Do the NEXT Thing

I don’t normally reblog posts by other writers, but this hit home for me and reminded me of a saying we have in the rooms of recovery: “do the next right thing.” It’s helped me so much. So I had to share this with all of you!

living on pb & j

In 1982, my parents found out that they would be welcoming a new baby into their home. They were in their 20’s, had been married for two years, were working full-time on a church staff and were really in the “prime of their life”.  To say they were excited is an understatement! Anyone who has ever known my mother can testify that she is THE “Baby Lady”. She somehow knows all the tricks of the trade and can pacify the most difficult infants. One of my mom’s spiritual gifts is compassion. I mean, this is a LADY who rescues beetles that randomly come into her home and places them back outside because “they have families…..the baby beetles need their mommy” (of course)!

When my mother was about seven months into her pregnancy, she went home one day from a full day of teaching and decided to take a nap. She…

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New experiences

*Thanks to my friend Debra Dickey for serving as today’s guest contributor.*

If it hadn’t been for my kids, little people in my life, and even my pets, I would have missed out on an incredible amount of remarkable experiences in my life!  If you recall my previous posts, I have already mentioned that I am not a very adventurous soul, so to say that I am ‘new experiences’ challenged would be, hmmm, an understatement! 

Mt. LandI’ve always wanted to pretend to myself that maybe there was a bit of the wandering pioneer spirit in me, but I will tell you truthfully, that wherever I wandered, I mostly desired the comfort of being able to see my house from wherever I was standing!   But for a time, my world opened up –  often spit in my eye –  and my courage took wings . . . albeit at times, forcefully.

Initial lessons for getting me out of my comfort zones, were learned of course, with and for my children.  We have laughed and had the best times and the most fun just doing things together.  Some of those events were planned, others weren’t as much, and often, we were invited to create the experience for ourselves.  There have also been struggles, rough times, trials by fire, disappointments, and monumental obstacles which have required me to develop strengths that I never imagined I could possess, and doggedly test my resolve; but together, we somehow managed (and continue to manage) those ‘new experiences’ and challenges as well.  My kids have taught me so much, and continue to share so many insights, and such wisdom, strength, knowledge, joy and courage with me, that I cannot begin to imagine a life without the richness and depth which only they could have made possible — treasured experiences memorably shared, an endowment sweetly gained from these two remarkable people.

My most recent opportunity with new ventures has been my privilege and delight to spend time with my 8 year-old niece, who brings her own special brand of prospective, fun and laughter, and genuinely blesses my life with such a myriad of enjoyable hours.

All these experiences serve as an abiding reminder of what is really important, as well as help explain the reason and purpose for my existence, and my presence in the exact right spot at those exact right moments.

MeadowBut only by regular reminders, voluntarily or involuntarily, to make those conscious choices that will, time and again, propel me to step out of my comfort zones, have I been given the incredible opportunities to visit new places, see new sights, hear new music, experience new concepts, value new ideas, appreciate new cultures, share silly laughs, and regard, encounter, and enjoy the world through the eyes of my wise, courageous, and discerning companions.  What wonderful adventures for a homebody like me!  These days, even walks with my dog have prodded me to stray from my typical paths and discover fun tramps through the woods, which often call forward a bit of that wandering spirit.  And at this point in my life, I’ll say, that’s good enough for me.

To my stepdaughter

*Big thanks to a friend of mine who gave me permission to post this letter he wrote to his stepdaughter recently. Thank God for  step parents who do engage and don’t choose apathy.*

Kylie,

This is long. You will find it annoying and will likely skip entire paragraphs the first time you read it.  I ask that you please do me one favor: keep it, and revisit it again sometime in the future.

The truth can often be awkward, uncomfortable and even painful.  Life in the absence of truth often seems easier.  A little white lie, a misleading statement, an exaggeration or invented story, an ignored phone call, or simply failing to reveal what should be revealed all serve to selfishly better our positions in whatever circumstances that each moment presents us.  We are all guilty, each and every one of us.

Most people speak of the importance of the truth with the idea that a lack of truth will compound upon itself and create burdens and ever-increasing problems that ultimately collapses under its own weight.  This thinking is, for the most part, true.  However, examples of a lack of truth personally benefiting an individual and having no long-term negative results are also plentiful (politics is rife with examples).  Children, like politicians and everyone else, do not live a life guided entirely by truth.  The reason, despite what people claim, is simply because it is an effective strategy.  Dishonesty sometimes works out just fine.  It seems logical that if no benefit were to ever come from dishonesty, then dishonesty would slowly disappear.  That is not what I see.  I see a world that puts the truth on a pedestal, as if it is truly special and to be cherished.  This implies that genuine truth is more rare than dishonesty.  The problem, as I see it, is this: to not speak the truth is to stop genuine conversation, to have such little respect for another that you deny them the fundamental right to know, be it a good or bad truth.  A lack of truth is usually no more than a display of loving oneself more than another.

Without question, words can hurt.  Words are often designed specifically to hurt.  The words I spoke to you the other night were an example of exactly the kind of language that is designed and used to hurt another person; for that, I am truly sorry.  I am sorry that they came out of my mouth aimed at the young girl I try so hard to make feel exceptional.  It is the hurtful wording that I regret.  As for the message behind that wording – the simple truth is – I do not genuinely feel sorry.

I asked your Mother that night, “Why the hell would the guy that spoils her say that to her?”  She didn’t have an answer, and neither did I.  I have thought a lot about that question I asked your Mother, and I want to take a moment to explain what I believe is the answer.

Despite my questionable choice of words, my timing, and my tone of voice, I spoke the truth at that moment.  That doesn’t mean that you are forever labeled in my head as that person.  It simply means that in describing your treatment of your Mother at that very moment, I spoke with honesty.  What I said has come up a couple of times since, which tells me that you have thought about it.  You likely disagree, but it affected you enough to dwell a bit on it.  You likely called me a few choice names to your friends.  You probably got angry, maybe sad; the point is that you reacted with emotion just as I reacted with emotion.  Reacting with emotion is the opposite of not reacting at all, or apathy.  At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, apathy is essentially the opposite of love, which oddly puts love and anger on the same team and apathy on the opposing.  A child with a parent who truly doesn’t care about her actions is one of the saddest things.  It is a sin against that child, and against humanity.  You may know of such a child.  A child with apathetic parents can hide among their peers as a child with relaxed, or easy parents.  But they often feel unloved and unwanted, and sadly, to varying degrees, they are.

Our simplest, most basic of all desires is safety.  True safety is felt in a loving, respectful home.  It may not make sense right now, but reasonable expectations, discipline and punishment are critical in establishing a sense of safety.  Behavioral boundaries are set, children (specifically ages 2 and 13) consistently test those boundaries, and good parents consistently reinforce them.  Failure to establish and consistently reinforce behavioral boundaries results in chaos.  Inconsistent, unpredictable parenting makes for ill-behaved children. A parent who simply doesn’t care causes exceedingly more damage.  It is said that overly harsh disciplinarian style parents create children who need therapy, but apathetic parents create adults who need therapy.

The truth is subjective, meaning that the same event described by two witnesses may differ, not due to dishonesty but to individual differences.  In your world, in your subjective opinion, is the disrespectful attitude shown to your family any different from the way any other 13 year-old treats theirs with?  The answer is… I don’t have any idea.  Nor did it occur to me to even consider how other children speak to their mothers.

I have felt bad after our conversation, but not for you or my son or myself. I feel bad for your brother.  He seemed to listen intently when we sat down and spoke.  He seemed concerned, not about being grounded, but about his mother.  I was shocked.  I expected the disrespectful disobedience that I have come to expect since meeting him.  He is older, not around much, and we never formed any sort of bond, but he cared.  I felt like he wanted me to be as upset with him as I was with you.  I really don’t know.  I have always thought I was doing everyone a favor by treating him as an adult.

I don’t know how this ends, or where things go from here.  Just know that it was anger and love that guided my words the other night, just as it was anger and love that guided my hand into your door.  People can question how that anger and love were displayed, but they cannot question their existence.  I’ll never lay an angry hand on any child, but where there is love and disappointment, there will be anger.  To not be angry at disrespect, to not be let down at finding an inappropriate video of you online, is fundamentally the same as not smiling at your dance moves, or feeling pride in your accomplishments.  Likewise, to provide for you and make no demands of your treatment of others is not only unjust to others but also to you.  There are only two ways that a stepparent cannot have the same expectations and make the same demands of their stepchild as they do their biological child…  apathy towards that child or ignorance of raising children in general (sadly, not uncommon).  This may sound harsh, but it is reality.

The truth is not in what’s said, but can be seen in the actions (or inactions) of many.  The idea that “She isn’t really mine, so how she ends up isn’t my problem” is sadly more common than not. You may even prefer that I feel that way.  If I could somehow care just enough about you to provide for you a good quality-of-life but refrain from caring enough to discipline you, you would have a great few years.  But the long-term consequences that your lack of discipline and lack of respect combined with receiving -without effort- the things you wish would be very damaging and very real.  You likely do not feel that way (neither does anyone else at 13), but I assure you, eventually you will.

In short, it is only my apathy, my ignorance, or your compliance to reasonable expectations that will ensure that the poorly worded sentence that came out of my mouth the other night will never come out again.  I care very much about you and about what and who you become.  Regardless of right or wrong, regardless of your own wishes, it is too late for apathy and ignorance.  I am not making an apathetic suggestion; I am making a demand, guided by love, that you change your current treatment of people in my home, or you will find yourself not welcome in it.

To demand any less from you is to not love you.

With much thought and love,

Your stepdad

Bad to the bone

My poor stepdad.

Celebrating my birthday, circa 1998

Celebrating my birthday, circa 1998

I know he loves my mom. Why else would you willingly marry a woman with FOUR little girls under the age of 12?

After our cat Ralph died, my poor stepdad was the lone male ranger in the ongoing and increasing estrogen fest. Even our dog, Watson, was a female (and yes, we named her Watson before we checked).

Until I was 13 years old, we had one bathroom. That’s right. One bathroom, five females, and poor Walter Allen. Needless to say, his potty time didn’t include thumbing through a stack of magazines. He had to get in and get out because all of us needed time for much more important things–crimping our hair, curling our hair, blow drying our hair, shaving our legs, applying makeup, and fussing over our troubled teenage skin in the mirror.

To add the mix, he has a daughter of his own, Sarah. Sarah lived with us periodically. So at times, poor Walt had FIVE teenage girls in the house. I have always loved the definition of insanity I heard in the rooms of recovery–doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But being the stepdad of four teenage girls AND the dad of another teenage girl, all living in the same house (at that point, thank God, we had two bathrooms), might be even closer to true insanity.

Bless his heart. For real.

Lucky for him, he had me :). I’m not what you’d call a girly girl. I do shave my armpits, have an unhealthy fear of moths, and have a few dresses. I’m not a total tomboy, but I was my stepdad’s best bet at an opportunity to enjoy more manly pastimes and pass on his love for said pastimes to one of his kids. While I didn’t enjoy camping due to the serious off-the-grid nature of my parents’ camping mentality–doesn’t work very well with five little girls, just so you know–I did enjoy fishing. I liked getting dirty. I wanted to play softball in the open lot with all the neighborhood boys instead of playing with dolls. I leaped out of a swing at its highest height and deliberately let my body free fall face first just to see what would happen (what happens, in case you’re wondering, is a face full of cuts, bruises, and gravel and mud in your mouth).

I also pooh-poohed the idea of puberty. I was disgusted at the idea of the birds and the bees, having a period, or any of the other sick stuff that goes along with being an Eve rather than an Adam. So disgusted, in fact, that I cried when I started my period. Not because I was hormonal–because I knew it was a life sentence of misery, complications, and yuckiness. And I was grounded for two months at the beginning of sixth grade due to my refusal to wear a bra. I did my best to avoid the reality of growing into a woman. Unfortunately, my best efforts failed me. It happened.

My stepdad, when he started dating my mom, was a real manly man. Grizzly Adams has nothing on the beard my stepdad sported. He wore wife beaters almost every day. He smelled like dirt and sweat. He liked steak. I remember once riding with him in his old beat up 70s model Chevy pick-up truck, half white and half rust. He cranked up the crackly radio, and “Bad To The Bone” came blaring out. This guy is super cool, I thought.

And even when I morphed into a hormonal, cranky teenage girl, my stepdad was willing to teach me how to throw a softball in the backyard when I decided to play ball after years of cheerleading, dancing, and gymnastics. He played “slap fight” with me, in spite of my mom’s protests. And for those of you who’ve wondered how I developed such an immature sense of humor and  13 year-old boy mentality regarding bodily functions, you have Walt to thank.

My parents showing off their moves, February 2013

My parents showing off their moves, February 2013

My relationship with my stepdad was not emotional or touchy feely or huggy or lovey dovey growing up. He always worked his tail off to pay our bills, but he wasn’t really ready to invest in us emotionally until I was in high school. I remember noticing a change in his behavior and attitude after he attended a Promise Keepers convention. It wasn’t an overnight change–just a slow evolution into a more caring, compassionate, spiritually minded, and patient father.

Today, we’re pretty close. He’s never going to be the mushiest guy on the block–thank God! But he coos over my daughter. And he tells me he is praying for me. And he works on his own spiritual and personal growth all the time. And–yes, this is true–he takes dancing lessons with my mom.

I love him for who he is. And I’m grateful for who he is. And I’m thankful that he survived the estrogen fest and now has a little more time to thumb through magazines in the bathroom.

Happy Father’s Day to the best and baddest guy on the block.

Father envy

Thoughts on God as my father… what does Father’s Day make you grateful for?

Just wheat

I think eye rolling in church might be inappropriate.

But I’ve done it my whole life—if not outwardly, inwardly.

Confession: Until recently, the two concepts of “God” and “Father” did not mesh well in my mind. A local preacher I know used to—and perhaps still does, but thankfully I don’t know—insert “dear Fathuh” every 12-15 words during his prayers, or maybe “Fathuh God.”

Ugh.

Why the disdain? There are plenty of references in the Bible to God as our Father. Of course, there are multiple other analogies and metaphors as well, but why should this one feel so ingratiating?

It’s hard to explain to people who have dads like John Egan, a family friend of ours who passed away a few years ago. He was the ultimate family man. Served on the school board. Always there for his family. Cracked jokes in his recliner, complimented his beautiful wife often, and…

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Overdoing honesty

*Big thanks to Henry Petty for sharing his thoughts in today’s blog post.*

I’m a little too honest.  I believe that “honesty is always the best policy”.  “The truth shall set you free.”

interviewHowever, it’s not always the best policy, nor will it set you free if you overdo it.  I had an epiphany after an experience with a job interview and a follow-up with my interview coach, and I’m grateful for that gift of wisdom.  How can being too honest be such a bad thing?

 

 

Por ejemplo,

 

 

I was asked in a job interview, “Tell us about a time when a co-worker really frustrated you.  How did you react?”

Being the honest Henry I am, I told them about how a co-worker was irritating me by asking me the same question over and over, yet never took the initiative to learn it themselves, as I have.  I gave her an ultimatum:  I’ll give you an answer one last time, and you’d better write it down, because next time I’m not going to give it to you.

 

 

Wrong answer.

 

 

I never got a callback for that job, and a mentor and interview coach told me I could have answered that better, sans the honesty.

 

 

I’m an honest person, and I wouldn’t judge someone else for that, and I wouldn’t expect anybody else to judge me.  While it’s great to have that honesty that I’m a little too comfortable with, I can have that internal honesty and measure the ways I express it with other people.

 

 

A better answer to that question would have been, “I identified my co-worker was frustrating me and, instead of taking a negative approach, I internalized that and used what was frustrating me internally to create a positive response.  I coached my co-worker, gave her some tips and asked her to write down what her questions were to empower her to fix this herself.”

So on and so forth.  While this wasn’t the complete truth of what happened, this is a way to honestly spin a sticky situation to sell myself in a job interview.

 

If your wife or girlfriend asks, “Do I look fat in this dress?”  Tell her, “Your hair looks so good I don’t even know!”  Or “I think that dress is a great color.”  “You could wear anything well.”  “I was blinded by your beauty.”

 

I know what you’re thinking, “Honest Abe got away with his unabashed honesty; what about him?”

 

Honest Abe was the freaking President of the United States; he could get away with it.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPX2cQP8uoI