Sep 8, 2011

Lessons From the Trenches

It's been a while since I've last written on here. My life looks a bit different now. My kids are all in school now, I'm "Mom" and not "Mommy" anymore and I actually squeeze in a coherent thought now and then. I eat salads and drink coffee on a regular basis and have traded play dates at the playground for concerts and the occasional trip to the local dive bar. I even did a mud run a few months ago, something I thought I'd never try! I dye my hair every four weeks to cover the grays, bought my first tube of wrinkle cream (stuff's not cheap!) and stopped shopping at the 99 cent store for make up. My house is semi-clean for the first time in years, I like sushi and I discovered Mumford and Sons. I'm still trying to like wine. In a nutshell, I've grown up a bit. But the lesssons I've learned the past few years go beyond 25 dollar jars of make up and goat cheese salads. I thought I'd share just a few of them with you:

1. Chocolate Cake is Good. In the book "The Pleasure Prescription" the author reminds us that food was made to be enjoyed. Yet, thanks to the booming "health care" industry, we've been told to count every calorie, gram of fat, carbohydrate and ounce of sodium in our diet. Blah, I say. I've done it all, and the only result I got was grumpy. My new conclusion is the age-old motto "Everything in moderation." Chocoalte cake is delicious. Which is why I savor every bite and even go back for seconds when possible these days. And no, the fat-free, reduced calorie chocolate cake does not taste the same. I want the real thing, thank you very much. And spending the next hour "working off" my cake on the treadmill turns my lovely indulgence into a boring mathematical equation. When my father in law was in hospice four years ago, dying from heart failure, the nurse pulled me aside to say, "Since he really doesn't have long, let him eat whatever he wants. If he wants chocolate cake three times a day, let him have it." My eyes grew wide as I replied, "Really? Are you sure?" So, must we wait for our deathbed to enjoy chocolate cake? I think not. The time to enjoy food is now.

2. Good Friends are Gold. I recently read that the average adult has only one close friend, someone to share their deepest sorrows and delights with. I find this truly heartbreaking. Have we gotten too busy to remember the most important element of life: relationships? Sure, we've got Facebook, Twitter and texting, but when was the last time we picked up the phone to make a call or sent and old fashioned "thinking about you" card? I'm happy to say I have many close friends, but I do not take a single one for granted. I know the loneliness factor all too well. I know what it's like to be the "new girl" in town and watch the other moms gab away in the school parking lot while you watch wistfully. I know what it's like to grow up painfully shy and spend junior high lunch hour in the bathroom because you've got no one to sit with. Doesn't matter how old we are; we all need friends. Acquaintances are nice, but they don't bring us soup when we've got a splitting migraine and can't get our kid off to school, they don't encourage us to get out on the dance floor and try the Cupid Shuffle, and they certainly don't call just to "check in and say hello." Perhaps we ought to try the old adage "If you want a friend, be one" more often.

3. Nothing Beats a Good Laugh. If there's one thing I do more of these days, it's laugh. In "The Pleasure Prescription" the author points out that we cannot know true joy unless we have known true hardship. Three years ago, I was tempted to throw myself under any large moving vehicle at a moment's notice. Translation: I was severely depressed. Considering my circumstances (major move, job change, loss of health, best friends divorced, death in the family) I had good reason to be, but I soon learned that staying that way forever probably wasnt the best idea. Still, how does one "snap out of it" when life gets tough? Why, they read the the Shopaholic series, of course. These books were one of the few bright spots in my life when I couldnt get out of bed during my illness. I laughed until I cried, until my husband nudged me in bed and said "Could you keep it down a little?" Did I mention it takes a lot for me to laugh out loud? But the more I practiced, the more I laughed. Then a little TV show called Modern Family came along, and again I found myself in stitches. (And wishing I'd been clever enough to write it myself!) Now days, I laugh all the time. I laugh at myself, I laugh with my friends, I laugh along with my kids as we watch Disney shows, and yes, occasionally, I laugh at other people (A browse on the People of Walmart website will do the trick..very mature, I know). Growing up, most adults I knew didnt laugh very much. I figured things must stop getting funny around age 20. I wasnt particularly looking forward to becoming an adult because, frankly, it seemed a bit boring. Quite the contrary, I've come to learn. Being an adult isn't's just that some adults are, er, boring. So if you're one of those boring ones and like to multi-task too, at least laugh for the mere reason that it burns calories, keeps your face in shape and is also good for your cardiovascular health.

4. The Grass Isn't Greener. I've checked, believe me. The grass may be greener on the outside, but the plants on the inside are probably all dead. A recent study shows that most people live by the "Twice as Much" principle, meaning they desire to make roughly twice as much money as they currently do. In the end, they wind up half as happy. The reason our national debt is at an all time high? We're still trying to keep up with the Joneses. (Who are the Joneses anyway? I'd really like to meet them and see if they're all that!) So what's the solution? Be thankful for what you have and get over it. I'm forever playing the "grass is greener" game. Her hair is shinier (she must go to a really fancy salon, so I'm going to have to add that into our budget), that husband seems more romantic, their house is bigger, their kids are more athletic, they take more trips than we do. Nothing will rub things in like a browse through friends' photos on Facebook. With posts like "Living a fabulous life!" and "Couldnt be having a better day!" we're somehow deluded into thinking that everyone's life must be better than ours. Little do we know that the so called romantic husband who picks up flowers for his wife at the store once a week also beats her to a pulp before bed time, and that the lady with the shiny hair is actually wearing a wig because she just finished chemo after a horrific battle with breast cancer. A lady who I assumed had tons of money because they were always taking lavish vacations and buying fancy things just confided in me that they couldnt make their mortgage last month. So we just never know. As my wise father often told me, "There will always be those folks who have it worse than you and those who have it better than you." Hmm, so true, Dad, so true.

5. Life Is Meant to be Lived. In the Pleasure Prescription, the author, a cancer survivor himself, talks about the time he spent with other cancer patients on his ward. These folks, he explains, were more concerned with the well being of others than they were for themselves. They took joy in little daily things, like the sun streaming through their window, a cool rag on their forehead and a special dessert when their stomach would allow it. The bottom line? They were just happy to be alive. Many books I've read over the past year sum up most church going folks with this paraphrased quote: "We are told that eternity is all that matters, so we walk around, sour pussed martyrs, saying "Oh well, at least I've got Heaven" in an Eyore tone. We study our Bibles to become more "studied" and yet we forget how to love our neighbor. We spend more time picketing political causes than enjoying sunsets, good music and our spouses. And we spend so much time in Bible studies and volunteering at the church that we forget to look outside our little world at the dying, broken, homeless population that needs a loving touch." Indeed, we've done all that and more. John Eldredge expands on this in his book "Desire" when he says, "We kill all the deepest desires in our heart and call it sanctification." Who put those desires in our heart anyways? Perhaps the creator of the universe? Is it any wonder many folks look in our world and want nothing to do with it? I was nearly there myself, ready to step outside those church doors forever. But something still draws me in, and that something is Jesus and the beautiful, wonderful, colorful and sometimes messy life he lays before us. Life is meant to be lived to the fullest. It's why we have good music, begonias, and yes, chocolate cake. Author Richard Dahlstrom explains a scenario in his fantastic book "O2" about visiting a family in Germany. The family sat at a long table, feasting on the finest of foods, laughing and encouraging him to participate. The grandmother poured herself one mug of German beer after another and seemed to be having the grandest time of all. He was just starting to judge her a bit when she stood up, pulled him into the other room and began to show him pictures of World War 2. "You know what got me through that horrific time?" she told him. "It was God." In that moment, he felt about four inches tall. This woman had known true hardship, and she had much to celebrate. She knew that life was indeed good, rich, beautiful even. And she celebrated it with a couple beers and some good food. All through the Bible, there is mention of lavish feasts, wine and good company. So why are still walking around with our tails between our legs and our heads down? It's really hard to see a good sunset or appreciate a stunning mountain peak with one's head hung. It's time we start looking up and start living again.

6. There Isn't Just One Box. From the time I was a kid, I felt different. My mother accused me of daydreaming and my teachers and peers accused me of being too shy (or snobby, as they perceived it) In truth, I was just a dreamer stuck behind a little metal school desk who would rather be writing stories and playing the piano than working up fractions and talking about the weather. It took me over 30 years to discover the crux of my problem: I was different. A personality test revealed that my kind makes up less than one percent of the population. In other words, 99 percent of the rest of the world wasn't going to "get" me. Amazingly, I wound up marrying a fellow INFP (Meyers Briggs test for those of you not familiar with those terms) and we've spent the last few years trying to help one another get on the best we can in life. Learning who I was explained so much: why I often felt bored in church, why I hated going to parties alone, why I detested small talk, why I was constantly scatter brained, why Steven Curtis Chapman sometimes made me cringe, and why I often ditched my housekeeping to run off to lunch with a close friend. Learning that I didnt fit in the "box" made me rethink this whole "box" thing. Who says what goes in the box anyways? Countless books, sermons, TV shows, movies and media images have flooded our minds over the years, swaying us to believe that beauty looks a certain way (tall, blond, thin!) that a good Christian looks a certain way (never drinks, attends three Bible studies a week, serves in the nursery!) and that success looks a certain way (big house! fancy car! cushy CEO job with private office and cushy leather chair and pretty secretary!) Isnt the beauty of life the fact that we're all different? Wouldnt it be a shame if everyone was a leader, if everyone desired to work as a nurse or if everyone wanted 2.2 kids and a dog and a white picket fence? Since when did life become so small? These days, we have to lump everything into categories. "Organic and non organic food." "Secular and non-secular music." "Environmentally friendly products and harmful to the environment products." And on and on we go. Surely God didnt set out for us to be so "small" minded when he created hundreds of different flowers, animals, trees and fruits in the garden. So I don't fit in the box. I'm okay with that. I like my odd shape. I'm a writer and a musician. I don't plan PTA meetings and events or have the cleanest house. But at last, I'm okay with that all.

So there you have it. I'm sure I could go on, but this is a start. In summary, eat more chocolate cake, laugh more, make time for your friends, live life, stop wanting someone else's life and stop trying to be someone you're not. Maybe I've saved you gobs on self help books (goodness knows I've read enough of those to last me a lifetime) Or maybe you stopped at the chocolate cake part (gosh, I hope you have, and I really hope you're enjoying every last bite!) Either way, have a good life. You only get one, so enjoy!