Smile Collector

This is dedicated to my very own “Smile Collector.” Thank you for your years of friendship and smile collecting. I thought this bore repeating. The fact you put up with me is amazing.

  Smile Collector

There’s a special kind of smile that is hard to collect.

The ones on the ground can be challenging.

You’d assume they’d be the ones waiting for you, but they were dropped.

A dropped smile is at first suspicious.

It may look like a smirk.

It could be a half smile.

Eventually, you gain its trust.

But by that time you won’t want to put it on a shelf,

Or in a bottle,

Or in a trophy case.

In fact, you might end up wearing it- everyday.

Ashes For Beauty

 After a school year spent sitting in other people’s chairs, I was eager to have a chair of my own as school started this fall.  After a roller coaster where I thought I had a job and then I realized I did not, now I am back sitting in someone else’s chair again in an interim position next door to a classroom I thought might be where I’d spend years.  Then last week the school I was non-renewed from 14 months ago had a few spots open and I decided to apply. The principal was no longer there, and I felt like I had great relationships with the people left there.  I knew it was a risk, but I decided to do it anyway.  I could tell you this really long story about how I had an army of people behind me, amazing recommendations from principals, and a fantastic interview, but I’ll just get to the point and say about the time I was listening to Journey sing “Don’t Stop Believing” in a T-shirt shop the size of a postage stamp in a tiny village in the North Georgia mountains my phone rang with bad news. Despite all those awesome things, the job was not mine.  Once again, I was not enough.  I’ve come to live with rejection so often these days we need bunk beds.  (With my dumb luck, rejection probably snores and sleepwalks.)

If you are going to have really bad news thrown at you, the best human to drag on a road trip with you is a guidance counselor.  She can talk you through it, help you laugh at yourself, and drown your sorrows in a river when she takes you tubing.  So, on our adventures the next day we decided to zip-line off a mountain, and we saw a pottery shop as we left where we thought you could paint pottery.  As it turns out you can no longer paint pottery, but we took a look around.  We saw this set of mugs on the shelf and the lady told us those mugs were really special for a big reason.  They were wood fired.  This made little sense to us, so she explained further.

Wood fired pottery is special as the process is not only time consuming, it is labor intensive.  Few people use wood as a fuel to fire pottery.  It is hard to produce identical pieces because where each piece is placed in the fire creates the results.  It’s chaotic in nature, and though it can create beautiful pieces, most potters would rather have a consistent result.  Fire will have a range of temperatures throughout the kiln, so each piece will be unique.

The mugs she showed us were created identical, but the mugs were not all exactly alike.  She explains that there was no glaze on the mugs at all.  The fire created the glazed look as the flames hit the surfaces.  Flashing is the name given to where the fire hits the piece directly and in the places where the fire touches the unglazed pieces those places are the prettiest.  So, if you are a piece of pottery, you want to be directly in the flames.

She directed us to another shelf where two bowls were.  She showed us they had the same markings, but they were completely different.  One bowl was amazingly beautiful up close.  The sister to this bowl was okay, but not shiny at all, and would fetch less money.  The only difference in them is how much the fire touched them.  She took the beautiful bowl down and showed us the inside.  It has this amazing looking interior in the bottom and she explained that that was ash glazing.  This type of firing made even the ashes beautiful.  The ashes get so hot in the kiln, they actually turn into glaze and glass.

I was amazed by all of this and then I had this striking thought. Sometimes life burns us when you expect one thing and get another.  Sometimes you put a lot of time and effort into something you think is going to be amazing just to be disappointed.  Then there are times that we realize that on the other side of the intense heat we feel, we will be better.  I guess I’m not ready to leave the fire just yet, but on the other side of this I will be stronger.  I will have marks where the fire touched me, but they will be beautiful.  Even the ashes will have purpose.  Even the ashes leave beauty.

Love Without Fences

  The world tells us a lot of things about love. It tells us that it makes the world go round, is a many splendored thing, means never having to say you’re sorry, conquers all, and is blind. As we all know, most of that is not even close to being true. It doesn’t even matter what kind of love we are talking about. Whether we are talking about love for our parents, love for our children, or love for our partners, or even the many other kinds of love we file under that four letter word, we can surmise it’s a lot more complicated than the trite sayings the media throws at us. I’ve come to the realization that there are two very specific kinds of love. There are people that love you with fences and those that love you without fences.

All of us know that a fence is a divider. It can designate property lines. It can create a barrier between two things. It keeps something separate. Fences can avoid giving direct access to something. We can even tell people they are on the fence. More importantly than whether a fence is pretty or ugly, above or below ground, or made of material that one of the three little pigs would have used is that the fence exists. In order for a fence to exist, someone had to build it. I’ve discovered that when people claim they love people it is too often that their love includes a fence preinstalled.

A fence can be something as simple as expectations given to someone without their knowledge. It can be a test with no rubric that a loved one has no choice but to fail since they didn’t know what was on the test. It might be something they have made up in their mind about you that may or may not be true about you. A fence could be a box they have put you in inside their brain. In my personal life many fences were placed emotionally both for my protection, as well as other people’s protection. What a fence really adds up to in a relationship is conditional love. I will love you when, I will love you if, and I will love you if you don’t – those are all conditional love. Perhaps those exact words aren’t spoken, but implied.

When I first had my daughter I realized quickly that a parent’s love is different from any love I had ever experienced. If someone had told me the moment that she was born that she was going to grow into something disappointing to me I would still love her just as much. In the almost 13 years since then I can still say the same. My child might disappoint me sometimes in her choices, but my love today for her is 13 years larger than when she came into the world and I held her for the first time. That was the first time I think I ever understood love without fences.

Because of this, my view of love changed entirely. I began understanding about this reckless form of love that is all encompassing. It is consuming. It is combustable. It can cause arguments because of the deep level of caring, but those are solved by remembering who that person is to you. Love with wide open spaces to roam is beautiful. That kind of love is the only kind of love that has no boundaries. When you place a fence, you limit love.

Is this kind of scary? Absolutely, it is terrifying. You could lose everything in this kind of relentless, reckless love. You can even lose yourself. This is the kind of love that you want to never stop giving more of it. You wish you could paint a picture of it and use the whole box of crayons. It’s what makes you look at a photo and cry. It’s what changes the way you see a sunset or a sunrise. It makes you fear death. It makes you value life. Love without fences puts beauty in the world that held nothing for you before. It’s honest, wholesome, art, and it can cut you like a knife at a moment’s notice.

It’s a safer world when you love with a fence up. Once I loved my brother with a fence up. He is gay, and we were raised in the South where people tolerate a lot of things with a “bless your heart,” when they really aren’t meaning anything but “glad it’s not me.” My brother is amazing. I never saw him as gay growing up. That was a label and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to label him as anything but awesome. We built forts together out of pilfered landscaping beams,and we tried to swing all the way around the swing set. We listened to New Kids on the Block and Poison in the front yard while took turns on the tire swing. My brother was not just my brother. My brother was my friend. Then we grew up. People placed labels on him and all of a sudden I had a fence between us. I didn’t understand the fence, want the fence, or even like the fence. It took me a decade to tear the fence down. One day I realized sometimes the best gift we can give someone is to let them be who they are and not just the parts we agree with or understand. I don’t have to understand someone to love them.

Something funny happened when I tore the fence down. I got my brother back. I got my funny, amazing sense of humor, kindest person on the planet but WILL kick your butt if you are mean to me brother back. I will never put the fence up again. See, this love with no fences is hard at first, but once you do it, it’s addictive. You want to let everyone be themselves. You start finding things in people you never dreamed were there. If we only loved people for the parts of ourselves we see in them, then that isn’t really love, is it? That’s just you seeing yourself and putting your stamp of approval on it. You put the heart in your relationship with people when you remove your boundaries. You are free to love with all your heart because there is a heart. What people forget is you aren’t going to change a person just because you disagree with them or don’t understand their viewpoint. You will only hurt them, and hurt the relationship. Giving someone permission to be themselves is not just a plain gift, it’s a “tucked behind the Christmas tree, biggest bow you’ve ever seen, beautifully wrapped gift when you think you’ve opened your last one” gift.

I have had friendships and a marriage where boundaries were placed for me. The typical response once a boundary is placed on someone is they place a boundary too. Because if you aren’t willing to be relentless and reckless with love, they won’t either. They won’t assume risks for you, and they won’t ever have the relationship with you that you could have if you’d just let go and love. Boundaries create more boundaries. Wars are fought over boundaries in relationships, just as they are among countries.

My hope for everyone is they can find people to love that love them in the stupid, careless, amazing way that we can love without a fence. I know some of the best times I ever had were the times I erased the line between good and bad, right and wrong, and just was a human with another human. Mistakes will be made, but when you love with no holds barred, rest assured that love will come back around to you and you won’t be sorry you made the choice. Fences might multiply, but so does a love with no boundaries.

Lies I Told Myself and the Truth That Set Me Free Kicking and Screaming

Have you ever told yourself a lie?  Did you keep it up for days? How about months?  I think I reached gold medal status because I told myself lies for years.  I’m not sure how I got away with it, but I do know why I did it.

I am an optimist.  I love smiling.  I love the feeling when all is right in the world around me.  I believe when I see a pile of poop, there has to be a pony in it, right?! But what if that pony made a pile of steaming mess and left? What if that pony is not there anymore?  At what point is optimism actually denial?  And, at what point does that denial turn you into someone you don’t really want to be?

The word denial can mean the refusal of something requested or desired.  It can also mean a condition in which someone will not admit that something sad, painful, etc., is true or real.  The first definition is very simple, but it can also lead to the second definition.  If someone is denied something they really want, they can be in denial about it.  Denial begets denial.  Because no one ever wants to believe something painful, it is easier to just lie to yourself.  The lies we tell ourselves are the ones you have the greatest belief in.  You are invested in those lies more than you are invested in the truth because, let’s face it, the truth freaking hurts.

The first lie I told myself is probably bordering on the limits of pitiful and possibly institution worthy. I told myself my father, after committing suicide, wasn’t actually dead.  That’s common enough, I know.  Lots of people tell themselves that lie when someone they love dies.  I didn’t stop there.  I had a dream about him living in a little cabin at the top of the mountain where he died.  He asked me to come in and told me all about how he just wanted to live up there forever, so he did.  He had handmade all his furniture.  It was a beautiful little dream, and I didn’t want to wake up.  I had to pass the place he died on the way to and from visiting my mom several times a year ,and each time I passed the location where he died I would whisper to him I loved him.  I would visualize him up there on the mountain ridge and not really gone.  Twelve years after I first hatched this lie, I took a walk with a friend of mine to the top of the mountain where my dad died.  It was an emotional walk, and while I knew I wouldn’t find anything at the top of the mountain except nature, I wanted to see for myself.  The truth was hard for me to accept, and I didn’t do it all at once.  It took twelve years for me to admit to myself that there had never been a cabin, and my father had not heard me whisper my love for him all those times I passed.  I knew it all along.  But in seeing it, I finally believed it.

I told the second lie to myself for almost the same length of time and during the same years as the first lie.  After getting married at age 21, I knew almost immediately it was going to take a lot of sacrificial love and patience on my part.  My second lie was that my husband loved me, he just didn’t know how to express it.  I told myself this almost daily.  I read books about love languages.  I took personality tests.  I explained to him with patience how I needed love shown to me, and he just let me know in no uncertain terms that it was not who he was, how he was raised, and what I was asking was impossible.  I knew I had made a choice, and we had kids.  I told myself over and over that love was there.  He just didn’t understand me.  He didn’t understand himself.  Then I picked up my Bible and read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  Now, you don’t have to agree with the Bible or believe in God to believe the definition of love in those words.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

My husband was not patient with me,  and he was unkind about my likes and dislikes.  He was jealous of my friends.  As I kept reading I felt so defeated by the truth.  If he loved me, wouldn’t these things be true?  If he loved me, wouldn’t he be exhibiting proof of the love?  The day I stopped telling myself this lie was the day I started breathing in my marriage again.  Now that I knew the truth, I could save it.  But, sadly, there wasn’t much left to save.  Maybe if I had just stopped believing the lie earlier,  I could have made a difference.  I will never know, and I don’t need to know.  The most important takeaway truth I have from this experience in what love is not, is finding out what love is from the people that do show me those things.   Few people in our lives show us REAL love.  A lot of love is conditional.  People are offering that everywhere.  But I found out just how many people I had that would show up for me to show me REAL love when I needed it most.  Those are the people you keep.  My friends that have shown me patience, kindness, and kept no records of my wrongs I count more valuable than anything I have.  This past year they protected me when I needed it, trusted me and let me trust them, shared my hopes, and held up my head when I just couldn’t persevere anymore.  Grateful will never cover it.  ALL I gained outweighs what I lost exponentially after I stopped lying to myself about what love was.

The third lie was the most difficult lie.  I told myself I can’t do this.  What “this” was differed from day to day.  I didn’t know if I had a job from month to month. I felt like I couldn’t do a lot this year.  Being lonely has been the hardest.  I’ve talked to a stuffed unicorn at times. (Don’t worry, he didn’t talk back.) Each time I told myself I couldn’t do something I knew deep down that it was a lie. I called my mom one night crying and told her I couldn’t do this anymore.  She reminded me that women giving birth will sometimes say they can’t do it just before the baby is born.  The beauty of that set up is they don’t really have a choice by then.  Transitional stage of labor is what happens just before you push.  There is no rest between the contractions.  The pain never subsides.  It’s a constant reminder of what you are there to accomplish.  It is the storm before the calm.  This is when most women will start doubting themselves and want medication and possible mallets to the side of the head.  You feel out of control and disoriented.  You just want this to be over. But you know what happens on the other side of the transition stage?  You get this perfect, new life.  No matter how much self doubt you are dealing with, there is a new life on the other side.  It’s that way with life too.  We can have hope in that nobody ever stays in the transitional stage.  Something new has to eventually be born.  You just have to hold the pushing until it’s time, and before you know it all the pain will be in the past and all you will see is the new. In letting go of this lie, night faded away and I started to see the sun again.

So, I told myself a few lies.  We all do it.  We tell ourselves lies because the truth is just too painful.  Grieving a loss is sometimes a lot more healthy than just living with the lie.  We survive failures.  We can move on from the corner of disbelief and stubborn and have something more substantial. Sometimes we just don’t get what we want.  We could tell ourselves we will get the thing we want until we resemble angry toddlers who think if they say it loud enough it will just happen, or we can just adjust to the truth.  Tucking dreams in for the night is hard.  Tucking them in for a dirt nap downright sucks.  Truth is truth.  It sets you free, but first it puts you in a choke hold, throws a few punches, and makes you want your mama.  I’ve learned the hard way the easiest way to tell the truth from a lie is silence.   When everything is silent, what you truly know comes to the top.  Truth doesn’t change, just like real love.  Both never fail.

DisembARKing

I can’t imagine a situation where the best thing to do is to send a flood, or any disaster, to destroy an entire world. I understand sometimes our lives are in drastic need of reshaping, and massive amounts of destruction are needed to right some wrongs. In order to build anything worth having, sometimes a little excavation is in order.

Surviving a disaster is hard work. Your faith is tested, and your hope is frail. I’m sure when Noah started building his ark he felt like a different person by the time he stepped off on to dry land again. After all, his whole world has changed. Nothing was the way he left it. His life was completely different, and he had to start all over again. Remnants of his former life were the people close to him and the memories of what used to be.

Just building the ark was hard work. Noah had the opportunity to prepare and get used to the idea that his life was going to change. When my son was moving from 1st grade to 2nd grade he loved his teacher so much. He said goodbye to everything in the classroom the last day of school. He knew it was the last time he would see the room exactly like that. What a gift it is to know you are saying goodbye! Humans are professionals at denial. We live in states of it, swim in it, and drink from fountains of it when we just aren’t ready to admit reality to ourselves just yet. I think of denial as our brains way of easing our hearts into what it knew first anyway. Noah had years to prepare. Typically, humans don’t get that long at all. We might get clues our lives are going to change, but odds are when an external force decides to change our world for good or bad we aren’t going to have time to build an ark.

Not everybody made it onto the ark. I’m sure Noah had a lot of friends that he figured out pretty quickly weren’t going to make it into his new life. When it’s time to clean house some people aren’t ready for the change. What a big disaster does tell us is who our real friends are. Noah might have endured a lot of hurt and ridicule before he got on that ark, but that is not specified. Noah’s friends didn’t just delete him off Facebook, unfollow him on Instagram, or stop sending him Snapchats. They died. That is an extreme example, but when a disaster happens in our lives, our friends seem to drop off the face of the earth too. It’s not any less sad to lose a friend to death as it is to indifference.

Enduring the storm isn’t easy either. The storm is real. The storm is loud. As it rages, you are changed. You’ll never be the same person again as you were before the storm. There are days you feel used to the rain. Why would it not be raining? It feels as though it’s supposed to be that way. Some days you start wondering if the storm is making you crazy. After a while you start wondering if the sun will ever come out again.

After the rain stops, it isn’t back to normal. You don’t come out of a storm the same way you were. You just might not recognize yourself. Something happens when you realize it isn’t raining. You allow yourself some hope. You’ve been on this “ark” surrounded by the wild animals of thoughts you have endured. You’ve listened to them day and night. Some gave birth to new thoughts. Some left enormous piles of waste. All were necessary in order to start over after the storm. Without the animals along for the trip the storm wouldn’t have changed us to help us survive what happens next.

That brings me to what happens next, and honestly I have no idea. I know that today I got an olive branch back when I sent out that dove. That branch does not just symbolize life, it is new life. It is hope. It is symbolic of what is to come, and I know whatever it is will be better than what I lost in the storm.

Cardboard Boxes May Contain Feelings

Yesterday I packed up all of the things I had kept in the classroom I had been in since September and took them home. After spending most of the year in someone else’s chair, I didn’t have a ton of stuff to carry out, and it all fit neatly in one box. I say it fit neatly, but actually it was the heaviest box I’ve ever carried a long distance. Now, here comes the dumb part. I got a bruise carrying this box.

I know you are thinking it could have been avoided, and you would be correct. I have 2 rolling carts that were parked in the hallway, and either one would have done the job. I would have had to bring back the cart though, and I wasn’t prepared for that. See, I was crying as I was leaving. After a day of training with some amazing people, I didn’t feel ready to leave just yet. I didn’t feel my work was done, and yet it was for the moment. I had to leave. I wanted to make a quick exit. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry.

On the way out of the building I saw 3 people. They all offered to help me. I refused each one of them. Why would I do such a thing? Well, I have a few reasons. (None of them are really good.)

1.That box was my stuff. It was stuff I had brought into the building at one point. I should bring the stuff back out. I am responsible. If I had a coffin full of stuff to carry out, it would be my own fault.

2. I wanted to feel like I could carry my own stuff. If I brought it in, I should be able to carry it out. It was ONE box. If I couldn’t make it to my car with one box, wouldn’t that make me a loser? It sure felt like it would. Allowing someone to help me would cheapen my small feat of making it through this school year intact.

3. I kept telling myself my car was not that far. Yes, I parked in the back, and it was farther than it would have been. Yes, I had to make it down a long hallway, a short hallway, across a courtyard, through a fence, and across a parking lot, BUT I am strong. I felt like I could do it because each step got me closer than I was.

So, with each step, I swear, this box got heavier. I shifted the box. I hugged the box. I put the box down a few times and readjusted. My brain knew the box was the same box, the same weight, and still just as awkward, but with each stop my hope renewed that this box was going to be in my car in just a few minutes! When I finally got there to the car as I placed the box in the backseat and sighed, I also felt like my arms were going to fall off. Then today, I see this bruise, and it figures.

What a great lesson! Emotionally I want to carry things on my own, and I want to feel that I clean up my own messes. This doesn’t mean a load full of feelings and emotions is not going to be too heavy to reasonably carry for long distances. It doesn’t mean it will be an easy trip. Having good friends to help us along the way is priceless. If you are carrying something heavy on the inside, those bruises are only going to heal with time, just like my arm.

Holding on While Letting Go

In the children’s book Where the Red Fern Grows a young boy sets out to trap a raccoon.  His grandpa tells him a way to trap a raccoon using a brace to bore holes in a log, and you hammer nails in along the shaft.  Finally to set the trap, you put something shiny at the bottom.  Raccoons can put their hand-like paws down inside the trap, but once they make a fist over the shiny object their paw is stuck.  Raccoons will never let go.  Because they will never let go, they are trapped.  If they let go, they would walk away unscathed, but they die because they refuse to give up the object precious to them.  My best guess is sometimes you are raccoon in this metaphor, and sometimes you are the shiny object.

The problem with deciding whether to hold on or to let go of something is there is no real way to know you are making the “right” choice.  If you let go, you are in a way surrendering.  If you hold on, you might meet the same fate as the raccoon. There are songs all over the radio telling us to hold on.  Whether we be holding on to one more day, holding on cause we are going home, or holding on to what we’ve got, we are inundated with the message to hold on.  Not until the Frozen soundtrack was released over radio waves had anyone told us musically it was okay to “let it go” in a way that spun it as a positive thing.  So, what is the right thing to do?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem is not in the choosing.  The problem is never thinking beyond what is here and now. If you stay in the moment, then you’ll never let go.  Moments change, and as they change, so do we. The best route to take is to ask yourself what the end game is.  Is there an end game?  If there is no end game, what are you holding on to?  Pipe dreams, a load of optimism, and a chance to be very jaded is about all you really have.

But what if you hold on just because you want to hold on?  What if you hold on because that is what you really want? No one can tell you that holding on is the wrong thing if this is the case, because you know your heart.  You’ve weighed options, and you’ve decided.  Nothing will change that decision.  That is when you should hold on.  Unless it turns out you are the raccoon, that is. If what you want to hold on to for dear life is a direct conflict of what someone else has planned, it’s time to release the shiny object, withdraw your hand, and leave the woods.  Chances are though, you won’t leave the woods the same way you came.

When A Truce is Greater Than Friction

I love the Union and the Constitution, but I would rather leave the Union with the Constitution than remain in the Union without it.” – Jefferson Davis

April 9th, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in the front parlor of a farmhouse in Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. This event set off the chain of surrenders that swept across the South, thus indicating the end of the Civil War.  This made me think about my own Civil War I fight every single day.

I’ve always enjoyed learning about The Civil War because I feel as though I walk around with a Robert E. Lee and a Ulysses S. Grant waging war inside me.  I fight against what my heart feels and my head thinks every single day.  Every once in a while they meet just like the real ones did and call a truce.  It can be for one hour, one day, or one week, but truces never last.  The Civil War continues on.  No one notifies the rest of the troops, so the battles never cease.

Robert E. Lee for me symbolizes the general for my heart.  Lee lived in the South, however  originally his desire was to see the Union intact.  He fought for the exact opposite on principle. My heart is the same way.  Because it is my heart, it tends to make decisions for me without bothering to ask my brain what the best plan would be, but my heart always has the best intentions.  After all, it is my heart. Lee lost the war, but what he really wanted was peace and harmony back.  Hearts are like that.

Ulysses S. Grant is symbolic of my brain.  My brain can make a deal with the Devil to make the March to the Sea happen and burn every metaphorical Atlanta on the way.  My brain is strategic.  It has excellent leading capabilities, just like U.S. Grant.  It has iron will.  Stubborn to a fault, my brain will argue with the strongest arguments it can come up with.  My brain is sometimes completely and utterly wrong. Does that mean my brain will stop spewing words out of my mouth faster than it can filter them? The answer is absolutely not.  Grant won the war, but there was a lot of collateral damage and Reconstruction took years.

Could the South have won?  Perhaps, but it doesn’t all boil down to leadership.  It comes down to decisions.  Some decisions the generals made, but other decisions were out of either general’s control and belonged to other people to make.  Many battles were fought prior to that surrender 150 years ago.  I’m sure there were several times Lee probably felt like the best thing to do was surrender.  Other times I’m positive Lee felt the best thing to do was fight as hard as he could for a cause he deemed worthy enough to die for.

Have you ever believed in something so much you’d be willing to die for it?  When your heart and your head agree on opposing sides and they both are willing to sink the ship to win the war, who wins?  Can there be a winner?  Is a truce within ourselves ever really a truce, or is it just a lie we tell ourselves to get us through another day so we can wake up the next day with enough energy to fight again?  There are always casualties of war, and sadly either way, it’s me going down with a fight.

Growing Seasons

CopperSeed

Everyone goes through a growing season, even though at first it might not be easily identifiable as you experience it. A growing season is defined as the time that plants experience the maximum amount of growth successfully. People have them too, but they aren’t always as long or as short as a plant’s growing season.

The past year has been challenging. Few things remain from the life I led one year ago. Growing seasons push you out of your comfort zone, ask you to get real with yourself, and in the end you are better for it. At the time it’s just like the seed in the quote, you are sure you are completely losing it. You feel like your guts could come out, and you are raw material. You feel the complete destruction. In the past year I doubted, I wondered, I wandered, and I lived. I made mistakes, and in reality, that’s probably the thing I did the most. Even though I was hurt and confused and I felt I had most likely offended the universe greatly to have all the things happen to me that way, I knew it would all end up okay.   Hard times had hit before, and then I wasn’t so sure I’d come out of it in one piece. This time, I knew I might not come out of it in one piece, but brokenness could be just as valuable. When you are broken, something beautiful could very well come out of the brokenness. To a seed, that’s the only way to make a flower: complete destruction.

Now that I feel this growing season slowing down I’ve decided it’s not enough just to flower. I don’t want to flower and die. I am not going to be an annual. I would rather be a perennial. Annuals are beautiful, and they bloom so bright and pretty. However, annuals sprout, flower, seed, and die in one growing season. I know I won’t actually die, but I also don’t want this to be the end. I want to keep on growing.

Perennials have it a little tougher. They persist. They have to take measures to prevent not dying off during the time when they are not in their growing season. Some build structures in order to survive the other seasons when they are not in bloom, such as bulbs or seeds. They have shorter blooming periods, but when placed with other plants with blooming periods that are not the same as theirs they help provide beauty even after their season is over. Some even keep their leaves year round and return to bloom year after year.

Just like flowers, that’s what people need. They need to be surrounded by other “perennials” that have different growing seasons so they can all help each other be the most beautiful as they flower. Where we are “planted” matters. Where we are planted can change a perennial into an annual if planted where they don’t grow best. We all want to grow. We all want to be brilliant flowers. We just have to find the right amount of sunlight, the right amount of rain, and grow.

My Life, the Coloring Book

I have 35 coloring books lined up on a shelf. I refer to them in polite company as memories.  Sometimes I take them down and flip through them.  I’d like to say I colored them in all by myself, but I didn’t.  I helped color them in by the things I did, people I chose to be around, and who I let hold crayons.

Who holds your crayons? When I was little my grandmother, my babysitter, kept the crayons on a high shelf in the pantry.  At the time, I hated that and resented having to ask for them when I wanted to use them.  Looking back, the ones we love hold the crayons in more than one way.  She helped color those early years in, and kept my crayons safe.  She helped choose people I would be around, and therefore she also chose who held the crayons to color in my first five coloring books.

When you get a little older you want to start making everything your own.  You use crayons to color outside the lines to test your limits.  You use colors you’ve never used before, and they might become new favorites.  You start seeing friends, and not just family all over your coloring book pages.  It becomes even more beautiful when you flip back though them.

When you are a teenager pages might have equal dark and light on them.  Splashes of color that are vibrant are right beside colors of memories of middle school and high school trauma.  We take the good with the bad and hope that in the end our pages look prettier each day.  Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they don’t.

As an adult we choose who holds our crayons.  We shape our coloring books just as much as we shape our family’s and friend’s coloring books.  Loved ones get married.  Loved ones have babies.  We color the most vibrant colors of all.  Loved ones die.  Loved ones get divorced.  We color some of the darkest pages of all as adults.

What color of crayon are you holding over your family and friend’s coloring books?  Are you a bearer of light?  Are you shading in rich, bold colors?  Are you warming the pages with your presence?

Some pages are meant to be dark.  Some beautiful things come out of darkness.  If someone scribbles all over your pages with ugly colors, the pages that follow can be some of the most beautiful.  After a rainstorm can come a beautiful rainbow.  You can’t choose the colors when you let people color in your coloring book.  You just get to choose the crayon holder.