents for a very specific reason: sanity.  I love that extra hour (two if I'm very, very lucky) of peace and quiet at the end of the day.  Some nights it's productive time, on others it is my much-needed kick-back time with book or game or movie.  Early morning hours are even better, more of a sacrifice to get them, but so, so worth it.  I thought once that sunrises are a daily love-letter from God, and I never wanted to miss another one.  I've missed a lot since thinking that, but it still makes me smile and say "I love you, too" on the mornings I make it up in time.

I think I like mornings better because I never waste them.  I never get up and think, I've had it with this day already, I'm just going to relax!  No, in the morning that extra time is both golden and well-spent.  I'm fresh, enthusiastic, optimistic, and I just had a love-letter from my all-powerful creator Father.  How could I then squander that all-too-precious gift of time?  I am a morning person.  Definitely.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dear Listener: A Disclaimer

I don't know why particularly I was struck this morning by a feeling of severe anxiety and insecurity over this, but I was.  I even feel embarrassed.  Maybe it's just a doppelgänger of post-partum blues.  Whatever it is, I feel like I can't get over it until I say something:

I know I'm not an amazing performer.

There I said it.

Somewhere along the way I picked up the notion that a good performer never makes excuses for themselves.  If you hit a sour note, forget your lyrics, or squeak on your high notes, you don't say a word about it, you just move on and pretend it didn't happen.  But what if you're not a great performer?  What if it's painfully obvious that you're not?  I am so afraid that ignoring my obvious failings will be perceived as blind conceit, that it will appear as though I think I'm all that when it's clear I'm not.

Now, the only reason I find myself in this awkward situation is due in large part to the fact that I'm married to someone who is without question firmly planted in the category of "amazing performer."  Those of you who know him, or have heard and seen him know what I'm talking about.  His voice is out of this world.  He's dashing, tall, handsome, poised, regal, with an endearing dash of little boy in him--just enough to keep us all from feeling entirely inferior.  He has performed in the best-known musicals of our day, in some of the best-known roles, and wowed the socks off audiences across the country.  Of all the women out there who swoon at his melt-your-heart voice, I am the lucky girl he calls "sweetheart."

I have also somehow managed to elbow my way into his limelight.  I've had the opportunity to share the stage with him and some of his amazingly talented friends.  It has been a real treat for me in many ways.  I do love to sing, and I love to talk about the things I hold dear to my heart.  I love to try and uplift people through music and speaking, sharing some of the life lessons my husband and I have learned through our unique experiences.  It is delightful to have those opportunities.

However, there has also been this growing fear that I don't quite belong here.  To my dear, lovely friends who have invested time and money, blood sweat and tears into becoming the talented incredible performers that you are and then patiently shared the stage with me, the amateur, I thank you so much for your graciousness, your love, and your generosity.  It's you I have felt most embarrassed to impose upon, and I especially want you to know, I know I am not your equal.  It was my deepest honor to stand with you.  It was absolutely more privilege than I deserved.  To those who were in the audience, whether at concerts or listening to recordings or broadcasts, thank you also for your patience.  My greatest fear has always been that I would disappoint people with my singing, after hearing how wonderful my husband's is.  So many times after a concert we shared, people would line up to meet him, and I totally understood.  He was amazing.  And since I was standing right there next to him, there was the occasional obligatory, "You were good, too."  I just wanted to disappear.  I didn't want anyone to feel like they had to think of something nice to say about me, like I would feel left out if they didn't.  Really, I didn't care.  I didn't need validation.  I was just happy to hear them gushing on about my husband.  And furthermore, don't anyone dare post anything to try and validate me now, because I will delete it.  That's not what I'm asking for.  I simply want the world to know I do NOT consider myself on par with my husband or his professional caliber friends and associates.  I know I am severely lacking.  Whatever I have tried to contribute came not out of vast training or experience, but a great desire to inspire people the same way they do.  I hope that desire makes up in part for my flat notes or failing breath support.  I will never be my husband's artistic equal.  There's just no way I can invest in the kind of training he has had, let alone conjure up the same pure, natural talent he was blessed with.  But there is one thing he has taught me that I hope I can apply in a way that people can recognize.  When it comes to performing, giving the gift is paramount.  The gift I give may not be as pretty, but I can give it with just as much love, and hopefully that is enough.

But if you want REAL talent, go to people like this:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why Winning Matters

I had 4 younger brothers who all participated in the Cub Scout program.  I remember the Pinewood Derby as something significant, a sort of boy-hood rite of passage.  My brothers labored over their cars, fine tuning the aerodynamic design, getting the paint just right, the wheels spinning smoothly, the weight within milligrams of the perfect 5 ounces.  So when my oldest son was handed his official Pinewood Derby box with that raw block of wood inside, I felt a little intimidated.  How could I make this experience fulfilling enough for him?

When crunch time arrived, and we had to get the car ready, I pulled out the block and started talking about possible shapes and wind resistance and best chances for speed.  Why did it matter so much, he wanted to know?  "Well, if you want to win..." I began to explain, when he retorted, "But winning doesn't matter."

Hmm.  I guess I wasn't too surprised to hear this response from my son who loves gymnastics purely for the fun of it, and has no apparent desire to fine-tune his skills enough to add his name to the trophy collection at the gymnasium where he spends 5 hours a week playing -er- practicing on the pre-team.  In a way, I guess that was how I wanted him to feel.  Not worrying too much about winning is safer.  There's no chance of hurt feelings, and no chance of bloated pride in the case of an actual win.  On the other hand, without a desire to win, I didn't see what would motivate him to put any effort into crafting his car for the race?

Our society has been working hard to eliminate competition from the lives of our children.  I can see a little value in this.  Competition creates inequality when the results are in: someone is the winner and someone is the loser, and many are somewhere in-between.  We don't want our children to feel they are better than someone else, or that someone else is better than them.  We want everyone to feel valuable.  Everyone should be a winner.  So I suppose I can see the logic in eliminating scoreboards, banning the terms "first" "second" and "third place" and teaching children to create or perform purely for the fun of it.

On the other hand, I feel we are doing our children a disservice by not teaching them that competition is a fact of life in our world.  "Survival of the fittest" has been the way of things from the beginning, and I don't think it's going away any time soon.  When they go in for the job interview, the fact stands that the best candidate is going to get the job.  Colleges accept students with the best GPA's.  Any situation where there is a choice to be made, the chooser is going to lean towards the best option, and if you or your offering is the thing being chosen, you must strive to be the best.  That's just the way it is, and for good reason.

The trick is to find a way to teach our children to do their very best, put in their very best effort, use the motivation of possible success to work hard, seek for ways to improve and refine, and ultimately become excellent without allowing that excellence to inflate their ego.  We must also help them to understand the purpose of failure, that it is a springboard for growth, a lesson in humility, and an opportunity to be gracious to those who have bested us.  Simply eliminating competition because it is too complicated to try and teach children how to walk the fine line between greatness and conceit, and humility and despair is the cheap way out.  We should not shy away from such lessons just to spare our children from painful feelings they are bound to encounter later in life, especially if they are unprepared.

I guess that's why the Cub Scouts still hold Pinewood Derbies.  My son didn't win, but I think he had fun.  And seeing the winner's cars and the level of effort that went into them may have inspired him to try a little harder next year.  I hope so.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Serving Closer to Home

One of the traits I admire most is the ability to hear and respond to promptings to serve others.  I stand in awe of the inspiring stories of the friend that showed up at just the right moment to assist in an emergency, or the stranger that offered just the thing, or the person who knew someone needed a call.  I long to be so in tune with the Spirit that no need that I could fulfill goes neglected.  To me, this seems like the ultimate goal of a true disciple of Christ: to become a perfect instrument in his hands.

So, knowing that practice makes perfect, and that you have to earn the trust of the Spirit through responding to it, I set a goal to pray every day for 2 weeks for promptings that I could then follow.  "Alright, here I am, Lord.  Whom do you want me to help today?" I would utter hopefully every morning I remembered to.  Sadly, in the bustle of parenthood (especially with a newborn) I forgot to ask most days, and as the 2 weeks went by, I never noticed a prompting.  I recommitted, I prayed more, I tried to feel something, to hear something.  Who needed me?  I would gaze out the window as I did dishes every morning and try to think whom I could help.  Nothing.  I started to worry that I was just insensitive or too busy or distracted.  Too selfish, perhaps, or unworthy.

Then finally, it occurred to me that the Lord was not going to burden me with extra obligations when I had so many already.  Granted, we are not supposed to wait to serve until we have everything in our own life all squared away and perfect.  But God does know our limitations, and he is not unreasonable in his requests.  I have a 2 month old baby, a 6-year old who is starving for some attention and greater sense of self worth, and a husband with many pressures and demands on him.  I have a toddler who is begging to be toilet trained, a daughter who is in limbo between childhood and adolescence, and a quiet young son who is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle because he is too obliging to speak up for himself.  If the Lord was not currently asking me to serve outside the walls of my own home, then for sure he needed me to do all sorts of service within them.

So my prayers and my goal took a shift.  I started praying every morning that I could be of greater service to my family.  This time, it was easier to remember, and this time I found plenty to do.  I was able to help my husband prepare material for an upcoming presentation.  I helped my 6-year-old catch up on a month's worth of chores, earn his allowance, and finally feel good about himself.  I helped my other son with a fun and engaging homework project that he is proud of.  In between it all, I fed my kids cold cereal most mornings, cooked a few meals, ordered pizza and did mac n' cheese on the other nights, fed my baby, and kept changing 2 sets of diapers.  Nothing momentous.  But I did what I could for those I love the most.  I still want to learn to hear those promptings to go outside my domain and rescue someone besides my own, but if this is all the Lord needs me to do for now, I am content to do it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Another Chance to Snuggle

When my 4th child was a baby, I really thought he'd be my last.  4 was the magic number we had decided on even before we got married, and even though I had always expected to have another girl, I was resigned that my family was finally complete.  With all the warnings from seasoned parents, the seemingly hundreds of times I heard the phrases, "They grow up so fast!" and, "You'll miss these times," I made sure to savor every smile, every cuddle, every coo.  Sometimes I would just hold him close, and breathe it in as though the scent of that moment would lodge the memory more firmly in my soul.  I was preparing to be satisfied with only ever holding other people's babies when mine was no longer so little.

What a treat to be wrong!  It wasn't my last time, nor was my eldest my last and only daughter.  Here I am with another infant princess in my arms, hardly believing how blessed I am to have another chance to breathe it all in.  My youngest son is a tall 2 1/2 year old, now, a testimony that yes, they do grow up fast.  But I am so grateful for this sweet blessing!