Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Never. Alone.

Most days I am just muddling through. Doing my best to be and do all of the things that are expected of me. Some days are full of light. Many are stormy and ominous. And every now and then a day comes along when the sun forces its way through the clouds, reminding me that it is always there. Even when I can't see it. The quiet moments of inspiration that touch my heart and make me realize that it all matters. All of it. And that maybe I am not as alone and lost as I sometimes {most of the time} feel. Those are the best days.

I had the opportunity to attend a youth conference with the 14 to 18 year old guys and girls from church back at the beginning of June. The timing (the weekend before my daughter's wedding) was both insanely unfortunate and blessedly perfect. I thought for sure that I would need those days to take care of various last minute wedding details. But really what I needed was a little time away to heal. And that is exactly what I got. I had the chance to spend some time with the young men and women I adore, be surrounded by beautiful scenery I had never seen before, and receive (another) reminder that I am loved and remembered. (I also got to zip-line AND take a nap. Win.Win.Win.)

I arrived at youth conference a broken person. I am not proud of it. My life is not so hard and I hate nothing more than to feel sorry for myself. It's exhausting and it's pointless. However, somewhere along the way, I latched onto this notion that once I got through a specific set of challenges, things would be smooth sailing after that. Like a prison sentence, I figured that once I did my time, that was it. I would be free of struggles from then on. Or at least struggles of that caliber. I am not sure how I arrived at this theory. Probability formulas? Wishful thinking? I don't know.

Somehow I thought I was racking up persistence points at an early point in my life that I could use later, like a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. "Oh, yeah, you see...I've actually already been through a really crappy, hard time. Sorry. Can I get in that other line over there now? Yeah, the Life of Ease and Luxury line. That's where I'm supposed to be. Thanks." It is a deluded line of thinking, I'll admit, but there is a certain logic to it. Isn't there?

At any rate, for one of the only times in my life, and for no real reason, I had arrived at a place of no hope. The realization that there was nothing to prevent me from getting knocked down by storm, after storm, after raging storm. No matter how many times I successfully got through my challenges, there would just be more. Bigger. Worse. More. And I just did not feel up to it.

There were many moments during the three days of the conference that I felt the reassurance and confidence of someone greater than I, but a deciding moment came during a low-ropes challenge course Saturday morning. Those of us in my group were instructed to put on a blindfold and to sit quietly until one of the staff came to retrieve us individually. They were to lead us to a series of ropes and we had to find our way to the end with nothing to guide us except our grip on the rope. It is called a Faith Walk, and it is not the first time that I have participated in one. (Mormons love these things, ya know.)

But this time was different. This time, the Lord used a moment when I was blind and (miraculously) silent to not just teach me a lesson about reliance on Him, but to bring immeasurable comfort to my broken spirit.

The second I put the blindfold on, I felt a calm come over me. And almost immediately, the words to a song I had completely forgotten about that I had written years before when I was in a terribly dark time in my life came to my mind:

Lord if you can see every star that's in the sky
Every little fish that swims and every bird that flies
Well, I know then that you can see that I am not alright
And I need you, oh, I need you tonight

Dear Father, you created all the lands and the seas
You molded every mountain and you planted every tree
And I know that you can look down to me here as I weep
Oh please pick me up and hold me; rock me to sleep

Lord, I need you now more than ever before
How my soul is aching. I can't take it anymore
You command the winds. And Father, you control the rain
I know you can do something to help me through this pain.

Lord, I feel you now as though you were standing there
I hear you whisper to me, "Burden me with all your cares.
And I promise then that you will feel that all your fears are known
Oh please take my hand, dear child, and you will never walk alone."

I can't begin to tell you how much I needed this reminder. Not just that He was there and that He knew me, but that I had been through extremely difficult times before. That, with His help, I had somehow come through alive. And I would again. (And probably again after that.)

And that never. Not now. And not then. Never did I have to go through it alone.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Girl's Life

Girls’ Life Magazine. Was I aware that such things existed in the world? Yes. Did I have some scant hope that my girls would never be tempted to open the pages of said things? Sadly and naively, yes. 

I had seen this issue of the magazine in the back seat of the car on our recent family trip to California. I hadn't paid much attention to it then. I mean, every second spent reading an inane article in a magazine, well, that's one less second spent fighting, and complaining, and asking tedious questions, right? Who am I to argue with that?

When we got home, though, and the magazine ended up on the kitchen counter, I took a closer look. (Once I got over my astonishment that my kids had actually brought it in from the car in the first place, that is.) And, oh the sadness. 

Look cute now? Flirting? Kissing? How to get flat abs and hot hair? It hurts me. It actually physically hurts to know that these are the best things they can think of to put in a magazine for young girls. And I know. I know. This is just a small thing. The least of the places that they are being bombarded with these impossible and ridiculous ideals. I know. But it still makes me sad to see it right there in glossy print. Unbelievably sad.

And it brings back memories of my own awkward and uncertain adolescent days. Those days of flipping through Seventeen and Glamour and YM. Where in between quizzes like: Danny, Donnie, Joe, Jon, or Jordan? Who’s the New Kid for you, kid?
(None for me, thanks, I was utterly devoted to Michael Hutchence and Steven Tyler. And Morrissey...yeah, I know.)
Or: Are You a Guess Girl or an Esprit Spirit? What Your Jeans Say About You! 
(I think mine said I was a thief who stole her brother’s Button-Fly 501s. Cuz they were so cool. And they didn’t make them for girls.) 
And beauty articles like: How to Get the Best Bangs for Your Buck.
(Brought to you by Salon Selectives and Aqua Net.) 
And Q&A style advice columns: Are These Keds Made for Walking? How to Know When It’s Time to Break Up. 
(With a junior high or high school boyfriend? Immediately. Always immediately.) 

In between the totally awesome features such as these was page after page of flawless looking girls. Make-up tips, exercise tips, relationship tips, and countless glossy photo spreads. All designed to subtly and not-so-subtly remind the already-struggling-with-her-self-esteem teenage girl that she was not quite good enough. And it worked. (And it somehow still does. Which is why these days, I insist on only reading the National Enquirer. Plus, how else are you going to get all of the hard hitting facts that the government doesn’t want you to know?)

I hoped against hope that my girls would not be subjected to such things. That these stupid magazines would have no pull, no draw for them. That they would be so confident and self-actualized that they would scoff at the very thought of such silly ridiculousness. And even knowing now that they do read them, I still hope against hope that it does nothing to make them doubt how beautiful and amazing they truly are. 

I will undoubtedly never be called upon to be the editor-in-chief of a teen fashion mag. And, as the mom, I will rarely even be called upon to offer my opinion (On anything. At all.) But I want my daughters (and all young girls) to know what I think a "Girl's Life" should consist of. And, guess what? It's not flat abs or lean legs. And it's definitely not boys.

What should it be about? I'm glad you asked. 

Being Your (Beautiful) Self: So trite. So clich├ęd. So true. Your hair. Your skin. Your bodyshape. Your laugh. I am guessing you are satisified with few, if any, of these things. Can I just take a minute to tell you how beautiful it makes you? How original? How amazingly stunning and unique?? I know. You want nothing else more than to look like everyone else. To have hair like that girl. And that one's clothes. And teeth like that other one. I know. But guess what? You have a look and a style that is unlike anyone else. And it is fabulous. I know it because I see it. Even your self-consciousness, your uncertainty, and sometimes your false bravado. It's adorable. It really is. You are beautiful because you have a light that is all your own.
Don't let anyone tell you different.

Being a Friend: You are constantly thrown into situations where you are around hundreds of other people. Every single day. Some of them you have things in common with. Some seem like they might be the very sister (or brother) of your soul. Some of them are so dissimilar from you they seem to have been born in a different era. Or on a different planet. Be friends with as many of them as you possibly can. They will add things to your life that you cannot even imagine. It is nice to find people who share your interests, but people who are completely unlike you will open you up to tastes, and varieties, and experiences you may never otherwise have. Above all, be kind to everyone. Mean people, weird people, happy people, sad people. All of 'em.
You never know the difference you will make in someone's life by just being a friend.

Being Happy: It's different for everyone, isn't it? The things that make them happy? It could be movies, or books, or food, or board games, or shopping, or sports. Find it. Find the things that make you happy. That you enjoy. That are fun for you. And then do as much of it as you possibly can. One day you'll have a job (groan) and children (sigh) and other obligations (boo) that can sometimes put a damper on your me-time. And I know that even now you have school, and homework, and chores and other things that interfere with things you would rather be doing. But you are also in a unique time of your life where you can focus on yourself a little bit. Do it. Find the things that make you happy. Read, play, shop, cook, watch. 
Squeeze all the fun out of life you can and enjoy every last drop of it.

My opinions and advice will never make it to the pages of Teen Vogue. I know. And as sure as hormones and mean girls rage, and acne and short skirts flare, teenage girls will experience self-doubt. It's inevitable. But for every nay-sayer and bubble-burster out there, there is someone who thinks you rule and there is no sit-up you can do or lip gloss you can buy that will change the fact that you rock their world. 

Even if it is just your mom.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Mid-Years Resolutions

Am I happy to be a grown-up? Sometimes. I mean, I get to eat Ding Dongs whenever I want, I can choose my own bedtime, I ... I ... I can't think of anything else right now. But mostly I think I'm satisfied with my grown-upness. (Grown-uptitude?) But are there things I miss about being a kid? Um. Yeah. You could say that. Mostly things I never even knew to appreciate when I was young. Flat abs. Amazing energy levels. A ridiculously high metabolism. Great skin. Few responsibilities. Did I mention amazing energy levels?

Most of these things you get to have once. Once in your life. And then before you know it, they're gone. You trade them in for something fuller, something richer. You give up the carefree attitudes and naivety of youth for wisdom and experience. You trade your dewy skin and bikini body for the adventure and miracle of motherhood. (This is the part where I pretend to wear my wrinkles and stretch marks with battle-scarred pride.) Adulthood can be intimidating and overwhelming, but it also has the potential to be great. If you are not too busy being intimidated and overwhelmed, that is.

One of the great wonders of parenthood is getting to see things through the eyes of your children. You marvel at their amazement when they see a rainbow. Or at their terror when a bee (or a moth, or a fly) comes within 50 yards of them. You struggle to remember if your happiness was ever so precarious as to be drastically influenced by the color of the cup you used at dinnertime. You giggle a little when they are impatient while Netflix is loading, because they will never know the pain of waiting for a VHS tape to rewind. You are relieved that your life no longer revolves around the brand of shoes or jeans you wear. And, oh my gosh, you are so happy that you never have to deal with high school girls ever, ever again. And every now and then, you see something in them that you want again for yourself.

I was reminded of one of these things that I want for myself last week on a hiking trip with the family. Never mind the fact that I had been SURE that I remembered it as being a 3 mile round trip hike, only to arrive there and discover it was actually 3 miles...each way. For a total of, that's right, math whiz...6 miles. Insert groans, eye-rolls, and whining here. Sprinkle on a little What??-Are-You-Crazy?? and add a little I'm-Not-Going and you'll start to see what I was up against. I pulled out some of my own secret weapons: Threatening, Cajoling, Begging, and Promising-It-Would-Be-Worth-It (and also that I would buy them a soda and a candy afterwards) and we were on our way. It was long, it was hot, it was ardous. But it was scenic, and not too steep, and ended at a 200 foot high waterfall. (See? I told you it would be worth it!)

We arrived at the foot of the falls and took some time to revel in our accomplishment. We took some pictures, we drew in the sand, we dipped our feet in the ice-cold pool. At some point, my five year old who was carefully and conscientiously holding up his shorts so he didn't get them wet, took a tumble. It was one of those slow-motion, you-can-see-it-happening-but-can't-do-a-thing-about-it moments. Slip. Trip. Dip. Before we knew it, he was face first in the shallow water and dripping from head to toe. Poor little guy. He was devastated. He was cold. He was wet. He was sad. There was nothing that any of us could do for him. I wasn't even nice enough to give him a big hug. (What?? He was soaking wet!) We did our best to offer words of cheer and encouragement and convince him that it wasn't so bad. But inside I was dreading the hike back. The 3-mile return trip with a wet, grumpy, cold 5-year-old. And mostly I just felt bad for the kid. Everyone else was running around playing and he was soggy and shivering.

And then it happened. We took his shirt off so that he would be somewhat less cold and before I knew it, he was running around Lord-of-the-Flies style like he owned the place. Chucking rocks, throwing sticks, splashing around, having the time of his life. Say whaaa?? Is this not the same kid who was almost in tears less than 3 minutes ago? He was definitely still wet, he was undoubtedly still cold, but he didn't even seem to care.

That's when it hit me. The one thing from my youth that I miss the most. It's not the ridiculous amount of energy I used to have. Not the super-sonic metabolism, or the sheer absence of cellulite. (Although, don't get me wrong, I DO miss those things.) What I miss most is resilience. The ability to go from knowing that everything is wrong with the world to everything is A-OK in 2.7 seconds. The belief that no matter what happens, there is something wondrous waiting just around the corner. That I can handle whatever comes my way.

I have lost that ability. I have misplaced that skill. I miss it sorely. I need it back. Call it a mission. Call it a mid-year resolution. I will not stop until I can recover the resilience I am sure I used to have. The resilience that I know used to be mine but has somehow gotten lost among the doubt, and the dread, and the fear that grown-up existence can bring.

Because I need to remember that even after life knocks me down flat on my face, I can get up again.

There's a warrior princess in there somewhere. I'll find her. And don't doubt for a second that she owns the place.