Thursday, October 19, 2017

on words that wound: the sound of silence

Today, I just wanted to scream. Yell my head off. Intervene. But I kept silent.

I still don’t know if I did the right thing. It feels like I didn’t.

The woman in the store that was screaming at the 3-year-old who was screaming. I wanted to scream right at her to stop. Instead I turned away and made my way to the front of the store. The screaming continued, it followed me to the register and out into the parking lot.

By then the girl was crying in earnest. Not throwing a tantrum anymore, just crying. They walked right up beside my van, and the woman started screaming the most vile curse words imaginable at the little one.

Still I was silent.

I watched, yes I watched very carefully, because if she had laid a hand on that girl I would have intervened, called the police, all of it.

But she didn’t, and so I didn’t.

I felt helpless and half sick, and unsure and confused about what, if any, responsibility I had.

I was worried that she would do far worse to the child. I’m still worried about that.

But I didn’t DO anything.

My 12-year-old grandson was with me, and he was absolutely horrified. As we sat there discussing what had happened, the woman and the child disappeared from sight.

I still feel half sick, and I still don’t know if I should have done something or if it would have only made matters worse.

What I do know, however, is that words wound. They are damaging. Tone of voice carries meaning, for better or for worse. This extreme example has made me remember to watch my words. To check my tone. With the young people I love, and with the old people I love. The ones in between too.

I saw that little girl’s face. Indeed, she was throwing a monstrous tantrum in the store. I know, it’s frustrating to manage a situation like that. I remember. I’m not taking anything away from the absolute fact that mothering is the hardest thing. In the world.

I remember yelling at my own kids. I wish I hadn’t but I did. Out of anger, frustration, fear, whatever – I yelled. So I’m not saying anyone is bad for yelling at their kids. It happens.

And kids throw tantrums. It happens. 

But there is a broad line between discipline and abuse. This was so extreme, so out of control, frankly it was scary.

My heart is heavy now, and I can’t shake those images. My grandson said it was very depressing. Disturbing. He is right.

I don’t know what would have happened if I would have spoken up. I’ll never know.

I’ll be praying for that fit-throwing little girl, that she is safe, that her wounds won’t be too deep, that they will heal. That people will come into her life and speak love and lightness and acceptance to her.

And I will be a little more careful with my words, I will think about my tone of voice – not just volume, but tone. Tone of voice can carry so much weight. It can call you stupid, incompetent, frustrating, irritating, a liar. When the tone is hurtful, the words sometimes don’t matter.

And this:

I always have the option to be kind. Even when I’m angry, frustrated or scared – I can still be kind with my words and my tone of voice. Even if the words are hard to hear, even if they correct and instruct, I can be kind.

Is that easy? Of course not. But it matters.

I’m still feeling the turmoil of that scene, and I admit that I am scared for that little girl. I didn’t say anything, didn’t act.

It’s too late now.

But I can carry the lesson with me, and choose to be kind even when it’s hard. I can.



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

on middle schoolers: what they carry

A couple of weeks ago, I took my favorite 13-year-old to a workshop about "writing your story" - the book The Things They Carried  (Tim O'Brien), a memoir about the Vietnam War, was to be her jumping off point.

She has written quite a lot of fiction, and it's really very good. But this. This is the real stuff, the things our kiddos are grappling with every day.

This grabbed me by the heart.


"They carry library books, notebooks, pens, paper. They carried heavy backpacks in the morning and string ones during the day.

Earbuds blasting music, they carried the assigned textbooks and the knowledge required for the test next period. They carry iPads and binders and their precious smart phones with them to every class.

Everyone carried the secret anxiety of failing a test or forgetting an assignment, losing a paper or having to present something they hadn’t finished.

Some carried Sharpies to draw with - either on their arms or on their papers - during the dull parts of class. Others had fancy watches, bracelets, necklaces which are never removed. Some considered these items lucky, other just liked the way they looked.

After class they carried their complaints. Madison complained of all the makeup work she had to do, and Delaney hated that she had to bring four separate binders to school. Some, like Isabella, fretted that they had already almost finished their book, but wouldn’t have their class’s library day until the end of the week.

They carry hidden emotions and secrets and stress.

They carry the anxiety of growing up, feeling like high school is coming too soon, too fast.

They carry confusion, about why they are being told to pick a college and a career path already.

They carry the thin boundary between childhood and adulthood, never knowing what to do.

They carry too much, but not nearly enough at the same time."


I remember when my own kids were this age and sometimes so mouthy and sometimes crying for no reason and sometimes tormenting each other and sometimes being so sweet with each other I could hardly stand it.

I see all this in her now, veiled as it is sometimes by the way it manifests, and I ache for her and am so proud of her all at the same time.

But I'd forgotten, you see, my own 13-year-old pain. Yes, this world is is a different one than the one I grew up in, but the feelings are the same. Pressure is pressure, anxiety is anxiety and confusion is confusion. She helped me to realize that despite our age difference, despite our completely different 13-year-old worlds, despite technology and politics and everything going on now that wasn't happening then, the heart cry of a 13-year-old remains the same.

And honestly, some of the cries of our heart never change. We still carry hidden emotions and secrets and stress. We still feel like we carry too much and not enough.

If we can remember, we can give grace even as we correct and instruct these young ones in these hard, hard years. We can remember to understand what it feels like. We can identify with them, and tell them we get it, and maybe, just maybe, we can help them carry the weight of right now as they move toward crossing that thin boundary between child and adult.

I love the transparency of this piece of writing - I love that she can use words to express her world. I love that she is willing to let it out, out into this big big world.

When I asked her if I could guest post her here, she hesitated, then said: "But why would your readers want to hear from ME? I'm just a kid."

Why indeed.

Because no matter what stage of life we're in, we can remember. And when we remember, we can relate to this messy age, and maybe love them just a little bit better because of it.


Friday, September 29, 2017

six things Nashville taught me

Just got home from a wonderful vacay to Nashville with the hubs and my son and his wife. They live in LA (as opposed to KANSAS ... I wish ...) so having this stretch of time with them was really great. The drive was long but the conversation was good.

I learned a few things while we were there:

1) How to call an Uber. Now of course I knew of this thing but I've never USED it. By and large they were all fine, and the pickups were crazy fast, although I never had enough room to put on my seatbelt and this one time the driver showed up with a passenger so there wasn't room for us so he kicked the "passenger" out and we piled in and then he changed his mind and kicked us out.  At least I think that's what happened ...

2) There is a huge replica of the Parthenon in a random park. I don't know why.

3) Nashvillians are friendly, friendly folk. Seriously you guys, we got hands-down the best service every single place we went! Friendly doesn't begin to cover it. Except for that one lady in the antique mall who apparently was having a bad life.

4) The accent I was expecting was mostly missing. Apparently there are 100+ people a day moving to Nashville. I suppose that's the reason that other than a "Shootfire!" from the Walmart cashier and a bunch of "Hey ya'll"s from the good folks at the flea market, everyone sounded like me. Disappointing - I mean, who doesn't love a good accent?

5) The world really is small. While waiting in line (OH HAVE I MENTIONED THE LINES??) we met a lovely couple from Israel, she a judge and he an aviation mechanical engineer.

(Learned that the judicial system in Israel does not include juries.)

Then we were joined by a couple from Australia who met singing on a cruise ship, and then two guys from Norway showed up. FINALLY, some good accents!

6) The music is good but the crowds are insane. This is truly tourist territory - I've only been to Vegas once but the Broadway strip in Nashville sure reminded me of it. There were live bands all up and down the street, and the people watching was so so good, and I thought I was going to get crushed or buried alive 5,463 times.

(These silly things were everywhere. No, we did not get on one.)

For this impatient introvert, the lines and crowds were a bit overwhelming at times, but I wouldn't have traded a bit of it.

Sadly, we didn't see Garth or Dolly or Travis or Vince, but we sure did hear a lot of great music. My favorite was the Station Inn, where a bunch of mostly old guys just show up and jam. The fiddle player is 85, and he plays there four nights a week. There was also an 11-year-old girl playing with them at one point, and just about every age in between.

All of that said and done ... we had a blast and I am glad to be home.

Where have you been lately, near or far? Share with us?

Tired but happy,

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

for when a hard thing happens and your feelings are not your friend

Ever have one of those weeks? When you are surprised by a hard thing you never saw coming and it catches your heart and you can't even breathe. When your feelings are hurt - you feel betrayed, you are disappointed, you are bewildered, you're sad. When you protect yourself from feeling the hurt with anger, bitterness and vindictiveness. When you are feeling all of it and your physical, mental and EMOTIONAL responses are wildly unpredictable and pretty much none of them feel good.

And all the time you're angry and bitter, you are looking outward and blaming, but then you also submerge yourself in an internal dialogue that goes something like this:

I'm a stupid idiot.
If only I would have ...
If only I wouldn't have ...
If only I could have ...
WHY did I invest myself? I know better!

And all of those implicitly lead to this:

I'm not valuable.

Hurt feelings = I'm a stupid idiot = I'm not valuable.

Or is that last part too big of a leap?

I don't think so. Because a constant dialogue in your head about what a creep you are turns into self-loathing. The dictionary definition of loathing is this:

strong dislike or disgust; intense aversion

Whoa. Strong words, right? But if this is how I feel about myself (and by the way I'd never talk to anyone else the way I talk to myself) then I am loathing mySELF. My thinking, my feeling, my speaking, my behavior, all of it - I loathe.

How can I possibly feel valuable when I dislike myself so strongly?

So while the circumstances of my hurt feelings were difficult, I have realized these two things about myself:

First - Ick. I don't like feelings. (Well I pretty much knew that, but it's a good reminder.)

SecondWhen I feel betrayed or rejected, I catapult back to being that betrayed, rejected kid, especially the teenager, and also to that betrayed, rejected young woman. I think most of us have felt that way at some point in our lives for any variety of reasons.

[If you've never felt like that kid or young woman, I'm so happy about that for you. For real I am.]

If you're like me and get stuck in old old feelings sometimes, here's two things I can do:

First, I have to recognize that the way I'm feeling is triggered by things that happened in the life I was living many long years (decades) ago. When that old junk rears its ugly head, I tend to REACT out of those hurt feelings, out of those blaming feelings, instead of RESPONDING thoughtfully and in a grown-up way.

And when I react instead of respond, I often regret what I said/did, or at least replay it endlessly doing the coulda woulda shoulda thing.

And so that endless loop now includes talking crap on myself.

I have to recognize ALL of that.

Second, be introspective for a little while. Pay attention to the trigger, to the feelings - identify their source (if I can). By doing this I am able to separate old hurts from current circumstances. I can explore why that old thing made me feel this way now. I can begin to release myself from that self-loathing because the old thing has suddenly lost its power over me. Do I still feel hurt? Yep. Do I want a repeat of the thing? Nope.

And now I can choose my next move (if any) wisely. I can put aside the old thing, and rationally handle the new thing by responding instead of reacting. I can be sad without being devastated, I can wish things had been different without blaming myself for what was beyond my control. I can be disappointed instead of angry. I can be bewildered without attributing the cause to myself.

Always always I need to own up to my part, though. Sorting through old junk is helpful and valid when it's used for me to grow in a healthy way. Excusing my current bad behavior because I got hurt a long time ago is not helpful or valid.

So there's the tension of not being too hard on myself while simultaneously taking responsibility for what is mine.

If I make healthy adult choices, nothing may change but at least I will have no regrets about the way I handled myself.


I want IF to turn into WHEN - I want to always respond instead of react, I want to take responsibility for my stuff right away, I want to do these things without hours (days, weeks, months) of feeling all the feelings and talking to myself terribly.

I want to be ok with the "but nothing will change" outcome that is so difficult for me to accept.

I want to have no regrets.

It's surely an up and down kind of process, but I've hopped on the ride. Separating the old from the new has truly transformed the way I've looked at my recent hard thing. (Don't get me wrong, this was a days-long journey of screaming emotions before it dawned on me that I was reacting to old junk, not the new thing.)

And I'm so grateful, because while I still feel sadness I am not angry. I have peace about the hard thing, and I have no regrets about the way I handled myself. Eventually the web of lies I told myself was banished (well, taken down to a low roar anyway) and I am left with some hurty feelings ... and peace.

Above all, I'm valuable. I. AM. VALUABLE. Other people don't determine my value, God does. He did. He will. Who will I believe? Humans or God? The God who created me in HIS IMAGE loves me just as I am. After all, he made me just like I am. He's the one I can completely rely on, because he never changes.

And you - YOU ARE VALUABLE. You are also created in God's image, and you can rely on him when the humans hurt you because he loves you and he never changes. Don't leave him out of this process, this journey, this introspection. Take courage, for he will NEVER leave you. He longs to guide you.

What's your hurt right now? How do you handle your triggers? Do you talk to yourself in a not-nice way? Do you believe the truth about you?

I pray you believe it.