A Fear of Change

I have had more than one conversation lately in which I voiced some version of this statement: “I do not look forward to the future because I so much enjoy the present.” I can’t decide if this is a virtue or a vice. Perhaps it is both. Certainly contentment with the present is to be admired and sought after, but fearing the future because I see it as a goodbye to the to the things I love now – this is probably weakness and immaturity. The truth is, I have never experienced such significant growth and blessing, stability and strength as I now possess. My life has been an ever-changing sea of faces and places, in which dreams change and lives change and goodbyes are an inevitable part of that change. It still makes me sad to think about what was lost. But perhaps it is that very loss, those very goodbyes that produce the stability and strength I now hold so dear. Without them I would not be the person I have become. Why would I assume that the future holds anything other than further growth, development, and strengthening of my loves?

When I first learned that I would be moving back to the South, I was terrified that I would be isolated and bored and uncomfortable. Now, after voluntarily spending a decade here, it is hard to imagine another place I would call home. When my heart was broken in college, I feared it would never be whole again. But severing it from such an unhealthy attachment, made it wholly ready to embrace my husband and a better man I cannot imagine. Before Aiden was born, I worried that my relationship with my extraordinary husband might not be the same, might suffer even, after he entered the picture. On the contrary, he has added such depth and wonder to our lives it is impossible to imagine life without him. Why, in the face of these and countless other examples of the richness of the unexpected and unimaginable, do I still fear the future? Should I not excitedly embrace it as the conduit of my dreams – both known and unaware? And yet, as I find myself on the brink of a vast new change, bringing another human being into the world and into our lives, I find myself afraid. But I have a choice. I can embrace the change and assume, as life has constantly taught me, that it will bring good, or I can give in to the fear and rob myself of the present which I so enjoy by worrying away its beauty. I chose to embrace . . . the change when it comes, my husband and son now, my friends when I am able, and life in all of its varied, complex forms.

Overcoming Fear

Lately I have been contemplating fear. Not as an entity in and of itself, but rather as an opportunity to overcome. There is no bravery without first encountering fear. If there is nothing to overcome, than we have not conquered, we have merely attained. And the level of satisfaction gained from conquering an obstacle against all odds and overcoming our fear of failure is far greater than living with a”better safe than sorry” mentality that lets our fear get the better of us and, in the face of failure or foe, backs down and waits for something more easily attainable to present itself. This choice is ever-present in our daily lives, from the smallest difficulties to the biggest decisions.

My son faces this decision to conquer or retreat multiple times a day as he attempts to overcome his fear of the dark. Sometimes fear gets the better of him . . . sometimes he of it. And his reaction, in the end, is remarkably more exuberant when he succeeds. If he discovers there is something he really wants in his room, but he has to go down the dark hallway to get it, he can either overcome his fear and at least make it to the light switch or he can beg me to come with him all the way down the hall. If he manages to do it himself, get the prize he was after, and make it back to me in one piece, he will inevitably squeal, “Mommy, I did it all myself!” and the object he went to get will hold his attention far longer than if I had gone with him to get it. It’s value was increased by the method in which it was attained. What a simple little picture of the decisions we as adults face on a regular basis.

In discussing with my husband whether or not we should try to have another child, we found many reasons to be afraid. What if we can’t afford it? What if something goes wrong and the baby is not healthy? We have been so lucky with Aiden and our experiences with him have been a remarkable journey of parenting. What if the next one is not the same? What if we can’t love him/her as much? What if our life is too unsettled? We are, after all, trying to sell the house and the car, and are constantly considering career paths . . . and so on. But no time is ever perfect. Life is never settled or ideal. And the benefits can be so wonderful. For Aiden, for us as a family and as parents. Do we let fear make that decision for us or do we overcome our fear of the unknown for the growth and betterment of our family? We chose to overcome, come what may.

We were also faced with a choice this week of whether or not to make an offer on a new house, contingent on the sale of ours. The whole scenario will only work well if we dramatically reduce the price of our house to one that is more comparable with those of our neighborhood so that we can sell it quickly before the house we want sells out from under us. However, if we reduce the price of ours, we can’t reasonable raise it again. So we will be stuck in that price range, and only able to afford houses that are somewhat less than our ideal should this offer fall through. It is a gamble. But do we fold before the flop, and pass on this house that is a great opportunity at a great price because we are afraid we might lose it? Or do we try our best and let the chips fall where they may? We stayed in the game.

If we can approach life mindful of our fears, but not ruled by them, constantly seeking ways to overcome and grow stronger, then we will live a life with few regrets, knowing we tried and that is the best we can do.

Are Your Crutches Disposable?

What is a crutch? It is something that holds us up when we cannot stand on our own. Physically, emotionally, mentally. We all have them. But a crutch can be a good thing or a bad thing. Where the line is drawn is often vague. A simple question to ask ourselves is, do our crutches help us get somewhere we could not otherwise get on our own? If we are able, but unwilling to move forward without them, then they are enabling our weakness. We would be stronger if we could let them go and walk on our own.

My son, at two and a quarter, decided, by himself, to give up his paci because pacis are for babies. This was something that he had leaned on for comfort and calm his entire life. He had never spent a night without one. But, realizing that he was big and strong and didn’t need it for the same reasons any longer, he let it go. Not entirely without struggle, but most things worth attaining do not come without struggle. Similarly, I, after ten years of relying on nicotine for stress relief and relaxation, have learned that I am capable of handling stress in different ways. Better ways that do not harm me physically. And I have let it go. Not perfectly, and again, not without struggle, but I now no longer lean on that crutch for stability.

There are so many things in our daily lives that serve as crutches to help us avoid the pain and struggle of learning to walk alone. Television, alcohol, video games, social networks, you name it. As infants, none of us can walk without a crutch or a prop of some kind until we learn to stand stably on our own two feet. This is true of emotional stability as well, but unfortunately we have many emotional infancies. Moments of rebirth or redefinition that require us to prop ourselves up till we regain our footing. And those props often become so familiar and comfotable that we have a difficult time letting them go and learning to be stable again. And then, sometimes, certain things happen that leave us crippled in such a way that we cannot stand on our own without the aid of something or someone else. And that is okay. Recognizing weakness that cannot be worked through alone is a brave and noble thing. One that we should never be ashamed of. On a recent trip to the zoo, my son saw a crippled man walking with braces because his legs were bent. And, in typical toddler fashion, he loudly exclaimed, “Mommy, what’s that?” Rather than shush him as many parents are apt to do, I told him openly and within earshot of the man that those were crutches that helped the man walk because his legs were hurt and he couldn’t walk on his own. Amazingly, the man smiled and the look in the his eyes could only be described as relief that someone had actually acknowledged him. And I found myself wondering how it must feel to walk through life with no one meeting your eye because they are ashamed to acknowledge your handicap. How often are we ashamed to acknowledge each others weaknesses. To look one another in the eye and affirm, non-verbally, that we have nothing to be ashamed of.

So which are you, the man walking with a cane not because he needs it but because he finds it debonaire while everyone else finds it ridiculous? Or the man who has a handicap he cannot overcome without the help of a crutch, but with which he can accomplish so much?

Compliments or Criticisms?

There is extraordinary power in the words we speak to one another. Be they negative or affirming, they are capable of completely making or breaking a moment, a day, a relationship. This, of course, is more true of some of us than others. I am a word person. I have never taken any of the “love languages” tests, but if I did, I feel fairly confident that ‘words of affirmation’ would be the primary vocabulary in which I speak. (‘Receiving gifts’ would be second, but that’s an entirely different blog post!) My husband, on the other hand, is an ‘acts of service’ kind of guy. He will do whatever needs doing without blinking an eye. He thrives on taking care of me and our son. Need groceries? He will go, after a long day at work, to get them in order to spare me the hassle of going with a toddler. Is there a huge mess after the elaborate supper I just created? He’ll clean it all up while Aiden and I play so that I don’t have to cook and clean. Getting behind on the laundry? He can do it while listening to a podcast (one of his favorite pastimes), so no biggie! I know that I am extremely lucky. Many women would kill for what I have. I recognize these things are a demonstration of love that I would never trade. Unfortunately, they just don’t speak to me as a gesture of affection. Whereas a note left by my coffee in the morning will make my entire day. Or an offhanded remark about my outfit will make me feel sexy for a week. Why is it that such seemingly frivolous things seem to speak so much more loudly to me than practical things that really matter? I think the answer lies in the availability, or lack thereof, of such affirming words. Not just between husbands and wives but in all types of relationships. We as a society are, unfortunatly, not in the practice of lifting one another up – being generally encouraging or even interested in others. And this lact of verbalizing about things we admire, makes the rare compliment seem so unusual and valuable. I want to change this aspect of society. Every time I think something nice about someone else, I want to have the nerve to speak it, knowing it will probably make their day.

We tend to be so much better about doing this naturally with children. “Good job, sweetheart! What a beautiful picture you drew!” And yet, for some reason, we assume that, as adults, we just don’t need encouragement. We’ve all got this thing called life down pat by now, we shouldn’t need someone telling us what a good job we’re doing at it. But even if we don’t need the encouragement to succeed, it sure makes the path so much more rewarding! My husband recently went on a short business trip and when he returned, he seemed to be buzzing for days. When I asked him where all his positive energy was coming from, he said that he had met someone on his trip who was exceptionally good at being interested in and encouraging everyone that he met. And it was sincere and uplifting and inspiring. Why are people like this so rare? Why do we find it so hard to say nice things about and to one another? Shouldn’t this be the norm rather than the exception? I have a friend who taught me to fly a remote control helicopter. I was a natural, if I do say so myself, but I didn’t have to say so myself because he said it to me. As I was leaving, he kissed me on the head and said I did such a good job and that it was rare for someone so new to flying to do so well. Such a small and insignificant thing, but it made me feel good for days. I hope and pray we are training our son well in this aspect of life and relationships. And lately, he’s been complimenting me at such a rate, that I think we are succeeding. The other day as he was bent over for me to wipe his booty, he said, “Oooh, mama, I yuv your bootiful shoes!” I smiled all day. Later that week as I was trying on some clothes at a thrift store, he repeatedly told me, “I yike dat one! Dat one’s nice mama!” And these are not just the cute nothings of a two year old. They mean something! Perhaps we should all take note and learn to praise with the unreserved honesty of a child. If we complimented half as much as we criticized, we’d probably all feel a lot better about ourselves . . . or at least our footwear.

Nostalgia Covers a Multitude of Sins

There are moments we know, without a doubt, that we will remember fondly. But it doesn’t mean that those moments were completely idyllic or picturesque. Often times, as we dive back into our memories, they are blanketed with a think layer of nostalgia that covers a multitude of sins. Family gatherings, for instance, are often fraught with familial tensions. Unspoken but implied criticisms. Hurt feelings or frustrations. But these are not the things we remember. We remember with rose-colored glasses the good times. The unguarded enthusiasm of children experiencing things for the first time. The brash and also unguarded comments of the aged who no longer feel the need to bother with social niceties. Fingers in mixing bowls getting smacked by mammas. Christmas presents opened just a smidge at the corner when no one was looking. Or endless games of monopoly in which we seek to dominate our beloved.

But it struck me this weekend as I experienced just such a moment of pure nostalgia in the making, that it is often incredibly hard to get past the difficulties that exist in those moments so that we can see, all around us, the things we are sure to remember fondly. Why is it that we so often only appreciate things that have already passed? It is because we’re too busy dealing with the stresses of the present to notice. But shouldn’t our memories, time and time again, be a lesson to us to let go of the things that don’t matter in the present? If we can just find it in us to brush off a harsh word, let go of unwarranted criticism, or never return the slight of someone else in kind, we can remember, in the present, the love that holds us together and the joys that are the building blocks of our memories.

This weekend found me and my family in a very small town in northern Mississippi where my husband was participating in a reunion concert for a local band who’s first gig occurred 40 years previous. It was astonishingly beautiful. Already, I remember it warmly. But I do regret allowing myself to be taken up with some of the stresses that surrounded the weekend. Some of them were silly stresses. Some of them serious. But none of them will factor into the beauty of the memory. What did it matter, in the long run, if the hotel room was old and small? Or if my sick son was a bit whinny and slept in my arms for most of the concert? That, in and of itself, will bring a smile with its memory. Was it really justified of me to feel somewhat jealous of the time I didn’t get to spend with an old friend when he was surrounded by family, friends, and a girlfriend he doesn’t get to see often enough? Should I have allowed myself to embody the stresses of those around me who were prepping for the concert or dealing with their own family tensions? Or should I have been an oasis for those same people – a stress free zone to refresh their mind and spirit? Of course, none of these difficulties compared with the wonderful beauties that the weekend afforded. Such as the constant bombardment of strangers telling me how wonderful my husband was both as a person and as a musician and how much they appreciated his help over the last several months. Or seeing the pure excitement on my son’s face, despite being sick, as he watched his daddy play in a concert. Or witnessing old men relive the passions of their youth with unrivaled enthusiasm and the support of their home town for their endeavor. And seeing a mother dance with her grown son, my friend, as though no one was watching and imagining myself and my son, who was sleeping in my lap, dancing in their shoes in the not so distant future. This is the stuff of life. All the rest is not worth remembering, and so, it is not worth dwelling on.