The Learning Curve

I’ve always loved learning.  I learned how to read before starting school and was always so excited to go. The end of the school year always brought a barrage of tears and lamentations, followed within days with cries of boredom.  The first day of the next school year brought me almost palpable excitement:  how would my new teacher be?  Who would be in my class?  What would we learn?  What field trips would we go on? (I think it took me until sixth grade to realize that the only answer to THAT question was the game preserve, where I developed my lifelong fear of attack goats, and the fish hatchery.  Seriously.  Every. Single. Year.)

College was an amazing time I didn’t want to end.  I even took anatomy and physiology at the community college one summer for kicks (but dropped out mid-semester because I got too wrapped up in the drama of my mentally unstable lab partner.  Yes, seriously.)  My current student loan balance shows you just how much I loved learning (though clearly not about math.  Or finances.  Or budgeting.)  If I could afford to take some classes today, I wouldn’t think twice about it.  I love learning that much.

So instead, I do two very simple things:  I read and I talk to people.  And I keep learning in every interaction, in every conversation, in every situation – good or bad.

A dear friend of mine was in a very serious car accident last week and is still in the hospital.  He & his wife have a three week old daughter and a four year old son (who thankfully decided he didn’t want to go to preschool that day or he might have been in the car.)  Ultimately, my friend will be all right but he has a long recovery ahead of him – or shall I say more correctly, they have a long recovery ahead of them.

I know people go through serious things all the time in this life.  It just feels like since I moved, my friends and family have faced some really, really difficult challenges.  And I’m not there to do anything.  To make a meal. To babysit.  To make them laugh. Or to just be there.

I feel so helpless.

I’m sure there is a lesson in all of this.  I know there is a lesson in everything I’ve been experiencing for the past 9 1/2 months.  But right about now, in this situation, I’d rather not be learning…I’d rather be doing and being there for those I love.

A Little Sweetness

After a long Monday, I came home from my aqua intervals class and started baking.

I hate baking. I am absolutely terrible at it.

I love cooking and I’m pretty darn good at it.  I love to try new recipes, tweak old ones, play around to find deliciousness.  I don’t know what it is about baking.  Maybe it’s because you have to be very precise and…I’m just not that kind of girl.  Plus, without fail, I burn myself.

So, why did I spend my Monday evening baking cakes?  It’s all about being kind.

When I was little, my mom taught me the Golden Rule, to “do unto others” or to treat others as you would like to be treated.  She would tell me to “play nice” with the neighbors, even if I didn’t like them and even if they weren’t particularly nice to me.  I learned early on that I wouldn’t like everyone and not everyone would like me…but that that didn’t mean I didn’t have to play nice – whether I was on the elementary school playground or in the boardroom.  Yet more and more, the Golden Rule seems to have fallen by the wayside in our world.  Is it really that hard to be kind?  To extend courtesy to another, to treat another with respect and decency?

I have worked with teenagers for many years now.  This is very much a problem in that group, as some of us can tell you, having lived through the worst of it.  Time and time again, I’ve heard the refrain, “Kids can be mean.”  You know what?  So can grown ups.  There have been many times when a student was telling me of her struggles with girls in school or even youth group, of how mean someone (or a group of someones) was being to her for petty or unknown reasons.  While I can tell her in all honesty that it does get better, I can’t tell her that it goes away when you grow up. It’s just different…but no less hurtful in some ways.

I’m by no means a pollyanna.  I can sling snark and poisoned barbs just like the rest (some might even say  better), especially when I feel provoked, stressed or overtired. There are plenty of people I don’t care for that I have to interact with in my life. But when a need arises or the situation calls for it, I do my best to act like a grown up, suck it up and behave myself.  Yet I’m constantly amazed by those who can’t, won’t or simply don’t;  who can’t for a half hour show common courtesy, respect and decency to another in celebration of a life’s milestone or in another’s time of grief.  Those are the moments that stay with you, not the every day ins and outs.  You remember who celebrated with you, who grieved with you, who simply showed you courtesy.

I’ll often ask myself what I’d want someone else to do if the situation was reversed.  Would I want someone to hold the door for me when my arms were full?  Yes.  Would I want someone to ask if I needed anything when they were going out to pick something up at  lunchtime? Yes. Would I want someone to acknowledge my birthday?  Um, if you know me, that’s a resounding YES.  Would I want someone to acknowledge a huge life event?  Yes, yes, I would.  A smile, a hello, even a nod of acknowledgement…all these things can go a long way.

And so I spent my evening backing cakes to celebrate this month’s birthdays in my office.  I hope others join me in celebrating these folks today – and I hope that their day is made a little brighter for it.

Because, really, whose life can’t use a little more sweetness?

Hello, Monday

I had friends in town this weekend.  
I love being able to show people the place I work and it’s amazing history and architecture…

…and the beauty of the area,

…even when storms are brewing.
I dragged them to my new-found favorite Sunday afternoon activity, 
…and on a thrifting/antique shopping extravaganza.  

All in all, a very good weekend!  Here’s hoping the week follows suit!

Singing in the Dining Room

Love, I find, is like singing.  ~ Nora Zeale Hurston

In the midst of my very busy Saturday, I was scheduled to do crafts with the old folks at the local nursing home.  I had a great plan on Friday night which I decided, at about 9 PM, to switch up.  (I do this every single time.  No idea why.)  I had decided to make coffee filter butterflies that they can either hang in their window or put on a clothespin to clip.

My goal in the monthly craft is two-fold:  (1) Get folks out of their room and making something that will brighten their day and (2) make it easy enough that anyone can participate in some way, regardless of their dexterity.  The second part is most often challenging but after doing this a few months, I’m getting the hang of it.  I try, whenever possible, to prep pieces of the craft so it goes quickly and smoothly.

The challenge of the butterflies was that you were supposed to use either food coloring or watercolor paints, neither of which I felt confident having the folks use.  A friend suggested instead using washable markers;  when you colored the coffee filter and then sprayed it, the colors swirled into a cool tie dye look.  That decided, my challenge was now what to do when they were waiting for them to dry so they could move on to the next part.  I tested using a hair dryer on the filter;  it got a lot of the dampness out but not all.  They really had to sit for a bit to dry.  I thought I might come up with a game or some questions to ask them in the interim but in the midst of my busy day, I never concretely came up with a plan.

Thankfully, the Activities Assistant was on hand to help this week and things were going very smoothly.  They were enjoying how the colors swirls on the filter but were starting to get a bit antsy as I was trying to dry them.  Just then, a group from a local church happened in.  I had seen them only one other time since I’d been doing crafts and they were on their way out that day.  They came into the room and started talking to the residents and then, just when they were getting bored from the drying time wait, they started leading them through a few songs.  It was amazing and perfect.

I can’t even tell you how much these seemingly “little” things that happened on Saturday have impacted me.  I think it’s really just summed up in one of my favorite songs, “God Speaking” by Mandisa.

About Fallow Ground

Last week was a bad week.

It had been raining for days on end and I think I was suffering from a variation of seasonal affective disorder from not seeing the sun for any length of time in so long.  I was also overtired from traveling back and forth from Pennsylvania for the holiday festivities and didn’t allow myself an ounce of downtime.  I was sad to leave my friends and family to return to a place that, while it’s getting easier, still isn’t “home” to me.

I was straight up discouraged and feeling like I wasn’t making any kind of difference in my own world, let alone anyone else’s and in my overtired state, I truly was starting to believe that that was that.  Maybe my time of serving with students was over.  Maybe I was just meant to lead a quiet, unassuming (ahem) life from here on out.  Who was I to feel that it should be different?  Why did I even think I should being doing anything or making a difference?

The sun came out.  I got a little teensy bit of sleep.  I walked over two miles at training Saturday and was proud of myself.  I wasn’t “there” yet but I was starting to feel a bit better and more like myself.

After my dog rescuing adventure, I made it over to church for the women’s luncheon (30 minutes late and smelling of wet dog!)  The theme of the event was “Bloom Where You’re Planted”, which has been a favorite saying of mine for many years, and they had arranged for the leader of our health ministry to speak.  She had an object lesson using a plant and various size pots to show us how we best grown where we are planted.  It wasn’t anything I didn’t know already or hadn’t heard but one thing she said really struck a cord in my discontented spirit:

Just because the ground is fallow, doesn’t mean it’s barren.

I kept replaying this over and over in my head.  Growing up in a somewhat rural area of Pennsylvania, I learned early on about how farmers rotate crops.  For instance, a farmer might alternate corn one year with wheat the next, to keep the ground alive and fertile. And sometimes, a field is tilled but not planted for a season so the ground can rest.  The ground is at greater risk for erosion during this time and it needs to be broken up, turned over, smoothed out and cultivated before you can replant but hopefully when you do, what you plant will grow and flourish.

Just because I don’t feel like God is using me right now, doesn’t mean my usefulness has ended.  Just because I feel discouraged and want things to be different, doesn’t mean something isn’t happening in my life. Maybe this is a period of rest, where my life got turned upside down so something beautiful can grow.

Just because the ground is fallow, doesn’t mean it’s barren.

The Best Laid Plans

As anyone who is following along at home knows, I’ve been less than busy in my new locale, much to my chagrin.  I enjoy being busy – going places, doing things, seeing folks…I’m very much an extrovert in that sense.  This weekend, however, was set to prove the exception.  I was literally scheduled to do something about every two hours on Saturday from 7 AM until 4 PM.  And although a lot of it was fun, I would have rather had all the fun spread out over a few weekends.

My day began at 7 AM with training for the 4 Miler.  I did my 2+ miles for the day and high-tailed it home to take a quick shower, then ran out for an appointment I had in town at 9 AM.  From there, I went downtown to meet some book club folks for coffee and then planned to head to a women’s lunch at church with one of the people from book club who also attends my church.

This is where my tight schedule and best laid plans went awry.

We had parked in different lots so we said our adieus and promised to meet up with one another in the lot next to the church.  I was fairly certain I knew two ways to get from point A to point B (still being new, I don’t have a whole lot of shortcuts in my repertoire yet!) and took the one I thought would be the quickest.  But in my overscheduled, slightly stress-inducing day, God had something to show me.  He has a tendency to do that when you aren’t paying attention and are caught up in the busyness of life;  at least that’s what happens to me!

I was about halfway to church when I noticed an old golden retriever mix, soaking wet, ambling along the road.  I didn’t see any people around and noticed she was wearing a collar and tags so I pulled up alongside her.  She was wagging her tail but kept on going;  I was afraid by the way she was ambling that maybe she had been hit by a car and the fact that she wouldn’t come near mine made me even more concerned.  She finally stopped a bit of ahead of me in a shady area.  I pulled over, thinking this would be a quick stop – do my good deed, get the dog back to her owners and get over to lunch in the nick of time.  But she was intent on continuing her journey so I MacGyvered a leash from my belt and examined her tags.  I called the vet listed on the rabies tag first and they assured me they’d call her family and give them my number.  In the meantime, I tried getting her in the air conditioned car, thinking that would be better for both of us and easier for me to drop her off once the owner called.

But the owner didn’t call.  And she wouldn’t get in the car.

I stood there in the blazing sun wondering what to do.  I was hot, I was late…I was stressed.  But like my overscheduled day, I had done this to myself.  I’m completely incapable of leaving a pet, especially one with tags, wandering the streets when I might be able to help.  I know I’d be devastated to lose one of mine and I always just think of that and stop.  In the past, however, it’s usually been a quick fix:  the owners drive up, looking for the pet;  the pet has a rabies tag and I reach the owner through the vet;  the tag lists the owner’s number and I reach them directly.  All is resolved, tied up with a neat bow – good deed done and I’m on to the next thing.

But that’s the thing about life. It rarely gets tied up with a neat bow.  Sometimes you get dirty.  Sometimes you end up smelling like a wet dog.  And sometimes the easiest thing (or what you think is the “best” thing) just doesn’t work out, no matter how hard you try.

You get a bad report from the doctor.
You don’t get the job.
You get the job but it turns out to be different than what you thought it would be.
You don’t get the guy.
You don’t even MEET the guy.
You fail the test.
You don’t get the raise.
You get an unexpected bill you can’t pay.
The rent check bounces.
You can never quite make those blasted ends meet.
You have a misunderstanding that grows into something more.

I stood outside with the dog for a while.  I was now a half hour late and knew my friend was wondering what had happened to me on our ten minute ride across town but I had no way to reach her.  I tried texting a few folks from church to see if they might be able to get word to her but they weren’t there.

I thought about giving up.

I could have just unhooked my belt from her collar and hoped she’d find her way home;  I had somewhere to BE after all.

But I thought again of how awful I’d feel if one of my pets went missing. And I realized that this situation that “messed up” MY plans was part of a larger plan, one with details to which I’m not often privy.  There was a reason this dog crossed my path on this busy day and I was being shown exactly why that was. There was no way I was letting this dog go;  not now.  I took a breath and looked at the tags again.  On her collar was a gold plate – with two numbers on it.  I tried the one that was not local, hoping it was a cell but got a voicemail.  I tried the other and a voice answered on the first ring.  “I have your dog, ” I said.  “Oh, God bless you!” the man said.

He did.  On a hot, busy, overscheduled summer Saturday, he did.

P.S.  Lest you think I’m leaving you hanging:  The owner came and met me shortly thereafter.  The dog, Sarah, was a 13-year-old golden mix.  She’d been out in the yard with him while he cut the grass;  he startled a group of deer and she took off after them.  She wasn’t hurt as I had first thought, just old and tired from her adventure.

About Moments

I learned from my Grammy how to give of my time.  She was always going here and there, doing this and that.  When I gave her eulogy, that was a big part of what I said about her, what I admired, and what I strive to emulate.  She was always mending my cousin’s jeans, picking mint for tea or dandelions for salad.  She stayed at our house with the dog so my parents could stay with me at DuPont Children’s Hospital when I had my spinal fusion without worry.  I know she wasn’t a saint and, more importantly, that my relationship with her was different than hers with her children and my cousins, but this is what I remember most when I remember her.

I’ve been working out lately.  Walking in training for the upcoming 4 Miler and then this week, I began taking an aqua class at the University pool.  That, coupled with a long drive to Pennsylvania, fun times with friends and family, a very long drive back and a late night gig on Monday (long story), has made me quite exhausted.  I am not an early to bed sort but I was ready last night by about 9:30.  I got in bed and picked up my book for a bit but eventually, couldn’t keep my eyes open.  Yet as soon as I turned out the lights, my brain went into overdrive.  I started thinking about my trip to Romania two summers ago now and how much it meant to me.  It was truly a watershed moment;  I quite literally would not be where I am today (both in location and in life) without that adventure.  I started to think about the summers leading our students on Group Workcamps around the east coast – more amazing, life-changing times that I cannot imagine not being a part of my experience, of who I am and who I have become.  It’s hard to put into words why these mission trips have had such an impact on me.  Like my grandmother, I like to serve, I like to give, I like to help.  And that is a big part of what these trips were about but quite honestly, they are also about people and moments…just moments, but moments that you never forget, that you carry with you like a seashell or a smooth stone.

In my exhaustion, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the thought of perhaps not getting to experience that all again.  Awake, in the light of day and in a little less weary state of mind, I realize that that’s probably irrational but last night, it was a heartbreaker.

I’m not entirely sure, truly, why I’m even telling you this.  Maybe it’s because I promised time and again to recount our trip to Romania.  Maybe it ties back to the lack of moments I’m feeling in my current life.  Maybe it was my subconscious lamenting some really great moments I was blessed to have with my people last weekend.  I don’t know…I guess we’ll see.

About Moving

No, I’m not going to force you to endure yet another post about how hard moving has been.  (It is.  It continues to be.  But, anyway. Yeah.)

A few weeks ago, I ended up with a coworker’s ticket to a play.  She couldn’t go but her friend still wanted to, so I ended up going with her.  (Oddly enough, a friend from home had tried to connect the two of us when I first moved to town but we never managed to connect in person.)  During intermission and afterward, we talked a lot about the struggles of moving to a new place, trying to make friends, etc. (yes, I KNOW I promised – give me a minute!)  Having lived through it elsewhere, she knew what I was going through and she suggested that a great opportunity to meet people was coming up soon:  training for the local Women’s 4 Miler.

If you know me, this seems like a ludicrous idea.  I don’t run unless I’m being chased (and even then, I have to weigh my options seriously.)  I can’t remember a time in my whole entire life when I would characterize myself as fit.  Heck, even as a kid, the most activity I got was trying to figure out how to get OUT of activity.    I fell off my bike more than I rode it.  I even ran into an old lady once…and that was the end of my “career” as a cyclist.

But since I’m still in the mode of throwing things against the wall to see what sticks, I looked it up.  It was scheduled to begin soon and would be every Saturday morning at the crack of dawn leading up to the race.   Walkers were encouraged.  And so I signed up.

I started walking a bit more around work;  several days, I walked from where I park to my office instead of riding the shuttle bus.  I encouraged others in my office to walk with me a little more.  And I got up that first morning and wondered what the heck I was doing.

But I went.

I didn’t really meet anyone but it was fun.  And it felt good to be doing something active.  And I know it’s important…and I know it also harkens back to my word for the year.  I still don’t know how I fit here in my new town and more often than not, I don’t feel as though I do.  But I can focus on trying to get myself fit and this is a great way to do it.  But there is more to this goal than just that.  The money raised goes to the local cancer center.  I’ve had two dear friends pass in the past few years from that crappy disease; I have an aunt and another friend who are proud to call themselves survivors.  And I have a friend who is fighting her own battle right now.  And when I don’t feel like going out, when the weather is challenging as it has been (dear Lord, will it ever stop be grey and rainy here??) or when my foot hurts, my back hurts, whatever – I think of my friend.  What I’m doing is so small.  I’m not doing it for purely altruistic reasons;  there are plenty of selfish reasons I’m doing it.  But when I don’t want to, I think of her and put one foot in front of the other.

9 weeks to go.