Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 11: Generosity [Be Gentle, Be Love]

I think that to be truly generous you have to sort of "do it" with your whole being. Being generous is not about the amount of what you give people but the meaning behind it. This sort of topic always reminds me of Jesus and the widow at the temple:  "this poor widow has put in more than the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (Luke 21:1-4, NIV) It is awesome and great that people like Bill Gates give money to others, but sometimes you wonder why they don't give more... they aren't using it.

Our church does Easter in a different way. On Sunday, the kids will be searching for canned goods instead of eggs. Each can will have a different Unitarian Universalist principle on it and their "mission" is to collect all seven. The canned goods will be donated to a local food bank. The kids are learning to be generous and not greedy... although they will be making some things for them to take home. Its all about learning what giving and generosity is really about.

I'm not always generous to myself or to others. Or at least I feel that way. But I don't even have the sitting in the bathroom to get quiet time. I have kids that will stand outside the door and want to talk to me then. I'm a literal captive audience. The most recent really generous thing I did for myself is buy myself a laptop, which benefits me in obvious ways, but it also benefits my husband who likes to use both his own computer AND the tv.

This is sort of my own cost benefit analysis of generosity. If I do something how can it benefit multiple people. It gets me in trouble though. As much as I love my husband it has been very easy for me to just say yes and let him buy big ticket items without worrying about the budget. I always feel guilty about something so feel like if he gets what he likes than he will like me. Its not to say he doesn't deserve what he gets, and its not to say that I give him too much, its just sometimes I feel overwhelmed trying to make sure that he "has what he needs." I'm not sure he gets that same vibe from me. At all.

I've been given so many things, but I think the biggest gift was actually something that god gave me: a son. I was told when I was 17 that I couldn't have children due to scarring from a prolonged illness. Then when I was 29 I got pregnant. It was crazy! I cried in fear for about the first hour after I realized I was pregnant, but I believe that certain things are meant to happen. I honestly don't know how I could live without him. Even when he is obnoxious, even when I really want him to leave me alone, even when he eats the cheese off my bake potato--I cherish the life that was created.

And now I have a little cute girl to go along with him, and my older adopted kids. I guess giving them love is a way for me to be generous, but I really think that them allowing me to love them is the generous gift.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 10: Spontaneity [Be Gentle, Be Love]

I decided to take my camera to church and took some great pictures of some of the kids in childcare. And when I came home the camera gave me something even better... roses. Apparently I've been living in a house for three years and didn't realize a rose bush was on the side of the house! I went and celebrated by deciding last night to go get flowers painted on my toes along with a pedicure. Okay, I get pedicures once every couple of months, not for celebrations. It used to be a person could tell when I was stressed by how short my hair was--I would get it cut and styled when I was stressed. Now its pedicures.

I have a strange relationship with spontaneity. I can be very scheduled and in format and that can last for a really long time... then I break out and go do something completely random. It is usually because I'm tired of whatever is going on around me. When I am happy I'm fine, but when something is... complicated... anything can happen.

After my mom died in October, the next Easter I packed up the kids and took them down to Austin and Bastrop I decided on Good Friday. We drove down and went to the cemetery where my step-dad is buried. I couldn't find the gravestone. It was supposed to be under a tree in the East part of the graveyard, but I couldn't find it.

There were better parts of the trip than that. We went to a children's museum, saw the people of Austin trying to break a world record on people walking dogs... there were a lot. We went swimming and Preston swam for the first time in a pool at a Holiday Inn. He went and slid on his first slide as well.

It was therapeutic. I went to a place that was comfortable to me. I don't belong in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I don't know when I will ever get to live there again, but my heart is there.

My mother lived her life on a whim. She was constantly moving around places and experiencing new things. After my step-dad died she dated a black chef, Russian weirdo, and lesbian biker in the space of a year. How's that for spontaneous! She rarely acted like that when I was young. I think of her in phases of life... her sort of Donna Reed phase until I was in 6th grade, her I'm trying to be responsible but failing phase while I was in high school, her hippy/druggy phase and then finally her putting her life back together phase. I think that is why I try to make sure my life is structured, because that kind of stuff scares me. I don't want to be "out of control." I'm also jealous of how she was just able to do it. She seemed to fundamentally change who she was each decade I knew her...

"The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that man may become robots." (Erich Fromm)

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Day 9: Tact [Be Gentle, Be Kind]

This is a painting a painted in high school. I thought it was awesome except the hands...
I am a person that struggles with a dichotomy: I'm either extremely tactful, to the point that people don't get what I'm trying to say, or so blunt its painful. In fact I painted a watercolor today, and it was dreadful... now I can say its because I was practicing brushstrokes and its my first watercolor since I was probably 10. But I don't think I will ever be able to use watercolors proficiently. I suck.

I can pick apart my flaws easily:
  • I'm fat
  • I'm shallow
  • I'm arrogant
  • I'm ugly
  • I'm common
Okay that last one hurt a bit. I always want to be interesting, not weird. Not common. Not normal. Well... I always wanted to be middle or upper class normal not trailer trash normal.

And I guess I'm not. Another dichotomy: both sets of grandparents were well off... my mother chose a different path. So I've tried to be different again. I'm a librarian.

And the one time that being a librarian didn't protect me at the library was when a manager asked me if I knew people thought I was arrogant. I'm arrogant to a certain degree, but I would like to think that it isn't my defining quality.

The manager thought so.

I tried to explain that what some people thought was arrogant was just... knowing things. I know things. I don't even say it unless something is blatenly wrong... or blatenly opposite of what I believe. Or I have opinions. Strong opinions. You would think that is a good thing, but I guess they come across arrogant.

Le sigh.

I've tried to be less domineering, less opinionated... less... everything. It didn't work.

Then I thought to myself. I am allowed to be who I am. I am allowed to be a girl that used to have purple hair, but wears blue cardigans now. I allow myself to play video games and not try to force myself to knit. I allow myself to be myself. I am a good person. A goddess. Esse quam videri...or

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Day 8: Initiative [Be Gentle, Be Love]

About seven years ago I thought it would be really great to make some gifts for Christmas. It was a tradition for one of my aunts to get all us girl cousins gifts, but we were getting older and I thought it made sense for us to start giving gifts to each other and keep it special. So I went out and bought a TON of stuff to make soap because I had heard that they made great gifts and I thought it would be better than buying something.

It was a failure. In multiple ways...
  • I was doing it because I wanted to show love, but also because I thought it would be expected.
  • Boy was I wrong.
  • I really messed up the whole basic concept of what the soap was. I got an apple scent--it must have been cheap because I can't STAND artificial apple scents.
  • I couldn't figure out the molds.
  • When I finally wrapped things up it looked like I had segregated the good from the bad, thereby giving some people "better" soap.
  • And the ultimate blow--these soaps that I could have bought cheaper, but I spent my time and labor and a little bit of love--no one liked them. I imagine one of my cousins said thank you--she's not the type to not, but the other people openly scorned them. I was crushed. The only person who really did like them was my mom, and I hadn't even made any for her!

This whole incident is a perfect example of where I was as a person. I wanted these people to love me and understand that I loved them enough to do this, but also desperately needed their love back. I needed anyone and everyone's love. And they were unable to give it to me because of their own personal demons. I think I still gave these same people Christmas presents for a couple of years after. They never once gave me any, and if they thanked me I honestly don't remember. Its like they expected it. Now I understand that "giving" is the most important part of Christmas, but its also one of the most important parts of life. And if I had done this with a guy (which I did around the time) they would have called this unrequited love.

So the soapmaking supplies have been sitting at the bottom of my crafts for a very long time. Until I realized that I've been afraid of doing anything for fear that I would do them wrong. And not a little bit because I didn't want to be rejected again. Seven year old soap. So today I decided to make the leap. One of my teenagers helped out, and my three year old tried to eat them. And we had a blast.

The star ones came out fantastic... the sushi ones came out creative... the purple shot glass came out funny (my teenager said he is going to use it to put "shots" of shampoo on his head, and the "brownies" and "jello" in the baby food tray? They apparently looked good enough to eat.

So I have an idea of who I'm going to give the soaps too. I'm going to give them to people who get me, who will love me for this, for who will get my sense of adventure and fun. Oh and I'm being frugal by giving them away in some Shrek 2 bags my mother inexplicably bought one year and I haven't had the heart to throw away. (Shrek 2 came out in 2004, the same year as the soap incident!)

I've come a long way. Mostly. What happens if they don't like the soaps? Its better to have made soap and lost it than to have never made soap?

Day 7: Beauty [Be Gentle, Be Kind

It is so so so cliche to say that you see beauty in your kids. I used to think that people that said stuff like that all the time are ridiculous. That of course is really about the inner beauty of them--what is inside of them makes them beautiful. I've personally known people that if I just looked at them I would think average or worse if I was basing it solely on looks. BUT, when I get to know them their "inner beauty" shines so much that any perceived shortcomings I first saw on the outside are so overshadowed. Appreciating my kids and others that just shine to me is just one way I enhance my inner beauty.

Some other ways:

  • reading. this is one of the most important ways i keep my sanity. it helps that i chose a profession that has directly to do with it
  • helping others i don't necessarily like. its easy to help people i like, but a challenge to help those that i feel have something fundamentally wrong with them. its about them and not me
  • taking hot showers. i felt that these were essential for my well being well before i read the article (almost 10 years ago now) that says that negative ions are good for emotional well being 
  • pray. i love how wikipedia describes prayer: "prayer may be directed towards a deity, spirit, deceased person, or lofty idea, for the purpose of worshipping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins or to express one's thoughts and emotions." At one time or another I've done any number of combinations of these sentence. Lately its more a projection of thought rather than praying to a specific person or being.
In my purse right now is a pamphlet from a friend of mine's husband. They are religious in ways that many in America, while not finding offensive, ridicule. Let's just say I'm sure she's heard jokes about showing up to people's houses.

The view from an old apartment of mine... she never knocked on the door (that I know of)

The pamphlet is about prayer. Now my friend knows that I don't believe what she believes (a UU version of Jehovah's Witness? probably not). But I love how she reaches out to me. In the pamphlet it lists a couple of ways how to pray, what to pray about, and examples of how prayer help. I know some people that would have thrown the pamphlet out, but I read it... at least the article her and her husband thought I might like. Why would I do that knowing its not going to change my mind? Because this woman's heart shines in so many ways. She's given me food when I'm hungry, clothes when I needed to be clothed, love when love was no longer available from my mother... she has been equal parts friend, mother, spiritual advisor. It comforts me to know that she prays for me even though I don't think the prayers will do all that good or that the God she prays to I don't believe in. In fact, I think her belief in God is what helps make her a good person. I'm glad to know there are people like her.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Day 6: Love [Be Gentle, Be Kind]

I have received love in so many ways. Some stated, some unstated. I read the Five Love Languages awhile back and it really hit me that love can be expressed in ways that we don't even understand are showing love: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, physical touch... these are all love. My preferred method of love being shown to me is acts of service... are the dishes clean, the clothes done (correctly). This is the one that is killing me right now, because my husband likes to show love through words of affirmation. "yes, I know you say you love me, but that pile of 'clean' laundry has been there for a week and I no longer have underwear" :) He's a stay at home dad. We met through a set of funny circumstances. My stepmother wanted me to go out on a date with her friends son. First he was not attractive to me at all, even though he was nice, he was 6 years younger than me. Oh and a couple of years later he came out to a set of unsupportive conservative parents.

Instead of going on a normal date this guy took me to an anime/comic book shop. I had just moved back to town after 10 years so while I knew the area, I didn't know a lot of people. I thought I might at least be able to rent some videos. I started going there really frequently and a couple of weeks went by and one of the regulars asked me to go to eat with him and some of the other guys that frequented the place. A different guy needed a ride home after the meal so I took him home. He was so shy he had barely said anything to me before, but with us alone in the car it turned out we had a lot in common and he was so sweet.

The falling in love part was more gradual for me. He said when he first saw me, he knew he wanted to be with me. I had been burned really bad in love and while I was willing to date, I didn't want to commit my heart. Two weeks after we started dating he told me he loved me and I was shocked. But I knew then that he was worthy of my love. When we fight I have to think of who he really is and not judge him all by what he does or doesn't do. He is really my best friend, and best person I could be with--even if he annoys me to the ends of the earth.

 In fact, today he provided an act of love to me. He went to church with me. Our church is doing its annual budget drive and I am helping out as a "visiting steward". I decided as an act of love to each of the people I am going to visit, that I would make a hand made card for them. My favorite one is the plant, grow, nurture one. I have some stamps that look like quilting blocks that I had never used from back when I did mail art.
 This is my next favorite one. I took a card that had a picture of a bunny on it and wrote the word Love kind of sloppy and wrote "It isn't perfect, but we try!!!" around the bunny ears. The picture is a little blurry.

Love isn't perfect but we try. I've been married once before. To a pretty terrific man. He was great at giving crafty gifts--that was absolutely his love language. We've been divorced now for 11 years. He remarried a couple of years ago to a terrific woman--they are a team! Definitely in a way that we were not a team. He was always a dreamer and wanted to be a musician and as evidenced by my love language, it might come as no surprise that I considered a "real" job to be showing his love to me. He wrote a song for me after we broke up that I always forget even though I loved it... but the one thing that will stick with me is a poem he wrote for me when we were still married:

I was in love with you all day--
when you came home
I wanted to breathe inside you
embracing each other inside out
(I'm sorry I had to leave)
I thought about you while
it took too long
when I came home
you were waiting
in love
(dressed for me asleep with blush lips)
when I saw you, I loved you forever
waiting for me with a gentle face
and I nearly cried
in love with you.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 5: Kindness [Be Gentle, Be Love]

You know its a kindness when someone tells you that you kind of look like crap and should probably go home to spend some time with yourself. Because that isn't a particularly nice thing to do... but I needed someone to say it. I didn't actually get that time to myself... in fact someone is getting tickle tackled in my room as we speak.

Niceness = Like
Kindness = Love

I've thought about this sentiment a lot in the past couple of days and I think for me a "niceness" is doing something "nice" because you have to (for whatever reason). A kindness is doing something you want to do. Some nice things turn into kind things and vice versa. What started out of love can become a chore, and what started out as a responsibility, turns into one of the most meaningful things you've ever done.

This reminds me of the book Same Kind of Different as Me which is about the unlikely friendship of an art dealer who becomes friends with a homeless guy. His wife makes him go help out at the homeless shelter and he is only doing it at first because this is what his wife has told him to do. Then he learns to love it.

I've got a similar story. Okay, its a bit easier to take care of your nephews than to befriend a homeless man, but the experience has taught me a lot. I'm still learning. Its funny to see them grow up and expand in ways that I never thought they would. I hope they never stop telling me their opinions and hopes and dreams.

Kindness (love) is important because without it we humans tend to delve into our instincts and ignore others. I've had people show me this love in a myriad of ways. It always seems to be random acts of kindness because I never expect them! I have one co-worker that is always giving me random food she doesn't want in her house--sometimes I suspect she goes and buys the food for my kids. I've gotten a TON of clothes recently for my baby girl... totally unexpected since I never received this much at one time for any of the four boys.

I would say the most special "random act of kindness" was when the IRS came and took all of the money out of my bank account in 2009. They waited until my work check went through and snatched it. I've been over and under, but I had never seen my bank account at zero. I found out while I was in line at Kroger's. The lady was SO nice. She kept my food to the side while I called my bank account to see what was going on. And then when I put everything on my credit card since we had to have diapers, she personally took my groceries out while I was crying my eyes out. She's one of the managers at that store and while I think her boss is kind of a jerk, I go to Kroger now because of her. I imagine if she quits, I will go somewhere else, because it isn't the prices that keep me there.

Another awesome act of kindness came later that week. A co-worker dropped off a couple hundred dollars at my house. I told her I wanted to pay her and the others at my work that chipped in--when I got money back I didn't want to "owe" anyone anything. She wouldn't tell me who gave the money. I hardly ever see her anymore but she literally saved the lives of my family in a significant way... the IRS had done this in December, thereby insuring there wouldn't be presents for anyone!

Actually, for every [bad word] at my work, there is an equal amount of people who have lifted me up and inspired me to do better.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 4: Strength [Be Gentle, Be Love]

I have a really eclectic sort of religion. I've mashed up Christianity, humanism, paganism, a little bit of ancestory worship--it's all there. So when I started thinking of my strength totem, animal, whatnot, I immediately thought butterfly. I adore butterflies. One of my pseudonyms on the internet is butterflyvertigo. I chose it because being a dizzy butterfly can actually be freeing. I also love that for how fragile butterflies are to us, they are so strong. They metamorph from plain caterpillars; they brave the winds; they live so briefly. Packing a lot of life into a little space, no matter how long on earth you have...

But when it came time for me to create my token, I started thinking of the strengths in my life, my family instead. I was having a hard time deciding what kind of butterfly it should be anyways. My mother, my grandmother, my children. So tonight I created some scrapbook pages instead. I've only ever made about four other scrapbook pages before so its not something I have a real hobby of. I tried to do a class at the library and bought all of these supplies (with my own money) and then only a couple of people showed up.

This is my first baby. He's about 8 in these pictures. He's 11 now. I got him when he was only 7 months old. He hasn't lived with me his whole life, but I think we've been together 7 years total. I love him. He used to be my everything when he was just a baby. We used to hang out so much! I always let him know that he was my strength in learning how to love children. 

Other kids came along--his older brothers in 2001 and this little guy in 2008. This is a scrapbook page of Preston eating his first chinese food. There are two things that are tragic about it--his dad hates "ethnic" food so we never get to eat it (although he ate some sushi this past Sunday and hated it so maybe he takes after his dad more than I would like to admit). The second thing is that the reason that my husband wasn't around is because I had to drive to Central Texas to put together my mother's funeral.

She had died in kind of freak accident circumstances. In fact, the pictures I used for her scrapbook page are ones she was putting up on dating websites a month before she died. I thought she looked so goofy and was totally annoyed that she was making me take the pictures. Now, of course, I'm extremely grateful. Her strength was that she always enjoyed life and lived it to her fullest.

My grandmother is still alive. She is 93 years old and has been married three times. Her second marriage was to my grandfather. The picture above is with Jimmy and Zan, her bio kids, and Iris, her stepdaughter. My grandfather had been married before as well! It was unusual to have a blended family like that in the 50s. I've always loved her strength and tenacity for standing up to society and leaving a man that was an alcoholic and likely to be a danger to her.

This is the tattoo I got last year in honor of my mother and bio dad. My mother had an ivy leaf tattoo on her arm--my first word was tattoo! I felt pretty invincible afterwards--this pain was useful to me. I had to get over my mother's death in some meaningful way. I don't know if I've moved on, per say, but I've moved above?