Instead of condemning, let’s try compassion

“You know why they ‘canceled’ Dr. Seuss? He cheated on his wife when she was dying of cancer!”

That outburst in the middle of my lecture made me pause in my explanation of why we won’t “cancel” authors in my high school literature class, but instead try to learn from their times and issues.

We’re next going to read Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” and I was making a case that people who cry “Sexist!” about Shakespeare don’t understand his time period or his circumstances. In many ways, Shakespeare was progressive in his approach and treatment of women at his time (which could have been a reflection of a strong female queen in England).

I was explaining that nearly all of literature is a reflection of the history around it, so if we understand the history, we consequently understand—and further appreciate—the literature.

But first we had to get past Dr. Seuss, and this is what I plan to present to tomorrow’s class, now that I’ve had time to do a little research.

First, his publisher hasn’t ‘canceled’ all of Dr. Seuss, just six books which some perceive have negative racial undertones. Again, understanding the history of the time when the books were written (one as early as the 1930s) would clarify what was happening in the illustrations. What a marvelous learning opportunity we could have here, instead of an “erasing of history” which I fear is occurring. And when we erase, we forget, then commit the same mistakes all over again.

Second, Theodore Geisel wasn’t ‘canceled’ because of his behavior in the late 1960s. Frankly, no one cares about that (and an entire argument could be made about if they should or shouldn’t).

So what about his affair, which, after the death of his wife, turned into his second marriage?
I don’t know—I’m not privy to those details, and it’s no one’s business, either.

But for argument’s sake, let’s consider: was he remorseful about his behavior?
Back in the 1960s, we didn’t have support groups for grieving men, cancer victims, etc. People were often just left on their own to figure out how to cope, which meant, they didn’t very well. I personally know of a few situations where men found comfort in the arms of another woman when their wives were suffering. (And those “other women” weren’t entirely innocent themselves, so let’s not solely blame men here.) As a society, we’ve learned how to help those who are grieving and suffering, and in the past 50 years a whole system of supports has been put in place to help, and rightly so. People who are grieving have many more options now.

But what about Seuss? Did he regret his behavior, then or later? Did he go through some kind of repentance process? I don’t know, nor do I need to know.

Because I choose to “Think the Best Story.”

Some years ago author Orson Scott Card wrote an essay suggesting that every time we feel to judge harshly and condemn someone, that we “Think the Best Story” about them instead.

For example, the person who cut you off on the freeway really isn’t the inconsiderate, arrogant jerk you assume they are.
Maybe they just received terrible news—they’ve lost a job, or someone has been in a serious accident and they’re rushing to the hospital, or they’ve been told their cancer has returned and is incurable.
Maybe instead of a being a horrible person they’re merely distracted by disaster, and accidentally cut you off.

(I once cut off someone because I had a child projectile vomiting in the seat behind me as I drove, and it’s pretty hard to concentrate in a situation like that. I sure would have appreciated some compassion right about then.)

“Thinking the Best Story” acknowledges that we don’t have the whole situation, and instead of condemning, we instead try compassion. I think in 99.9% of potentially “offensive” situations, if we understood the point of view of the perpetrator, we’d rush to help them, not cancel them.

I think of the example of Robert Downey, Jr. and his support of Johnny Depp. When others have canceled Depp because of reports of spouse abuse (which reports are dubious, depending upon the source), Downey has come to his aid. Why? Because years ago, “Iron Man” was in and out of prisons and rehab with a drug addiction for about five years. But he wasn’t canceled then, he was helped. And one of those who helped him revive his career was Johnny Depp. Now, Downey is returning the favor, helping a friend who has been knocked down because he’s filled with compassion, not condemnation.

None of us should be seen or remembered for only our worst moments. To reduce Dr. Seuss to only as “that guy who cheated on his dying wife and drew a few ‘bad’ pictures” is unfair and inaccurate, ignoring the decades of good and even great things he did, wiping them all out for one year of stupidity.
We’ve all had stupid moments that we pray others will forgive us for.
If you haven’t had moments of stupidity, you will. Oh, you will. (I’ve had quite a few that I’ve tried to forget.)

What if we remembered Saul in the New Testament only as “that guy who persecuted and put to death the followers of Jesus Christ”? That would ‘cancel’ all the greatness he accomplished when he turned his life completely around and became Christianity’s greatest advocate of the first century. The reverse was so total that even his name was changed to Paul, and he was ultimately tried and put to death for his valiancy. To focus narrowly on his earlier mistakes is to misjudge him completely.

Paul was a little bit more than just that “guy who persecuted Christians for a while.”

This “think the best story” attitude can be applied to just about everyone who is facing cancelation. Some historical and current public figures did commit mistakes. That’s called “being human.” Should they be defined by those mistakes, especially when looking at a full life in total of marvelous and excellent successes which quite often benefitted the entire country? Of course not.

Should your life be judged so narrowly? Of course not.

But to accuse Abraham Lincoln for not doing enough to help the Native Americans–after he freed the slaves and lost his life because of it–is disingenuous. And to cancel Mark Twain, again, for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, again, because of the use of the N word, ignores that historically the N word didn’t have the connotations it has now, and worse, negates the fact the Slave Jim and Huck are the only respectable characters in the entire book.

Perhaps it’s because Jim and Huck are purposely rebelling against the constraints of their society–and prove themselves to be the most humane and honest people in the South–is precisely why the book under the “cancel” curse once more. After all, it’s the rebels who push against the pressure of culture who are actually right.

There are others who are being canceled because some purposely misread and misjudge their opinions or beliefs. Some people fear any ideas which contradict their own, and feel the only recourse is to destroy that which challenges.

I wrote some years ago about misjudging and taking offense, and still my favorite quote from Aristotle is, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

I worry that we, as a society as a whole, do not believe that anymore.

Still, I’ve noticed something about myself when I choose compassion over condemnation: I’m a happier person. I feel more empathy, more concern, more love for others—even those I don’t agree with—when I assume “the BEST story” about them.

I choose to still like Dr. Seuss’s books, I still watch Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. movies, and I still “think the best stories” about people because doing so makes me a better person. I still choose to have faith in everyone else, too.

Because nature will teach its own geography lessons

I never realized how much I’d love living near a lake. It’s moodier than the ocean, probably because Utah Lake is so shallow–only 20 feet–it has no depth to anchor it. Today it’s a grouch gray-green, maybe because a storm is coming. Geography is fascinating.

That was supposed to be my post, and my thoughts, this morning as I stepped off the asphalt trail and headed through the beach area to get closer to the lake. I’ve taken detours from my walk many times before, to get closer to the ice sheets on the edges of the lake or watch the waves, and to take photos like this:

This was just four days ago, when the marsh, muddy ground was still frozen solid. See? I do know where to walk . . .

After I took that top photo of the lake and its gray/green color, but not liking the angle, I stepped backward a little for a better shot.

That’s when I got another lesson in geography—about mud. The last few times I’d been out here, it was 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ground was frozen.

This morning it was 38 degrees, and no longer frozen.

I literally heard the earth say, SQUELCH.

And suddenly my leg sank into the soft, cold mud, all the way to the knee.
I’m proud of myself that I didn’t swear, but only shouted, “Oh NO!”

Then I realized I could laugh or cry, so I laughed.
Then the other leg went down.

That time I yelled, “Oh, SHIFT!” Seriously, I really try hard not to swear.

Smartly, I shoved my new phone/camera into my coat pocket, then started to pull out my first leg. It came, but naturally left my walking shoe deep down below, with mud slowly closing over it.

“Oh NO!” More laughter, and great relief that no one else was around to see my mistakes.

I gingerly reached down into the hole and extracted the filthy blob that was my shoe as the earth burped another SQUELCH. I laid on the mud a little to reduce my weight on my remaining entombed foot, and pulled that out at an angle, fortunately with the shoe still on.

And then I had to get up. I crawled carefully to reedy ground, away from the mud, and stood up. No more squelches. Triumph!

Except I was encased in cold mud from my knees down, and about a quarter mile away from home.

Still laughing, and murmuring, “Oh, no. Oh, no,” I made my way back to the asphalt trail, about 100 yards through muck and reeds.

Halfway there I realized I could put my muddy shoe back on my muddy sock.

Cringing in embarrassment, I headed home, grateful that the gloomy day had kept away the usual traffic of walkers on the Jordan River trail. As I turned into my neighborhood, blessedly no one was on their way to school or work. They’d all left the hour previous.

Then I perked up. Today, Thursday, was one of the days everyone in my house leaves for work and school! I could go home, clean up, and no one would know how silly I was to forget that mud defrosts.

Before my front porch I paused to take this picture:

I wish you could smell this photo. It’s . . . unforgettable.

Then I kicked off my shoes and rinsed off the thick mud at the spigot outside.

I quickly made my way to the laundry room, and as I peeled off my jeans—and remembered that Utah Lake mud has a uniquely stinky stench—I thought, “No one will ever know what I mess I just made.”

As I swept up the clumps of mud I left behind, I thought, “But why not confess my mistakes? I thought today’s insight would be the moodiness of the lake, but really, it’s how quickly a situation can turn, right?”

As I shoved my pants, socks, and shoes in the washer, set it to heavy duty, and said, “Why yes, washer, I DO want the ‘heavy soils’ setting, thank you,” I realized I could share my ignominy.

But why? I wondered as I took my second shower of the morning (and it wasn’t even 8:40 yet). Why not just hastily remove all evidence and pretend nothing happened?

“Because I know what happened,” I murmured, as I lathered up my feet and legs a second time with the best smelling Bath and Body Works soap I have, because Utah Lake mud is REALLY stinky.

“And not just because by the time everyone comes home this afternoon, the smell still might be lingering. Because it’s important to realize that plans can go awry, missteps can cause great havoc, and you can laugh and recover anyway.”

Immensely grateful that I didn’t have a 9am class this morning, I lotioned up with another Bath and Body Works scent, but to little avail.

(Even as I type this, I keep smelling rotting lake mud, mixed with “Frosted Cranberry.” Work harder, Frosted Cranberry! Harder! By the way, this isn’t a scent that Bath and Body Works should attempt in the future: Muddy Frosted Cranberry.)

Now, less than an hour after my missteps and forgetfulness that the ground was no longer frozen, I’m cleaned up, dressed, and with my hair fixed and my online class ready. The washer is still chugging away, as it will be all morning because my coat and gloves are next for Heavy Duty treatment. I’ve recovered, except for the smell.

And you know what? I still love living next to a grumpy, gorgeous lake. I’m going to head back out again tomorrow morning to see what mood it’s in, and I’ll probably step off the trail again. But this time I’ll wear my hiking boots which are harder for mud to suck off.

(Really, I have no idea what I was supposed to learn today. Seems like I’m learning nothing. Take what you want from that.)

Test everything, especially what you believe

Several years ago we moved to a distant community we’d visited only once, and felt fortunate to find a couple willing to help us get settled. We took their advice about jobs, housing, schools, and the people, although at times what they claimed didn’t ring entirely true with my limited experience there.

Soon after we moved in, I began to realize that this couple perceived things very differently than we did, pointing out negatives which weren’t there and criticizing the sincere efforts of others they felt were “beneath them.” The picture they had been giving us about the community had been quite distorted.

Within weeks it became apparent that they had an agenda and were grooming us to support their efforts. As quickly as possible we severed ties with the couple and endeavored to learn the truth about our new home, which proved to be far better than we had been conditioned to believe.

Over the years I’ve ceased feeling embarrassed about being duped by this couple, and instead have grown grateful for the experience which taught me three important strategies for life:

  • Gather several points of view about a situation before making decisions.
  • Look for someone else’s agenda in what they proclaim to be the truth.
  • Don’t make hasty decisions but weigh them out before acting.

And I’m doing all of that more each day, with every news broadcast, every political stance, every health report—pretty much everything.

I get different viewpoints, even–and especially–from those “on the other side” politically. Don’t be afraid of the opposition; learn what they believe. Debate their positions in your head.

I look for agendas and what they ultimately hope to accomplish. The end result may be hard to discern, but their ultimate goal tell you all you need to know about how they will treat you and others in the future.

I don’t make hasty decisions, especially if someone is telling me exactly what I want to hear. That’s called bias confirmation, and in our zeal to be proven right, we may be unintentionally agreeing with something wrong.

Most importantly, it’s ok to take some time to form an opinion. On many issues, I still can’t make up my mind about who to trust, so I trust no one and remain floating in a pool of ambivalence until greater light and knowledge come to me.

And how do I get that greater light and knowledge? I pray and ask God about everything, and I mean everything, that I come across.

Quite often He gives me a clear answer in the form of peace in my mind about a matter, a calm reassurance that fills me with warmth.

I’ve learned to question everything, and not to simply take someone else’s word or testimony about an issue. I’m entitled to my own answers, and God wants to give them to me, and to you, if you want them.

Sometimes He doesn’t answer me immediately because either I’m not ready for it, or I have no way to discern the truth . . . yet.

But then later the answer comes, exactly when I’m ready to accept it and act upon it. It always comes. And it will for you, just as quickly as you’re ready to accept it and move on it. With answers comes responsibility. Where much is given, much is required.

But you don’t have to trust me about this–test Him for yourself. He’ll always tell you the truth and what to believe. Always.

Power-hungry “toddlers” are trying to take over. Be a grown up and don’t let them.

I’ve never understand why people want to be “in charge.” They must think there’s great status, or acclaim, or money.

But it’s responsibility, criticism, and working far more hours than one will ever be compensated for.

That is, if the leader in power is doing things right.

I suspect most who crave power are intent on doing things wrong; they want people to praise (worship) them, they want every convenience and toy available, and they want no one to stand in their way.

Those who are power-hungry are simply toddlers. You can tell by their tantrums, their screaming, their raging, their demands to get whatever they want, and everyone else can just shut up.

The first time one of my toddlers screamed at me in a fit of fury to “shut up!” I was at first astonished, then I burst out laughing. My toddler responded by screaming more and more, until I put her into time out so that I could try to stop laughing.

Worryingly, adults who demand power and influence, and throw tantrums when the don’t get it, are much harder to put in a chair in the corner. Nor are they nearly as funny. I rarely find myself laughing anymore.

I’m deeply concerned that someday they may get exactly what they want, through their manipulative bullying tactics. And the last thing they’re going to be concerned with is their responsibility to others. They want the power to serve themselves.

Such “toddlers” in power would be a terrifying thing. That’s why we all need to act like grown ups and not give in to the tantrums around us.

“If they can’t manipulate me—and they’re discovering quickly that I’m no Stumpy—then they’re going to discredit me and try a new tactic. Call me paranoid, but since I don’t know who’s working for whom—and if anyone is actually on my side besides the enlisted men who I bribe with snacks—I can’t trust anyone,” Pere confided.

“Oh,” Relf said, his voice small. “That’s why you didn’t want me to speak until we got home.”

“Exactly. There are spies everywhere, son. Walking casually past, following a few steps behind, waiting in a shrub. It’s also why I don’t employ servants, or want to move into a larger home where we would need servants. Trust no one, Relf, not even your servants. They’ll bring you your meal with a smile one day then stab you in the heart the next.”

“Pere!” Banu exclaimed. “That’s not fair! My friend is a servant.”

“And maybe we’ll employ her when all of this mess calms down. Until then, I stand by what I say, Relf. If not the servant, then the relative or friend of one. Remember that anyone in power is a target for anyone without power.”

~The Walls in the Middle of Idumea, available now on Amazon and here

Remaining in the background when things aren’t right isn’t right at all (Sneak peek into the prequel)

 

“You’re disappointed in me,” Pere concluded. “Well, it won’t be the last time, I’m sure. Being a commander, or even an adult, doesn’t mean we know always what’s right. We have to trust the nudges to do what we believe is right. And I think as long as you try to do the right thing, it will eventually turn out. It’s when you stop caring or don’t want to get involved and let anything happen—that’s when everything crumbles. General Stumpy was lazy and selfish. He allowed for all kinds of injustices and cruelty to flourish. The only example I have to follow is his; whatever he would do, I try to do the opposite. It’s all I’ve got.” ~The Walls in the Middle of Idumea

Too often I’ve publicly offended others who have come after me online–publicly and privately. And because I’m extremely non-confrontational (oh, how I wish I were like Mahrree!) I retreat, and decide to hide in the corner of my closet where I can never say or do anything stupid ever again.

Obviously I’ve not done well with self-banishment, because I’m still here. (Each self-imposed exile lasts no more than three days, because I can’t keep still.)

Lately, though, I’ve realized that retreat is selfish, feeling sorry for myself when I’m “picked on” is childish, and lurking in the background when things just aren’t right isn’t right at all. 

Someone has to say something; someone has to gently, kindly, firmly even stand up and say, “No. I cannot agree to this and will not submit to that.” Maybe because it’s the stories my parents told me of growing up in Nazi Germany are haunting me again, or it’s the examples of bullying and name-calling in the holocaust novel I teach my 10th graders, but increasingly I’m seeing the need for us to stand firm in our beliefs, to let people know what we think, and, if nothing more, demonstrate for others that we will not be intimidated.

Recently on a group discussion online I saw a woman relay something that happened in her church that alarmed her. She immediately wrote, “Not to say that this is wrong . . .” And honestly, I don’t know what she said after that because I HAD to write: “No, this IS wrong, and we shouldn’t be afraid to stand up and say so!”

Immediately I worried that I might offend, but I thought, No–I shouldn’t be afraid, either! Within minutes the response to my comment was overwhelming–in the affirmative. Comment after comment said the same thing, citing scriptures to back up what incorrect thing had been allowed to happen in the church, and the original woman who posted finally chimed in, after 50 responses with, “Thank you! I thought this was wrong, but I just wasn’t sure and I didn’t dare say anything. But now I will.”

It’s when we stop speaking out, stop standing up, and worry too much about offending the perpetually offended, that’s when it will all fall apart. 

It may still all crumble someday, but not because we didn’t say something about it. 

But I don’t think so. I think there will always remain pockets of strength that will withstand the oncoming anger (and, I beginning to suspect more and more, a future civil war) because we will be standing strong together.

New prequel is now available! Click on the image below to get it on Amazon, or read it here.

Walls BOOK RELEASE1

I know it’s scary; do it anyway.

This is my mantra, because I am a coward, always have been.

Yet I recently found myself sitting in Logan Airport in Boston, MA and realized I’d gotten there all by myself which, just a few years ago, would have been impossible.

I’m scared of traveling because too many things can go wrong.

I hate new things in general, like moving to new cities because I don’t know where the grocery store is, I don’t know how to set up my house, and my kids have no friends. And new states? Oh, even worse!

I dread starting new jobs because I worry my ineptitude will disappoint others.

All I’ve ever wanted is to hide in a corner and live a small, quiet life. I wanted to get married, get a house, and never go anywhere again.

To recall an old metaphor, I’m a ship most comfortable in the harbor.

Which is exactly why God shoves me out, wailing and flailing, because nothing ever happens where it’s safe.

I did get married over thirty years ago, and did get a house, and then another one, and another one, and another one . . . all together we’ve moved 15+ times (three times in eleven months’ time in 2017-2018). With every moved I clenched my muscles for months until I had boxes unpacked and figured out the new grocery stores. Understanding the new city or state could take years and I never feel completely at “home.”

We’ve also traveled all over the country, with up to eight children in tow, often camping and even flying, which means I’m constantly counting heads and bags. I once had a panic attack before taking off in a plane, and only because my husband was petting my back like a cat did I not leap to my feet and cry out, “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” (Since that was shortly after 9/11, the incident would have likely banned me from flying.)

But I’m different now.

My anxiety is greatly diminished, my fears held in check, my confidence stronger.

Medication? Nope.
Therapy? Not really.
Living in that secure corner of the basement? Not always.

So what changed?

Just over two years ago, my husband who was working in Maine told me I needed to visit him and realize this was where we were moving to. I hadn’t flown since that panic attack years ago, and had never alone. I was so terrified that I asked some people in my neighborhood to pray with me and for me. I drove in a blizzard to the Salt Lake City airport at 5 am chanting calming ditties like, “I won’t die, I won’t die, please don’t let me die.”

And I didn’t die. I made it.

And I flew again home four days later.

But everything I worried about going wrong did: my flight out of Bangor was cancelled because of mechanical issues so I had to wait 12 hours for another plane.

Then that flight got delayed because of snow, and in Philadelphia my plane was overbooked so I volunteered to wait for another flight taking off hours later. (My itinerary was shot to heck by then anyway.) That flight went to Texas and got in late which meant I was running full tilt in Dallas/Ft. Worth trying to find my connection. My new mantra was, “Crap, I’m lost! Crap, I’m lost! Crap, I’m lost!”

But I got to my plane with a whole three minutes to spare. When I finally landed in Salt Lake City—and in more snow—it was 2 am and I was so exhausted that I stopped halfway home and pulled over in a dark road to sleep in a freezing car for an hour, all by myself.

I reached home about 26 hours later than originally planned. But I survived and netted $500 from the airline for giving up my seat. I felt strangely triumphant.

I had realized that I could face problems and actually work through them. This little ship that I am (ok, rather a tubby tug boat) made it through the storm, rather late and very tired, but successfully.

That’s when I began to notice the change: I don’t need to fear and worry during stressful situations—I need to work through and overcome them.

Running away from scary situations doesn’t work.
Running through them does.

And then we moved to Maine—our third cross-country move. The first two long-distance moves were incredibly difficult, made worse by traveling with newborns, but I learned what worked and didn’t work. In fact, this third move driving for six days was, dare I say it—enjoyable? (The youngest child was six, which made everything much easier.)

I was glad that I hadn’t avoided those earlier scarier moves. I didn’t stubbornly stay in the harbor and declare, “I’m not going!” I confess I shed tears about leaving—in the past and this most recent move—and I needed friends’ and family’s help to get going. But we eventually succeeded.

And then in 2017 I took on a new job—teaching high school.

For the first three months I kept thinking, “It’s too hard, I’m too incompetent, every day is a new surprise. My gut is in constant knots, my tachycardiac heart is at 120 bpm every day, and I’m exhausted by 7 pm, but I still have lesson plans to write. It’s going to break me.”
Then I decided, “I’ll quit over Christmas vacation—they’ll have time to find a replacement.”
Then, “I’ll quit at the semester break in January.”
Then, “I’ll quit at February break.”
Then, “I’ll quit at April break . . . Wait, the school year’s over in less than two months . . . Can I actually finish?”

I did finish. And I didn’t break.

In fact, I didn’t even flinch when they asked if I wanted to come back for the next year. I’d already been planning how to rearrange my classroom and redo lesson plans.

I didn’t run away from the stress; I ran through it.

I didn’t stay safe in the harbor; I headed out into rough seas and am surviving and even occasionally enjoying myself. (And yes, I’ve been out on a lobster boat–twice–so I’m practically an expert on the ocean, thank you very much.)

Earlier this week I headed out alone again: drove two hours, then took a bus for four hours, then flew from Boston to Philadelphia to Roanoke, VA to visit my daughter and her family.

I didn’t even start stressing about the trip until two days earlier, and even then the stress was minimal, as in, “I need to do laundry and get my husband a freezer full of meals . . . nah, he can just take the kids to McDonald’s.”

I’m still a coward, but I do what scares me anyway. I think of the scripture where God declares that He will “give unto men weakness that they may be humble . . . if they humble themselves before me . . . then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

I’ve been very weak, and God’s making me stronger.
But what if I ran away from every challenge? What if I quit too soon?
Then I’d still be a terrified, paralyzed nothing in the corner basement of my first house.

But now it’s been five states, half a dozen houses, thousands of adventures—and none of that would have happened had I stubbornly stayed in that safe harbor.
I’m still scared of the rough oceans but now I’ve also learned to enjoy them.

And I haven’t drowned yet.

And neither will you.

scary do it anyway

She shamed my copper bottom pots, and now I see how everything can be so much better

It took Zelda at my church inadvertently shaming my copper bottom pots to help me realize that often we live lower than we should.

It started when we were cleaning up after a meal at our church. In the corner had sat a copper-bottom pot, unclaimed for months. Zelda picked it up and frowned. “Disgraceful! Look at the bottom of this. I’ve had my Revere Ware for 50 years and it still looks as good as the day I got it.”

I swallowed. It wasn’t my pot, but my bottom was even more tarnished. (My pot, that is.)

“That’s not how it’s supposed to look?” I meekly asked.

Zelda turned on me as if I’d just confessed to eating baby monkeys. “Good gravy, no! A little elbow grease, a little maintenance, and it should stay shiny for a century. This could be much better!”

I didn’t know that.

I went home and looked at my pots—three of them—that I’ve owned for 30 years. Not shiny.

20181027_103742

I didn’t realize this wasn’t normal.

Her words hung above me for days. This could be much better.

So one Saturday morning, I went to work on my bottoms. (The pots, that is.) After half an hour of scrubbing, Comet, vinegar, baking soda, and steel wool I was astonished to realize that, daggum, my pot could be much better.

20181027_123950

In my sink, with baking soda and vinegar and only about 10 minutes of work.

I did the next two pots, and a relatively short time I had wiped out decades of neglect.

In the month since I’ve cleaned my pots, I’ve been much more diligent about keeping them clean. It takes all of 30 seconds each time I wash them.

20181027_115819

So THAT color is copper! I’d forgotten.

That got me thinking of how many other tasks we let get away from us, then decide in quiet despair that there simply isn’t a better way, that life is always this tarnished, or dirty, or hopeless.

It’s not.

What if we spent an hour trying to make something better? Just one hour? Instead of going online to complain how someone shamed us (Zelda didn’t mean to, she’s a lovely lady whom I love dearly), what if we get to work fixing things instead?

Over the years I’ve discovered how much can be done in an hour–a filthy garage swept, a disorganized storage room straightened, an overgrown flowerbed weeded, a moldy shower scrubbed—and always after I think, Why didn’t I do this earlier? Why did I put this off for weeks, months, years? (It was a REALLY awful shower.)

I’ve been applying this idea to bigger things: the books I’ve put off writing, the education I neglected to finish, other issues that I don’t feel like confessing here . . . I spend a little time here and there, step away from the TV or the social media and instead do something productive, and every time—every stinking time!—I think, “Everything is so much better now when I do this! Why don’t I do this every day?”

Brigham Young once said that, “we live far beneath our privileges.” I think this partly means we often forget that we can improve many situations we think are unchangeable, that we frequently forget that we’re Children of God who are destined to far greater things than fiddling with mere trifles and wasting precious time.

The interesting thing is, as we fix something small–like a copper bottom pot–we see what great improvements to our mental and emotional health small measures can make, and we start to look for more ways to begin to live up to our privileges. It’s addicting, a natural high. (My kids can tell when I’m really depressed because I’ll get on my hands and knees and scrub a floor. An hour later, it sparkles and my brain is flooded with natural dopamine. Unfortunately for my floors, I’m not frequently that depressed.)

School’s canceled today because of snow. That means I have time to tackle problems that yesterday I thought were unfixable. At the end of the day–at the end of an hour!– everything will seem a little brighter.

Leave for a better life

Defensiveness arises when we suspect we may be wrong

In my experience, those who become defensive and angry in a discussion are those who aren’t sure their position is correct.

They respond with anger when they’re afraid of being found out, when they’re afraid they might be wrong.

That’s always been a good reminder for me when I find my ire raising: something’s not right with my thinking, and it’s up to me to fix it; it’s not up to me to attack someone else.

When in the history of the world has attacking someone with an opposite point of view brought them around to agreement?

disrespectful to tell the truth

Admit it–you want unpredictability and challenges!

Ever have one of those years when everything changes on you?

And does it seem that it happens every year?

Yeah, me too. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as “regular” life, that the “good old days” when life was predictable and easy never in fact existed, that when we long for the stability of the past, we’re really longing for a fantasy that never happened.

And why would we want a quiet, dull existence? Isn’t the unpredictability of our lives what makes it worth living? The daily challenges that push us, the nightly flopping into bed with a quiet but triumphant, “Survived another day!” that invigorates us to exhaustion and new determination? Don’t we want that, crave that?

I had two dull days this past year.

I couldn’t wait for them to be over. (And I’ll probably regret writing this . . .)

People aren't as clever as they hope they are

The Forest at the Edge of My Yard (or, whatever you’re asked to sacrifice will eventually be no sacrifice at all)

My past forests have been pathetic. In 2015 when we lived in Utah,  I wanted a real forest  even though we lived in a desert. I was in the middle of writing this series and it seemed wrong that I didn’t have a real Forest at the Edge of my yard.

side view of forest

This was it–our “huge” forest. (And the pine tree died the next year. Typical.)

So we created one that summer in the name of xeriscaping, and I documented it in a blog. I even slashed an aspen to see how the markings the Shins left in the forests might look, and I used that tree as the teaser for Book 6.

book 6 teaser front cover

See the lovely scars of black under the W?

Only two short years later I sold that house and mourned the loss of my little forest.

I didn’t realize that God would compensate my sacrifice, and in a grand manner. Now, this is the Forest at the Edge of My Yard in Maine:

IMG_0315

(Morning from the back porch.)

20180829_181104

(Sunset on aspens slightly larger than what I had in Utah.)

This compared to what I left behind last year? There’s no comparison.

We don’t own this land, but my husband’s job allows us to live here and wander in acres of old forests. I just need a geyser somewhere to make my life complete.

I write this as a witness to you that whatever God asks you to sacrifice, it will be only temporary. We’ve left homes we’ve built, we’ve said good-bye to friends and family, we’ve given up jobs and dreams.

Then we’ve been granted new homes, additional friends, ways to see our family, better jobs, and grander dreams.

In fact, if we hadn’t sacrificed what we thought was good, we never would have been granted what was far better. 

But first we had to be willing to give up what we didn’t want to, without knowing what might come later.

That’s immensely difficult: to have enough faith in a different future to walk away from a good present; to find enough hope to believe that what comes next will be worth the current loss. But as someone who has “given up” a few houses, a couple of careers, a lot of friends (but thanks to Facebook they’re not entirely gone), and some big dreams, I have seen–time and time again–that what I’m eventually given in return was well worth the sacrifice.

No real sacrifice HORIZONTAL

In fact, all of our sacrifices have turned out not to be sacrifices at all, but instead were the means to leading us to far richer lives.

“I won’t do it!” said another man in the crowd. “I won’t leave behind everything we’ve worked so hard to build. And not just for me, but for my congregation, my family, my neighbors—I can’t just abandon all that we have.”

“Why not?” Mahrree said.

A man in the middle shouted, “Why not? Do you have any idea how hard it is to start again?”

“As a matter of fact, I do!” Mahrree told him, and nearly grinned as she realized how perfectly the Creator had prepared her for this moment. “I know exactly what it’s like to leave a home I love, to leave books that I considered my closest friends, to say good-bye to memories, possessions, the graves of all those I loved, and to have nothing more than the clothing on my back to walk to a future that I knew nothing about.”

The crowd was silent as she continued. They’d heard her story before in her class, but not told quite like this. Today, it was more than just history.

“Twenty-seven years ago I came to Salem, nervous and at times terrified as to what I would find. All I knew was that the Creator told us to go, and in faith I went. Not blindly, because every previous time I followed His plan, He was right.

“I ran through the forest in the darkest night I’ve ever seen, with hazards on either side, the army right behind me, and a lightning storm before me. But I came out of it safely and my faith stronger than ever. And then I came to Salem, which was a far greater life than I could’ve ever imagined. Now, none of that would have happened if I had said to the Creator, ‘No thanks—I think I’ll just handle the army on my own.’ I realize you’re worried, but staying here and fighting is far more terrifying than trusting in the Creator!

“Soon I’ll be making that journey again,” Mahrree’s voice threatened to quaver but she held it strong. “But I know that whatever sacrifice the Creator asks of me, He will reward me again a hundred times over.

“So what if you lose your homes? Your flocks and property which you don’t even own? Isn’t the risk of losing your souls worse? There’s a saying in the world: It doesn’t matter how you begin the race but how you end it. How tragic it’d be if you’ve spent your entire lives living as the Creator wanted you to, then now, at the very end of the race, you jump off the path and ignore all that you’ve been taught? Why fail the Plan now?”

Mahrree knew she was saying the right things. Her chest burned and she felt such energy she could have flown right off the small tower. She watched their eyes as she spoke. So many were hardened and impenetrable, but others’ eyes were softening.

“How do you know this isn’t His plan?” one man demanded. “This can’t be it—”

“How can it NOT be it?” Mahrree shouted, throwing her hands in the air. “Have all of you missed the signs? Land tremors! Deceit awakened! Famine in the world! Now the army marching upon the Creator’s chosen? THIS IS IT, PEOPLE!”

~Book 8, The Last Day, available HERE on Amazon, or HERE as a pdf. download, or HERE on Smashwords.

Book 8 FRONT COVER