19 November 2014

Its New To Me

A little background for this post. My father works for a number of local organizations as an English teacher. He's retired & now teaches ESL (English as Second Language). During the day, he teaches refugees from all over the world. In the evening he teaches for ESL for a people already living in the US & working on their English. The ironic part of his "jobs" is that he does not believe he is working. He has the highest success rate- in both programs- ever achieved by anyone. Yes, I'm a proud daughter, but the man is a treasure. He is giving purpose to people's lives. He is providing hope to people who have been decimated by war, government, and pure, simple evil. Everyone loves him (I say with complete non-bias).

Last week my dad asked me to help one of his former students with a nursing class I have already completed. I was happy to help, but not so happy to be inconvenienced. I tried to organize a time & place we could meet. The day of the tutoring session, my dad called me saying, he was on the way to our home with the student, D'Sange. I rolled my eyes. Students in teachers' houses is not OK in my book. I'll go along with it, I thought. I set aside my own studies, and gathered some supplies.

Forget "First World Problems." The DRC makes our worst nightmares look like DisneyWorld.

When D'Sange arrived at our home, I came down to greet her & fell in love with this vibrant, soulful young woman. Her English accent was thick, and I was definitely worried about her comprehension. As we began to study, I asked where she was from. She answered her home was the Democratic Republic of Congo. My heart stopped for a second. The DRC? One of the deadliest places on earth where fighting is a way of life, rape, pillaging & sex trade are the "norm"? And yet, across the table from me is this buzzing bundle of energy trying to understand a simple nursing text.

As we went through the text & I explained some solid study methods, D'Sange would catch on to what was being taught, and exclaim an excited, "aha!" Yet I still questioned her comprehension. I asked her, "D'Sange, what languages do you speak?" She answered, rattling off a list as long as my arm, including French! Yes- French. I could work with that!

I immediately asked where in the house I could find a French/English dictionary. Within 2 minutes, one was produced. I looked at it, somewhat dismayed. It was probably from the '70s. The bottom of the pages was tinged with an old mold, long since dried & flaked off, the pages aged and crinkled. The book was tiny, and not desirable by any definition. I checked a couple of words, looked at D'Sange and said, "Vouz devez trouver votre confiance. Ayez confiance en VOUS!" Suck as my French may, D'Sange suddenly sat up in her chair and answered excitedly, "Confiance en moi!"

It was an "a-ha" moment (not to be confused with the '80s rock group Aha). I told D'Sange to please keep the dictionary. I was a little embarrassed to give a gift so raggedy and lowly. I apologized to D'Sange, "I am sorry this dictionary is so old." Her simple reply has stuck with me and nestled in my heart, growing each day: "But this dictionary is new to me." Her answer triggered my own "a-ha" moment.

I am humbled and grateful and shamed. How much do we have in our lives? How much do we need. I'm not advocating against wanting nice things, or caring for the things you have. But that night changed my view on SO much. Do you know what D'Sange told me about our notebooks? We were both taking notes in a cheap, spiral-bound notebook. You know- the kind you can buy at your local Big Store for $0.50 (or less). D'Sange told me in her country, these notebooks are "richie" note books, which probably belong to a teacher, never a mere student.

I have an abundant life- spiritually, mentally, emotionally. I have a warm bed. I have pens and notebooks and even computers (plural!). I have wi-fi and a printer for Pete's sake. The things I cry about are the things some people never even dream of having in an entire life.

So from now on, when I hold an object in my home, or pick up my 10 year old MacBook & complain its SOoooooo out-of-date, I think of D'Sange saying, "Its new to me." Because honestly, how much in this vast universe is truly new to each of us. I'd gamble to say much is truly "new" to us. Its a matter of perspective. One I'm working on changing.

22 October 2014

Half Life Crisis

I celebrated my 40th birthday this year. Along with my birthday came much introspection, prayer and thought. I wasn't at a happy place in my career, which had a domino effect on my life. Anxiety was at an all-time high, patience an all-time low. If you were close to me, you would have seen I wasn't myself. In fact, there were some very dark times (like night. That was a joke.). I had some very troubling thoughts. I struggled in ways I had not previously struggled. And it started to take a toll on my daughter and our relationship.

I literally, woke up one morning, and announced to my family, "I am going to school for something in the realm of medicine." Everyone looked at me quizzically, since my occupation has been in marketing and creative services for the last 15 years. I didn't know what I was going to do, but I knew medicine. I started investigating different options & educational pathways. I just didn't think I had "the brains" for it. Self doubt can be a great distraction from reality...

Strangely, the most critical person in my self-discovery process was my own doctor. I casually mentioned my intentions & possible paths. Immediately, she suggested I shoot for the stars. She was the first person to listen to me and say, "Rebekah, you are smart enough to be a doctor, a lawyer. Let's find your path!" And I really wanted to...but how do you re-design your entire life, mid-way through? I was busy with a job which made me physically ill, but hey- it paid the bills. How do you jump into the unknown?

Then one day I got fired from my job of 2 years. Does it sound horrible if I confess it was a wonderful day in my life? True story. Sure, I was sad, but in the 10 minute commute back to my house, I was over that particular trauma.

Slowly, difficultly, I began to pick up the pieces of my life and reassemble them in a completely new order. I moved into a new home. I had the time to turn the much needed attention to my daughter. I was able to make sense of my feelings and thoughts. I was able to heal. I binged on Netflix. I began to learn I am actually pretty darn smart.

I owe the healing to so many sources. My parents have been ridiculously encouraging. My therapist was able to bring me back from a place of being so very broken. People in my church provided love and support without ever judging me. The Lord gave me breath and a will to heal. That I am functioning, out of bed, not in a fetal position, is nothing short of a miracle. I don't exaggerate.

And oddly, somewhere along the metamorphic path, something in the core of my being has changed. The world is sharper. My heart has just a bit more love. My patience seems to stretch farther. While I may not be able to provide exact details on what happens next, I know it will be amazing. Because I finally, after 40 years, I understandI am amazing. Be on alert world. Great things are about to happen.

31 August 2014

Sorry Not Sorry

So many people not sorry,
they have their own t-shirt.
Last year when my teen daughter stole an electronic gadget, she initiated a gazillion microblogging site accounts. It was almost as literal as a kid in a candy store. I caught on after a few days & went back to read through her accounts to see what was up (digitally, yo). One of the phrases she used with consistency was a snarky, "Sorry not sorry." Its the anti-apology, if you will. It made me nuts. Seriously, crazy.

Mostly my insanity of that inane phrase is derived from the fact I am, in fact, apologetic about everything. I feel guilt for everything. I was probably the only little kid turning themselves into their parents for doing something possibly naughty. 11th grade: I ditched (literally) half of the year, turned myself into the Vice Principal. He told me to go home & relax. WHAT?!

I find myself apologizing for global warming (even though I don't buy into it...but that's another blog), the Lindenburg baby- all my fault, ISIS- totally on me. Crap, I'm pretty sure why the US didn't win more medals in the last Olympics- my bad. Get the drift? I feel bad for everyone, about everything. I apologize A LOT (friends can verify).

So here's my conundrum: I'm raising my niece, I refer to her as my daughter. She calls me Tia. She has contact and is beginning a relationship with her biological mom (my sister). We refer to my sister as "Your Mom." And here comes the I'm sorry part.

I am constantly explaining myself, my relationship, and apologizing for the situation. Quick example: My sister promised my daughter she would buy an expensive pair of boots. I took my daughter to the mall to try them on. They fit, shouts of joy all around. But then the awkward but typical conversation:

The sales lady then turned to me and asked, "May I ring these up for you?"

"No thank you," I replied, "her mother will be buying them."

"Oh, that's nice you have a wife to support you!" she states, a little overenthusiastic.

"No- actually her mother is my sister. This is my niece. I'm raising her. Sorry for the confusion."

"Oh, so you're a single mom?" she states with a lamented tone.

"Well, yes. But we'll be taking those Vans. Hahaha." Painful smile coming from me because I face this situation all too frequently.

I think part of my frustration comes from my own mind (fear, assumptions), and part of it comes from the ultra conservative culture of the state I live in (Utah).

For me, there are days I feel I will never be enough of a mother. My daughter has overcome a lot of things from her childhood, and continues to work to overcome still more. I do what I can to foster her love of the world, to teach her to be happy, to make sure she knows she is loved by me- and by her biological mother. But, I think as with all parents, there are days of feeling inadequate. We love our kids SO freaking much and want them to HAVE JOY. And do their homework, and not be slobs, and have fun...the list goes on. So perhaps the biggest lie of "Sorry" is I'm not sorry that I get to be a part of this amazing young woman's life. I need to have more faith the Lord has set things on a course which He has prepared and I need to have the faith to follow.

The cultural frustration of apology is absolutely culturally driven by locals (although it has improved over the years). Being a practicing Latterday Saint (LDS, or Mormom), I do attend church and activities. There are times I feel stigma because I am a.) single and b.) a parent c.) a single parent. People can be quick to judge without knowing circumstances. When people first met me and my daughter, without knowing the background, I got a lot of, "Oh...so is the dad in the picture?" and "So its just the 2 of you then?"

I know people do not mean harm, but when you get these prying questions frequently, and then sit through lessons about how a family should have a strong mother and father...a lot of guilt gets added to my shoulders. Again- I blame this on myself. I am prone to take things internally, and not verbalize how much they hurt or bother me. I know not every remark is a dagger meant for me. That is just ridiculous, and funny if you think about it in a literal sense.

So on this, the eve of starting a new Ward (or in LDS speak- going to a new church location, but same religion), I am making a promise to myself to not apologize. I will introduce Chloe as my daughter, and that is sufficient. Frankly, my life is my business, but I need to be less tender to the perceptions of others. Which is going to be really tough for me. :) In closing, sorry not sorry.

18 August 2014

Empathy: Pass It On!

At the behest of some, and by necessity of self, I return to blogging. I think I did all things Social Media for so long, I was tired of hearing my own voice on the interweb. Now that I'm moving on professionally, I feel free once again to move on blog-wise. Aren't you lucky?

The world is a really dark and cruel place. I glance at the headlines, and cannot believe the hatred, thoughtlessness or general apathy mankind has for its own species. For humans to be so capable of beautiful, uplifting things, yet so prone to war, destruction and self-annihilation is downright perplexing to me.

In light of some current events, I would like to make a bold suggestion: let us, as a species, make an effort to have more empathy for one another. Empathy is defined as "the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another." In other words, it is the ability to put one's self in another's position; think about what someone else is feeling before judging, commenting or perhaps even acting.

In the recent wake of Robin William's death, I read and heard many uplifting things. But I also read and heard many pernicious things. Especially cruel were sentiments such as, "If you're depressed like him, kill yourself already." and the ever popular sentiment, "People like him [who commit suicide] are such cowards."

I could easily say something like, "Well...I have depression too. That is a really mean thing to say." stomp my foot and move on. But that solution does not sit well with me. I think the bigger issue at hand is the theme of empathy. In our tech-savvy, communication-at-a-distance world, I fear we are losing our humanity, byte by byte. It has become to easy to be the anonymous voice in a growing crowd of disharmony.

During a recent therapy session with my daughter, the therapist looked at me and kindly advised, "Put yourself in her shoes. If you were your daughter in this situation, how would you feel?" I was so grateful for that moment of clarity. As a parent, I am quick to express my expectations, and encourage progress as best as I can. You know how it goes- parents are essentially cheerleaders, coaxing and cheering the little and big victories of our children. Yet somewhere along the way, I had forgotten to put myself in my daughter's shoes and take a look at the world from her point of view, including her past experiences.

And thus, empathy has been on my mind. I need to have more of it towards other people. And I need more empathy from others. But then again, I think we all do. In that way, I think empathy is a lot like mercy: you can never have or give too much.

Elder Neil A. Maxwell of the LDS church said, "As things unfold, sometimes in full view, let us be merciful with each other. We certainly do not criticize hospital patients amid intensive care for looking pale and preoccupied. Why then those recovering from surgery on their souls? Empathy may not be appreciated or reciprocated, but empathy is never wasted." (You can read his April 1999 talk "Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint In Your Minds" here.) I love this comparison of the physical and emotional/spiritual illness! We can easily spot someone in a cast or with bruises or stitches, but the injuries of the soul most often go unseen.

For this reason, it is essential that we, as a species, step up our efforts to be kind. This kindness towards others, this mercy, costs nothing yet can be worth everything. I invite you to look for opportunities in your lives to open your hearts, your eyes to those around you and have a little empathy. The world will be infinitely better because of your efforts.

Finally....this last bit is very tongue-in-cheek, situation begging empathy, comes from a TV show. it is completely irreverent, yet pretty pointed. Click here for a little lesson on empathy, Supernatural style (no-it is not frightening or offensive).