The Assignment, #2

This is #2 in a participatory series. From time to time, I will blog with the heading “The Assignment”.  I will respond to one of  300 Writing Prompts*; you can read the prompt and my post here and then decide whether or not you want to post your own response to the prompt.   You can reply in the comments on WordPress or in the comments on Facebook where I typically share blog posts. 

The Prompt: “Have you ever spoken up when you saw something going on that was wrong? Were you scared?  What ended up happening?”

Hahahahahahahahaha.  Have I ever spoken up when I saw something going on that was wrong? That’s a good one!  1) I’m a teacher and former school administrator, 2) I’m a parent, 3) I’m a bit of a know-it-all.  Yes,  Yes.  I have often spoken up when I saw something going on that was wrong.

I might even say I am compelled to speak up when I see something going on that is wrong.  It can be a problem, actually.  Particularly if I get confused about the difference between “what is wrong” and “what I don’t agree with”.  Sometimes the distinction between these two categories is pretty clear; sometimes it’s rather subtle.

For example, the other day I watched an eleven year old dump about a quarter cup of Red Hot into a baggie full of Doritos.  I used all the restraint I could muster to hold myself to “Wow!  That’s a lot of hot sauce,” rather than saying “Dude, what’s the matter with you?  No one needs that much hot sauce!”  This was an instance of “what I don’t agree with” rather than one of “what is wrong”.  Although I myself am not a fan of hot sauce, this kid did nothing “wrong”.

On the other hand, if I overhear one teenager cruelly making fun of another teenager, I will most definitely step in and correct the first teenager. I am not a fan of bullying in any form.  It’s unnecessary. And cruel.  And wrong.

Not all issues are so clear cut.  Sometimes I can’t immediately distinguish between what is simply a matter of preference and something that is most certainly wrong.  I once saw a college student walking to class barefoot.  We chatted for a minute, and I did ask, “Where are your shoes?”  She responded, “I really don’t like shoes.”  Hm. Ok, I thought,  I wouldn’t go into a public place with no shoes, but I guess you would.  Later I learned from my Dean of Students husband that students are not allowed to go into buildings without shoes — it’s a health code issue.  Being barefoot in school is wrong.  So noted.

Further muddling the topic are situations that are “not under my jurisdiction”.  I have had more than one boss tell me, “that’s not your problem.” Hmph.  I will admit here to reluctantly walking away sputtering under my breath on such occasions.  I have a hard time believing it’s not my problem if 1) it’s wrong and 2) I’ve seen it.

You can imagine my struggle with living in a world that is full of “wrong”.  I watch the news and say to the TV from my couch,  “What?  You’ve gotta be kidding me!”  Last weekend during a basketball game between the University of Michigan and Michigan State, I yelled, “why do you keep throwing the same shot?  You’ve missed it all the other times, why will this time be different?”  Driving on the highway, I reprimand other drivers, “Really?  You’re gonna cut him off like that?”

Am I scared to speak up? No. My response when I see the wrongs of others is reflexive. I am not afraid of confrontation.  The fear comes in when I realize that I myself have been “wrong”.  And, let’s be honest, this happens regularly.  Someone with such a compulsion to call out “wrong” will certainly see her own flaws.

Last week I was sitting in my therapist’s office recalling a scenario from my holiday experience with my family.  I told her that I was lying in bed one night almost frantic that I hadn’t created the “right” Christmas.  Maybe I should’ve done something different — offered more activities, participated in more conversations, created more ‘magical moments’.   What if I had done everything wrong and had missed some opportunities?

My therapist said to me, “your expectations of yourself are so high, I can’t even see them.”  Indeed.  I really don’t want to get it wrong, especially when it comes to my family. But here’s the thing.  I’m going to get it wrong.

After my last blog post wherein I discussed my realization that I am sometimes driven by prejudice, a friend made a relevant and kind comment on Facebook.  I responded, “thanks for the grace,” and she replied, “We all need grace, but do you know who we need it from the most? Ourselves.”

It’s true.  While I am quick to call out wrong when I see it, I am also quite dedicated to offering others fresh chances.  The student who I dressed down for picking on a peer might be forgiven and encouraged by me within a few moments.  My Spartans, who kept missing shots against the Wolverines, still have my undying support and devotion. The kiddo who downed that whole baggie of dripping Doritos received high fives from me moments later when he read some difficult words in his lesson. I don’t let anyone else’s behavior determine my love for them because I know their actions do not define them.

However, I am not as quick to offer that same grace to myself.  I tend to revisit my sins and pile them up into the shape of my identity.  My failure to cover a learning objective makes me an ineffective teacher.  My inability to offer an appropriate emotional response makes me a bad mother.  My tendency to share my personal stories makes me a narcissist.

I get so carried away with “seeing”  all the “wrong” in my life that I become paralyzed. I can’t seem to offer myself the same grace that I would be more than willing to offer a friend or even a stranger.

I don’t think I’m alone.

So here’s to calling out what’s wrong,  to being defenders of the those who can’t defend themselves, and to being willing to look in the mirror and acknowledge that I don’t get it all right myself.  And in the same breath, here’s to offering forgiveness, to holding out hope, and to offering grace to the people in our paths and to ourselves.

I think we can give that a try, can’t we?

 

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

 

 

*300 Writing Prompts. Picadilly, 2017.

I got it all wrong

I got it all wrong.  And I was just trying to get it all right!

I think this goes back to my early days of school.  I was a very strong student.  I loved to learn and I was pretty good at it.  Outside of cutting with scissors and penmanship, I scored pretty much straight As all the way through elementary and middle school.  I knew what I was doing and I was usually right.  This continued on through most of high school until I hit a wall somewhere in my junior or senior year; I just didn’t care any more.  Well, actually, I cared, but less about school and more about having a job and making money.

I knew that I would have to come up with most of the money I needed for college so I started working at age 15.  I started at a small dress shop on the main street in my home town, then moved over to McDonald’s in the neighboring town, and eventually added a second job at a day care center run by the public school system.

I was making money, putting a little in the bank, and spending the rest on clothes, shoes, food, movies, and all the other things that high school students spend their money on.  Meanwhile, I was pretty good at faking it at school and still bringing home mostly As with an occasional B.  Good enough. I knew what I was doing.

But not really. I have told this story over and over to my high school students, at least this next part.  In trying to earn enough money to pay for college (and not really saving enough to make a substantial difference) I lost my focus at school.  I was still in National Honor Society; I didn’t really want to be valedictorian or salutatorian anyway.  Though apathetic, I finished in the top 11% of my class.  Why do I know I was in the top 11%?  Because my college financial aid office had a large scholarship — almost full tuition — for the student who finished in the top 10% of her class.  Yeah, I was the top 11%.  I missed a huge scholarship because I was trying (poorly) to take care of it myself.

Why do I bring this up today?  I’m 48 years old and long past high school and college. (I’m also long past paying the student loans I took out to pay that tuition.)  I bring it up because I was thinking this morning that this is my life pattern.  I see the situation, formulate my own solution, assume I’m right, and find out years later that I got it all wrong.

Let me give you another example.  While I was independently figuring out my finances in high school, I noticed that I didn’t have the petite little figure of many of my classmates,  so I decided to join Weight Watchers.  I would lose weight and become more like them.  As a matter of fact, weight loss consumed many years of my life.  Diet after diet turned into anorexia nervosa and doggone it, I became petite like my high school friends.  Yeah, I lost weight, I just couldn’t drive a car without getting in an accident or maintain any relationships outside the dedicated few who hung with me through thick and thin. (Not too punny, I know.) It took a long journey to realize I’d gotten it all wrong.  Trying to be like everyone else wasn’t the answer; learning to accept myself was the answer.

The ‘got it all wrong’ topic for today? Parenting.  I welcomed those little babies into my arms and into my heart with the intention of doing everything right.  I read books, I took classes, I built schedules, I had structure. I was going to get this right.  And, you know, I did a lot of things right, by the grace of God.  But I got some things wrong, too.   Now that my kids are all 19 and older, I am starting to reflect and notice the good, the bad, and the ugly. The things I did right and the things I did so very wrong.

But that is not the lesson for today.  Nope.  My lesson for today is that life is good, bad, and sometimes ugly.  Making the decision to work in high school didn’t ruin my life.  In fact, I learned a lot of life skills working at McDonald’s. Balancing two jobs helped me figure out how to schedule my time and how easy it is to use and misuse money.  Losing out on that scholarship showed me that there is more than one way to pay for college.  Having an eating disorder did not damage me; it shaped me.  My parenting ‘mistakes’ didn’t ruin my children, but it did allow them to see my imperfections and to recognize (hopefully) that they don’t need to be perfect either.

So am I embracing my imperfections?  I might as well!  One thing I have learned, that I know I am right about, is that I am not perfect.  I do stupid stuff.  And, yet,  miraculously I have a college education, a fairly healthy self-image (finally!), four wonderful children, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter (!!!).  Even though I got it all wrong.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his mercies never fail.

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.