The Waiting Game

waitingActually, waiting is no game. Waiting in line for coffee. Or arms loaded with potential gifts for loved ones while the customer ahead needs a price check. In traffic attempting to get to work on time or race home. Waiting feels like torture. Particularly when pieces of life are in a holding pattern, circling the landing strip that starts the next leg of the journey. Or maybe like vultures waiting for the next potential meal.

As children, we can’t wait for a birthday, or Christmas, or school to start (or end), or starting high school, or graduation. As young adults, we can’t wait to get to the end of college, or the meaningful relationship, or the dream wedding.

Then there is parenting. When will the baby sit alone, roll over, sleep all night, eat solid food (and stop spitting up), walk, or be done with diapers. When will the toddler understand “no.” When will my child start school, or when will there be a break from helping with homework. I’ll admit I had mixed feelings about the teenager driving – not having to drop off and pick up versus worrying about every minute my child was gone.

Those events pale in comparison to waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop when it has to do with your job and career. Frowns on the faces of supervisors and managers, not-so-subtle hints that budgets are being reduced, rumors of other entities taking over the duties for which you and your colleagues have been responsible – those things can cause ginormous amounts of anxiety and fear. And the waiting game begins. Waiting for job listings, calls or emails to schedule interviews, and the dreaded wait for the “we want to offer you the position” calls – that waiting seems like an eternity. When you’re not the first one offered and you watch colleagues leave one-by-one … It. Is. Painful.

All sorts of negative self-talk can take place, and the longer the wait, the worse it gets. If I allow it. But I can’t. I have to believe I have worked this hard at getting an education, and getting experience, and doing my best work, and showing up every day (never using the allotted sick time, because I hate to let people down or cause them more work) mean something.

Since late September, I have been waiting. And stressing. (And I admit, some negative self-talk – “Why haven’t I heard?” or “Will it be soon enough to take care of my bills?”) When I finally let go of the panic button and started focusing on my record and what I have to offer, things happened. And I didn’t have to take the first offer, even though I was tempted feeling panic, because it didn’t feel like the right fit for me. I declined, and within an hour received the offer that I felt was best for me. It’s the first time in my life, I think, that I held out and waited for God’s direction, rather than rushing and taking something when I thought I needed it.

I’m looking forward to a new adventure next week. I know my time has been well spent in the last few years, and I’m disappointed that more who are in need will not have the same opportunity. I am certainly sad to leave behind great colleagues who have been just as passionate as I about the work we do. But it’s time to stretch and grow, nest in a new place where I can learn and experience more.

If you’re in a holding pattern, waiting and feeling like what you need will never happen, take heart. Your perfect opportunity just isn’t ready yet.

keep-calm

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Exercise: 4 Life Lessons

fitness-1677212_1280When I signed up for membership at a new gym a year ago (two months before it opened), I wanted, but wasn’t certain I had the motivation, to get in good shape. If you asked me five years ago about regular exercise, I would have scoffed at the idea. When I showed up on the second day after the gym opened, a trainer showed me around, explaining what was offered. And then … he asked me to fill out a form, putting on paper my goals. After I shared what I wanted to accomplish, he worked his magic spell on me and pressured encouraged me to sign up for personal training. I fell for it, signing up for two sessions per month for nine months, an hour later kicking myself for spending the extra money. But a strange phenomenon has occurred – more than my physical health improved. (I know. Y’all already knew that and I’m just behind. Better late than never, right?) Imagine that. In addition to my own mental and emotional health benefits, I have learned some life lessons that have also improved how I relate to and serve my clients. I knew, deep down, that there were numerous benefits to exercise. It took my own experience, applying the concepts I attempt to  pass on to my clients, to improve and impact my own life and theirs.

So…here are the lessons I have learned from this experience.

  1. Making myself accountable to something or someone keeps me focused and motivated to change. Because I was paying for training that was not cheap (but definitely worth it), I wasn’t about to waste my money, so showing up for those sessions was imperative. That was all fine and good, but it also meant, I’d better follow the trainer’s exercise program before meeting with him again, or my hard-earned dollars were wasted when I didn’t see any results. In addition, I was able to encourage my clients to apply this same concept to their sobriety by purposefully making themselves accountable to family members or sponsors, from expressing their long term goals to sharing specific daily schedules. It is uncomfortable at first, given our human nature of thinking, “I am an adult and my own boss. Why would I give someone else permission to nag me.” But. It. Works.
  2. Individual personal training and group exercise classes have related but different benefits. The individual attention I got from personal training was very important because I had no idea what I was doing, and prefer not to hurt myself. I’m too old for that! My trainer started by assessing what I could do, what my limitations were, and what I wanted to accomplish, then giving me a variety of exercises to get me to those goals. (No, I don’t want to be a body-building contestant!) He worked from where I was, helping me gain strength. When my sessions recently ended, I felt strong enough to again try the group classes offered. However, the first time in the class was a little overwhelming, comparing myself to other members who had been attending the classes for a while. It’s the same way with individual and group counseling sessions. They have different goals, but both are beneficial, and typically compliment each other. Individual sessions can dig down to deeper content because the individual can be more comfortable to share. Group sessions are about understanding that participants are not alone in their struggles, but without specific comparison. That leads to my next point.
  3. Comparing myself to others is not only futile, but detrimental to my own success, as well as selfish. It took a couple of group classes, watching the other members do more reps, lift more weight, or finish in a shorter time to make me feel like it wasn’t for me. (No member made me feel that way. They were all either doing what they came to do or encouraging me to keep trying.) After about the third class, which took extra time due to my getting VERY sore, that it dawned on me that each member is at a different place, whether because of their age, how long they had been participating, or just their body makeup. Again, this applies to the work of dealing with substance abuse or life in general. Comparing ourselves to others is not the point, because each person is at a different place in life or even in addiction to the exact same substance. If I’m going to compare, I need to compare where I am today in relation to where I was yesterday. Some days will see improvement by leaps, some will be seen as progress because we didn’t move backwards, and then some will need to be about not moving backwards again tomorrow.
  4. Exercise/physical activity is a huge stress reliever when circumstances are overwhelming, frustrating, or just busy. I can say I have finally discovered what the hype is all about regarding exercise. On days I have been: overwhelmed (when a client shared extreme emotional trauma); angry and disappointed  (when I found out my job in a program I LOVED was ending); sad (realizing more people in need would not have the same opportunity); afraid (hearing “we decided to go with someone else” after more than one interview, despite the desire to trust God); undecided (when there was an offer on the table but it didn’t feel right); or relieved (when I declined that “bird in the hand” offer and within an hour received a “two in the bush” offer from the agency I felt sure was the right place, where God wanted me);…exercise was THE BEST MEDICINE for physical, emotional, and mental health.

Even if you can’t get to the gym or don’t have the funds to spend, grab a friend (or allow one to ask you what you are going to do or what you did for the day), and start moving. A walk. A run. A skate. A swim. A basketball. Something. There will be pain. But it feels SO good when you’re done. It’s time to love yourself healthy. You won’t regret it and your family will love you for taking care of yourself. Physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Go For the Gold

Gold MedalI have never been, nor ever will be, Olympic athlete material. I suppose you could say that I live vicariously through world-renowned competitors, as I’m guessing many other folks do. I used to spend a significant amount of effort avoiding anything that resembled running or exercising, unless it had something to do with skating. I never had much exposure to water sports as a youth, so I have what you might consider a healthy fear paranoia when it comes to water I can’t see through and might contain critters. That is the main reason I made sure my daughter was exposed to water at a very early age. At age 5, she became a little fish, and soon after helped me learn an appreciation for swimming competitions (despite the parent-sitting-beside-the-pool-in-extreme-temps-in-Arizona thing). The result has been a glued-to-the-tube-for-five-consecutive-summer-Olympic-games-watching-swimming thing, aka. Michael Phelps fan.

As I was watching the first of swimming trials over the weekend, I was struck by two very different, very meaningful moments. The first was this commercial for Liberty Mutual Insurance, where an athlete replies to the question about what it feels like to receive an Olympic medal. She explains that the medals earned are all around us. It made me stop and think about all the things I’ve accomplished or received because of my persistence. A home I can call my own (kinda), a vehicle to drive, a solid education that has resulted in a purposeful career, supportive friends and coworkers that encourage me along the way – all those deserve at least bronze or silver. And then there is my family, immediate and extended, including some forever friends who feel more like family. I definitely got the gold when they were placed in my life. And then there is my beautiful daughter – the hardest-fought battle was for her existence and continued as I endeavored to raise a responsible adult. She is the most precious gold medal. Did I make mistakes along the way? ABSOLUTELY. I had plenty of false starts, fell off the beam, or landed badly. Were there times I wanted to give up? ABSOLUTELY. But God put some silver and gold-medal friends to lift me up and carry me when my strength failed.

The second meaningful moment had to do with the Team America win in the Men’s 4×100 Freestyle relay. The win alone was huge and showed so much heart. But the best part was watching those four men on the podium receiving their gold medals while our National Anthem played. Seeing a young man sing along, get emotional, and not be able to hold back his tears was inspiring. In a world where so many are encouraged to suppress their emotions because shedding a tear will make them look weak, his humanness and vulnerability showed through. I got a little emotional watching the display, and thought, “That young man is proud of the work he did to get to that place, passionate about what he does, and proud of representing his country for all the world to see.” You can watch it here.

So …don’t spend time comparing your achievements to others’. Count up your own medals and value the things and friends and family you have in your life. Be passionate about what you do, cover your spot on the team, and enjoy the rewards with emotion that shows the effort was worth it. Go for the Gold. And if you go home with a silver or bronze, be confident that you did your best.

 

Happy Belated Mother’s Day

I know! I’m behind. I’m using the excuse that I have too much on my plate. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. So … below is a letter I wrote to my mother on her birthday five years ago. Earlier that year, I wrote a letter to my dad on his birthday, nearly ten years after his passing. I decided that maybe I should also write to people still living, expressing gratitude for their impact on my life while they can realize the acknowledgement. Many things have changed in five years, but the acknowledgements are the same. Here goes…

Dear Mom,                                                                                                                                                           5/1/11

Today is your 78th birthday. It seems like just yesterday you were turning 40 and everyone was commenting on the fact that you didn’t look your age. Some things never change. People are still saying it. Just thought I’d write a few things that have been running through my mind. From tales of your experience on the farm in Ohio, your fights with your sister, to your sharing of your faith through art, you have touched many with your talent and consistent prayer life.

I saw so many things that showed me the beauty of God’s creation through the way you experienced color and light. From the early years, life was about expression through art. I mean, who else’s mom drew detailed farm animals or flowers to keep them occupied in church? I fell in love with creating things with my hands because of you and I still love putting things together. When I’m bored in a meeting, you will most likely find me practicing different letter fonts or sketching a posed hand.

You also loved music and have great talent. Combined with Dad’s talent, knowledge, and love of music, you have blessed many. Even today as I sang “His Name is Wonderful” with the worship team, I remembered the privilege I had of singing it with you both and fought back the emotion of a beautiful memory. When I hear you singing a hymn during your devotion time in the morning, I feel blessed to know that prayer is reaching heaven on my behalf every day.

I’m sure you remember my ‘helping’ skills sometime in 3rd or 4th grade. You were planning a party and wanted the house to be spotless. I was helping to dust and wanted to do such a good job to please you. I thought I was doing my best when I completely covered the piano with Old English Oil. You saw how oily it was and got frustrated, telling me that now you had more work to do trying to rub it off. I was broken-hearted and went to my room while you finished. I will never forget your coming to apologize and asking me to forgive you for raising your voice when I had not meant to cause more work. It’s the one thing I have tried my best to model as a mother, because I respected you so much more for admitting a mistake. I’ve had to apologize to Lindsay many times, and I know I earned her respect as well.

Life changed after losing Chris and I know you felt you had to be strong. You taught me that when life is tough and things look the bleakest, there is always strength in Jesus to go on. As I go to practice on Monday evenings and look around the room at your chalk pictures and wood burning, I feel honored to have seen Jesus through your eyes.

It hurts to know you are in such pain and unable to create like you used to, I wonder why God would take away the talent you exclusively used for Him. Then I realize that it is because you have used up all the talent He gave you, sharing it with many, and allowing Him to multiply its effects, rather than hoarding it out of fear.

Last but not least is your humorous side. You rarely told jokes because that was Dad’s thing, but the occasions when you let loose with the dry humor were the best! Never feel bad about our giggling session on the way to Dad’s funeral. He was already relieved of pain and I think he would have wanted us to be happy for him.

Love always,

Your Favorite Daughter

If you haven’t done it already, CALL YOUR MOM! Remind her that all the time and effort spent was worth it. And if you have a difficult relationship with your mom for whatever reason, find another mom-mentor and connect for the benefit of both.

Letter to Myself

Recently I was searching through the files on the tiny thumb drive that contains the entire documentation of my dual Master’s program. I ran across a paper that caused me to stop and take time to read. The class? Human Development. The instructions from the syllabus?

“In this assignment, you are the significantly older brother or sister of a child approaching adolescence. Write a letter between 500 and 750 words in which you explain what he or she can expect socio-emotionally during adolescence. Be gender-specific; choose one or the other to focus upon. Share both the bright and dark sides of this time period and share ideas on how to get through it in the healthiest manner. Let him or her in on what you wished you had known.”

The following is what I wrote (without editing), and four years later, find myself in serious reflection.

                                                            Letter to an Adolescent

Dear Little Sister,

You are approaching adolescence and I wanted to share a few things that might prepare you for what is ahead. It can be a little scary sometimes if you don’t know what to expect.  I hope this will help move you through this time as smoothly as possible.  I have already noticed that you are physically developing into a young lady.  You’ve grown taller and started wearing a bra. I’m sure you’re glad to have gotten past the chubby stage. You will start to be more attracted to boys and they to you.  You are beautiful, but don’t let that be a distraction.  Getting an education and demonstrating good character are far more important than how you look.  Besides, looks change.  Pimples appear.  People get older.  What you develop on the inside will be with you forever.

I don’t think I have to tell you that girls can be fickle and caddy. So many of them will like you one day, and not like you the next.  Find the ones who are always the same, ready to apologize if they hurt you or others, the ones who cheer you on when you do well, and cry with you when you’ve been hurt.  Ignore the rest.  Their words can sting sometimes, but remember that what they say about you is really about how they feel at the moment, and nothing about you.  If you are making good choices, there will always be those who look bad next to you.  Don’t let them bring you down to their level.  You can’t fix them, and you can’t change them.  Be confident in what you need to do and move on.

At some point you will be invited to a party, or friends will offer you drinks or drugs. Know that you do not have to fit in.  It will be hard.  It will seem like everyone is doing it and there is no harm.  But beware.  No good can come of experimenting with drugs and alcohol.  I could introduce you to some really great people who are now struggling with a devastating habit that started because they longed to fit in.  Trust me. It’s not worth it.  If you can’t talk to Mom and Dad about that stuff, then please call me.  You deserve a future free of regret.

I know you are trying to discover who you are and what you’d like to do when you grow up. You have done so well at swim team and in the band.  Keep up the good work but don’t ever feel like those activities are forever.  It’s good to have those activities to do and gives you a good excuse to avoid participation in risky events that might hurt your future.  If they ever become drudgery, it’s okay to move on to something you are more passionate about.  Whatever you do, put everything you have into it.

When it comes to boys and romance, look for a guy who makes you laugh. Watch him from a distance.  Does he offer to help people when they’re carrying a load, or volunteer to help clean up?  Be friends first.  Always expect respect and know that you are worthy of waiting for the physical part of romance until after the wedding vows.  Don’t be afraid to tell a boy that right from the beginning.  If he doesn’t respect that, then he’s not worth your time.  If he does, he’s a keeper.  Watch how he treats his mom or his sisters, because he will treat you the same.

You may not understand Mom and Dad in the next few years. Know that they care so much and only want what’s best for you.  Most of the time, they really know from experience what could go wrong and are trying to keep you from pain.  They will begin to allow you more time with friends, but they will ask questions.  Offer the details, all of them, when they ask.  It will relieve their minds and you will earn their trust.  Always respect them, even when you question why they decline a request.  You won’t regret it.  I’m always here to help.  The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.  I wish I’d asked more and known all I’m telling you here.  Most of all, love Jesus with all your heart.

Love you, Vicky

On a day that seemed like nothing could go right, I needed to read these words again for myself and remember that difficult times are guaranteed to come and go, but character and kindness last forever.

And just now, I am remembering the advice given by my brother when I was in first grade. A third grade boy had passed my desk and made a negative comment to me, and I in turn stuck out my tongue, which was the only part our teacher observed. She marched me into the corner until I could say I was sorry. But I wasn’t. And I was stubborn. Lunch time came around and I was still in the corner, so my brother, who was six years older, was called in for reinforcement. He said, “Just say you’re sorry, even if you’re not, so you can go to lunch.” At the time, I was sure he just thought I was stupid. Looking back now, I realize he was, in his own way, showing me that it wasn’t worth missing lunch. The silliness of the situation wasn’t worth sitting in the corner for another minute.

And I smile. And I let go of the frustration I felt earlier in the day. And I wish he were still around to tell me, just like the letter above, just like he did years ago, what is and isn’t important.

 

More. Better. Now. And even more. And faster.

I used to love driving. Until I moved to a city. Until I spent nine years driving a school bus. Two of the deciding factors for the end of that career were an accident and a near miss, neither of which were my fault. The gravity of the responsibility for the safe transport of other people’s children was too heavy of a weight in a society that has no idea how to sit still, wait, or slow down. The driver who backed out of her driveway into the side of my bus on a residential street thought the driver in the 40-foot yellow Twinkie loaded with high school students should have stopped. The driver who was traveling so fast that he or she never saw my turn signal to move over another lane and had to hit his brakes and spin a 180 before coming to a stop against the cable in the median. He kept from hitting my bus loaded with high school students returning from a field trip by mere inches.

I have been reminded of these situations recently as I have noticed drivers pulling out in front of me at the last minute, resulting in my slamming on the brakes to avoid hitting them. Several times this has happened, and when I looked in the rear view mirror, there were no vehicles in sight behind me, indicating they could have waited for me to pass and pull out without potentially causing an accident or even interrupting the flow of traffic. It occurred to me how much this is related to society’s addiction with now, as I wrote about in this post. How much we I can’t wait one more minute. How we I have to have more of whatever it is that feels good. Because my appointment or schedule is more important than the other thousands who are on the road or in line for coffee. (Okay, so coffee really is an urgent matter, right?)

Just so we’re clear, I am not faultless in this behavior. Since my youth, my family had a saying that supports this concept so well. When you have an entrée or a piece of dessert that you love, and you’d like another piece, you say, “That tastes like more.” When I say it now, people give me strange looks while they process exactly what I said. The silly quip really indicates a thought process related to overuse, abuse, or the addiction of something that might be, in itself, something good. I plan my time too tight and then have to be in a hurry. I want more than I need. In reality, anything almost everything can become “too much” if we let it. Even things that are beneficial to ourselves and others. I can work too much. I can play too much. I can sleep too much. (At least that’s what I’ve been told about sleep!)

One great thing that has resulted from these observations is my own awareness. Awareness of my hurriedness so that I slow down. Awareness of my wanting more than I need so that I stop to appreciate what I have. Awareness of coworkers or friends who need some acknowledgement or encouragement so that I am staying grounded in my purpose of fun, freedom, and generosity. Awareness of what is going on with others who seem to be in such a hurry to move along or avoid something they are going through, trying to hide their vulnerability, or shame, or sadness.

So…I’m working on paying attention to my state of “hurry.” On planning ahead for traffic or lines. On noticing the sights along the journey, rather than only focusing on the destination. On being grateful for what I have – not just material things, but family, friends, education, etc. – instead of always spending time searching for more/better and wanting it now. I am learning and understanding that anything worth having takes time. Maybe it’s an “older and wiser” thing, although I am not admitting to the “older” part. Or maybe it’s just awareness of who and what I care about these days. At any rate, it’s a process, not an arrival.

Who is a Patriot?

On a day when Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, 239 years ago, my thoughts have been on what it takes to be a patriot. Patriotism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “love for or devotion to one’s country.” And I feel this love for and devotion to my country, the United States of America. My childhood was riveted with examples of people who felt a strong love and devotion for our country, and encouraged it in me. It wasn’t the 4th of July picnics, the parades of flags, or the red, white, and blue streamers woven through my bike spokes, although those things were included. I somehow felt the goose bumps and deep emotion from realizing the freedoms that I could claim and what those freedoms cost. Some have lost peace of mind because of what they experienced. Others have lost a limb or the physical ability to function as before they chose to serve. Some have given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to protect the country they love. Whether you believe in the purpose of any particular war/conflict or not, whether those who served were drafted or enlisted of their own accord, their devotion is not merely admirable, but humbling.

Given the examples of civic and historical knowledge deficit, as seen on talk show sketches, I can gather that the focus on these topics are lacking in some schools. (Please notice the emphasis on some, as I know there are teachers who are passionate about what they do as well as their own commitment to civic duty.) It makes me sad that students are managing to graduate high school without an understanding of or appreciation for the history that has made this country great, and even the implications of and lessons to be learned from the darker pieces of the past. And yet it seems that some of the loudest voices screaming for rights are the least knowledgeable or the most entitled.

Somehow we have forgotten that our “rights” cease when they cross the line into another’s “rights.” I have the right to listen to my music as loud as I want, but my neighbor has the right to have peace and quiet. I have the right to choose the type of clothes I want to wear, but my employer who pays my salary has the right to specify the parameters of what I wear to work for safety and professionalism. I have the right to express and live my religious beliefs, and everyone else has the right to be treated with respect, even when they believe differently. You get the point. It seems that too many of us have lived in prosperous times that have made us forget or minimize what we have, always wanting more. And now.

I experienced the privilege of spending a month in Papua New Guinea more than 33 years ago. What a beautiful place to see, wonderful people to meet, and very different culture to experience. It was a time I will never forget, because the people who live with far, far less convenience, are more gracious, generous, and grateful than any others I have met. I admit, I was extremely glad to be back on American soil (mostly because I missed hamburgers and our crispy French fries, and I have a texture aversion to fresh pineapple), but with a renewed appreciation for my country due to the grateful attitude I felt there. You don’t have to visit another country to gain a new appreciation of your own, but it is a positive result if you do.

How can you and I show our patriotism to this great country? For those of us who didn’t have the opportunity to serve or chose a different path, showing our patriotism must come in different ways. We all can’t get involved in the political scene, but we can show our gratitude for all we have access to rather than complain. We can ask for transparency of government offices. We can treat each other with kindness, respect, and grace, even when they believe differently. And pray. Enough of the nasty name-calling and hateful rhetoric. Enough of forcing our rights while infringing on the rights of others. Don’t let those who shed blood for this country to have died, lost limbs, or suffered emotionally in vain.  And when you’re at an event and hear our national anthem, stand tall with pride and gratitude, or stop on your refreshment run, remembering the price of freedom. God bless America.