Thirty Years of Retrospective Wisdom

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Last week I wrote a slightly silly post about my upcoming high school reunion, reminiscing about big hair and lamenting its translation into big hips (smile).  But today I am feeling a little more serious and sentimental.  So I decided to let my 48-year-old self write a letter to my 14-year-old self.

Dear Literally:

You’re a freshman now, and you have 4 years ahead of you that will become whatever you make them.  You’’ go on to do lots of other things after high school, things that will be arguably more important and impactful in the “life and global” sense.  However, who you are today, tomorrow, next month, and next year will become part for the foundation and tapestry of who you will be when you are, well, me.  So open your eyes and your heart, and pay attention! Yes, I know he’s cute, but he’s going to end up marrying someone else anyway, so focus!

Hold onto your values, and hold onto your sense of self, but let yourself be 14…and 15…and 18.  There are many absolutes in this world, but not nearly as many as you think there are right now.  You don’t want to drown, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid the ocean.  Grown strong in character and consistency, but don’t dismiss out of hand what might enhance your life that falls outside that little box you’re holding now.  Make friends who don’t think like you.  And listen to the way other people think.  Your mom and dad are strong, faith-built, harbors of protection.  And they have raised you well.  They won’t let you veer off course too far – heck, they won’t even let you wear clothes that are too “punk”!  It’s okay to expand your circle of comfort.

Your world is small right now, and there is safety in that.  That includes people.  Right now it consists of your family, a neighbor or two, and the people who sit with you in Sunday school.  And you know what? Those people in your life will build you up, challenge you, help your faith to grow, and be there for you.  In fact, I spent the weekend with one in particular who knows all about you and me and still loves us both.

But…

There are a whole lot of other people who share the halls with you.  Look at them.  See them.  Right now you are shy (which I know is hard to believe, since the older me never shuts up!).  You desire to fit in with everything in your being, and you don’t quite know how to get there.  You’re afraid of making a mistake.  And while you would just d-i-e- die at the thought of being considered a snob, you kind of will be if you’re not careful.  Not out of a sense of superiority, but out of a sense of shyness, fear, and tunnel vision.  I’ve spent the last year finding out how amazing the people you walk those halls with actually are, many of whom you were too busy in your own world to reach out to or notice.  There’s the girl who messages you on Facebook with encouragement, the girls who love to laugh and are still like sisters even today.  The boys who were shy gentleman who might have actually taken you to a movie if you’d not been so blind.  Not saying they will; you’ll likely be as dateless as I was (sorry, but it is what it is hon 😉 ).  Get to know more people than I did, and relish what they can bring to your life.

Also, take your time, but don’t be too sheltered.  I’ll be very frank, though I know it’ll shock some of my still-friends.  You don’t have to – regardless of what Tom Cruise said – say “what the &$@#” to be cool.  Good on you for not being able to make yourself say it.  There will be plenty of time for that when you’re commuting on 565 every day. But you also don’t have to put away your Thriller album to be good.  Don’t drink – you’re underage!  But you know what? Some of your classmates will some weekends.  You can still be friends.  It isn’t going to taint you in some cosmic way.  You aren’t so perfect either – you can’t fool me because I was you, and sins of the mind and heart like anger, envy, pride, and yeah – lust, I’m not stupid – are not any different than the sin of a wild party one Saturday in 1985.  And I’ll give you a little preview, which would be against the rules in a sci-fi movie.  When you’re just out of college, you’re going to meet a lovely Christian girl from Minnesota who listens to rock music on her Walkman.  She loves Jesus just as much as you.  And that woman in her thirties who taught you so much about faith and living for Jesus in every moment you met in graduate school?  The fact that she has wine in her refrigerator doesn’t make her words or life any less real.  And you know what. That 30-something year old you that really really screwed up, she might not have been so naïve had she not been so sheltered when she was your age and beyond.  And even if she was, Jesus forgave her completely.  He still does every time she screws up.

So that is some free advice from me to you.  Live your faith.  Live every day.  Laugh.  Learn to see people, and let them see you.  Widen your circle.  Kiss a boy with tongue.  Stand up for yourself.  Forget trying so hard.  Tease your hair.  Buy the neon.  You only live once.

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The Big Three-Oh

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No, I am not turning 30 (thank God, and no offense youngsters).  I do remember 30; I had windows 95 and Aol.  So there you go.  I also had just given birth to my son, who is going to college in a month.  If you’re bored you can add all that up, and I will have successfully integrated math learning into my blog post, like a good former teacher of music.  Yeah, I know.  In retrospect it doesn’t make sense to me either.

No, the big 3-0 refers to my 30 year high school reunion, which takes place this weekend.  Thirty years ago, amidst big hair, bigger blouses, the United Colors of Benetton, and sad friendship songs, I graduated with approximately 165 other people, some of whom have had the gall to stay thin.  I secretly hate them, but I will squeal and hug them in 24 hours.  Unless they read this blog.  In which case I will avoid eye contact and try too hard.  Because, you know, nostalgia.

I’ve been told I don’t look 48, not that I have ever been particularly worried about looking 48.  But I definitely appreciate the sentiment, even though no, gas station cashier who could be my son, I do not want to grab lunch someday.  Though it was kind of flattering for a moment.  Almost as flattering as when the 19ish looking girl at the McDonald’s drive-through window told me “You’re really beautiful” in a breathy voice as she handed me my Diet Coke.  I had been binge watching Orange is the New Black, so I was probably giving off a vibe.  Don’t judge me; that Sophia is HOT.

Anyway, I look young because the universe is compensating me in my forties for having oily skin and breakouts during my teens and early twenties.  You know what they say, acne don’t crackne.  Aaannnd now I have to send out more apology letters.  Again.  But it’s a PUN.  Also, in addition to the oil preventing wrinkles, I have learned that when skin begins to get loose due to age, you can prevent it from sagging if you allow your weight to slowly rise to accommodate the lack of elasticity.  This is proven by science and Taco Bell, which I had for lunch.  Because nothing prepares you to say “I’m still sexy after 30 years” like eating Taco Bell the day before your reunion.  Special Note:  I was not sexy 30 years ago.  I was Baptist.

So due to pockmarked teen years and my love of digestion, I look pretty non-crepey for 48 (I learned that crepey was a word from Jane Seymore when she was advertising Crepe-erase, which I will never need hahahaHA!).  But I am 48, which is why the math works for it to be 30 years.  See what I did there?

I am excited about this reunion (no, I really am, I’m not just doing that sugary woman thing) because I get to see my best friend of forever, who I hardly ever get to see.  I’ll also get to see other friends from back when who are still cool.  And I’ll get to see people who I didn’t realize were freaking awesome the first time around because I was twirling batons and trying to get boys who were barely tall enough to reach my forehead to “like me.”  Side Note:  I was 5’10” in high school.  When I went to my doctor a couple of weeks ago, the nurse told me I was 5’7 1/2″.  Something is wrong.  I think this is patently unfair, considering I weighed like 125 pounds in high school (which would have been fine for 5’7 1/2″), and I weigh &^%^#^&* now, which 5’10” cannot even account for. So I reject her reality.

Back to the reunion.  I had a grand plan in January to do Atkins and be a size 8 tomorrow.  But because anyone who tells you not to eat corn is evil, that plan went by the wayside after a month or two.  So I’ll show up in my pants that fly just under the “women’s size” radar.  No biggie.  I’m all about that bass.  Or something.  It’s actually funny.  My body was closer to “ideal” 30 years ago, but my soul is closer to ideal now.  I’m happy in my skin and my self.  That is something I didn’t quite have in 1986.  So I’ll take the heavier package considering what’s inside.  Plus I think I’m a lot more fun.  Or scarier.  Or both.  I might even dance, although growing up believing it was a sin and then trying to compensate by buying a set of “Carmen Electra Workout” DVD’s at a yard sale tends to yield somewhat inconsistent results.  They are somewhere between this:

and this:

Feel free to step away and bleach your eyes.  That reminds me: bring bleach to the reunion, along with one of those little lights that Will Smith uses to erase memories in Men in Black…

So it is with great anticipation that I look forward to laughter, hugging, barbecue, memories, and hopefully a margarita.  Because high school is even more fun 30 years later when we’ve all learned to be really cool.

What Is Love? Baby Please See Me

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Lots has been written about love – what it is, where it comes from, how one can know when they have it or are in it. If you google quotes about love, you’ll be inundated with everything from I Corinthians 13 to that well-known but asinine quote from Love Story, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  It has been called a feeling, a verb, a choice, and a destiny.

However, I think most of the definitions of love focus on either the warm fuzzy aspects of it or the formulaic, do this to achieve that aspects of it.  I talked some about the latter in my last blog post.  I am still crawling my way through Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection,” and I have to say that her linkage of love and belonging made more sense to me than any definition I have read thus far.  Because she doesn’t break it down into a checklist (because we are not algebra), and she doesn’t make it all warm and fuzzy and guaranteed either (because we are not a novel).  Some of her words are quoted below”

Taken from The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown”

  1. Love and belonging will always be uncertain.

Even though connection and relationship are the most critical components of life, we simply cannot accurately measure them. Relational concepts don’t translate into bubbled answer sheets. Relationship and connection happen in an indefinable space between people, a space that will never be fully known or understood by us. Everyone who risks explaining and belonging is hopefully doing the best they can to answer an unanswerable question.  Myself included.

  1. Love belongs with belonging.

One of the most surprising things that unfolded in my research is the pairing of certain terms. I can’t separate the concepts of love and belonging because when people spoke of one, they always talked about the other…When emotions or experiences are so tightly woven together in people’s stories that they don’t speak of one without the other, it’s not an accidental entanglement; it’s an intentional knot. Love belongs with belonging.

  1. A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men, and children.

We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.  When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. There are certainly other causes of illness, numbing, and hurt, but the absence of love and belonging will always lead to suffering.

Love is not something we give or get; it is something we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Belonging is the innate human desire to be a part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present out authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

I am very imperfect.  Very.  Which is probably why this book appeals to me.  It is also probably why I am just now really reading it even though it has been on my kindle for several years.  And while it is a wonderful thing to be loved in spite of one’s imperfections….

I don’t want to be “loved anyway.”  I don’t want loving me to be some kind of honorable sacrifice.  I want to be loved because I am lovable, worthy, good.  Because today, right now, at this point in my journey, being loved any other way may be love…but it is not belonging.  And I agree with Brene Brown – love and belonging are inextricably linked.

How-To: the All-knowing Shortcut Around Authenticity

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I’ve been watching my computer screen as a video renders for a while now, and because there is nothing inherently honorable about watching a screen in silent stillness for two hours, I opened my kindle reader, scrolled past all of the novels, and settled on a book I purchased who knows how long ago – years at least.  It’s a book I hadn’t made it through the acknowledgements of yet.

The title of the Book is The Gifts of Imperfection, and it was written by Brene Brown.

I’ve already made notes and typed snippets for myself to read later (oh if only Kindle let you copy and paste).  But she shared a story that stopped me in my tracks.  You’ll have to read the book to get the specifics, but basically she was giving a talk at a country club, and when the woman in charge found out she studied shame and vulnerability, she freaked out and told Brene Brown to leave out the shame stuff, be light and breezy, and give a simple how-to for joy.  I’m going to share the words that smacked me below:

For the first time, I realized that the country club woman wasn’t out to sabotage my talk…Her list was symptomatic of our cultural fears.  We don’t want to be uncomfortable.  We want a quick and dirty “how-to” list for happiness.

I don’t fit that bill.  Never have.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to skip over the hard stuff, but it just doesn’t work.  We don’t change, we don’t grow, we don’t move forward without the work.  If we really want to live a joyful, connected, and meaningful life, we must talk about the things that get in the way.”

How to is a seductive shortcut, and I understand that.  Why cross the swamp if you can just bypass it? But here’s the dilemma: Why is “how to” so alluring when, truthfully, we already know “how to,” yet we’re still standing in the same place…”

This didn’t slap me because it shook up my comfort zone.  It slapped me because…YES! Yes.  I know…KNOW this is true.  Even after years of believing the lie that a shallow skate across the how-to checklists would “fix” everything, I know it wouldn’t.  It won’t.  Maybe when I’m really brave I’ll tell that story.  But for now suffice it to say, you cannot cure invasive cancer by putting a really pretty Band-Aid on it.  You cannot make a corolla into a Ferrari by taking the corolla body off and putting a Ferrari body on.  You cannot redo an old house with any stability if you ignore the shaky foundation that was caused by that flood ten years ago.  And you cannot make a dog into a cat just by teaching it to meow and wash itself.

I know because I tried.  I tried to ignore my shame, my life, my fears, my feelings, the motivations I had deep down inside (even of some of those motivations were lies).  I tried to ignore everything under the surface of my skin and create a new life with a checklist.  It doesn’t work.  Even the Bible says “be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” and calls believers a “new creation.” I really don’t think new creation means a new coat of paint and a toolbox with a list of rules.  Otherwise why would the original word for transformation be like the metamorphosis that occurs with a caterpillar.  He doesn’t just get wing stapled to his back and told to follow “these 5 steps exactly so you can fly.”  Nope.  He goes into a cocoon and is a completely different creature when he emerges.  And even the emerging is a painful task.  One that he must perform himself so that he can fly.

But…back to the book.  See, I think there is another insidious side to “how-to’s.”  If we have all the answers in a neat list (or someone else has all the answers and we decide to believe them), then not only can we skate over the discomfort, we can feel really good about how much we know and ignore our own niggling shame by shaming others who do not follow the same steps.  I think we balk at other’s search for vulnerability, meaning, and roadblocks as a way to distract ourselves from our own.

I’ll write another time about Brene Brown’s thoughts about love, but suffice it to say that she doesn’t see it as a mathematical equation.  If love is not a mathematical equation, then addition and subtraction aren’t enough to create or sustain it.  And if they aren’t, then the how-to’s that help us do the math aren’t enough either.  And boy is that scary…or freeing.

So I sit here celebrating the fact that a list is not enough.  Because I don’t want to live in a world where life consists of check boxes and leger sheets and not know the why of anything, and no one really knowing me.

So thank you, Brene Brown.  I’d rather be afraid of the depth than be parched in the puddle.

Are You in a Cult?

Cult.  The word gets thrown around a lot.  And not every group of people who believe something strongly constitutes a cult. But what makes one? When does adherence to a set of beliefs or principles cross that line?  Here are some indicators below gleaned from a variety of resources.

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Most political parties have founding members, political history, ideology and identity and discourages interaction with “non members” or those with a different ways of looking at things. In effect there is an entrenched discouragement to change ideas, while having a trained loyalty system. There is also a degree of reverence for political leaders in the past, only if they were of that particular party, but members who cross the floor are deemed traitors

 

The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

‪ The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel

‪ The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members

The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

‪ The leader is not accountable to anyone

The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

‪ The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

‪Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

‪ Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

‪The most loyal members (the �true believers�) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

A charismatic founder, leader or leadership.

Have a structured central bureaucracy.

Simplified goal or aim structure, such as to save something or introduce something to everyone.

A society history, most new initiates are invariably required to learn and respect the founding figures.

There is a degree of intellectual limitation, so outside ideas or interaction with non members are not encouraged

There is also a system of repercussions, such as shunning, “time out” or isolating or demotion.

There is a system of development, so a person may be groomed or encouraged to go towards certain roles, or assist in various ways.

Decide if there is an element of exploitation either financial or personal. This ultimately is where groups cross the line into a dangerous organization.

Members are encouraged to do certain practices, methods & techniques and only those. There is no exploration, modification or comparison with other similar or different systems.

The screening of new potential members is quite large as they filter looking for suitable like minded, or easily mold-able people.

There is a noticeable degree of repetition, so key figures such as the founder and their stories are often repeated to train people to think the same way.

There is a medium degree of personal image inflation to make certain figures appear greater than they really were and that association with them is a great or noble thing.

Members are all very similar and have minimal contact with the outside world, or the real world.

There is a substantial amount of time, money, thought and encouragement invested in promotion, lobbying and marketing.

Tax free status a major aspiration, or have already attained that.

There is a degree of mentally stressful or intensive practices. These maybe long meditation retreats with little sleep or food, high intensive workouts or other things. They may be branded with an element of mystique and privilege.

That it is impossible for an ordinary member to have the same skills or status as the founder or leadership. Members may or may not ever be aware of this. Leaders and next generation leaders are planned with no involvement or selection from the existing members.

All actions committed by members are justified or will be praised. Martyrdom may be encouraged.

There is a very effective propaganda system as well as intensive (but covert) political lobbying.

There is not always a vast leadership structure, but there can be. The more manipulative cult leadership prefers a wide gap between their status and others so may practice a more flat working hierarchy. This can create “succession” issues, but usually its known who the next in charge will be in advance.

There is a definite separation from society

Manipulation of initiates is obvious to outsiders.

It is very difficult, if not impossible to leave their society. The aim is to make the new person addicted to or so familiar with the cult that the person loses the ability to be independent, or their fears of repercussions are too high.

There is a high degree of mental stagnation, so that there is a focusing on key principles or myths and general day to day knowledge is encouraged to be forgotten

Opposing critical thinking

 

Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving

Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture

Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders