Writing 101 – Day 10

The most emotionally charged meal in my house growing up was ham and mashed potatoes.

For my brother and sister, it was a delight, a joy, a thrilling treat to anticipate when my mom whipped up the potatoes and baked a luscious red ham.

She always seemed to thrill to making “our” favorite meal, and she frequently mentioned how much “we” loved it.

I nodded along, always the child who didn’t want to make waves.

Occasionally, however, I would try to gently work in something about the fact that I not only hated ham, but I also hated mashed potatoes. It was “their” favorite meal, not mine, and I resented the casual over site.

Now that I’m an adult, the issue is all resolved, although by this time I actually kind of do like ham and mashed potatoes.

Must be an acquired taste…

Writing 101, Interesting Person

Today’s challenge: Write about the most interesting person I’ve met in 2014.

The most interesting person I’ve met this year stands below 5 feet tall and would be lucky to weigh 75 pounds.

He is a self-proclaimed “master” of bowling, karate, and soccer, although he admits his skills are a bit rusty in all three.

His hair is a wild mess of curls, spiraling off into wispy tendrils that do just about anything but lie flat.

His hefty imagination and love for chatting allowed him to lead us both through a maze of wondrous tales, which involved a great deal of heroics on his part, with occasional amendments when the facts began to get a bit too twisted. However it ended, he was sure to come out on top.

He regaled me with such a variety it was a bit to hard to keep everything straight, but some of his better opening lines included “Did you notice how soft the inside of my shoes are?”, and “My mom had a cramp today and that was too bad”. Each line of questioning I presented him with gave him no pause – he simply molded the story to fit whatever fantasy crossed his mind.

Of course he was a child – a precocious, precious, sweet 5 year old who seemed to genuinely enjoy our visit. By the end he was so satisfied with the depth of our friendship that he seriously enquired as to why I had not been in attendance at his kindergarten graduation, to which I had to deeply apologize for being tied up at work. No matter that I hadn’t even met him the week prior when he had graduated. Now that we were friends, it was clear he expected me to have been there.

I hope that in 10 years, or more likely 20 years, he hasn’t become so caught up in the daily grind that he forgets what it is to become best friends with a lady in a bowling alley and regale her with tales that are far from true. 

Imagination keeps the heart young.

Writing 101, A Letter on the Path, Day 5

The wind had blown in short gusts all day, strong and fierce for moments, then dying back down to a stillness that was more unsettling than peaceful. Fast food wrappers, plastic bags, and a plethora of newspaper circulars were sent spinning into the streets, emptying out of some unseen back alley or deserted front yard, enjoying their brief moments of unexpected fame as they are catapulted into the stage of the streets.

Its in the midst of the swirling chaos of once passed over debris that I notice the letter, unopened, its American flag still flying proudly on the corner, despite having been marred by the faded ink of the post stamp. It seemed it was being sent to an address up the block, and I scooped it up, fully intending to deliver it to its rightful owners, no real curiosity about its contents stirring me. 

As I approach I see that, sure enough, the mailbox is hanging open, its gaping mouth still half full of junk mail and bills. The house, however, is clearly vacant. The lot is overgrown, more weeds than grass, really. A porch step is split down the middle, and a second floor window is shattered into spider cracks that threaten to dissolve with the next gust of wind. As I come nearer I realize the note on the door is an eviction, dated from May 15th. Only one month ago this place had been lived in, I marveled. Clearly neither the landlord nor the tenant had the impetus to make it a place that looked worth living in.

I checked the postmark, and realized the letter had been through the local post office on that very day, probably arriving here to the house on the 16th. One day too late to get ripped open and perused by whatever kind of person lived in a dump like this. Probably just some addict or washed up jack of all trades type anyhow. Too bad they hadn’t invested some time in keeping the house looking better. And I walked away, hands in my pockets. In one hand was the letter, now folded over to accommodate the pocket, and I can’t explain why I did that, instead of stuffing it back into the mailbox with all the other junk.

It was almost a week later when I saw it again, and this time I tore it opened, deciding that I was a perfectly good determiner of what was worth keeping, and assuring myself that if the letter was worth anything I would see that it got passed on. Most likely just junk mail anyhow, and besides, without me it would have been rinsed down the gutter by now and lost to everyone. 

The lines blurred, seemingly incoherent, and I had a dizzy sense of having entered into a private world I was never meant to be a part of.

 

To be continued…

Writing 101 – Day 4, Loss

Its hard to say exactly when it happened. 

I was a happy child, full of imagination, free spirited, believing I could do anything I wanted. Mostly what I wanted was to run in the creek beds and pastures and enjoy the great outdoors. If not that, then I read, consuming vast amounts of books on every subject under the sun.

Other people and their opinions weren’t of very much account to me then.

I could arrive somewhere with ripped jeans and dirt under my nails and a completely unpopular book tucked under my arm and be oblivious to every top brand label and pretty manicure in the building. I thought of myself as smart, analyzing the things coming out of my peers mouths as mostly juvenile, mostly nothing to concern myself with. If there was a challenge at hand or a task to be done, I thought of myself as the person who could get it done.

Confidence. Pride. Individuality. Strength. Belief in who I was and all the potential I held within myself.

One day, or perhaps over a series of days that may have stretched into long months, or even years, that slipped away from me.

By 8th grade I hated myself.

I was fat. I was clumsy. I didn’t fit in to other people’s little circles and cliques. My constant analysis turned inward, away from other people’s general discussions and on to a constant critique of who I was – my too pale skin, fat body, acne, frizzy hair, misfit clothes, inability to look and sound and be like anyone else. I took everything that encompassed “me” and turned it into something to loathe and hate. No one ever said it directly, but I knew that they were all looking at me and seeing exactly what I was seeing.

Essentially, I lost the belief I held in myself.

Unlike some losses, however, this kind of loss need not be permanent.

I followed that trail through a darkness of hatred, culminating in depression and suicidal ideation and a defeatist attitude that assumed I was as worthless to the world as I was to myself.

Its a painful spot to be in, although unfortunately its a place that many have ended up over the years.

My skin is still pale, and I will most likely never have a “real” tan. I could stand to lose some weight, but doing so won’t essentially change how I view  my beauty. Acne comes and acne goes, and its really not world ending. And clothes; well whose to judge someone on their choice of outfit, or label, or price point, or whatever else anyhow?

All of those things – external things – were never the real problem anyway. Sure I used them as proof as how pathetic I was as a person, but mostly I saw them as arrows, pointing back to how pathetic I was on the inside. 

When one sinks to that level of darkness, its not something you can recover from in an instant. It takes years to regain what was lost, to finally recognize that the most painful realization of that time, that you have the “inability to look and sound and be like anyone else”, is exactly the realization that should empower you the most. 

You see, that truth is the reason that it is so important for you to be here, to love who you are, to nurture your strengths and share your thoughts with the world.

Because you are unique. Strong. Individual. Created with a purpose and intent that you alone can fulfill.

And there is never going to be another one of you in the history of the world.

So if you’re in the place right now of having lost yourself, may I encourage you to stop the negative barrage of self talk, sit back, and breathe.

If you know this is a darkness you can’t walk out of yourself, then please seek someone in your life that will shine a light for you. It could be a parent, sibling, or friend, or you can find a local counseling center, pastor, or other form of help. It doesn’t really matter who, as long as they can provide some light.

Don’t be afraid if its hard at first; light always hurts the most when we’ve become too used to the darkness. Press on, believe that better things will come, and have hope that you will be stronger and better on the other side.

What was lost can be re-found.

And you are always worth finding.

 

A Poem

World changes, shifts
Ever in motion
Compassing the sun

We circle too,
Willingly or not
Compelled to participate

Broken bodies shuffling
Dancing the dance
Heat searing down

Quit incessant orbiting
Stop to breath
Rest aching bones

World goes black
Punishment for all
Who stopping, failed

Eyes opening, blinking
First time sight
Seeing inner light

There is more
than empty circling
inner worlds unfurling.

A Room with a View – Writing 101, Day 2

I wake up early, something that happens to me often when I stay here. Normally I would see that as a nuisance, but in this house, this bed, I see it as a chance to reminisce, smiling to myself as memories of the years float through my mind.

The bed creaks as I roll over, reminding me of its seventy plus years of age, perhaps trying to coax me to get up and meet the morning sun. If this bed could talk…well, it would probably tell me how lazy I am for sleeping past eight o’clock, when its sole occupants for so many years were a farmer and his wife. Those are the type of people that rise early, up before the sun has even broken the dim line of the horizon.

Be that as it may, I remain in bed, relishing this early morning relaxation, all the while keeping one ear perked for the sound of the other occupant of the home being up and about. I don’t really feel a desire to get up earlier than her, you see, but I don’t like to stay in too late after she is up. 

When I come out of the bedroom, hair in a rats  nest, eyes a bit bleary, voice hoarse, I know just how I’ll find her. She’ll be at her dining room table, morning coffee in a chipped coffee mug, nightgown slightly faded, Bible and Daily Bread at hand.

She’ll want to jump up, to know what I like for breakfast – cereal, toast, coffee? Its likely she’ll mention juice and milk in the refrigerator; of course I should help my self to everything.

Her hands clasped tightly, with fingers that keep fidgeting and thumbs that keep twiddling, even when she’s sitting still as a stone, she’ll pray a blessing upon us and our bowls of cereal. Next will be the Bible passages listed in her Daily Bread, pausing to rifle through the worn pages, to locate the exact chapter and verse. Following that will be the reading of the the daily writings in the large print version of the devotional. She reads clearly, concisely, occasionally using her forefinger to mark a line of interest.  

Then we pray again, this time for each person in the family who is having a birthday that day. When you bear thirteen children, and are given back thirty two grandchildren and sixty four great-grandchildren, birthdays can become every day occurrences. Once everyone has been covered in prayer, we rise, ready to get on with the day.

Dishes are done, pajamas are replaced with clothes fit for the day, and we reconvene in the dining room, to wonder what to do next. This is place full of wondering, with a woman who loves to wonder. Often it starts with something along the lines of “I wonder if those geraniums need to be watered”, or “I wonder if we need more bananas”, which of course will lead to trips out to the garden, or in to the grocery store. The day will progress as we “wonder” about playing a game – probably dice or cards – and will culminate in”wondering” if its time for nap. There will be liberal amounts of snacks, offers of pop, and breaks for visiting.

This place, in its physical form, is my grandma’s house. For the longest time it was my grandparents house, but in the last year and half my grandpa passed away. Theirs was a marriage of 73 years, most of which I know very little about. Lots of children, lots of sweat and tears, lots of losses and gains.

But the main thing about it all, the part that was most visible to me, was lots of love.

There are certain places in the world that I think we will always feel safe, certain of love, acceptance, and a jar full of lemon drops. For me, that is my grandma’s house.

She is a sacrificial lover, and she will not let any hardship, any difficulty, allow her to lose her love for you. She doesn’t seem to know what it means to walk away, to throw in the towel, to leave someone to their own devices. 

When someone like that tells you that they love you, it takes on a whole new meaning.

And then I realize that my grandma’s house, no matter the memories that it may hold, is not the real place I get those feelings from. Instead, its something more abstract, a place that cannot necessarily be seen, but can always be felt.

A place of love.

Myself – A Stream of Consciousness

I grew up in a black and white world, rigid, uncompromising, definitively either right or wrong. 

Some of it has to do with being raised conservatively, as an Evangelical Christian, but a lot of it came out of my own personality. Until somewhat more recently in my life, I have always struggled with the abstract. The unseen, the intangible, the things that fall outside of the box I have neatly organized my world inside of. I dislike clutter, and thoughts and ideas that don’t fit into categories or have a nice, resolved, outcome can frustrate me to no end.

There are some who would decry this kind of upbringing as being a great shame; they think I must be repressed, naive, unable to see of the contours of the world. In a sense, I understand this, probably because I am not the same person as I was growing up. Its nice to think of little children being raised freely, able to experience anything and everything with no preconceived ideas that have been “force fed” to them.

After all, there is a beauty in the gray mist, the unanswered questions, the parts of life we cannot see, but must so deeply feel.

There is an argument to be made, however, for having that firm of a foundation as a child and young adult. In a world that is constantly screaming in our faces, changing, shifting, questioning the existence of any absolute, there is a beauty in having strong moorings in a safe harbor.

We are free to grow, to play, to be children, assured that we live in an ordered, reasoning, meaningful place.

That we ourselves have meaning and purpose. Not just the vague notion of “you can be anything you want to be”, but instead the powerful belief that I, Hannah Lee, have been created and placed on the earth for a real purpose and reason.

When we place children (too young to think abstractly) into the mainstream of the world, with no real underpinnings, foundations, values, how can we surprised when they best they manage is to float along with the current, doing, saying, and believing what everyone else around them is doing, saying, and believing? They have never been shown that if they would only put their feet down, there is ground to stand upon. And if they had been taught to slowly wade out, to play in the edges, developing their strength, skill, their thought processes and beliefs, they would one day be able to enter the mainstream with the ability to either go along, stand their ground, or swim upstream if they so chose.

Those who thrown in and make a habit for themselves of floating along will hardly gain the strength needed to change course downstream.

No matter how safe the harbor, no ship is made to be permanently barred from the high seas. And so I grew older, and hopefully a bit wiser with passing time, and I developed the ability to see past the deep black and stark white that I was so used to. 

I found that there are a million shades of gray, and every one comes with its own implications and meanings for the way we lives our lives – the way we understand our lives. I also found that recognizing the gray – interacting with the gray – does not always have to mean living in the gray, or even condoning it. Acknowledging its existence and interacting with it, however, widens our shores, broadens our horizons. It can either increase the paths we are willing to travel, or serve as warning to us of ways we do not wish to travel.

The real danger is in refusing to acknowledge that it exists.

Some people have become so locked into one way of seeing, thinking, believing – one way of doing life – that they truly cannot see any shade other than pitch black and brilliant white. When the encounter anything other than those two things they must shut them out, shout them down, condemn them with ears blocked from hearing and eyes blinded from seeing.

 

 

 

Promise

Last night I stayed up until 1:30am applying for a job I may or may not be 100% qualified for. The salary is almost double what I’m making now (not that I’m making tons of money right now…but still), and the position itself seems to be comprised of many elements of what I’ve identified as areas of personal areas passion.

It would allow me to work with inmates / be back in contact with the correctional setting.

It would give me an opportunity to rally volunteers and create opportunities and programs for them.

I would have the chance to work from home a day or two every week (flexibility!).

I would get to work with DFW area ministers and  churches, and create a network.

In short, it ties together some of my favorite job areas (correctional officer & youth counselor in prison and a juvenile center), combine that with my faith and love for people who do ministry (dad’s a pastor, husbands a pastor, I feel for the struggle that that can be), and allows me to be involved in creating and maintaing volunteer groups (something I LOVED when I served as Service Chair with ICC back in MN).

Will I get the job?

Heck, will I even get an interview?

There’s no telling, I guess. I put more heart into my cover letter than I ever have before, and I desire this position in a way I haven’t felt towards a lot of good sounding “other” jobs I’ve looked in to. The last time I felt this way about an open position was when I read about the Service Committee opportunity on the InterCorps Council; when I was accepted onto the committee, and went on to be its Chair, I realized I loved creating, organizing, and developing volunteer bases, and that I love connecting with places that desperately need volunteers to make their programming work.

So heres to trying – putting in the effort – reaching just a little higher than is comfortable.

I’ll keep you posted.

Let me help you with the speck in your eye…

A lot of people are familiar with the Biblical parable about removing the moat (or beam) from your own eye before attempting to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

For those of you who aren’t, the moral is pretty simple. Before you get caught up with the desire to point out and remove all the flaws, sins, shortcomings, and imperfections in those around you, take a good long look at yourself. 

If its an honest look, you’ll find enough to keep yourself busy quite handily, with no need to get absorbed in other people’s shortcomings.

Unfortunately, it seems that the people most likely to be digging into other people’s issues are also the least likely to be honest about their own. 

You see, we judge ourselves by the most lenient standards, taking into account all the thought process and intentions (always positive) and understanding that no matter what we did, or what the outcome was, we meant well.

We didn’t mean to hurt anyone. We were doing the best we could.

But other people; the bar is high and the only colors are black and white. We swat away all the minutia of intention or thought process or what they may have been trying to achieve and we just see that they failed. 

Messed up. Blew it. How very, very wrong they were, with no conceivable excuse.

If we’re honest, I don’t think we usually want to know the backstory. Its easier to write people off as lazy, or selfish, or sinful, or whatever else, and to glare them down (righteously, of course), for all their shortcomings.

For ourselves, we want mercy. Understanding. Forgiveness. We need people to see the gray areas, to understand what we were trying to do. To give us space to make some mistakes, to understand that not every choice we make, or thing we do, is the end-all, be-all defining choice or action.

To see that we are human; struggling, hurting, mistake making, second chance needing, humans.

But aren’t we all?