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Made It! 040

On Being a (Kind-of) Girl

“So, has she blown the house up yet?” My Uncle Rey’s usual way of asking my mom how I was doing. He wasn’t asking if some baking lesson had gone wrong, he was referring to my frequent experiments with household chemistry. My mom still reminds me of these hair-greying episodes today, but with much more nostalgia and humor than in years past—she did have to start coloring her hair fairly young.

I often hear blanket statements regarding the nature of women or a “woman’s heart.” Sometimes more egalitarian authors or speakers insert the word “most” before their statements: “Most women want…” or “most women think…” or “most women feel…” Some even include statistics like “ninety percent of women…” In any case, after reading or hearing these statements I am often left wondering “but what about the rest of us?” Those whose child-hearts are more interested in explosives or nature or archaeology than dolls and dress-up or at least as much. In all fairness, I am not saying that generalized statements about women don’t apply to me nor am I necessarily making negative judgment against my gender. What I am saying is that I often feel like I’m standing on the outside of the cultural party—sometimes looking in longingly and sometimes wanting to sprint as far away from it as possible– and at this point I have no doubts about my freakish nature. I’m not saying I am manly or want to be a man or that being a man is better than being a woman. I’m not speaking to what I think men want or “how they are” either because I am not a man and I have no idea. The only thing I can speak to is my experience as a girl-freak growing up in 1980’s America. I’ll share a bit about in the hopes that some other freaks will find a kindred or perhaps a little inspiration.

The thing that makes me thing that I am different from “most” women by nature that I believe I have been so from the very start. It’s evident even in my baby pictures! Take my favorite photograph of me as a child. It isn’t one of the numerous images of me wearing a little lacey or velvet dress (often a little disheveled due to wriggling through the “jungle” of some playground or backyard). Instead it is an image of me wearing naught else but a diaper and one of my dad’s trucker-style snap backs backwards while wielding one of his hammers, the handle of which extends the length of my then barely-able-to-stand body and the corners of my dimpled grin hanging from each ear. I don’t think I was quite a year old.

Okay, some will argue that maybe that is an example of something nurtured in me, some parental preference or leading. So then let’s use is my experience with that great American retail institution of consumer indoctrination: Toys R Us. I vividly recall walking through towering isles of endless toys. To my right a pink and purple nightmare. Dolls with layered dresses and comatose eyes stared down at me through lashes that rivaled Tammy Faye Baker’s. Mesh bags filled with play fruit and light pink ovens lay about waiting to fill the domestic desires of little girls and those boys with daring parents.  To my left lay a blue, red, grey and black block-city. Sharp angles on Transformers and bulldozers crashed through cardboard packages and Leggo masterpieces lay temptingly behind glass barricades. I would walk, fast then slow then fast again, my attention caught by some noise-making plaything until I remembered my goal, all the way to the sexless section. You know, that genderless place in the store where the art supplies, play dough, “learning toys” and science kits are. Because I was effectively a spoiled only child my parents were pretty much willing to let me have the run of the store and choose whatever toy I wanted—within reason and wandering quietly and respectfully of course.  Without skipping a beat I’d head over to this genderless section of the store and stare at all the wonderful things–tools that would help me explore the world around me. I remember one Christmas in particular, actually it was just before Christmas, my mom had taken me to T-R-U to get some ideas. We were standing in the pink nightmare with me insisting that I wanted a chemistry set and a tool set and some other boyish things. Hesitant and resigned, my mom sighed and we left the store. I was expecting to open a stove set that Christmas, and maybe I did, but much to my delight I got the tool and chemistry sets. It was the best Christmas ever! I begged my dad for a piece of wood try the plane out and later barricaded myself in my room with the chemistry set (remember, it was the ‘80’s and parents used to drive around with their kids in the backs of pickup trucks with no seat belts and no one said anything), leaving my bewildered parents shaking their heads in the living room.

And then there is the comparison between me as a little girl and my female peers. Here are some examples in conversation format (hyperbole included):

Interacting with other humans:

“Most” little girls: Wanna see me dance or hear me sing? Watch me twirl in my dress/tutu!

Me: Did you know that pterodactyls aren’t dinosaurs? Great White Sharks are also called chark…car..carchard…, umm car-car-OH-don!

When an expectant family member or parent’s friend visit:

“Most” little girls: I want to hold the baby! When is the baby going to be here!?! Can I feed the baby?

Me: Seven weeks? You had sex seven weeks ago. The baby is a fetus. It is starting to grow arms and legs. Want to see my slide of a human baby foot? We need a microscope.

On Santa’s lap:

“Most” little girls: I want Fashion Strip Mall Barbie, a stove like mommy’s and a dulucks make-up thing.

Me: Okay, so I NEED a new canteen and a flashlight. Definitely a microscope. Okay, I can settle for a snoopy snow-cone maker and a Pound Puppy.

Lessons:

“Most” little girls: I want to be a ballerina! Can I take dance lessons?!?!?

Me: Mom, can I take fencing lessons? But MOOOM! Okay…archery?

And into adulthood…reassurance and pathology:

“Most” girls: Do you think I’m beautiful?  Am I as pretty, organized or as good a mom as she is?

Me: Do you think I’m competent? Am I as smart as he/she is or did I do as well on my performance evaluation? Do people like me as much?

A nature to nurture

Several times in my life, usually when speaking to another woman about kids (my lack thereof) or family or some pathology, I have been subjected to the phrase that is something to the effect of “You just want to take care of…to nurture because it’s a woman’s nature” and my first thought is usually something like “Yeah, maybe bacterial cultures.” Yet they insist: One of these days I will have children and magically woman-ness will just spring-forth from within.

These “encouragers” are often the one’s who pray that God softens my heart or encourage me that I will come around once I find my prince charming and have children. I get the distinct impression that these folks see me as wayward or damaged or rebellious in some way. Not that I am not those things, certainly I am, but it has nothing to do with my gender, it’s just who I am.

Even as a child the “instinct” to care for children eluded me. I was always horrified of babysitting. The month before school was out my friends would be setting up their summer gigs watching neighborhood kids and I was busy praying my parents wouldn’t force me to do the same. It isn’t that I didn’t want to do anything, it’s that I was terrified of children. However, my very first job ended up being a babysitting: my neighbors had two prize-winning show dogs that I absolutely loved. I’d spend hours caring for and playing with a Russian Wolfhound and an Afghan hound, often wrapping my arms around the Borzoi’s neck, who was as nearly tall as I was at the time, while she leaned on me until we collapsed. It was our routine. I had two other babysitting gigs after that, both while in college and yes, both watching dogs or other pets.

I think I preferred dogs over kids because, as some have heard me say, I wonder if I ever was a child. I know that’s extreme, but suffice it to say I was a pretty eclectic kid and just didn’t “get” most other children. I still find it hard to relate to kids and just know my limits. I was once part of a church that was in the process of seeking volunteers. Ooooh! I could type things or spackle and paint or help fix things! I went to the pastor and his wife who stated they would love to have my help and felt I would go far in the Children’s ministry. I tried to explain that I didn’t work well with kids but they would have none of it, insisting (without even having to consult God) that it was right for me. A short while later, as part of a member of a new Church, I found a pastor who actually listened to me and placed me in a volunteer position that involved co-organizing a large community event. It was a huge challenge but God used it to bless a ton of people. I honestly believe the children’s ministry at any Church is one of the most important and admire those who serve in this capacity, but I just know it isn’t for me. I felt bad and guilty about refusing to serve in the children’s ministry at the other church, but during that community event I realized that each of us has a responsibility to find out what we are (and aren’t) passionate about and have talents in and invest in those areas, regardless of gender norms.

After my nephew was born I mellowed a bit with the kid thing. I remember seeing him for the first time at the hospital, just born, and knowing I was in love. My immediate second thought was “Oh-mah-gawd. I am going to have to hold it then I’ll dropt it or it will poop!” I still remember sitting nervously on the couch with my sister grinning at me with “nah-nah” delight as she handed me the oversized jelly bean, more blanket than baby. Talk about rigid. I got through it and held him all the time after that point and I did a lot—a lot—of diaper duty. I survived. I still don’t have any more or less talent or desire to work with kids. I just have more confidence in my ability to get one into adulthood relatively unscathed and with a good counseling fund.

Being a Good Woman, Being Me

Sometimes the people who pray or hope I’ll grow into womanhood get scared when I tell them about things I have done. I don’t know if they are scared for me or at the horror that comes with knowing that a woman could “go through” the things I have been through. I’ve been through some painful things, and those I can’t blame them for being frightened by. It’s their fear about the positive things that puzzles me, like travelling alone both in the US and in developing countries, driving long distances by myself, mowing my own lawn or installing a kitchen sink. I’d love to have someone to do things with and those closest to me have certainly heard me say I believe I would conquer the world with a good friend at my side. Certainly I would like some counterpart male freak to come crashing into my life sometime and knock me off my feet, sending us both hurdling out of my comfort zone on some adventure (mark my words, I will regret I said this someday). For now I am learning to simply be content with who I am and who I am yearns for little adventures and seeks them, even on my own.

As I sit here writing this entry, sipping Teccino out of my favorite mug (emblazoned with the image of a Flying Fortress being escorted by two P-51s) I realize that more than anything else I am simply Jessica. A girl, yes, and a sister and daughter and a rabbit-mom and a friend and an animal license checker and an explorer and a scientist and a Follower of Christ who is still trying to figure herself out. I do like “girly” things, really I do! A nice pedicure goes great with explorer’s cargo pant’s. I suppose it’s  just that what I am made for, who I was made to be, goes so far beyond the gender norms of my culture, and in some cases even  flies in the face of their convention. I am learning to be okay with that. I am learning that I was made to serve, to be a follower and the specific way I do that best, at heart is through exploring cultures and creation and telling others about them. My itinerant mind and heart are always calling me to some new adventure, real or imagined, and those adventures are where I hope to find out more about who I am.

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Hope, by definition, lies in the future. It is a future-oriented phenomenon. I don’t mean hope the way I hear it commonly used–the “I wish this would happen” kind of connotation. No, I mean the kind of hope that requires straining at the muscles of faith and surrender because we reach for it all day every day. The kind of hope that requires superorganic perseverance. That hope.

Some of us often feel as if that hope eludes us. Perhaps not constantly, it just isn’t present as much as we want it to be. It’s like the flitting bioluminescence of fireflies, twinkling on a moonless night. I have met so many people for whom it seems that just doesn’t happen–sturdy souls whose light of hope shines like an eternal beacon, often lighting the way for others by inspiration. Then there are those of us whose struggle in life is maintaining hope, but maybe we aren’t supposed to. Maybe, for those of us who are prone to losing sight of hope, our job is simply to surrender to One who is the author of hope. That fluttering emotional nature is our thorn and our battle.

Unlike hope, which looks to the future, the impulsive cannot see beyond the present. The pain or joy or excitement or despair of the moment overrides good logic and reason. Impulsivity is the bedfellow of a dangerous kind of amnesia. This amnesia buries the good and bad of the past, the lessons learned and the “stones from the Jordan” in a sticky, black mud.  I wonder if that is what it was like for him in those last days or moments. I wonder if hope was obscured in that black mud. If the pain of those moments right before he made the decision was so blinding that he forgot the evening surrounded by joy and fun with his family and couldn’t see ahead to the hope of a new day with new mercy and promise. Was there was no looking forward to another day surrounded by the laughter and love of family or friends?

Perhaps the exhaustion of one more moment and the pain and torment inside his mind was overwhelming. My guess is that it was. In any case his impulse, an impulse he acted on, was to make the pain stop in the only way he could see available to him at the time. His faith, built on so many battles won in the past, and the light of hope for the future was literally pulverized by a compulsive decision to strategically place a lead projectile into his own body. Pain, overwhelming pain perhaps stoked by some dangerously selective negative memories, was what I imagine he felt in those last moments. Then it was over. For him.

By his words I think his father believes Matthew is with Jesus, and I do too. Doubtless he will be judged by humanity, and likely most harshly by those of us who are specifically admonished not to as part of our Faith. Some will call him coward and some will call him evidence of no god. In the end it doesn’t really matter how we judge him because there is only One who has that right.

He was my brother. I never met him, but he was my brother in Christ and in this great struggle, our struggle, and I am sad to hear of his passing. I trust, though, that the Author of Hope will use even this to cultivate the promise of hope in the lives of others. Redemption is, after all, a reworking of the wasted, broken, used-up and awry into something new. Hope in this tragedy is waiting expectantly to see how the Great Redeemer will use even Matthew Warren’s pain to heal others.

I look forward…

I realized something important about myself tonight–and I do mean really important. I already knew about it, I mean I had knowledge of it but I really didn’t “get it” until tonight. I was struggling with that theoretical chasm between the human head and that place in your gut where you really understand something. The realization is something quite simple: I am doing a p!$$-poor job of self-care. Really poor. What’s is perhaps more important is the event in which I came to understand how pervasive this is in my life.

Let me paint a little portrait of my self-neglect, starting with my physical environment: There is a small wire basket hanging from my bedroom wall just inside my door, I use it as my “inbox” for mail and other items. It is typically full but right now weeks-old mail, most with the seal firmly intact, is spilling from every angle of this basket. It’s an eyesore and more. I lost sixty pounds–then I gained five back over the holidays (cheese, and chocolate and pie, oh my) and my workouts have gone from daily to 2-3 times per week, never mind the physical benefits though, I process the events of my life best during workouts. I am an auditory-kinesthetic learner and my workouts are part of what keeps me sane. Most days of the week my hair hangs in ragged waves (even more than usual), some of which spring forth erratically and uneven around my ever-present sunglass headband. When I actually do catch a glance of myself in the mirror–usually during a mid-morning restroom break, and the first time of the day I’ve stopped to examine myself– I find that I resemble and owl with some sort of neurological disorder. My only action is to straighten the sunglasses. The rest of the week my hair up in a half bun-ponytail complex that has become my go-to look for ‘presentable.’ The messy-sexy look isn’t so hot when you’re actually exhausted. In any case, I now have a semi-weekly ritual of de-matting my hair that involves pulling or cutting out curls-gone-rasta, some of which I am afraid I might need to start feeding, watering and housing. I do brush my teeth twice a day and I floss most days of the week, however even this has suffered: there is a two minute timer on my toothbrush that hasn’t been heard in weeks. Sometime soon the uni-brow will be complete. The list goes on…

What is amazing is that none of these things, even though I’ve been painfully aware of them for weeks, was enough to wake me wake up to the reality. Sigh. Some might think the event that turned my deepest soul on to the truth is a bit vain, but I suspect most people, especially women, will understand why.

This very evening I was relaxing as best as I could in a hot bath. Low, warm light gently filled the bathroom and the hot water, infused with Dead Sea mineral salts, penetrated my tired muscles and wrapped my joints in relief. Boughs of lavender-scented mist wafted around me and saturated my soul with a comforting sense of peace and slowness. I have become thinner and so I took the time to feel the luxury of extra room in the tub. Bending my knees to my chest to stretch my back, I then slowly set my feet on the tile wall just above the tub. I think I saw it before I believed it–the same way someone might see a pink giraffe on their lawn from the window and pass by, returning to the window seconds later when the mind had caught up with itself. I stared at my legs, then stared harder. A kind of horror began to creep over me as my weary mind strained at trying to remember. “Um…when.” “When was the last time? When, Jessica?!?” My brow furrowed. “Christmas? Christmas! No. Yes.” Christmas–December 25th–my morning shower before getting dressed and fed and to the airport to come back to SoCAl was the last time I could remember shaving my legs. I remember intending on shaving them, but then remembered that I traded shaving time for extra sleep or a hot breakfast. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know for sure.

I felt my jaw slack and my eyes narrow as I glanced up and down my legs. But were they really my legs?!? What lay before me was most reminiscent of a prettied-up ape. A female lowland gorilla with Christmas-red toenails, polish chipped from daily life in the jungle. Yes, that was it, some evil scientist had snuck in at night and conducted a sinister experiment. Somewhere in the world in a tall female gorilla with amazing legs and a beautiful pedicure…and I have her legs!

No. They were really my legs. I looked wistfully at the hairy poles that were my legs, at my sand-paper feet with a month-old pedicure at their very tips, and I wished they were pretty. ‘Oh well, you know about it now, so shave them.’ I wondered to myself as I dragged the razor against my legs–felling the hairs more than shaving them–‘how did I let it go this long?’ The knowledge of my lack of self care grew then: I am always on that edge, never really having much margin into good, sufficient self-care, and I suffer for it. The second my life gets even a little chaotic my body and my well-being suffer. This, friends, is NOT abundant life. I am not saying that a weekly pedicure is what God wants for me, but I know that taking care of myself in a way that makes me feel confident and promotes my health is.

As I ran my hands along my newly-smoothed legs I felt sane and feminine. I love the way my legs feel when they are newly shaved, and I didn’t have memory of that for over a week. I smiled and felt a little proud of myself. Then it really hit me: “I am more than this and I want more for my life than this.” That’s what that little voice inside of me said. Let’s see how long it takes for that to make the journey across the mind-gut chasm. Hopefully the last lesson paved a good trail…

Start Here!: It’s All About Feeling Valued

  • At their core, these lessons are about making sure your people feel valued.
  • More specifically, it is ensuring they are valued how and for the things they want to be valued for, which is mostly who they are.
  • There are lots of ways to do this, but you MUST start with getting to know your people–who they are, what there strengths are and what their values are. This takes less time than you think and CAN be part of efficient management.
  • For example, an employee may not be bothered by not getting enough hours or even benefits because of “budget crunching”, but may feel immensely devalued by not having their work needs met–including a space of their own. Think of it as a justice issue: An employee might muse “We are all affected by budget crunches and I am okay with not getting a raise this quarter, but I have not have adequate work space or a space of my own while others in the line have their needs met before I do.” This is why knowing your employees is key to good leadership. Again, GOOD LEADERS KNOW THEIR PEOPLE.

Platinum’s the Old Gold!: Treat People How They Want to be Treated

  • Most of us have heard of the golden rule,”Do unto others as you would have them do  unto you,” but human resources and personnel types also like to talk about the “Platinum Rule”. The Platinum Rule is, roughly, treat others as they want to be treated or do unto others as they would have you do unto them. I am of the opinion that we can’t improve on God’s wisdom, so I see the platinum rule as a form of the Golden Rule–an interpretation. There are a lot of things that I like that others may not, but in general I think most people are like me in that they want to be treated how they want to be treated, rather than how you want to treat  or think they should be treated. (Huh?)We do unto others as we would have them do  unto us when we treat them how they want to be treated, or…
  • Treat others the way they want to be treated, just like you would want them to treat you the way you want to be treated–whew!

Lead Like a King: Model Servant Leadership

Tell the Truth: Learn to Tell People Difficult News (AKA, NEVER Lie to Your People, and You’d Be Surprised by What Constitutes a Lie!)

Eat What Your Sheep Eat: Build a Good Sense of Solidarity