Monday, September 24, 2012

A thing you can't learn in school

To begin with, I'm a terribly inconsistent blogger. One of the items on my currently non-existent bucket list is to blog more often, but I'm scared no one's reading it. Sometimes the fear of saying something and no one caring is scarier than not saying it at all.

Anyway...if you're out there and listening, I have something important to say tonight, or at least, it's important to me.

My 23rd birthday is looming in the not-so-distant-distance. I can't believe that in less than two weeks, I'll be closer to a quarter-century old than a fifth-century. It seems a little unreal that while so much has happened in these first 23 years, I still feel like the best is yet to come. Here's hoping...

We often say that much of what you need to know in life, you learn in kindergarten. To an extent, that's definitely true. You learn to share. You learn to play well with others even if you don't necessarily like them a whole lot. You learn that certain lunch meats are better than others. You learn to raise your hand. You learn that naps are a valuable part of life and shouldn't be left out of a daily routine. You learn that with crayons and a piece of paper, nothing is unimaginable.

All of those things are important. They teach you some of life's greatest lessons.

But there are other important things that kindergarten can't prepare you for. There are some things that it takes living 23 years to figure out. Those things aren't as easy as sharing or coloring or taking naps.

One of the things kindergarten doesn't prepare you for is how to constructively handle the not-so-fun parts of life. I'm still trying to figure that out, myself. In recent weeks, I've begun discovering exactly how important it is to surround yourself with people who make you better and people who don't just claim to have your back, but people who care about seeing you become the best person you're capable of being.

For some reason, we have a tendency to allow people to come into our lives who don't have our well-being in mind. We let them control aspects of who we are, how we act, what we say and how we feel. We allow them to be the driving force. We care more about what they think than what is right.

I'm glad to finally recognize that there are too many of those people in my life. Not that everyone in my life is that way, but even if you only have one or two or three or six of those people in your life, that is one or two or three or six too many.

Fortunately, I've been able to look at these situations with a glass-half-full approach. Ultimately, none of these people will prevent me from being who I want to be. They will become insignificant. I will be capable of overcoming challenges they present, and I will become better for it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not ignorant. I would be lying if I said it was easy to sit back and let it all happen, but at this point, I'm assessing situations for what they are. I can't control these people, what they will say, or what they will do. What I can control is how I react to it.

I would also like to offer a message to everyone in how we treat one another. It sounds terrible cliche to use the Golden Rule, but there is truly no other single greatest rule as we coexist in this world together.

Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

It sounds so simple, but I believe it's the one thing we struggle with as a human race the most. I have certainly been guilty of not treating others the way I would like to be treated. When I think of certain things I've said or done, I know how it feels to have it done to me, and I can say with certainty, it's not good.

My current biggest objectives in my daily life are to remember that phrase and to truly treat others the way I would want to be treated. I want to be cognizant of the things I say. I want to think before I speak. I want to remember how it feels to be betrayed by a friend and in turn be a better friend to others. I want to understand the implications my actions have before deciding how to act.

I know I will never be perfect at any of these things, but I can only hope and pray that I can and will do better. I want to be the kind of friend that I want to have. I want to see the best parts of myself reflected in others, and I want to see the best parts of my true friends reflected in me.

It's a trying time at almost-23. There are days I wish I was napping and coloring again. But for each of those days, I know I will become stronger for having had them.

They don't teach you that in kindergarten. But maybe some of life's greatest lessons are reserved for 23-year-olds instead.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The purist kind of love

This post is dedicated to my sweet Amanda and her beautiful heart...and to Andra, for making me think about what the world needs now...

This is one of those stories I never want to forget. It was told to me by my mom almost a year ago, and I am so thankful she was there to witness this...

About a year ago, we had a celebration at my church for my youth minister and her family as they were preparing to join a new church where she would be taking a new position.

The celebration was a huge success. Dinner was great and the show that followed had all of us doubled over in laughter and wiping countless tears from our eyes. The skits that we did were hilarious and the video that was done as a tribute to the Thomason family left not a dry eye in the building. As my friends and I walked down the aisle of the sanctuary singing "Goodnight Sweetheart," we were all crying and hugging each other. It was one of the most emotional times of the evening. A few minutes before, our committee presented gifts to each member of the family to commemorate their time with us. Beth and Tim have two daughters, Celia (18) and Sami (10). Sami received her gift first and had everyone crying from the start.

Larry, our committee chair, has been a father-figure in Sami's life since she was born. After presenting her with her special gift, he told her how special she was to all of us and gave her hug. And when he did, the little 9-year-old bundle of energy started to cry.

Now to interject, our Music Minister, Kristi Hill, and the rest of the Hill family are extremely close with the Thomason family. The Hills have three boys, Taylor, Parker and Noah. Noah is about 7 months older than Sami.

This is the part that my mom related to me. I was standing in a circle of friends and we were all doing enough crying for everyone, so I was a bit distracted...

After the celebration had ended, we were all gathered in the Narthex. As the Thomasons gathered to greet everyone, Sami was still crying. I'm not sure what Sami was feeling at the time. There's always the psychological debate about whether little kids cry because they're actually upset and feeling those emotions, or if they cry because the environment that they're in calls for it. Either way, Sami was emotional.

Mom said that she looked over and saw Sami standing there and and then she saw Noah (who is a good bit taller than Sami). Noah went over and put his arms around Sami and completely enveloped her in a hug. Mom said he just held her for a minute and Sami hugged him back. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.

As we get older, we all deal with our emotions in different ways. When girls get upset, boys usually don't know how to react. Girls and boys deal with emotions differently, so we often feel helpless when someone of the opposite sex that we care about is hurting. We feel awkward or maybe even uncomfortable reaching out to them because what if we do or say the wrong thing? But then I think about that exchange between Noah and Sami. Noah didn't think about it. He didn't hesitate. He didn't wonder if it would be weird or awkward. He did the one thing that he knew he could do. He just hugged her.

I'm writing this with the title "the purist kind of love." Wasn't that it?

Love is a word that is both over-used and completely misunderstood. But in it's purist form, love is the one thing emotion that every single human being needs. We all just need to be loved. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that...
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

Sometimes I feel like that's one of the cliche Bible verses that everyone uses left and right. But other times, I feel like this is one of the passages that deserves to be heard over and over again. It perfectly explains what love really is about. Not just romantic love, but any kind of love.

The bond that those two children have is one that they don't fully understand, but the love that they have for each other was perfectly expressed in that one comforting exchange. There will probably come a day in the somewhat near future when Noah might wonder if it's ok to keep hugging his friend. They won't be kids anymore. There will be "feelings" involved and people wondering if it means something more than a friendship.

But tonight, I sit here as a college student who often wishes for no more than a simple hug from some of my friends when life gets tough....when your family is faced with new chapters in life, when family members grow old and face the challenges that come along with it, when you're faced with news from a doctor that makes you a little uncomfortable, when the stress of school and work and trying to still have a life becomes too much...and I pray that those children's hugs won't stop. That they will grow up and realize that often times, you say so much without saying anything at all. That sometimes love - the purist kind of love - really is all you need.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Have you ever seen the rain?

I wanna know...

In light of having done a class project last year on how natural disaster relief and social networking are growing more and more entertwined, I've decided to do an investigative effort of my own.

Japan has been hit by yet another quake - this time a massive aftershock from what occurred earlier this month. I simply cannot phathom what it would be like to live through the sheer terror of not knowing when disaster might strike again.

I don't have the resources or capability right now to go directly to Japan to help out, but I also know that I can't sit back and watch as these people struggle helplessly through surviving these difficult times. So what I do have is a little money. I don't have the ability to send thousands of dollars, but I do have a job that provides me with enough that I can give back.

So here's what I'm going to do. I'm posting this blog to Facebook and Twitter. For each person that comments on it, "likes" it, retweets it, etc. from now until Easter, I'm going to donate $1 to the Red Cross for relief efforts in Japan. You can comment, "like," retweet as many times as you want until then, and I'll post it once every morning at 10 a.m. CT. I'll keep up with how much money I've raised and post that daily, as well. I may not be able to give the grand total right away, but I'll donate a little at a time until I've covered it.

Social networking is an incredible thing, and I hope this will make use of it in the best way I know how.

If anyone is interested in contributing, let me know.

Keep Japan and its people in your thoughts in prayers...they've seen the rain, and the storms still aren't through...

"When it's over, so they say, it'll rain a sunny day...I know...Shining down like water..."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Changing Channels

For as many lighthearted, carefree and fun songs as Jimmy Buffett has written, there are a handful that stick out for their incredible poignancy. Changing Channels is one of those songs.

Jimmy always catches me at the seemingly wrong time...

I should be studying for a huge test on grammar, punctuation and word usage, so I figured if I wrote this blog I could attempt to self-edit, and that would be good enough. As a matter of fact, I just correctly hyphenated "self-edit." Moving on.

Speaking of moving on, I've been puzzled lately as to exactly how one goes about moving on...from anything. I'm quickly discovering that I'm at a time in my life where things are changing as rapidly as they first occur. I'm not the most adapt when it comes to change. It doesn't terrify me, but I don't always welcome it with open arms either.

A few minutes ago, I sat down to check for an e-mail and opened iTunes. Changing Channels came on...

"There's an island in the ocean / where the people stay in motion / somewhere on the old Gulf Stream / do they live or did I dream
They were changing channels / waiting for their sails to fill / they'll be changing channels / always will."

I don't know exactly what Jimmy meant when he wrote that, but I've created my own idea about it that suits me well. No matter the exact meaning, I'd like to think the people he's referring to are good at adapting to change. I think of them as calm sailors behind the helm. I don't think they care whether they are in control. They aren't worried about the winds shifting. They have no particular destination. They are content to "change channels" and see where they end up.

If only I could be more like those people...whoever they are...

Friday, February 4, 2011

I can only pick three?

Today in my Persuasive Discourse class, our first assignment was to write down three things that we felt strongly about and who or what influenced our feelings about the them.

For anyone that knows me well, you know that this is a very difficult task. My mind started to get ahead of me as I tried to think of the three biggest things that I felt strongly about. But is biggest the best word? Maybe most important things? I couldn't decide.

Our teacher urged us to finish up so we could get started, so I quickly jotted down three things that I felt like were a good representation of the types of things I feel strongly about. I decided on Auburn, global aid/relief, and following your goals/dreams. They ranged from the practical, everyday things that I actually encounter regularly, to things that were of a much larger scope and more on the civil rights end of the spectrum, to things that are better described as ideas, concepts or intangibles.

As our teacher asked for volunteers to share their three things, I listened to some of the lists that the other students were giving. Some of the things were somewhat predictable like gay rights, abortion, drinking, etc. Others were original and lighthearted like cooking and reading, but yet the reasons behind them gave them real purpose and meaning. Still others were personal and deep like their religious beliefs, personal faith journeys and relationships with family and friends.

When I shared mine, I wondered if anyone in the room had struggled to make their list like I did. It wasn't going to be taken for a grade or anything of the sort, but I knew that my list was a representation of myself and the things I valued most. I questioned if someone might judge me for not saying, "My relationship with Christ," or think I was too naive and had my head in the clouds for saying that I was fed up with complacency and wanted people to follow their dreams.

At the end of the exercise, I finally figured out that it didn't matter. To be honest, I don't remember the point of the assignment as it related to the class, but the lesson I took away was probably more important anyway.

I don't think it matters what were on the lists. No matter how much or little importance any of us might have given to any various item, it only matters that the item mattered to that one person. Everything needs someone to care about it. How boring would the world be if we all only cared about the same three things? It's because we all have different passions and points of interest that the world is filled with amazing people trying to do amazing things.

I'm pretty sure almost everyone knows the story of the boy on the beach and the starfish. The boy was walking along the shoreline and came across hundreds of starfish that had washed up on the shore and were dying. One by one, he began to carefully pick them up and throw them back into the water. A man noticed what the boy was doing, and he turned to the boy and said, "What are you doing? There is no way you'll be able to save all those starfish. Just leave it alone. It doesn't matter." But as the boy picked up another starfish and tossed it back into the waves, he replied, "It matters to that one."

That story has taught me a lot about always supporting the things you believe in, regardless of whether other people think it matters. Who knows? I might even put "starfish" at no. 4 on my list...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A sixty dollar promise

I realize it's been a while since I've written anything. I could come up with some excuse about how busy I've been, which definitely wouldn't be a lie, but that's not to say I haven't had time to write. I just haven't wanted to. I've had something on my mind for a while now, but every time I sat down to write, it didn't feel right. But something about tonight gave me inspiration and I'm ready.

I'm sitting here in my cozy little room listening to the rain hit the rocks outside my bedroom window. Alison Krauss' smooth and mellow voice is coming through the speakers, and I'm content. I like that word, "content." It doesn't force you to be happy, it just asks that you not be anxious, upset, etc. At this very moment, I'm content.

This past month taught me a lot about myself in a lot of different ways. I was very happy to wave goodbye to 2010. It had its bright moments, but all-in-all, it wasn't so much my year. I embraced the start of 2011 and was determined to make it a better year. Nine days in, I embarked on a trip that would leave an incredible mark on my life for multiple reasons.

I'm not going to do a full recap of how amazing the trip was. Words truly cannot describe it. Let's just say that every time I go to work and walk past the Rane Room, I get chills when I see that crystal trophy sparkling in its case.

That being said, I'll set the stage a little bit to get to where this story really needs to go...

After the game, as the clean-up crews took over (those people SO don't make enough money), I still didn't want to leave. I walked down to the railing by the field and was lucky enough to see a friend who grabbed a handful of confetti and threw it into my bag (Thanks Bo!). My roommate and I left the stadium and wandered aimlessly in a state something between "Oh-my-gosh-it-is-SO-COLD" and "Did-we-really-just-win-that-game?" We called our amazing cab driver, Jay (more on him in a little bit), who said he'd come get us, and finally made it back to the hotel hours after the game had ended. Too exhausted to even think about going out, we passed out almost immediately.

We had already made plans with Jay for him to take us to the airport the next morning. It was going to be a little more expensive than we would have liked, but he was reliable and we knew it was the safest option to make our flights on time.

When we woke up Tuesday morning, it was another gorgeous Arizona day. Jay was right on time (20 minutes early, in fact), and there was a huge part of me that wanted so badly to stay in that beautiful place. With a flight to catch, we showered and packed and headed downstairs to meet Jay.

This is a good opportunity to tell you a little bit about Jay. Jay is a talker. More so than me (no sarcastic comments please), I'm not even kidding. He took us to and from the game Monday and talked the ENTIRE way there and back. He told us a lot about his life, jobs he'd had, his family...anything and everything. We listened politely and nodded and said "Uh huh" at the appropriate times, but let him do most of the talking. Jay also sounded as though he had been smoking a pack a day since he was old enough to hold a cigarette. He was a little rough around the edges. He was a big man, tall, broad-shouldered, a little scruffy on the face. He had a head full of dark brown hair, and weathered tan skin. Nothing unapproachable, but not the most clean-cut either.

One of the things I had picked up on throughout Jay's stories was that he had spent a good portion of time mentoring juveniles that had been placed in detention centers or who had been in trouble with drugs, alcohol, crime, etc. I had an immense amount of respect for him and his ability to help kids with those kinds of problems. Until Tuesday morning, I didn't think much of it other than that.

The ride to the airport that morning was pretty uneventful. Jay talked some more, we listened, and watched the beautiful Arizona mountains out our windows for the last time. We were getting closer to the terminal, and Jay was remarking on how much less crowded it was than it had been earlier in the morning. I drew my attention back to him as he pulled up to the curb. He parked the car and before we could reach for the door handles, he looked into the rear view mirror and spoke to us one last time.

Jay's message was pretty simple. He issued us a challenge. He told us that he wanted us to take some time once a week, a few times a month, just however often we could to do something to change the life of young people in our community. His words warmed my heart and brought a smile to my face. But Jay wasn't done.

"Here's what I'm going to do," he said, so matter-of-factly I thought it might be a joke. "If you can promise me that you're going to do that," he said, "that you're going to take some time to help these kids, then your cab ride is free. You don't owe me a thing. But if you don't do it, then we may not see each other again, but if you don't do it, you're going to know that you have a debt to me until the day you die."

I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to think. The man had just forfeited $60 on nothing more than a promise to do something good for someone else. I'm pretty sure I stood there with my mouth hanging open for a good 10 seconds before I could come up with a reply. Meanwhile, Jay just got out of the car, lifted our bags from the trunk, and placed them on the sidewalk. I thanked him profusely and we promised him we would honor his request. He smiled, told us to have a safe trip home, and drove away.

As I headed inside, a lump rose in my throat and I choked back tears at the kindness and true goodness I had just experienced. It was more than just not having to pay for a cab ride. I began to realize that that was one of times that I knew a person had been put into my life for a reason.

I've thought about Jay several times since then and I often wonder if he wonders if we're going to honor his promise. I hope someday I'll be able to find Jay and tell him that I've been able to. I don't have anything concrete in place yet, but I've started putting together some ideas for things I could do to fulfill my promise and repay my debt.

I made another promise of my own, and one that Jay doesn't know anything about. I promised to no one in particular that I would never let Jay's story die. It's a simple "pay it forward" concept, but one that we don't get to witness often enough.

If you have ideas of your own on ways to "repay the debt" or want to be a part of fulfilling Jay's promise, let me know. In the coming months, I'm going to have something in the works, and something that I hope is as meaningful to someone else's life as Jay was to mine.

Oh yeah...Jay said he was pulling for Auburn too...go figure...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fifteen really is the big one

I don't know what it is, but lately my rear-view mirror has been providing a lot of insight.

I was driving home this afternoon and stopped at a red light. I fidgeted with my iPod for a second or two to change the song, and then went back to watching cars pass by around me while I waited for the light to change. A car pulled up behind me, so I glanced into the rear-view mirror to check out who was behind me. I don't really know why I do that, I guess just out of curiosity to see who's traveling the same path. It just so happened to be a mom and her daughter - mom in the passenger seat, and daughter behind the wheel. The daughter looked to be about 15, and the look on her mom's face confirmed it. I looked at the car and noticed it was a Honda minivan. I immediately smiled to myself.

Coming up on my 21st birthday, I thought back to this time six short years ago. I was so excited to turn 15. I could FINALLY drive a car. Granted, I couldn't drive by myself, but it was my first oh-so-miniscule glimpse of freedom, and I couldn't wait. I remember going to get my permit, waiting forever in line, and finally stepping up to fill out all of the information and get my little slip of paper that said "YES! YOU CAN DRIVE!" At least, it might as well have said that.

That first year was rocky at times. I thought I knew everything and couldn't stand it when Mom or Dad tried to correct me. I learned how to drive the minivan - the Honda minivan - and though awkward at times, I became pretty good at maneuvering a bus up and down Memorial Parkway. Then came the BIG birthday, or so I thought. I turned 16 and convinced my parents to let me skip school that morning to go get my license. I grinned as the lady behind the desk looked at my date of birth and smiled and said, "Well happy birthday, young lady."

I went to dinner that night with my parents and my sister. Mom, Annie and I came from the house to meet my dad at the restaurant after he got off of work. When we were finished, I nervously asked if I could drive one of the cars home. Reluctantly, knowing they didn't have a good reason to say no, Mom and Dad said yes and I took that big ol' minivan to the house. But here's the funny part. I was terrified. For as long as I'd spent complaining about having my parents in the car correcting my every move, something about having them there felt safer. It was as if I knew that if something bad happened, they could just jump behind the wheel, fix it, and everything would be OK. Sitting in the driver's seat alone and about to leave the restaurant, it suddenly became glaringly obvious to me that this was it; if something bad happened, it was me and the minivan to fend for ourselves. Of course, I made it home just fine and saw the look of relief on my mom's face as I pulled into the driveway.

As I looked behind me today and saw that girl and her mom, I couldn't help but wonder what she was thinking. As the light turned green and I started to pull away, I offered up a wish for that girl. I wished that she would cherish these days with her mom in the car. I wished that she would never have to go through the awful experience of a wreck. I wished that she wouldn't speed and face the embarrassment of telling her parents about her first ticket. And I wished that when her 16th birthday rolls around and she can't wait to be on her own, that she would appreciate the safety and comfort offered from her mom's presence today.

Fifteen really is the big birthday. It's the last year we truly have safety and comfort. We all grow up. We have to be big kids. We move out and have to learn how to do things all on our own. And I, for one, have never been more thankful for that safety and comfort that annoyed me so much for so long.