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.

The Absolute Value of Humans

This week I taught 5th graders about integers.  We discussed the number line they were used to, which started with zero and only had positive numbers, and then I added in negative numbers.  We practiced getting used to this number line by doing the integer dance.  It closely resembled the electric slide, but the point was to get the students used to moving positive and negative directions.  After all, number lines can be tricky.

We are taught in primary grades that zero is a starting place.  Eventually we get fluent enough in math to amend our previous thoughts about zero and the number line to include negative numbers.  So, now our number line increases to show that really, zero is the middle of a big scale with infinite integers on each side. All numbers on both sides gain their identity from the zero, or the origin.  So, you could say the value of a number is dictated by how far away a number is from the origin, or zero.  This is the absolute value. This week while teaching I wondered “what if we saw people with absolute values, instead of only positives and negatives?”

Zero is the only integer that is neither positive nor negative.  In theory we all want to be greater than zero.  No one wants to be a negative number.  Theoretically being a negative number means you are worse than when you started at the origin.  Zero technically means no objects are present.  If you offer a child zero popsicles, zero pieces of candy, or zero trips to the zoo it might seem to them that zero is a negative, but really, it isn’t.  It’s just unrealized potential.  Zero of something just means nothing has been added or taken away.

Life is just a giant number line.  It’s a series of positives and negatives.  We take steps forward, and we take steps backward. Sometimes we are way ahead of the origin.  Sometimes we are behind the origin.  There are times we tend to feel our value is less than zero when more bad than good happens.  I was encouraged when I thought about absolute value.  We can be -6 or 6 from zero, and the absolute value of both of these is still 6.  There are no negatives in absolute value.  So, even when we have terrible things happen, our value is never negative.  We are always just so many spaces away from where we started, and knowing that can help us get back on the right path, which is right back up the number line.  As we take steps up and down the number line, instead of focusing on the negatives, it is a lot more fun to pretend we are just doing the electric slide.

Broken Cellphones (and people.)

On my way out the door this morning, tragedy struck at precisely 6:37 a.m. in my garage.  My cell phone decided to leave the warmth of my hands, and to fly violently toward the concrete and land in a way that can only be described as sickening.  In true INFJ fashion I started wondering immediately what it all meant.  What connection did I feel to my broken cellphone? After all, it is not just a cellphone.  It is my calendar.  It is my connection. It is my contact to the outside world when face to face is not an option.  It is my friend.  What does it all MEAN? (Yes, I see that look on your face.  And yes, I did in fact have all of those thoughts at 6:37, and if not then, definitely by 6:40.  I can’t help it if I’m a morning person.)

The way it broke was spectacular. It was the glass, the surface, the outer layer that the damage happened to, and it didn’t just shatter immediately.  There was a big ugly smashed place where it looked awful, and for about half a second I thought the worst had past, but I watched as a spider web of more and more cracks spiraled all the way around the glass and covered the entire front screen.

Humans are like that.  We are optimistic when we get hurt.  “Just a flesh wound,” we think, when in reality, it couldn’t be further from the truth.  Ground zero is just where it starts, the real damage is done once that initial crack is there. Soon, the outer shell of our humanness cracks so much that it seems just about hopeless.  Before long, our brokenness changes the way we see everything.  It becomes a filter through which we see the world.

The next thought that crossed my mind was whether the phone still would make calls and texts.  What happens once something is broken?  Is it still usable?  As it turns out, yes, sometimes things can look beyond repair at the moment, but still function, even if not at 100%.  At times when I used my phone today, I felt shards of glass fall out of the phone.  Sometimes they stuck to my finger.  Other times, they dropped to the floor making me hope I don’t find those the hard way.  With almost every use, I was wishing my phone was in one piece again.  Then something odd happened.  I got used to the brokenness, and started feeling as though if forced to, this broken shattered phone could become my new normal and I could use it this way indefinitely.  Each and every time I had convinced myself of this, I would attempt to do something on the phone and my fingertip would be sliced.

Isn’t that just like humans?  When forced into a reality that is downright terrible, we will try to make the best of it.  We can entertain ideas that we will be able to make things work.  We make excuses for people, and we maintain relationships that are broken beyond repair because we tell ourselves it is just the surface.  It is just that outer layer that is broken.  Deep down, everything is fine, functional, and we can deal.  But, just like my phone, those relationships will cut us; they will surprise us with the wounds they create.  We can know it is broken, and still be shocked that we got hurt once again, and we feel foolish for being so shocked by it.  Humans are quite different, because usually a cracked exterior is just a sign there is a deeper problem on the inside.  Humans, unlike cell phones, crack from the inside out.

At the end of the day,  I took my phone to the mall and had it repaired.  I have a cellphone that looks like new, and a sore finger from the shards of glass poking me all day.  Tomorrow, I’ll hold my phone a little tighter, and protect better than I did today.  In a few days I will have probably forgotten the inconvenience of having this happen entirely.  With broken people, it’s not that simple. We can’t just take shattered people to the mall and get a new outer shell for them to wear.  With humans, the choices are not as simple as choosing to replace the glass, buying a different phone, or getting an upgrade, but wouldn’t it be nice?