T(a)inted sands

When I was around 7 or 8 years old, I attended bible school at the church of some friends of the family.  One day, the craft activity was making those landscapes with colored sands in a jar.

Everyone said mine was the nicest one. As I was making my way out the stairwell of a side exit afterward, an older boy and his friend stopped me and commented on my sandscape.  One of them said he could show me something really cool. He said to shake the jar, which I did gently at first, instinctively cautious. Unfortunately, I was naive and gullible and shook harder at his urging.

The beautiful layers of colors were a uniform, ugly green. I remember being surprised at how thoroughly ruined it was. The other boys saw that on my face and laughed.

I’m sorry to tell such a sad story, but don’t feel bad. It was an important lesson that stuck with me. I was less naive after that. Maybe it kept me from something worse.

I used to feel like I was that jar of sand. Actually, anyone could be. We all start out pristine and beautiful. Then life shakes us up.

All the teasing and bullying and exclusion left psychological issues to work through, which I have. There were physical things as well that mixed up the colors.  I have less than half volume hearing in my right ear due to having a growth remove. It wasn’t a tumor. It had to do with chronic infections damaging the ear drum. I let the growth go for about two years after I knew about it, thinking my boss at the time was going to get health benefits for me, as he had talked about. I was also paralyzed into inaction and indecision by depression, so the time slipped by, though I did get it done with the help of medical assistance and private grant program.

Another thing was the surgery I had for a bowel obstruction and appendicitis.  My Crohn’s disease was never diagnosed before that. It should have been. Now I have to mix and drink a powder medication that keeps me from having severe diarrhea 24/7. I basically can’t live without it.

There’s also the loss of self image with the nasty scars from the incision and the colostomy.  Everyone said the incision scar would be a thin white line, but there’s an inch wide swath. I was only 28, then, and still in good shape.

All the undiagnosed, unrecognized problems and issues that I spoke of in yesterday’s post, took their toll as well. I remember feeling totally burned out after two years of community college and working maybe twenty hours a week, when I was in my early twenties. I didn’t know yet about the sleep apnea or Crohn’s disease, or even the bipolar depression. That’s a long story, but suffice it to say that I went through a period of personal growth and discovery after I graduated.

The important thing to take away here, is that, I’m still standing! With a God-given resilience and strength, I kept going and learning.

The colored grains of sand are still in there. And, unlike the literal ones, they can be made beautiful again. No one can take your inner beauty, your soul. So, I hope you can feel uplifted from all this. The last thing I want is to depress anyone.

Go live life to the fullest. Don’t worry about what was or what might have been. Discover what life has in store for you.

Father Time Fly-by

Did you ever get awakened by your bladder in the “wee” hours of the morning? Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun. It happened to me this morning at 4:30, about an hour before I get up for work.  My sleep apnea allows me to always get right back to sleep, so that wasn’t the problem. It was the fact that I merely blinked and the alarm was going off. Seems that way sometimes doesn’t it? So, off to work I went. Friday! Only a voluntary OT, half day tomorrow. Whoop, whoop!

To the newcomers, my day job is microfilming material for preservation. It’s mostly newspapers, for historical purposes. Not that anyone goes to the library to use a microfiche reader to pore through old papers. So, anyway, I was working on a project that involves various titles from all over Missouri, mostly smaller, regional papers. The issues were from just the last couple years, so I remembered a lot of the news since it’s not that long ago. It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for our nation, and the world really, but I’m not going to talk about the specifics.

Instead, I just wanted to share the perspective it gave me. Like that hour that passed in a blink this morning, I went through events of the last couple years in a couple of hours. (Only scanning over headlines as I worked. That’s all you have time for.) It got me to thinking about how little time we’re here, relatively speaking.

World conflicts, brutal regimes, scientific discoveries, medical advancements and all the grand spiritual experiences along with the crushing emotional agony of humanity, countered by the ebb and flow of progress and reactions. Is that what it’s like for God? A day is but a thousand years, according to the Bible. Mountains push up and fall, oceans form and dry up, civilizations come and go with a raucous cry that, cosmically, goes as quick as “the wave” at a stadium. (Do people still do that?)

Some people affect the entire world, for better or worse. Most of us toil away in obscurity. But the people around you feel your presence in the world. The majority of the masses will continue their family line and be remembered that way.  Others are remembered for their accomplishments or for the many kindnesses they extended. That makes it all worthwhile. To connect to one another and the world around us allows us to prepare our souls for the journey beyond, whether you believe that’s heaven or hell, a higher spiritual plane, or something else.

I speak to myself more than anyone when I say, make good use of your time here. Fill your days with meaning and it won’t feel like the days have slipped by too fast and empty. That’s why I’ve finally started to write more, and to engage more with others. We can actually slow down time in a sense, by deeply experiencing each day, absorbing and reflecting on events. Don’t just push everything out of your head because you don’t have the time or the energy to think about it. Live it!

Whatever you’ve been putting off, pushing down inside, denying or shutting out, stop!

Look up an old friend, make time to read, visit an elderly neighbor or relative, get back into that hobby you used to love, and most of all, seek out humanity in the fragile, flawed, awesome travelers around you. And as always, we’re all in this together!

 

International Women’s Day: Honoring Mom

I didn’t even know it was International Women’s Day until I sat down with the laptop after work.  It was the perfect subject for a post. The thought quickly followed as to a more specific focus. Since I mentioned my mother in yesterday’s post and her concerns about her gay son’s salvation, it seems only fair to extol her virtues today. Well, maybe it won’t be all glowing praise, but I love her and respect her immensely. I’ve always had a close relationship with my mom and the differences of late have not changed that.

In case you missed it, I reported previously that my mom saw an article in a local paper written by my pastor and it mentioned that she has a same-sex spouse. I neglected to mention that, or even that it’s a gay-friendly church, when I told my family that I had started attending.  Not sure why, but we’ll get back to that. Mom gave me some scripture references on the topic. No, I’m afraid I still didn’t get time to read them. But that’s coming soon.

Mom once wrote me a nice letter of encouragement telling me that I was a happy, content, and well-behaved baby and had grown to be a great young man.  I saved the letter.  It was written when I was not working for a while due to physical and emotional health issues and had tried to start a t-shirt business that wasn’t going well. (It never did take off.) But she cited my determination and talents, as only a mother can do. I was reminded of a picture my aunt showed me once of me as a baby being held by my mom. I was wearing a bright yellow “onesie”. I had never seen the picture before, but it explained why my favorite color was always, passionately, yellow.  You’ll have to excuse all the cuteness.

Briefly, another time she wrote me a note with a passage from a poem she found called Wit’s End Corner, by Antoinette Wilson. I had described how I felt shortly before that as being at my wit’s end. How perfect. There have been other notes and words of encouragement.

She was also very stern when I, or my two siblings, got out of line. In my twenties, that period when you begin to see your parents as just people, and before you turn into them, I sometimes thought the sternness was too much. Some might call it conditional love, but I know that isn’t so. Maybe the strict discipline and disapproval made me inhibited, or maybe that’s just an inborn trait. In any case, I found the bold spirit God gave me when I needed to. I’m thankful that both my parents cared enough to bring me up right. Being told no, and facing consequences, and even feeling guilt are good lessons to prepare one for adulthood. God knows, you can’t always get what you want. (Sorry if I put that song in your head.) You win some, you lose some. When you’re made to apologize to a sibling right then and there, while you’re still hopping mad, it helps with conflict resolution later in life.

I get my strong sense of justice and fairness from my mom, along with empathy and sticking up for the underdog, whether it’s someone else or myself. I once showed her my favorite Christmas video clip, from South Park, where Kyle gets to poke Cartman with an electric cattle prod every time he screws up the words to O Holy Night. I always thought it was hilarious and thought she’d love it, but she wanted to throttle Kyle.  I explained that Cartman is the obnoxious one and was getting his comeuppance. She responded, “Well, that makes it a little better.” That’s a strong sense of justice. I still think it’s hilarious, but really, it’s not right, is it?

During the aforementioned twenty-something years, I resented both parents for a time, feeling that they gave no support or guidance. I realized that they had an awful lot to deal with and did the best they could. We struggled mightily in the financial area when I was in grade school. I found out years later that we were in danger of losing the house because they couldn’t pay the taxes. God saw us through it, though. Then there’s my sister who had her first hospitalization when she was in ninth grade, for mental health issues. She had shown signs of it much earlier and demanded a lot of attention. My brother struggled in school. (Not because he couldn’t handle it. His IQ is in the gifted range.) We’ve all had problems with depression and anxiety. We were definitely a matriarchal family, my dad being more passive, so Mom had to be strong, and she was. She is. (Don’t get me wrong. I love my Dad too, and I get my tenacity and quiet resolve from him.)

I enjoyed hearing my Mom teach Sunday School, and her reading touching novels to us in the living room. She’s artistic and I gett my writing ability from her. I sometimes wish she would have had more opportunity to fulfill her potential, but I’m determined to do just that with my life. Her strength has helped me so far. It’s a generational effort.

I could go on and on, but I’m sure your time is as limited as mine, so I’ll wrap up.

Bottom line is that we’re all just people. We muddle through as best we can. It’s a lot easier when you have God or at least some kind of support system, if you’re not religious, to help you . So, don’t resent or condemn others for their shortcomings and wrongs against you. After all, we’re all in this together.

 

 

Things I learned from my cats

What matters most is how you see yourself. That’s the lesson in a nutshell.  I touched on this a little in my post titled, “A Better Day”.

I’m coming at the topic from a different angle, observing my cats.  My five year old cat, Smokey doesn’t know how big he is.  He’s a bit skittish and shy. He climbs up on my chest to cuddle.  (A lap isn’t good enough.) When he does that, I have to put down my laptop, or else he walks on the keyboard and, invariably, messes things up.  (For example, he once deactivated the keyboard. It took till the next day to figure out that you could still hit shift + enter to get it back, though it seemed like nothing on the keyboard was working. Another time, he turned the screen display 90°.  I didn’t even know you could do that.  I was able to go into the display menu and turn it back from portrait to landscape, though it remains a mystery how he did it with just the keyboard.)  Also, I can barely see the TV over him when he’s sitting on me.

Enter Rex the much smaller, younger little guy my brother and I adopted about a year ago.  Rex is a sweetheart and after about ten days, Smokey accepted him and they get along nicely now.  However, Rex is a little troublemaker at times, picking on the gentle giant, Smokey.  It’s only in play, but he gets a little carried away and makes his house mate squeal sometimes.  Then we have to separate them and scold Rex, sometimes even close him in a room for a while.  The thing is, Smokey could easily kick Rex’s ass.  He has learned to assert himself, and the problem has slowly gotten better.  So, I guess Smokey gets to a point where he’s had enough.

I share these feline antics as a way of relating my own experiences.  I was shy and timid in school, and socially awkward.  Add to that my rather small stature, and you’ve got an easy target for teasing.

Like Smokey, I didn’t realize how big I was.  Not physically, but intellectually, emotionally, and personality speaking. I was blessed with a brilliant mind, a bright and generous heart, and a lovable, witty, fun spirit.  None of this came out until young adulthood.  I started coming out of my shell somewhat the last two years of high school, but was still kind of a lost puppy.  (Awww)  It’s okay. It got better.

Today, I still come across as reserved, and social anxiety does hold me back until I get to know people better, but the shyness and the fear are gone.  Physical lack of energy is a problem at times too, with sleep apnea and Crohn’s disease, but caffeine helps.  ha ha

I don’t resent any of the teasing I took in school because it actually did help push me to change. I realized after getting my associate’s degree in my early 20’s that I had played right into the teasing, making it all to easy. (Not saying it was my own fault.  Just saying I could have changed things.) I was also very alone in my two years at community college, for all the same reasons.  I had no problems with the intellectual aspects at all, but yet was completely burned out at the end.  It made me start analyzing.  Why was it so hard? To quote John Donne, “No man is an island”. I needed a support system. How does one build something you’ve never known? Where to start….

An epiphany came one day at the mall.  Maybe some of you remember the mall store called Deck the Walls.  They sold art and photo prints and the like.  I saw a small matted picture of a kitten looking into a mirror.  The text read “What matters most is how you see yourself”.  Reflected in the mirror, is a lion.  It really struck home, so I took it home.  I mean, after I paid for it, of course. I still have it as a reminder.

It made me see more clearly than ever how one’s persona is perceived by others as a reflection of your own inner image.  Confidence, satisfaction, contentment, happiness.  All things I lacked, therefore did not project.  What I got back from others was a direct correlation to what I was carrying and exuding, or not.

I was just coming into my own in my late 20’s when I hit some health problems.  Getting to work became all-consuming and I eventually had to take a break from it.  Then, I didn’t get much social contact, but things are going much better now.  I sometimes feel like I end up being put in that old “box”, where he’s the shy, quiet guy.  Or, my anxiety makes me feel uncomfortable and pushes people away.  (Nobody likes to feel uncomfortable.) The good news is, I feel like I’m ready to Bust That Box! (I believe I found the topic of my next post.)

Til then, keep going and keep growing!

The art of discipline

A thought came to me years ago which still challenges me greatly.  “The disciplined artist succeeds.”

I mean artist in the broad sense of the word.  Writer, musician, painter, photographer, filmmaker, etc.  I also mean those who engage in artistic activities, not just those who make a living at it.  An artist at heart.

I think most of us tend to be indulgent sorts, sometimes overly so.  Partying, experimenting, addictions.  Artists need and want to experience things in order to reproduce some part of life in their work.  That can lead to trouble.  I just quit smoking last October, and hit the bottle pretty hard for a while about four years ago.  Of course, these things aren’t unique to artists, but they can be more damaging to a creative soul.

But even if one doesn’t wander into more serious traps, it can still be very difficult to discipline oneself to stick to something to fruition.  I know it’s tough for me to finish one thing before moving on to another.  I switch from a short story to a screenplay to poetry.

It’s also a struggle to sit down and write.  Maybe writers are the worst. “I hate writing, I love having written.”  says Dorothy Parker.   I personally can find a million things to do before writing.  It’s why my evenings after work get away from me, night after night, week after week for months and years.  I remember reading in a textbook for a writing class at community college in which the author admonished the reader that it’s possible to think of yourself as a writer your whole life and never actually achieve it.  It won’t happen to me.  That was my reaction.  A fervent and immediate reaction.  I’m 45 and it hasn’t happened yet.  Fortunately, I’ve got this discipline thing down.  Ha! I kill me. Anyway,  I’m working on it.

I’ve realized that discipline is a demanding mistress.  It doesn’t like to share.  The times that I’ve gotten the most done are when I’m on a whole life discipline kick.  I start working out, quit smoking, getting up when the alarm goes off,  being on time and writing.  It feels good and keeps you going.  If you recognize your triggers that make you slack off, nip it in the bud!  When one area slides, others will follow down that slippery slope.

Discipline gets you from inspiration to completion.

Ever have a great idea that you can’t wait to get started on, but once you get it started, you get bogged down in the details.  It’s frustrating when that spark of elation turns into, well, work.  Keep pushing through it.  It will be worth it.  I hope to see you at the finish line.  Maybe I’ll be waiting for you.  Maybe you’ll be waiting for me.  Here’s to the race.