Thursday, September 19, 2013

Worth the wait

Earlier this year my husband instituted a weekly date night and charged himself with all the planning and coordinating.  Time with my handsome, sweet, funny hubby and no work involved for me?  Yes please!

Don't worry, this isn't a post about that kind of waiting. 

Felt like I needed to say that.  I didn't want you all to get the wrong impression when I lead a waiting post with a story about my husband. 


On our most recent date my husband took me to a local diner.

The place is quaint, antique signs hanging on the wall.  We situated ourselves in a corner booth.  My view was a tree-covered mountain outside the window.  Resting my eyes on a Kentucky mountain fills my soul like good food fills my stomach.  And with my eyes fixed on the scenery, I listened to the sounds behind me. 

The waitress's voice matched the mountain.  I grew up here and Kentucky twang was normal vanilla until I visited and lived other places.  Now it is pure, sweet music to my ears.

She called an elderly gentleman by name, joked about flies at a funeral and confirmed the order she already knew he wanted. 

When she made it over to our table we asked how big the hamburgers were, trying to decide between a single or double patty.

"Well, are ya hungry?"  We laughed.  One patty would be plenty.

I listened as the man visited with a lady seated near him.  They both grew up here.  They talked of their brothers and sisters.  Their parents.  Their spouses, now deceased.  I heard a sweet courting story and fought back tears to hear how it ended. 

Eyes on the mountain, it felt like home and happiness.  This culture, these sounds, these conversations, these views.  This is why I love Kentucky.  This and so much more.

When we made it to the cash register to pay, we were just behind the man we had heard throughout our meal.  He himself was hard of hearing.  With a smile on her face, the waitress repeated his total a few times.  He counted out dollar bills -- with her help -- and came up one short.  He took the money back, pulled out a five and asked her to take three ones from the stack he held in his hand to settle his bill.  She gave him change.

Putting his wallet back in his pocket, he realized he was missing a rubber band, and the young girl -- both waitress and cashier -- came from behind the counter to help him look.  Not for lack of diligence, they didn't find it. 

Only when the man started to walk away did she turn her attention to us, just as friendly. 

I couldn't help but check Mr. Regular's table on the way out. He left her no tip.  I'm sure she knew how it would be but offered him wonderful service the same.

I could tell story after story after story like this one.  And also story after story after story not like this one.

I enjoyed the waiting that night, but haven't always appreciated slow service.  Even when it has been the price for building relationships and honoring others.

I complain a lot about how much longer it takes to do just about anything here. But I've never complained about friendliness or about hospitality.  About neighbors willing to help.  I wait more, but I do it surrounded by people who smile and chat and don't get worked up.  Plans change on a dime if someone is in need -- and that someone can be anyone.

It's a great lesson for me.  I plan and rush and juggle and fight to keep up.  My schedule is my holy grail.  Not honoring it a grave offense. 

And like much of our American culture, I'm getting it wrong.  Progress should never come before people.  Advances and experiences mean nothing without people to share them with, and they definitely aren't worth devaluing others for. 

I have to remind myself that the fast-food workers hear my loud sigh when I wait for my order.  They can see me roll my eyes.  Shouldn't I use that time to engage those around me in meaningful conversation?  Or at the very least not be so passive aggressive?  And is a seamless ordering experience really worth it if I pick my number, swipe my card and get my food without ever even having to make eye contact?  Is that something that would make that equal human feel valued?

I get it. We wouldn't accomplish as much if we didn't pack as much into our day.  Checking e-mail while standing in line is great multi-tasking.  Fast service is a prerequisite for a busy life.  We can't just all hang out all day, every day. 

But I wonder if we've taken "efficiency" too far?  Or if we've inadvertently swapped relationships with amazing, wonderful people for amazing, wonderful products?  Has achieving modern convenience resulted in modern struggle?

How many problems would be solved if every single one of us was valued and embraced and honored with time by the whole community?  To do that would take sacrifice, but wouldn't it be worth it?

Or the real question: Isn't each person worth it?

...because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.  Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom.  The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.  This kind of freedom has much to recommend it.  But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying.  The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty unsexy ways, every day.  That is real freedom.  The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the "rat race" -- the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

-David Foster Wallace, This is Water: 2005 Commencement speech at Kenyon College

Friday, September 13, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Mercy

        O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever.
O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth forever.
        O give thanks unto the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth forever.
To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth forever.
       To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth forever.
To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth forever.
        Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth forever.
And hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth forever.
        O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth forever.
-Psalm 136: 1-6, 23-26

Mercy is the cross and the price that was paid.
Mercy is sunshine and warmth when the world is falling apart.
Mercy is being held through the storm.  And being held even when I fight against it.
Mercy is patience and patience and patience. Overwhelming, awe-inspiring patience.
Mercy is not getting what they deserve.  Or what I deserve.
Mercy is love despite everything. Acceptance even though.
Mercy is the money to pay the electric bill.
Mercy is a piece of chocolate.
Mercy is decadence and simplicity.
Mercy is a night out.  A day in.  A job and time off from it.
Mercy is people and solitude.
Mercy is peace when it is unexpected.  Peace that is indescribable.
Mercy is a book and a cup of tea. 
Mercy is snow and fluffy clouds and flowers blooming.  The mountains and the oceans.  A harvest and blessings when there is no harvest.
Mercy is deliverance.  Unbelievable and unmerited.  Beautiful, sweet safety from what should have been.
Mercy is better than expected.  Wonderful, knock-you-off-your-feet surprises, packaged perfectly.
Mercy is always and forever.


Lisa Jo Baker invites bloggers to freewrite for five minutes each week on specific prompts. And then to share with the world what's on the page when the buzzer sounds. Learn more about this anxiety-inducing freewrite flashmob here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I choose authenticity.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.  Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.
-Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

I feel like I need to come clean.  I haven't been completely open with this blog.  I've been holding back.  I've been too scared to say what I really wanted to say because I was (and am) afraid.  Even more afraid than I initially realized when I told all my friends how reluctant I was to start this kind of blog.  Of people reading.  Of people not reading.  What they may think or not think.  Do or not do.

And there's more: Right now I don't know when -- or even if -- I'll find the courage to say what I really think and feel.  I'm not even sure if blogging is even right for me.

I've been struggling with being more open, more real, more vulnerable in my personal life and in that process I've realized that I haven't been truly authentic in this blog either.  I think I'm going to try to do better here, but it's still much too early to know whether or not I'll chicken out.

But at least being open about not being open is more open than I have been. If only barely.

Because of my private nature, many of my friends and family members throughout the weeks and months and years have encouraged me in their own various ways to be more open, more authentic.  A few weeks ago, when discussing this blog with a friend, she mentioned the work of Brene Brown. 

It was a hectic time for me, but I mentally filed the name away, deciding to google her TED talk later.  Later never came.  The following week I was doing a completely unrelated internet search on a topic for my husband, clicked on a blog related to that search and saw in the sidebar the picture above.  I choose authenticity.  Intrigued, I clicked.  It was Brene Brown's website.  I decided I should probably listen up.

In one of her TED talks (which you can find on her blog), Brene asks her audience if they feel like admitting their struggles and failures is weakness.  Hands go up all around.  (Mine would have too.)  Then she asks if they viewed the others on the stage before her during that event who admitted their failures and vulnerabilities as courageous.  More hands in the air.  (Mine would have gone up higher.)

But still, recognizing the connection between vulnerability and courage doesn't necessarily make it easier in practice.  I thought back to times in my own life when I've taken leaps of vulnerability and what Brene calls "the vulnerability hangover."

Some of my more open friends talk about the relief that comes from talking and sharing.  The feeling of a burden being lifted.  For me, after I let someone in  -- no matter how much or how little -- it's brutal.  I contemplate running away.  Physically running away, cutting all my ties, changing my name and starting a new life.  Seriously.  And I never want to see that person who now "knows" ever again.  Ever.  It takes weeks and months for me to feel comfortable again.  The vulnerability hangover.

But I can say that there is healing in being open, even if it takes years. 

When I thought back over blog-related vulnerability, I couldn't help but recall writing my marriage proposal story.  It took me four years to work up the courage to tell any other living person the details of Johnie's proposal(s) to me.  Whenever people would ask, I would say, "Oh, it was low-key."  If they pressed, I would say, "It was private and we decided not to talk about it."  If they were too close for me to keep things private from them, I would say, "It was a little disappointing and so I just don't want to talk about it." 

In truth, it was very disappointing and embarrassing to me.  And I was afraid that if people knew all the lackluster details they would think I had failed somehow in my husband-picking efforts.  That they would judge me, my husband and our marriage as somehow less than.  And during those four years, any time marriage proposals would come up in conversation, my heart would sputter and my mind would race for what I could say when eyes turned to me.  During those four years, thoughts of my proposal would regularly bring me to tears.

I began writing the story of our relationship still deciding how I would handle the proposal story.  I didn't think I would have a big audience, but when the day came I had an uncomfortable number of eyes on the story.  I knew I couldn't just skip the proposal and I didn't want to lie.  I thought about making the proposal a couple sentences at the end or beginning of an unrelated post:  After a low-key, private proposal, wedding plans began in earnest...

But that was cheating the story.  So I took the plunge and told it.  And then fought waves of nausea.  Hovered my mouse over "delete" and resisted the urge to click. 

I received more feedback from that blog post than any other I have ever written.  Private messages from girls also embarrassed and disappointed by their proposal.  I had unknowingly created a secret sisterhood without even trying.

It didn't happen overnight, but several years after being open about my painful proposal  I've healed from it.  I laugh at it.  It really doesn't bother me anymore.  I think it is a beautiful, quirky part of our story.  I went back and re-read the account I had written a few years ago and realized I add in even more details when I re-tell the story these days.  I have some trouble remembering why I thought it was that bad for so long.

So even though I fully recognize the pay-offs of vulnerability, I still can't find the strength to make the jump yet.  But maybe tiny steps of boldness are better than being fearfully frozen still.

And maybe you can join me in the scary, daunting, but very-much-worth-it quest toward living openly, wholeheartedly.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.  -Theodore Roosevelt

Friday, September 6, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Red

Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.
-EB White

Every word I commit to paper or screen for public consumption feels like an overwhelming act of faith these days.

Which may be why my first thoughts on the "Red" prompt quickly led to the temptation of just writing privately or differently or for more than five minutes.

I have always loved the color red.  As a child, I would have told you it was my favorite of all the colors.  I painted my dresser drawers red.  I commissioned a red blanket and red curtains from my mother, talented with creating things from cloth.  I surrounded myself with more red than most people thought prudent.  I just thought it was beautiful.

I still appreciate the color red.  Now, only more from a distance.  I made curtains myself this week for my kitchen.  In JoAnn's Fabric down on my knees, surveying bolts before me, of my narrowed-down selection I ultimately chose the fabric with the most red flowers. 

All these years.  Red.  Still bringing a sense of joy, happiness, reassurance.

That's five minutes.  I've decided to stop there.


Lisa Jo Baker invites bloggers to freewrite for five minutes each week on specific prompts. And then to share with the world what's on the page when the buzzer sounds. Learn more about this anxiety-inducing freewrite flashmob here.