Tuesday, November 30, 2010

a little clarity for my beleaguered brain

So, I did a little hunting to find out about "backsliding," and it turns out to be a slightly misplaced translation in some ways. The instance I found in Jeremiah was referring primarily to the apostasy of the Hebrew people in turning away to worship false idols and rejected their God. Today's connotation for backsliding is much different. We tend to attach it any lapse in obedience to our professed standards. The original Hebrew word is meshuwbah, and it has a few meanings, but in this instance it was meant to mean "turning away," "turning back," or "apostasy." How did we turn it into a judgmental substitute for slacking? Probably by being judgmental in the first place, and we all know how much of that went during the middle ages. Look at the crusades.

Anyway, my hunt brought me to another scripture found in Galatians 6, verses 1 and 2:

1 Brethren, if a man be aovertaken in a bfault, ye which are spiritual, crestore such an one in the spirit of meekness; dconsidering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
 2Bear ye one another’s aburdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

At Christmas time, it should be easy for us to remember that our job is not to find fault or pass judgement, but to lift and help and assist a fellow traveler with their journey. I'm going to try a little harder. Because I'd like other people to look at my faults and weaknesses with a kind eye sometimes. Most of us are hard enough on ourselves as it is. Think how much we'd feel able to accomplish if we felt like everyone was rooting for our success. Might be worth trying.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Jumbled thoughts

Three things on my mind these days. Running away (ala Jonah style), the concept of backsliding, and self-destructive self-deprecation. I know, I know. Not asking much of the brain, am I?

Anyway, running away is always so attractive a prospect whenever we're faced with a seemingly insurmountable or potentially painful obstacle. It's our survival instinct at its height. When faced with danger, flee. It's even a military strategy and gets quite a bit of time in the Book of Mormon. But what does it do but delay the inevitable? Don't we usually have to face the problem eventually? And every time we postpone that event, don't we feel a little less capable of success? I do. I remember a quotation that was delivered in a workshop I attended years ago dealing with time management and leadership skills. It had far more applications than the speaker was hinting. And the quirkiness of the visual image it generates has kept it with me.

"If you have to eat a pond full of frogs, eat the big one first."

As a confirmed procrastinator, it was quite a revelation to me. Somehow the idea of forcing myself to actually eat a large frog made most tasks I face seem immaterial by comparison. I try not to run away if I can help it these days because I know that big frogs just get bigger, and probably tougher to chew.

Backsliding is a weird word in the scriptural sense. The modern connotation is odd when you think about it. How did it get attached to religion or morality in the first place? Why didn't they use a word like relapse or re-offend instead? I've always thought it sounded like a style of tobogganning or body surfing, and somehow a little safer than going head first. After all, if you damage the head, it could wreck the whole body, right? The first occurrence seems to be in the 1580's, which makes me wonder who was doing the translation of the bible at that point, and why choose such an innocuous term to describe reoccurring apostasy? I mean, we all understand what it refers to, and sadly a lot of us do it, but who started the whole thing in the first place? What was the original wording in Latin, Greek or Hebrew, and would it translate a little differently today? I might just have to do some looking, because it's really bugging me.

Self-deprecation - a pretty word for making less of God's creation. But how often do we do it when we brush aside someone's compliment, or comment on our inadequacies in conversation, or send negative messages in the way we treat ourselves? I know it's a tough one for me. It's so much easier to negate someone's praise with a quick little quip rather than say thank you and move on. Why is that? How often does Satan succeed in telling us we're fat or too slow or not smart enough or just too plain? Too often in my case. And if you think about it, every time we swallow the lies, we reject the precious gift we have been given in mortality - the opportunity to experience physically and spiritually what it means to choose for ourselves. Because really, putting yourself down isn't really choosing for yourself, is it? It's just adopting someone else's opinion and pretending it's ours. Plagiarism, really. Theft of our own potential.

How on earth do all these things fit together? A bit of a stretch, I know, but it's just where my head is going right now. Running away and backsliding can fit together in a sense, but adding in butchering our self-esteem is a little harder. But they do work together if you consider that when we destroy our own confidence, it's much easier to rationalize the running away and backsliding. Because if you're not adequate or just not capable, you can excuse running away and backsliding by saying you wouldn't have been able to do it well anyway. And then having failed, we have the perfect excuse to put ourselves down even more and it snowballs into a complete sense of inertia. We can't begin to do anything because we're not good enough. And saddest of all, is the fact that it's really just another lie we've swallowed, because we were never doing it all by ourselves in the first place.

So be nice when you look in the mirror, don't run away, and pull out the condiments to make that frog palatable because he's only going to get bigger if you wait.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Who are we really?

Going to take a departure from pottery and mushy love dedications today, and discuss something that really gets my brain going in circles - character misrepresentation, and how we live in a world that seems to thrive on it.

I mean, think about all the "beautiful" people out there paraded through advertising and entertainment and how little of that is the real story. And what about the way we try to appear poised and competent in our public lives but go home and feel like we're coming apart at the seams? So much of our society is built upon partial truths and misinformation.

I was reading Jeremiah this morning, chapter 2, verse 33 and a particular phrase really stuck with me:

"Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love?"

Don't we all do that? Think about the way girls are trained to augment their natural beauty at an increasingly younger age. And how many times have television programs been centered on unnatural surgical procedures or makeovers? They all seem to have one central message, "You weren't good enough the way you came, so it's okay for you to do whatever it takes to fix the problem." And what if the problem isn't with the way we look, dress, or behave, but lies in our society's perception of the ideal?

Where I work I have to deal with glamour and gossip magazines on a regular basis. It always bothers me to see so much made of a celebrity's suddenly changed hairstyle, who they went to the theater with, what their ex-nanny said, their sexual orientation bombshell, and so on. None of these things solve any real problems in the world. Children still die of disease and hunger in much of the world. Women, men and their offspring still do unspeakable things to each other within their own homes with the rest of us none the wiser. Why on earth are we still deifying the pettiness of manufactured news and popularity? It seems to be just more of that same fixation we have with garnering approval in any way we can. It's why we put braces on our children's teeth, dye our hair, spend more than we should on Christmas gifts for people that don't matter, dress in clothing that doesn't fit right or make us feel comfortable, pierce, tatoo, nip and tuck, buy houses we can't afford, fill our homes with things that have no purpose beyond acquistion, and the list could last for days....

Our society teaches us to have unrealistic expectations a lot of the time. We come to believe that if we just have that kind of hair, those kinds of clothes, a newer car, a bigger house, that somehow our lives will be so much better. And I'm just as guilty as the rest of the world, too. I have too many bottles of nail polish for toes that only see sunshine for 6 months of the year. And I have to go through my closets and drawers a couple of times a year to discard the items I thought I needed but somehow don't seem to wear. And I catch myself coveting a larger, warmer house often enough that I felt more than a twinge of remorse when I read those words this morning.

How do we fix it? Same way we fix everything in this mortal existence. Fix our focus on the only individual capable of directing us with impunity and actually let Him do it without butting in. Because we all know how much we bristle when someone else tells us what to do, right?

Now, I'm not advocating tossing out all the cosmetics or wearing homespun. But I do think I personally need to re-evaluate what I'm spending my time and attention on as I seek a sense of validation in my existence. Keeping up appearances can be a dangerous road if no one's really driving the car.

Friday, November 26, 2010

When Somebody Loves You...

Today's post is dedicated to a man I honestly don't deserve. Seriously. He patiently listens to me ramble for hours about clay and glazes and my dreams, and today as he waited around for me for four hours while I indulged my new found passion, I realized just how lucky I am. For some reason it brought the following song to mind:

When somebody loves you
It's no good unless he loves you all the way
Happy to be near you
When you need someone to cheer you all the way

Taller than the tallest tree
That's how it's got to feel
Deeper than the deep blue sea
That's how deep it goes if it's real

When somebody needs you
It's no good unless he needs you all the way
Through the good or lean years
And for all the in between years come what may

Who knows where the road will lead us
Only a fool would say
But if you'll let me love you
It's for sure I'm gonna love you all the way

Thank you, Sammy Cahn and Jimmy VanHeusen for penning a song that could capture a feeling so succinctly. Because, honestly, that's how I feel about him. He is continually proving that nobility and chivalry are alive and well. So many times I've watched him sacrifice his own desires and dreams for those he loves. This is a man that will stay up when he's exhausted just because his children feel like talking. Or he'll take the dog in -30 weather all alone so his shivering wife can stay home in her blankets and not turn into an icicle.

Perhaps I'm overdoing it. But I don't think so. And maybe the glow of a successful pottery day is coloring my perceptions in general, but he really is that good. Honestly.

Yes, some of my pieces were already sold when I arrived for my stint at the sale, and even better, this week's firing was a success. Many happy surprises. A few boo boos (like a couple of fused lids as well as a hideous clear matte glaze that looked like crystalized honey - ick!), naturally, but mostly good stuff. Lots of positive reinforcement, and having Trevor there to share it with me just made me feel like a walking marshmallow. Sometimes life is just too good not to share it, and having him there to share it made it absolutely perfect.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

two days of silence...what could it mean?

Well, I really intended to post something but life got in the way - sort of. I have been fretting a little about participating in my first pottery sale at the guild. I've built up so much pottery in the past year that it's really time to part with some of it. But that leads to the inevitable questions.

Will anyone buy it?
What if it's too ugly?
This is a public admission of my work, and what if it's laughable by comparison with the work of more experienced potters?
What could I even charge for my pieces without feeling weird?

And a part of my brain realizes this is ridiculous because it doesn't matter. I like the pieces, and they are representative of the journey I've been on for the past 18 months. And it really is a success. There are no flintstonian blobs anymore, and I've even been glazing well the past few firings. So what's the big deal?

Same thing it usually is. Adults who were self-conscious teens are usually self-conscious adults when confronted with their own inexperience and frailties. Most of us, anyway.

I should probably just deal with it. After all, I need to sell pieces in order to justify the continued expense of pursuing this avenue of creativity. Not so I can make a profit but more so I can recoup the cost of the process. I would feel less guilty about the expense if I could lessen it somehow with the sale of pieces. So, in dropping off a couple of boxes of bowls etc. last night, I'm taking a leap of faith - that somehow what I've been doing will be of worth to someone else. Then I'll really believe I can keep doing this. That's what I'm telling myself anyway. No one will be happier than me if I sell a bunch of it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

sometimes it's best just to accept our own stupidity

The day started like a normal Monday, albeit a cold one, which meant that the interior of the truck promptly fogged up when I began driving it to work even though it had been warming up in the driveway for several minutes. By the time I got to the parking lot behind the store, I could only see through the bottom 6 inches of the windshield. Thinking I would save time by not driving all the way to the end of the parking lot before turning around to park on the other side, I turned the wheel sharply to head over to a parking spot only to discover a previously invisible snow bank on my left side. Oops. And I immediately discovered how embarrassing it is to become high-centered in a four-wheel drive.

How do things like that happen? I have no good answer except that sometimes even smart people have fits of idiocy and inattention. And then we have to swallow our pride and admit that we need other people who were paying attention to save us from ourselves. So, my boss ended up towing me out of the snow, and I drove to the end of the parking lot where I turned around safely to come back and park properly in a parking space like I should have done in the first place. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself, don't you?

I noticed the other day while looking at one of my nativity sets that a particular wiseman has rather a condescending pose - almost as though he didn't entirely approve of the rude and humble circumstances of his king's birth. I'm sure it would have been a far more decorous occasion had he been in on the planning. But he wasn't. And that's kind of the point, isn't it? No matter how much we think we know, or how competent we believe we are, very little in the day to day circumstances of our life is really in our control.

So, I will be remembering the "superior" wiseman the next time I think I have any wisdom in my particular circumstances. I will try to remember not to stand idly by judging events without any form of omniscience. Because even though our Lord and Savior knows everything, he still has time for each of us in our corrupted, tarnished state. He takes us in our broken state and loves us back to perfection. The least I can do is try to make his job a little easier sometimes by taking pride out of the equation.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

the post that almost didn't make it

This one's a little odd. I almost didn't post it because I was unsure if it made sense. But in keeping with the idea behind this blog, I guess I need to be careful not to edit myself too much because technically that's not exactly honest. I guess I was worried this would come off sort of too personal and indulgent. And unfortunately I'd have to admit that I can be that way from time to time. After a day at stake conference and a little time to reflect today, I can let myself do it anyway, I think. So today won't get a full post, but kind of an intro to the posting I didn't get around to putting out yesterday...

feeling festive, albeit controlling:

So the tree's up and sparkling away, but it required a complete overhaul of the living room to pull it off. Which led to dejunking all the storage cupboards on the stairs, a trip to Lethbridge for lights that actually work, and kitten-proofing the tree and living room in general.

Do I feel better for it. Absolutely. But I wonder if I should take it as an ominous sign that my offspring avoided the living room completely the entire night until the whole thing was done? Is my drive to get things right a source of alienation for my family? I hope not, because I suspect I'm not likely to change any time soon. I know I'm a control-freak and that it's almost impossible for me not to "fix" something if it didn't get done quite how I'd envisioned, but I also know that I have a right to exert my influence on my domain. I've already conceded so much ground to the other people in my life that some things just feel like they're non-negotiable.

Sometimes my children have said things like, "I need your help, but I don't want you to take over," or even worse, "Don't ask Mom to help. She'll just do it herself." And I have to admit that I'm guilty of that sometimes. I think about the Greek houses from grade 6 (4 of them) and the burn scars I still have on my fingers from the glue gun, as well as the tiny grecian urns I sculpted out of plasticine...Is this my unique variation of OCD?

I think Trevor nailed it last night as we drove through bitter weather to pick up lights before the stores closed. He said the issue is that I'm an innate problem solver - I see a problem and my brain has to fix it. It won't let go until it does. It's why I become completely fixated doing family history, or planning how to fix a problem room, etc. It's probably also why it's physically painful for me to surrender a problem that's not fixable. Is it a bad thing? I suspect not. It's just another variation of all the personality variations available to us in this existence.

Friday, November 19, 2010

trying to delay the onset of Christmas

So, as I was decorating the tree at work today (which is so much fun because there's always brand new ornaments that have been hiding away waiting for this time of year), I caught myself thinking (again) that maybe it's late enough for me to start decorating without incurring the wrath of my family's scrooginess. Because apparently putting up Christmas decorations too early can somehow destroy the strength of the Christmas spirit.

Anyway, I've been trying to hold back because I know that once I get started it will be hard to stop until it's all out and up and making me hum while vacuuming. And I wonder why that's something to avoid? I love decorating, and I have a real weakness for ornaments. But I don't have a house that you can get carried away with reasonably. Too many odd spaces and dysfunctional furniture. And then I would start thinking about changing the whole house, buying different furniture to display decorations better, buying a bigger fluffier tree...you can see why I would want to hold myself back.

I guess the problem isn't really with Christmas and the feelings it engenders while decorating. The problem is me. I have this internal measuring stick against which I judge my efforts and my mind envisions this glorious spectacle that leaves me warm and fuzzy. But when it comes into contact with the harsh reality of my resources, it's just not going to be pretty. And it's uncomfortable to realize that I'm that way with most things - my expectation usually outstrips my accomplishment. It's why I'd love to get totally carried away at Halloween (and every other decoration worthy occasion) but won't let myself because I know it will just make me too aware of what isn't possible. I don't like annihilating my dreams with reality. It feels like murder.

Is that fear? Probably on some level. Thankfully it doesn't keep me from taking a leap once in a while. And sometimes just the act of trying is fulfillment in itself. And just imagining what could be under altered circumstances keeps me feeling rather effervescent sometimes.

So, am I dragging out the ornaments tonight? Maybe. I know I can't delay it forever. Just the anticipation of the lit tree can make me start smiling. So what if it's not December for 10 more days. A little early holiday spirit never hurt anyone, right?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

a life of servitude

Sometimes, when being dictated to by a 17 year-old, I ask myself how this happened. When did I become the equivalent of a serf in my own household?

Do other parents feel this way when their offspring begin laying out conditions for our inclusion in their lives with statements like, "Oh, Mom, I'm going to need a new pair of dress pants by Friday because they're doing wardrobe check for show choir." Or dialogue like, "We're going to need to eat early because we're supposed to be up at the church by 6:00 tonight." My personal favorite is being told to stop being creepy when I'm having fun, or the glare of disapproval when I steal a kiss from my husband in the kitchen.

Perhaps it's just a symptom of the egocentricity of teenagers? Which makes me wonder if I was like that? I don't think it was quite so bad. But I believe we were left to our devices a lot more 30 years ago. I didn't expect my parents to magically replace clothing all the time. And I certainly wouldn't have dreamed of telling my mother what to make for supper and when it needed to be ready by. Saddest of all is realizing that we probably created this monster ourselves by being so involved in our children's lives and trying to make sure we were visibly "good parents." Hence the piano lessons, the soccer teams, the football camps, the elaborate Halloween costumes...

It all has a way of making you feel underappreciated and servile. I ask myself if they're ever going to realize what an immense body of work it amounts to - eighteen to twenty years of making them look and feel good. Probably not. Does it matter? Probably not. Most of us would do it again. And what does that say about us? Maybe it's a new syndrome - Disregarded Parental Serf Syndrome - DPSS for short.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

life through a child's eyes

Today I showed up for my weekly spot at preschool storytime at the library armed with paper and books about airplanes. I've done this theme before many times and it's always reliable but I wasn't anticipating how it would make me think about things.

With the wintery weather, attendance was sparse, so we opted to make our paper airplanes and helicopter rotors (paper twists) first and then move on to the stories. I'd forgotten how magical a little paper folding can seem in the eyes of a child. They were ecstatic to create their own airplane capable of drifting through the air for a few feet. And watching the paper helicopter blades spiral down was just as exciting for them. Over and over again they climbed the stairs to the balcony level to throw their planes and helicopters over the rail to float down.

Such a simple thing and yet able to bring so much joy. Why do we lose that as we age? And do we really have to? I don't think so. I guess that's why I keep doing storytime even though I'm long out of the toddler stage of parenting. There's something so refreshing watching stories and crafts unfold before a child's eyes. It reminds me once a week that magic does exist and that everyone can take a turn at being the wizard (or witch) once in a while.

Each week as I scramble to get things ready and think of activities to go along with my arbitrary themes, I ask myself if I really want to keep doing this. And then I go and watch their faces and realize I'm not really sure I know how to quit anyway. And maybe it keeps me from losing the magic in my own life, and that's a precious thing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


So, this morning 4:30am I awoke to hear howling wind and ice crystals rattling the windows and I knew it was going to be one of those days - the ones that challenge my sense of fairness in the world. I peeked out the window to confirm the crustiness of the day and then crawled back into bed to wallow in denial for another couple of hours.

From the inside of a warm house the new landscape is crisp and clean. Hence the "pretty." However, once you have to venture out into the reality of that landscape it becomes only too apparent where the "awful" comes from.

Which makes me wonder a little bit about our perceptions. How is it that we decide that our inconvenience or discomfort somehow trumps the needs of mother nature to utililize dormancy to make rapid focused growth possible. After all, think of how material blessings deteriorate over time until one day they've become trials. The vehicle that entered your life as a complete and total blessing when transportation was becoming hit and miss becomes a lemon too after a few years. Does that negate it's role as a blessing? I don't think so. I think it's the transitory nature of mortality that does it to us.

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." - Anne Bradstreet Meditations Divine and Moral, 1655

So I suppose it comes back to opposition in all things. We don't realize how good food tastes until we have experienced hunger. We don't understand the true nature of blessedness until we have wallowed in our own grief. Unfortunately, that means we sometimes have to bear the bitter bite of winter in order to really treasure the warmth of spring. I don't really like that idea, but I guess we all have to deal with things we don't like. So I will be chilled for the next 5-6 months before experiencing the blessed delicious days of summer where my body is actually capable of generating enough heat. SIGH... The dark days are upon us. I'd write a haiku to commemorate the occasion, but then everyone would be depressed....

Monday, November 15, 2010

Getting Started

Okay, so here's the thing...I find myself increasingly surrounded by people, things and events and yet strangely more isolated than ever and never seem to find enough time to keep track of everyone and everything via normal social networking sites, so I'm taking the plunge and starting a blog. I have no idea whether anyone will ever read it, and I really don't much care, but I haven't been writing for release like I used to a few years ago, and I realized I need to. I love writing. I love the power and ownership of words and the way you can use them to communicate something as ethereal as a feeling or sensation.

I'm at that stage of life where my identity is constantly under construction as my children become adults and my home becomes something beyond my control. I recently took up pottery and absolutely love it, but it's hard to justify the time it takes me away from my family and spouse and I occasionally feel a twinge of guilt for the indulgence. But if I don't make the time, I become trapped in a world not of my own making which makes everyone unhappy eventually. And so far, it's much better than antidepressants with none of the bothersome side-effects (other than dried out hands and clay smears).

My faith is changing too. Sometimes it's hard to remember what it was like not to be totally sure about my beliefs and their value in my life. That makes it hard to watch my children struggle with their own ideology and not be able to point out how much easier it is when they embrace the truth. When you know it's right, it's difficult to accept that it might not be right for someone else. I live in hope that one day they'll all feel the way I do about being LDS and it won't just be a label. But faith is individual, isn't it?

Someone today mentioned that they have come to the conclusion that Proverbs 22:6 "aTrain up a bchild in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."obviously doesn't apply to their offspring. And I found myself wondering, "Why not?" I mean, doesn't everyone deserve as many chances as it takes to decide what their life is really all about? What if it takes an individual decades to finally surrender to the training they received in their childhood? Judging by my children, there are no limits to a stubborn mindset. So, I guess my thought today is that we all have been given agency and it's the most precious gift we possess next to life itself. Christ will never take that gift away. It's just not in the plan. Unfortunately it means a lot of us will make an unholy mess of our lives before we learn how to shape it again. To use a pottery comparison, very few people are able to throw a perfectly centered, attractive vessel the first time they sit down at a wheel. Most of us make a lot of flintstonian pieces before we produce something recognizable. But if we keep trying, the potential for beauty is there. It's just waiting for us to attain the skill and facility with the medium to make it real. God will let us make as many ugly pots as it takes, because he knows that we're worth it. I know we are.