Giving life back with interest

“For me, my life is like a loan given from God, and I will give this life back, but with interest.”  – Andy Wimmer, from the documentary Happy

In the documentary Happy, Andy Wimmer reflects on his work volunteering at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Sick and Dying Destitutes in Calcutta, India.  For going on two decades, he has helped people who were literally too weak or too sick to handle their most basic needs.  He’s shown them love and eased their burdens.  Simply giving a dying boy food to eat, he says, was a “small enlightenment,” and his perspective on his life’s duty was changed forever.    Continue reading

Advertisements

Shut up and drive

How often have you felt like you’re in an idling car in the midst of your own life?  Your motor is running, but you’re stuck in Park.  And your mind is in the driver’s seat, staring at an empty parking lot, having somehow forgotten how to shift the gear into Drive.

What’s keeping you?

Not long ago I felt that way.  I was in a funk, feeling empty but antsy, like I desperately needed to do something productive and purposeful, but everything that came to my mind was too daunting, too impossible to complete. And the never-ending demands of housework and children seemed to stand in the way of anything personally fulfilling I could do. I pulled out a couple of books filled with inspirational quotes and spiritual writing, hoping a passage would motivate me.

No such luck.

But the recesses of my mind were unknowingly at work, calling up the source I craved.  And out of nowhere, the thought:  I remember carefully choosing the readings at my wedding, and now I can’t even remember them. What were they?

With a sudden sense of urgency, I dug up my wedding DVD.  It’s been over ten years since our wedding, but I’ve never watched the video – ever.

I smiled at the first images of the clear blue sky and eager and expectant smiles, and I immediately felt the joy that was so rich on that day. I laughed when minor mishaps occurred – to include the reader not realizing he was supposed to read.  But then, there he was, reading the words that I needed to hear over ten years later:

“Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, because it is now that God favors your works. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of the fleeting life that is granted to you under the sun. Anything you can turn your hand to, do with what power you have. Again, I saw under the sun that the race is not won by the swift, nor the battle by the valiant, nor a livelihood by the wise, nor the riches by the shrewd, nor favor by the experts; for a time of calamity comes to all alike.” – Ecclesiastes 9: 7, 9a, 10a, 11.

And here is where I realized what I’d been missing: my own get-up-and-do-it-ness.  And what had been keeping me from shifting my gear into Drive?  Perfection.  The need for immediate perfection.

Let me explain.

I watched my wedding video while reclining on my rather crumply made bed, wearing sweatpants and a flannel shirt. Several haphazard piles of my kids’ folded, outgrown clothes glared at me from my dresser.  We’re not going to put ourselves away, they sang wickedly. More dust than is acceptable lined the blades of the ceiling fan.  My three-year-old daughter danced around the bed, occasionally blocking my view to strike a pose as if I were taking her picture. When she flopped next to me on her back, sticking her feet under my nose and demanding, “Say pee-yew, Mama!  Stinky feet!”, I had to laugh at the utter reality of life, and at the comical juxtaposition of the chaotic scene in my bedroom and my wedding day.

Here I was, watching a day for which every detail had been carefully planned. Every minute had been finely choreographed.  Every word had been purposefully spoken.  And the day was glorious.  But it wasn’t perfect.  A cell phone rang during the service.  A baby screamed.  One of the unity candles was cracked nearly in half, teetering ominously next to the altar.  And through what we later learned was a complete miscommunication, the reader didn’t know he was supposed to read.  But the day was filled with joy and love and hope.

Sometimes we can’t shift our gear out of Park because we want to get to our destination without driving there.  We focus on the outcome – the finish line, the victory,the accomplishment, the reward, the praise – and we’re held back because we’re too afraid (or lazy) to make mistakes on our way there. We make excuses.  We resist the stumbles and the detours, the pauses and the restarts.  We want the perfect ending swiftly, skillfully, and sometimes we want it handed to us.

But what would we gain by that?  What would we learn?  And like the reader who forgot to read and my daughter’s stinky feet, what would make us laugh?

My time “under the sun,” like yours, is limited.  Time spent expecting perfection or making excuses is time wasted. No matter how perfect we try to make things, they will never be flawless.  There will always be a crack, an omission, an interruption.  So we can’t aim for perfection.  More specifically, we can’t aim for the fulfillment of perfection.  But we can aim for the fulfillment of doing.

In the doing, there is purpose.  In the doing, there is reward.  In the doing, there is the motivation, the inspiration, the drive that you are looking for.

And each one of us has the power to get up and do.  And we should get up and do. Ecclesiastes might have added that although the “race is not won by the swift,” it is certainly lost by the idle.  And if you consider the lines before it, you might see that, while the finish line is the same “calamity” for all of us, the winning is actually in the running, because it is there that you enjoy life “with a merry heart.”

Ecclesiastes’ words echoed in my heart for the rest of the day.  And that funk melted away. Even though sometimes we think of it in the reverse, that funk is often a state of mind, not a state of circumstances.  I wondered this to myself, and I ask anyone who is idling:

Continue reading

Dear PCS…

(This piece was later published on Military Spouse’s web site.  Click here to read.)

Dear PCS,

Yesterday, you showed up on our doorstep. I turned to my husband and said, “I can’t believe this is happening,” and he said, “You say that every time.”  But I can’t believe this is happening; I can’t believe you’re already here again.

“It’s Moving Day,” you told me. “It’s Moving Day, and I’m going to spend the next eight hours piling your belongings into boxes.  If you hear a crash, a bump, or a dump, just turn away. It’s Moving Day, and this what happens on Moving Day.”

You callously pushed past me, barged into my house like you owned it. You picked up my picture frames, rooted through my closet, emptied my drawers, boxed up my kids’ most precious keepsakes.  You arrived at a home, but left it an unsettled, uncomfortable fortress of cardboard.  What was once our sanctuary has been reduced to a staging area of labeled cargo. I can still sit on my couch, but in a moment you’ll remind me, “I’m going to need to take that. It’s Moving Day, and this is what happens on Moving Day.”

So I’ll sit on a step, lean against a wall, curl up with a book, a magazine, or a newspaper, and I’ll pretend to read, but you and I both know I won’t be reading. I’ll be watching you, instead. I’ll be pretending there are no knots in my stomach when you haul our custom-built Turkish furniture through the narrow doorways. I’ll blink away tears when you clear out my kids’ playroom, and I’ll blame it on the glare from my iPad. I’ll grimace when you drop boxes in my driveway like they have nothing more than blankets inside. You’ll look at me and shrug. “It’s Moving Day,” you’ll say, “and this is what happens on Moving Day.”

But don’t remind me that “this is what I signed up for.”  As if I could ever forget that. And don’t act like you’re assuming control. You’re not. I’ve been preparing for you for months, and I’m onto your wiles.

In fact, I’ve seen you lurking around my home for weeks now, sneaking in and out of rooms, swooping through conversations, steering my car, wrenching muscles in my shoulders and squeezing my head.  You’ve made me say things to my husband that I didn’t mean to say, and you’ve made him do the same to me. You’ve made my kids watch more TV than they probably should, and you’ve made them endure a very tired mother whose back is weary from bending low to pick up, wipe down, scour, and scrub.  You’ve made me tell them, “I’ll play with you in a minute. Just let me finish packing, stacking, organizing, arranging.” Funny thing is, that minute never ends.  You’ve made my husband bear heavy loads at home, even as he comes back from work exhausted from finishing important projects. You’ve made me guilty for asking him to help with things that I couldn’t finish; I wish I didn’t have to burden him.  You’ve made my son look around at the changes and ask, “Mom, if this isn’t our home anymore then where do we really live?”

But here’s what I have to say to you, PCS, you sneaky little beast, who hides behind a vague, euphemistic, and somewhat faulted acronym:

Bring it.

I know who you are, and I know how you roll, and there’s nothing “Permanent” about this “Change of Station.”  This is the time when we add another notch on our bedpost, another picture on our wall, another link in our chain, another thumb tack on our map. “This is from our time in DC,” we’ll tell visitors, and some will say, “I don’t know how you do it.” I’ll throw up a dismissive hand, and say, “It’s nothing.”

Because you are nothing. I know this is a part of the mad game that is military life. And I know that when you load the last box on that massive truck, turn around and smirk at me, arms crossed across your chest, you’ll think you’ve won. You, like some others, will take pity on me, but in a more sinister way, because after all you were the one who emptied my home.

But when you feel my heel connect first to your groin, then to your throat, you’ll realize that the three people standing behind me – my husband, my son, my daughter, and yes, even my loyal dog – they are my home, and you can’t ever, won’t ever, take them with you. You’ve got nothing on them. Stew on that.

I know you’ll visit us again, PCS, I know you will. But next time, please remember how I look standing over you, and remember how you’re too stunned and weak to get up. And remember what I whispered in your ear after I kicked you down:

“It’s Moving Day, and this is what happens on Moving Day.”

Ten years and counting…

Ten years.

Ten years, five moves, five surf boards, three surgeries, two kids, two deployments, two dogs, innumerable TDYs, and here we are. Married for ten years.

And only eleven years ago, before an overseas remote tour prompted our sprint down the aisle, Mike and I were just good friends. We’d been high school sweethearts, but we went our separate ways in college and reconnected when we were twenty-two. Occasionally, in the few years that followed, the recesses of my mind would gently push me toward him again, but I’d quickly shove them back; I wanted no part of a military relationship, and certainly not a military marriage. But Mike was… well, irresistible. And patiently persistent. Then one day, when we were about twenty-six, Fate snapped its fingers.

The rest is history.

I don’t know what I was thinking, getting Continue reading

Dear Mom…

It was gray and cold today, a day that followed yesterday’s 12 straight hours of chill-you-to-the-bone rain.  Stepping out the door to let the dog out earlier this morning, I shivered at the damp cold in the air and rubbed my hands over goosebumps on my way back inside.  Later, as I put my kids in the car, I recoiled at a few chilly gusts of wind, pulling my face into my coat’s collar.

That’s why, as I drove my kids to preschool, my eyebrows furrowed and my lips pursed when I saw a mom in a T-shirt walking down the street with her small son.  No higher than her hips, her son was yanking his long sleeve T-shirt down around his fists, attempting to pull his arms inside the rest of his shirt while shuffling to keep up with his mom.  He was cold.

“Why don’t you have a coat?” I exclaimed to myself aloud.  “It’s thirty-nine degrees outside!”

In the back seat, my two year old daughter questioned, “Ah wong, Mom?” (What’s wrong, Mom?)

I turned onto a side road and explained what I’d seen, ultimately promising, “No matter what, I will always keep you warm.”

After some brief self-reflection, I added with a drip of humor, “And that’s because I have a constant worry that you are cold.”

My daughter replied a not very convincing “oh” of understanding, and I quietly laughed to myself, knowing I’d inherited that constant worry from my own mother.

Growing up, there were many mornings that I’d awaken to find Continue reading

All Funked Up

I’ve written a lot about the things I love about the military life.  But you know what?  I can get in a funk about it, too.  Sometimes I feel so over the TDYs, the deployments, the changes, the uncertainties… I’m done! I think to myself.  Just let me plant my roots!  I want roots!

I want the cute little neighborhood with neighbors I’ve known for years, the cracked window panes from rogue baseballs that we never got around to fixing, the dirt under my nails from toiling in my very own garden in my very own yard and the ugly sun hat to go with it (yes, Mike, I hear your objection to the sun hat and the request for a bikini and a killer bod).  I want to decide to put up a porch swing and to be able to just go ahead and do it – no permission from landlords needed, no “nice alternative” considered.  I want to walk into my house that I spent a substantial amount of time searching for and choosing, and I want to walk into it without thinking “it’s only temporary.”  I want to not have to worry so much.

All right, all right… that last line was too much.  Anyone who knows me knows there’s no chance that “worry” would someday not be synonymous with my name.  But anyway…

Sometimes I catch glimpses of all those “wants” in this temporary place we’re calling home, tantalizing suggestions that maybe life isn’t so lacking.  In fact, recently I’ve been catching handfuls of them, and they’ve gotten me thinking about Continue reading

“The House that Built Me”

“Won’t take nothin’ but a memory from the house that built me.” – Miranda Lambert

After you spend a number of years moving around, the  question “Where are you from?” becomes a bit comical to a military family, and it can be surprisingly difficult to answer.  The answer could be anywhere – the town where you were born, the home your parents moved to after you left, the assignment that you loved the most and that feels like home, the assignment you had before this one…

But recently I heard a song, Miranda Lambert’s “The House that Built Me,” which is about a woman retracing memories through her childhood home, and it got me thinking about where I come from… where I really come from: the place I came home to days after I was born, and the place I came home to every day for the next 21 years.  The place that’s in my mind’s eye when I think of home.

My childhood home was idyllic, a near-century-old home with creaky floors, single-sinked bathrooms, and a sprawling yard shaded by two 100-year-old oaks.  In the back, a long driveway that we called our alley was shared by ten houses.  Young kids trampled across backyards, rode bikes up and down the alley, and paid visits to the two elderly sisters living next door to us, who always had a stash of cookies.  Our mothers watched us through kitchen windows and called us in when it started to get dark.

Summers were dreamlike, with crickets chirping, children squealing, cicadas buzzing, breezes blowing, balls bouncing, bicycles whizzing, jump ropes slapping, chalk scraping, feet hopping, popsicles slurping, and cares… not existing.  The sounds of summer hung in that seemingly perpetual pinkish haze just before sunset, when the pure and blissful hearts of children gave exuberant life to a neighborhood that had existed for over a hundred years… and that would continue to exist for hundreds more.

It’s been fourteen years since my parents moved to a newer, shinier place, but when I sleep and dream of home, I’m back in that old house, walking through my bedroom or waving to my best friend across the yard.  And I wonder…

If I were to return, knock on the door as the woman in the song did, who would open the door?  What would I want to say to them, show them?  Would life exist for them as it did for us in that house?  Do they know, do they fully understand how special, how extraordinary  their  neighborhood is?

Do they know that my neighbors and my family experienced Continue reading

Standing on Her Shoulders

There’s a particular conversation that replays itself frequently between me and my husband.  No, it doesn’t involve taking out the trash, putting the cap back on the toothpaste, or making sure to turn off the light when you leave the room.  It’s actually about something a lot more interesting, something that never fails to leave us both with a sense of awe and appreciation:

The people we meet because of the military life are such a small fraction of society, and yet I feel like Continue reading

My Hero, My Son

 

photo (11)

 

You see that cake?  It’s made with about 10 cups of sugar and triple the amount of guilt.  

That’s what happens after your three-now-four year old spends a whole year without Dad and then sweetly asks for a “dragon cake wiff some sort of wittwe fing on the top of it” for his birthday.  As this was the first time Mike was home on our son’s birthday since his birth, well, we went a little crazy in the cake department.  

And on his fourth birthday, as he gleefully played with his buddies and begged for his cake to come before dinner, I got to thinking about what the last year was like while Mike was deployed, and how very strong our son was.  Man, did he handle that year beautifully.  He’s all but forgotten about that deployment, and here I am feeling like I’m still getting over it, still shuddering at the word and the residual stress that creeps like ivy around my memories.  

It’s amazing how someone so small can teach you something so big.  Of all the “teachable moments” I’ve had with my son, this past year Continue reading

Carving my niche… with Barefoot Books

This blog came to life as an antidote to a post-PCS (Permanent Change of Station aka “our move”) funk that had left me feeling… well, funky.  After we unpacked, Mike went back to work, and I sat here staring at my young kids, wondering what magic I could perform to make them self-sufficient (just for a day!), and lamenting my sense of imbalance and placelessness.  I needed a niche.  I was feeling not a little bit sorry for myself, and I hate feeling that way.  I had to get rid of that feeling; I had to get up, get moving, step outside The Comfort Zone, and begin making a place for myself here in Virginia.

And – what was that strange bubbling in my blood?  What was that fire in my gut?  Was that….. Continue reading