Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rules for Dealing with the Unruly and Don't Go Swamping Without Hip Waders

I am pretty open-minded when it comes to an other's thoughts and opinions but I have a couple of rules I follow.  The primary one that I have learned to never waver from is responding to open aggression.  The reason why I ignore an aggressor, verbal, or otherwise is this, they don't really want to know what you have to say.  They never do.  The only purpose an angry person has to confront you with insults is to make you feel inferior and tear you down. 

Why they want to do this in the first place is irrelevant although I will say they will have lots of excuses for their bad behavior AKA reasons for confronting you.  Regardless of the litany of reasons they have for deeming you the worst person in America, Europe or wherever you live , the actual intended outcome is only an argument.  It is a purposeless, useless, no-win war of an argument designed to see who caves first.  The loser, and they hope it's you, gets to be ragged on by them and their spineless cohorts behind your back.  You see, even if you win, you aren't going to be honored anyway. No one will be tipping their hat, bowing down and thanking you for a fine, gentlemanly (or womanly) debate.  You lose no matter what because the goal was not to see if you could rise to the challenge in the first place (see intended purpose above). 

Should you be accosted with an onslaught of angry words for no real reason there is an important rule of engagement, don't engage at all. I know, it's hard.  You want to ask them what in the world possessed them to take such exception to your point of view, don't do it. They'll be happy to tell you, but don't probably won't be able to make heads or tails out of it and if you ask for more clarification, well that brings me the next rule.

Rule number two is for those of you who find yourself involved in a feckless exchange because you failed to follow rule number one.  This rule is simple. Stop communication. I mean, stop.  Don't say, "I'm stopping now", just stop. If you announce your departure they'll keep going and then, of course, paint you as the coward. Go, run if you have to, smash your laptop, but don't continue.  Continuing will only cause two things to happen, hours of your life will be spent without any return on investment and you'll have a king-sized headache trying to figure out what the heck happened in the first place. 

If you ignore all of this well-used advice based on years of research, you will yourself in the middle of nowhere in the Emotional Swamp.  These beings, disguised as regular people just like you and me are really alligators who are trying to stalk you and drag you into their swamp and wrestle the life out of you until you have no fight left. That is what alligators do before they eat their prey and that is what an alligator of this magnitude will do to you.  Unless you like being alligator lunch and dragged into the murky waters of a lair you can't get out of, the trick is to know how to spot an alligator in the first place. 

How to spot an alligator from the Emotional Swamp:

1) They are easily offended
2) They typically do not compliment anything
3) They are more interested in voicing their opinion than listening to others
4) They like to point out the negative
5) They talk about other people
6) When they confront, they love an audience

Know what you are getting yourself into.  Most of all, put on your hip waders.  Alligators love to twist the truth and turn things around, just like an alligator does when it latches on to its victim.   The trick is not to get caught in the first place.  A little ego check on your part in the beginning will leave your alligator hungry and swimming off to find its next victim.  If you don't want an alligator attacking you, don't give it anything to sink its teeth into. 

"Hurting people hurt people and are easily hurt by them." -John Maxwell

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Thorn War

I'm restoring a house.  I have been doing this for one and a half years.  With the inside repairs winding down and the summer weather heating up, it was time to turn my attention to the landscaping.  You could refer to the flower bed that lines the front of my property as a jungle.  What was once a prestine adornment  of irises and tiger lilies has now become a mass of bulb plants with vines and prickers intertwined in a heaping green hedge that looks something like razor wire. 

From a distance it didn't look that daunting.  I showed up at my mother's door this morning in search of her hand trimmers.  I figured that a little snip here and there and I could take care of my thorn problem.  She pulled them off the wall of her garage amidst an array of gardening tools and handed them over. They looked easy enough to operate.  I pulled them open and snapped them shut, nodded and said, "thank you."

After lunch I donned my yard work clothes and headed for the lawn tools with a bouncing, smiling 5 year-old closing in behind me.  She loves the prospect of irritating me while I work outside. 

"Can I try, Mama?", she squealed as I marched toward the front of the house with the trimmers in my hands. 

"No, Honey. They are too sharp. Dangerous."

I furrowed my brow at her show she would see the seriousness of not misusing hand trimmers.  I surveyed the mess, picked a spot and snipped.  I was amazed at how little damage it did.  I pulled out a branch and looked at what I had accomplished in the pruning. This was going to be more involved than I thought.

As I trimmed I thought of bad decisions in my life.  My mind created an analogy between consequences for actions and how they are like the thorns.  At first my snipping was more on the surface of the mass. It seemed like the more I tried the less I did.  I likened that to denial about the choices we make.  Seems when I would make a choice I knew was wrong I always wanted to reason that it was just mine.  No one would be affected.  When it would start to crowd me, I'd try to brush it aside and pretend it wasn't there.  A little lie here, a slight omission there.  Just ignore it and hope it will go away.

Like the thorns, they don't just evaporate.  If not properly treated they grow.  When the short snips were of little avail, I started moving limbs out of the way to see how far I could cut, looking for a main branch.  A heftier snip, a bit more pressure and a clump of thorns slumped to the ground after being separated from the thick stem.  It looked better but there was so much more to do.  My eyes scanned over the intricate weaving that the branches had become because they were left alone to do so.  This was more than I had counted on.  I connected the intricacy of the thorns to things in my life left to fester when I couldn't deny them any longer.  The complexity of something once so seemingly innocuous can be overwhelming.  How do I fix it? 

I changed my stance and started to dig in.  My moving had become purposeful and I was looking to take out this thorny menace.  I dug my trimmers deep, until I could find the bottom.  Take it out at the source.  I found where the earth met the plant and chomped the blades down on the stem.  "Snap!", the branches gave way and fell but taking a swipe at the skin on my arms on the way down.  I quickly pulled myself out of the way with an "Ouch!"  Sometimes while trying to rectify something ugly in my life, I've had to suffer a few wounds.  When things start to get hairy, it is not easy to clean up. 

As I looked down at the final blow to my thorn-laden enemy, I noticed that it had been cut at the source before, probably by the former owner of my house.  Sometimes that happens in life. Usually  the bad choices I have encountered again was because I failed to learn the lessons from the last time.  It is wise for me to understand what in my life should not be repeated.  If it grew wild before, likely will again.  I have to be careful to trim away any ideas that I can somehow control the outcomes of things I know are not the right things to do.  Like the the thorny brush, it will grow back to a overgrown mess in no time if I am not habitually looking over the stump to be sure that there isn't something growing again. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Tea Cup Minister

I have inadvertently started a ministry at my house.  I have lots of other ministry projects going simultaneously so taking on any new endeavors was not what I was looking for.  All that being said and the fact that my plans seem to be upended by God pretty regularly these days, I have found myself running a healthy ministry with people routinely taking advantage of what I have to offer, a cup of tea and a listening ear.

It all started with two relatives who were at a discourse.  They decided after years of a cold war of sorts that it was time to sit down at the negotiation table and diplomatically mend fences.  Every Wednesday at about the same time, I'd start the kettle.  Sometimes one would show, sometimes neither but I remained faithful to my being available with a ready cup of hot tea for whomever sat down.  Over time, the routine and the mediation has started heading things in the right direction.  To God, for that one I am grateful.

Angels must have gotten the word out about my success because more people started happening by.  They'd shrug off their coats and drop their handbags and I'd ask, "care for a spot?" as I held up the cold kettle over the stove.  Most nodded in agreement, some asked for coffee but everyone took a seat at my dining room table and I'd follow suit after I set up cups and bags next to the stove to await hot water.  The anticipation of tea and my staring blankly at the person in front of me seemed to start the conversation rolling.  People would tell me that they just stopped in to say "hi" but they end up saying a whole lot more by the time the tea bag was cold on the spoon in front of them.  I was happy to listen and share my views when the need called for.  Sometimes it was a lively conversation of the bible, those are the ones I love the most.  God is always a splendid and timely topic at my table.  A good God chat can go on for hours around here.

I must have been doing something right because the ones who happened by came back again.  They'd come and I'd fire up the stove, no need to ask.  I knew what we'd be doing.  I'd make small talk while I got out my supplies and we settle in again for a spell.  Somehow my daughter always seemed to be perfectly enthralled in her own thing as soon as someone came in.  You'd hardly know she was there.  Must be those angels again.  They keep my otherwise rambunctious pre-schooler occupied during my ministering time.

I love the tea times with friends and family. I get ministering too.  Just caring enough to come by and entrust me with their thoughts and trials says a lot about how much they value our relationship.  Now, when I got to the store, I stock up on tea supplies.  I have a bunch of different kinds now.   I think I'll spring for some nicer cups.  I have been using plain old coffee mugs.  I think the new tea cups with spark a fun start to the conversations and let my friends know that I find our tea time special too.  In a world that is ever revolving around the Internet and social networking, it is nice to have people who treasure the art of the in-person conversation like I do.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Climb and The Accomplishments

An objective lesson on life that I got from running on the treadmill today:

Everyone has a weight that they want to be at.  It is seldom the one that is currently being displayed on their scale.  Like most people my age, somewhere around 40, losing weight has suddenly become a battle to maintain my ground more than an occasional skirmish that usually ends with some temporary adjustments that need to be made for me to obtain a win.

I like to run.  Well, I like the results of running.  When I first started running again last year after a 6 year hiatus, it was an accomplishment to just get on the treadmill.  My inner whining and subsequent negotiation to talk myself out of running would start as soon as the gym sensor beeped when I held up my membership tag on my key chain.  I'd start right in with lots of reasons why running today wasn't good.  I had to be careful of my knees, I didn't have enough time, I ran yesterday, I should try some other equipment too.  Lots of reasons not to run but the real one was that of all the other exercises that I'd encounter that day, running would require the most effort.

When you are new at something, it does require a lot.  I'd get on the machine and punch in my numbers.  I always get a twinge of resentment that it has the audacity to ask for my weight and age.  The only pay off for me being honest is that I get a more accurate read out of what my actual calorie burn is at the end of my run.  I am into numbers so having that one is the prize worth suffering through having to put where I am at.  During this time, I'd huff and my inner negotiator would chime in on whether or not we really need to run the whole half hour. Maybe I was too optimistic about the intensity.  These questions would go around until I hit about a mile into it and then I could relax a little more into the music and think about things.

I have been making progress with the running.  I can run 4 miles and I have lost almost 25 lbs since I started last year.  I noticed that as my weight went down, my calorie burn per mile went down as well.  It is simple science, really.  My body requires less calories to move now that I am smaller, but I am also eating the same amount of calories.  The fix to that is also elementary, I need kick the intensity up again.

Today I decided to increase my speed.  Only one tenth of a mile but you'd have thought I threw an extra 5 miles on the count today.  The exertion, while noted, wasn't impossible.  I think it was made worse by the fact that regardless of how my body felt, my mind knew it was going to be harder.  With that it woke up the inner negotiator to try to solve the problem of Britt's optimism in wanting to reach further toward her goals.

The usual inner monologue was squashed by a memory.  I remembered the time I climbed Mount Washington.  The route we took from base to summit was Tuckerman's Ravine.  I went on that hike with a bunch of friends.  Some new hikers, like me, and some well versed.  The first 1/3 of the hike was markedly steeper than I envisioned.  I was thinking it would be a gradual grade, stopping to survey and pick flowers to stick in the side of my ball cap.  It was more like a 40 degree angle with boulders to find footing on and step up.  No matter, I was grateful for the workout.  I found distraction in my natural competitiveness and challenged and encouraged my friends as I climbed along side them.  We made our first landing and I was satisfied with my performance. We stopped for water and I took notice of a beautiful waterfall cascading down the rocky mountain face in the distance.  My heart quickened at how breathtaking the view would be when we got closer to the water.  Little did I know that I would be basically hiking through it in less than an hour.   It was still picturesque.  It was an awesome experience to see the water flowing right next to me.  It was a trip to look down a waterfall up close and personal knowing that if I wasn't deliberate with my steps that I could be at the bottom of it in seconds.  I still managed to find the beauty and embrace the work.  My spirit was willing to see it through.

Imagine my surprise when we made our second landing and I looked up at the last 1/3 to see that what stood between me and the summit was nothing short of an all out rock climbing experience.  The hiking was over.  Time to use all 4 extremities and meat this thing out once and for all.  I was tired, hungry and  every bit completely disillusioned as to what hiking was all about.  I gritted my teeth, grunted, pulled, sweated and willed myself up that rock wall until at last, I saw the most amazing site that day.  The gift shop, complete with a bathroom and real toilet paper.

Yes, once I left the gift shop, I stood on the edge and reviewed my travels. I was astonished at what I had done.  I couldn't get over the fact that I had climbed an honest to goodness mountain.  How many people can say that?

Once my mind finished the movie of my climb, as I ran I related it to my life. There have been times where I have been comfortable but unsatisfied with where I was at.  To reach further required an expense of energy and effort.  It felt hard and clumsy at first but once I continued to endure, it got easier and more rhythmic.  How many times, I have wanted something but didn't want to do the work to get to the glory on the other side?  Don't we do that?  Picture the end of the journey and want to transport ourselves to the destination. Anything worth doing is going to take a piece of you with it.  What you need to ask is easy.  Is it worth it?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The First Rule of Cool

Awakening from sleep, yet another start of the week.  The harassing noise of the alarm clock jars my comfort and rallies me quickly to silence the piercing buzz.  Semi-coordinated, I scuff down the hall to the bathroom for my lava hot shower in order to come to.  The light sting to my skin lets me know that I have the optimum temperature as I stand under the water.  I close my eyes and soap up, pondering my schedule.  As I shut the water and throw back the curtain, I relish the cool waves that wash over me as I reach to find my towel on the rack.  I wrap my over-processed, long black hair in my towel and with a flip and a toss, my turban positions itself firmly on top of my head.

I find my reflection after a wipe with my hand over the mirror.  My shoulders let down as I stare at my blemished face.  Just once, God, could I have nice skin?  Why does my complexion seem to always know where to position a red spot that will distract me from socializing for the week?  I roll my eyes and prepare to primp.  I'll have to do the best I can to make this mess look like something I can live with.  My makeup becomes a mask that I can hide behind.  I feel comfortable now that it is on.  No one can see me.

Next on my list is my hair.  Not to be outdone by any other Heavy Metal Princess, I delight in my home-dyed mane.  Black as pitch.  It is the bane of my mother's existence but it is my jeweled crown.   I need at least 45 minutes to comb, dry upside down, spray, tease, curl, tease some more and then solidify in place with at least a half a can of Aqua Net hair spray.  Once I am satisfied that it is high enough and has no chance of moving or listing in any way, I weakly smile and leave the bathroom.

Last is my costume.  I need to dress the part.  Leopard skin jeans or the ripped ones, maybe a concert t-shirt, lots of studded belts and my favorite, cowboy boots with chains and spurs to complete my look.  I want to look like I walked out of a video on MTV.  If I can't be pretty, then I can be shocking to look at. Either way, I have your attention.  I am so uncomfortable with my appearance that it is easier to look like a freak than a pudgy, ugly girl who tried too hard to look like a homecoming queen.  I am in my garb.  One last fluff of the hair and some hula-hoop sized earrings and it is out the door for me.  No breakfast, I am fat enough as it is.  Coffee and a cigarette will be my only sustenance.

Settling in to my moss green '78 Chevy Nova, the Love Pig,  I make my route to pick up all of my friends that would gladly take a seat in my beater than face ridicule for being over 16 and still taking the bus.  After I have filled my car to the brim, we pull into the parking lot.  It looks like a parade as most of the upper class makes its way from the parking lot, across the green of the town square and into the high school.  Rockers, Jocks, Nerds, New Wavers, and of course the cool kids.  As they walk by, I smooth my clothes and shake my head.  They look my way and my eyes cast down.  I'd rather not see their look of disapproval.  At least no one makes fun of me, to my face anyway.

That was my academic career from '86 to '90.  Every day a Ground Hog Day experience.  Nothing ever changed.  I longed to suddenly become one of the cool kids but it never happened.  I chalked it up to it just being my station in life.  I was nothing special. I was just a sight.  Being named 'Class Individualist' was the highlight of my time there.  I was also noted in the yearbook for my 4'x6' self portrait that to my horror, Miss Lee, my art teacher, proudly displayed in the front hall of the school.  I would have had an easier time if she asked me to strip naked and greet everyone who came in the door.

Years later with the birth of Facebook, I'd make online friends with some of the cool kids.  You know, the ones who always had it all together, got invited to the parties at all the cool kid houses.  Turns out, they didn't live the good life I thought they did.  All those feelings of isolation, rejection, feeling different, like an outsider, they felt all those things too.  That's weird. I thought it was just me.  After I regained my composure from this revelation, I made my peace with the fact that maybe most teenagers just felt like that even if they were cool.

Days ago, I ran into someone from high school.  She was alight with enthusiasm to see me again.  She gushed over and a smile covered her face as she chirped questions and danced in place as I answered.  I kept talking and politely asking about her life, trying to figure out who she was. She looked familiar but I couldn't place how she would have known me.  My mind was a cavern of vague as I grasped at any solid memory.  A conversation, a class,  maybe homeroom or study hall?  Nothing.  I asked a friend of mine about her and she couldn't recall either.  I was ready to end the call when she uttered these words, "She probably just idolized you.  We all did.  You were so cool.  I was so jealous of you."  In my complete disbelief I laughed out loud.  I thanked her for flattering me as I gasped for air but she pressed on with confession.  "I was, I was cool?  Me?"  She seemed to irritate, "Yes, we all thought you were."

Cool is in the eye of the beholder it seems.  Like everyone is trying to attain some status that just never can be found.  All the cool kids were just doing their damnedest trying to live up to the coolness of other cool kids.  A relentless circle of nothingness and eternal frustration especially for the hormonally challenged teenager.

The number #1 rule of Cool is there is no cool.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Gift

I want you to picture someone who loves you more than anyone else in the whole wide world.  Close your eyes and think about that person. Get a good feel for their face.  They are smiling at you with tenderness and affection.  Their eyes are fixed on you.  They are walking towards you slowly and deliberately with a gift.  With outstretched hands, they are holding this gift out to you.  It is beautifully and carefully wrapped with a large ribbon surrounding the package, fastened in place with a large bow on top of the box.  They are standing now with their gift extended out to you.  All that is required of you is to take it.  I want you to sit with that thought in your mind for just a minute.  Does it make you feel good to think about? 

It's not your birthday, it's not Christmas.  The present is simply because they love you and they want you to know how much.  You did nothing to deserve it at all, they just want to give it to you. They want to experience the joy in seeing you unwrap your special gift.  

You have to reach out for the box in order to unwrap it, don't you?  You need to take it from their hands.  The gift is not the wrapping of course, although it is pretty to look at.  You could stand there with your loved one and just take in the moment but sooner or later you have to take your present from their hands.  It really isn't yours until you receive it.  What is it like to unwrap a special present?  Do you get excited?  Do you thank the giver?  Do you tear open the package with urgent anticipation?

I want you to picture again that loving smile with the gift out in front of you, waiting for you to take it.  Now I want you to focus on their face while you look into their eyes and slap the gift out of their hands, sending it to the floor.  I want you to conjure up that feeling you get just before you send something flying.  Next I want you to envision pushing them to the floor.  What do you think the look on their face would be now? 
What would their reaction be?  Do you think they would be hurt?  What did they do to deserve such treatment? 

Quite a colorful exercise.  The only reason for their wanting to give was simply out of love for you and to see the joy that comes when you receive.  Why would you send their present hurling and them to the floor in rejection?  Do people actually do things like that?  You'd probably think that someone was crazy for doing something so cruel. 

People do it every day.  On any given hour, thousands and thousands of people will stand in front of the One who loves them more than anyone ever will.  They will see Him standing there with outstretched hands, the most precious gift they could ever receive and they it away like it was garbage.  They will tell Him that His present is foolish, stupid and not worth opening.  He will say, "I love you" and they will laugh in His face. 

The next time He comes to you with His gift, I'd like you to ask yourself what the risk is in just simply receiving it. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

God's Macaroni Necklace

"Here, Mama!"

She shoved a rattling string of wooden beads in my face with a beaming smile and gripping fist.  Her eyes danced with pride as she waiting for my reaction. 

"Oh, Honey!  It's absolutely beautiful! Did you make this for me?"

"Uh huh!"

I reached for the necklace and she released her clutch, dropping it into my open hands.  A long necklace of beads and painted wood butterflies as big as silver dollars lay in a pile before me in my palms.  The ornaments were polka-dotted and colored in every bright pastel hue you can think of.  She waited beside me as I stood up to put it over my head and glance into the mirror over the buffet in my dining room.  It looked more like a lei than a necklace.  I smoothed my hands over the butterflies.

"It's really nice, Honey!"

"Are you go to wear it to church?"

I am team teaching a bible study on Tuesday mornings until January.  We were readying ourselves to head out the door when she handed me my surprise.  I hadn't considered that a lei of clanking butterflies would be perfect with my carefully selected outfit. 

"Oh, um.  Well, of course. Yes, I will wear it to church."

I left it on and hoped that I would remember to remove it after I dropped my daughter off at the babysitting room in the building but I forgot about it in the chaos of setting my stuff down on a table and trying to find the child care provider so I could leave Carli to play.  I finally got her settled so I could set up for the lcass when I found one of my teachmates in the study room.  We were reviewing what the morning would be like when I noticed that she kept glancing at my blouse.  It took about 4 times for me to get what was distracting her.  It was my butterflies.  I grasped the beads when I figured it out, chuckled and told her about my gift that morning.  We had a laugh and she went on to tell me about a scarf that her daughter had knit for her in junior high school.

"You don't know how many mornings I'd leave that on just long enough to head out the door and into my car to change into another one."

"I forgot about my necklace.  I didn't want to hurt Carli's feelings."

As I said that I started thinking about what would happen if I'd made a macaroni necklace for God.  I remembered making one for my mom when I was in Kindergarten.  It was an elbow and penne macaroni necklace that was spray painted silver by the teacher.  I was so proud of that necklace.  I couldn't wait for her to wear it.  I am sure she had many of the same thoughts I had about my butterfly one. 

Compared to God's gifts to us, our gifts to Him are like macaroni necklaces.  His gifts are perfect, valuable and hand selected for us.  Our gifts are primitive, easily duplicated and sometimes clumsy.  He loves everyone.  He delights in our efforts to love Him back, just like we do with our children.  His love is perfect though.  I believe He does wear our macaroni necklaces with great pride.  I believe He is eager to show them off to the angels and say, "Look, see what my precious one made for me today."