…a full table yet room in our hearts for more. …a pot of soup. …sharing life and laughter. …adult conversation. …the sound of children playing. …old and new friendships. …a slow Sunday evening. …the power of communion.
“Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.” ~ Henri Nouwen
“Remember, it’s not all about the table, but the bodies in the chairs!” ~ Sandy Coughlin, The Reluctant Entertainer
PINIMAGEI am a quitter. Always have been, and I’m afraid I always will be. It is written somewhere in my code, so I feel certain that it is an inherited trait and not so much a learned behavior. (Never mind which parent blessed me with this curse, but I do have my suspicions).
Exhibit A: I present my first and only born daughter.
But first, a little back story to get you up to speed on my example. I bought Steven a guitar for Christmas back when we lived in California and before we had children. He dedicates himself to learning it in spurts because, well, we have children now. Along the way we picked up a little ukelele at an auction which the girls use on occasion to thrash out a beat to their made up song lyrics. It has always been my dream for the girls to actually play an instrument. I have visions of family jam sessions around the campfire and what not. Myself having taken and quit piano lessons as a child (see, told you), I sincerely regret not having that skill to share with them and others. But also being the practical person that I am, I always thought it made more sense to learn an instrument that you can take along with you wherever you go. Getting a piano on the plane to Haiti presents a bit of a challenge but a guitar case, now that is doable. Mobile musical blessings.
With all that in mind, we had been planning to get Emmylou a guitar for her 7th birthday and begin our journey toward Partridge Family fame together. But every time we broached the subject of her learning to play the guitar, she would go into full on exorcism mode & start chanting, “I don’t want to. I don’t want to. I don’t want to.” With sheer terror in her eyes. And then she would shut down on us completely. Now, I’m no expert in child psychology but the guitar does not seem to be a scary object. Especially when you have grown up with a couple hanging on the living room wall and watched your daddy pick a few chords here and there. And the girl loves music (just not music class but that is another discussion entirely). So, we could never understand where her reaction was coming from.
Finally, on one such occasion, she elaborated on her fears. Her words were, “I don’t want to learn to play the guitar, because, what if I’m bad at it?”
And my entire life flashed before my eyes… How many things had I missed out on in life because I was scared to try for fear I would be bad at it? How many times had I tried and then quit because I wasn’t the best or couldn’t win or just didn’t measure up to everyone else? How many adventures and relationships had I walked away from because it got hard and messy and it required me to risk failing at something? How many times had I gotten angry & quit in the middle of some game because I couldn’t compete to the level I expected of myself. And in that anger taken my feelings of inadequacy out on those around me? (Just ask my beloved husband, he knows all too well & has experienced the brunt of most of those feelings & failures over the years. And do NOT ask me to play Trivial Pursuit, or Monopoly for that matter).
Self-preservation at the cost of living and those who tried to love me.
What if I’m bad at it? So I quit before I even start. And apparently my precious progeny carries that weight on her shoulders as well. And it breaks my heart. Because I have no idea how to help her. If I did, perhaps I could help myself.
Right about now (or perhaps earlier), you are wondering why on earth I chose a picture of myself with a dumbbell for this post. Be patient with me. We are getting there, I promise.
I grew up a sports girl, and I love to play most anything (as long as I am good at it). But most days I despise exercise for exercise sake. I would rather go play volleyball or tennis for hours instead of round after round of cardio. Unfortunately those opportunities begin to wane after high school, or if you are lucky, college. But I still want to be active and in shape – remember that on being 40 with littles post, I gotta keep up with them somehow.
So, I quit running at least 3 times a year. I quit bootcamp after a few weeks of not keeping up. Then finally I stumbled upon strength training and suddenly I found myself in a whole new world. One that is healthy for me. The gym is no longer about competing against or keeping up with others, instead it has become about getting stronger & better personally. And celebrating as I watch my “sisters” get stronger & better too.
And most days I love it (even though sometimes I hate every minute of it). Except on the days that I see these two little words written somewhere on the workout plan: to failure.
I simply do not have the words to describe what that phrase does to the mind of a habitual quitter who is afraid to fail. Will it hurt? Will I walk away from it? Will I be destroyed? And you know that I mean mentally more than physically. Do I have what it takes to survive “to failure”? And do I even know how to push myself to that point since my tendency is to quit when it gets hard?
So I would try. And every time I would be thinking to myself, “Did I stop because I am a quitter or did my body really reach failure?” On those days in the gym, I became a swirling vortex of crazy until I finally said something to my trainer. So she stood beside me while I completed my reps. While I am busy pumping it out, she suddenly says, “That’s it! You just reached failure!” My form had broken and she gave me permission to stop. And the heavens opened with a hallelujah chorus. The proverbial weight was lifted from my shoulders as the actual weight was laid to rest on the ground. And I felt free to fail again and again and again. And I do. But that no longer means I’m a quitter.
I just pray that I can learn to apply this lesson from the gym to life. And help Emmylou in her own journey “to failure.” And perhaps yours.
And I am reminded, yet again, of these words from one of my favorite books, Death by Living by N.D. Wilson:
“Lay your life down. Your heartbeats cannot be hoarded. Your reservoir of breaths is draining away. You have hands, blister them while you can. You have bones, make them strain-they can carry nothing in the grave. You have lungs, let them spill with laughter. With an average life expectancy of 78.2 years in the US (subtracting eight hours a day for sleep), I have around 250,00 conscious hours remaining to me in which I could be smiling or scowling, rejoicing in my life, in this race, in this story, or moaning and complaining about my troubles. I can be giving my fingers, my back, my mind, my words, my breaths, to my wife and my children and my neighbors, or I can grasp after the vapor and the vanity for myself, dragging my feet, afraid to die and therefore afraid to live. And, like Adam, I will still die in the end.”
“Drink your wine. Laugh from your gut. Burden your moments with thankfulness. Be as empty as you can be when that clock winds down. Spend your life. And if time is a river, may you leave a wake.”
“…live hard and die grateful.”
So, carry on, warrior. Go hard until you break form. Full tilt to failure. Risk being bad at it, while giving it your all. Run through the park like Phoebe for crying out loud!
Permission to fail.
And to live.
And then this song that always encourages my failing heart:
…the smell of childhood in the cab of an old truck. …coming home with a stringer full of fish. …taking the wheel sitting in my daddy’s lap. …red dirt roads. …farm ponds. …bare feet on hot floor boards. …open windows – country music blaring and long hair flying. …the remnants of softball practice & the summer sun on my skin. …the feel of an old friend in my hands. …a memory purchased at auction. …mail order truck parts. …tinkering and fixing. …oil stains on concrete. …rusty gold. …passing a legacy along. …hours spent together under the hood. …a daddy’s truck & his daughters. …Lucille (or as Lou likes to call her, Bluecille).
When I look at this photo of a proud mama holding her precious little one tight in her strong arms, only the prominent laugh lines around her eyes, the extra chin, and loose skin gathering at the base of her neck reveal that she is in fact NOT in her late 20’s or early 30’s as one might expect. As I once hoped prior to a late start to motherhood following a 9 year battle with infertility. You see, forty doesn’t scare me. No, if I have learned anything over these years it is that a number on a driver’s license or another page turned on a calendar does not have the power to tell the full story any more than the number on a scale does. 40. Pshaw. I got this. Nothing to it. Except finally being comfortable in my own skin and more accepting of both my gifts and my failures.
Being forty with little ones, however, that is another beast entirely. No, the number doesn’t bother me. At all. However, the season of life that accompanies the number causes me concern. To say the least.
Sometimes I lie awake at night calculating how old I will be when… …they are in middle school. …they get their driver’s licenses. …they go on their first dates. …they graduate from high school. …they fall in love. …they get married. …they have their babies (please, Lord, let them have babies. and let me live to see it happen).
And my palms get sweaty, my heart races and my skin starts to itch. And I panic. And feel a bit trapped by the years that have passed and the years I see stretched before me. And I am overwhelmed by an urgent desire to pick up the pieces of me that I laid down when I chose to mother these littles full time. Don’t get me wrong. I am not sorry that I put parts of myself aside. Any sacrifice I make in order to spend one more moment with these long awaited gifts is totally worth it to me. But, I fear when the time finally comes to begin again that I may be too old to remember what the pieces look like or, worse yet, where I put them.
I catch glimpses of my full shadow every now and again which helps me remember. For now. But with each remembrance comes a deep longing. Like when… …I spent a week in Haiti loving, laughing and all around harassing Lacey and the gang of young’uns. …I squealed out loud with glee standing in the juvenile fiction section at the public library only to look up and see a 10 year old girl looking at me with concern. I felt compelled to let her know that I was just excited that they finally had the book I had been waiting not so patiently to read. Never mind that it was written for 5th graders. …I carve out time to find words for the thoughts & dreams in my head, especially when I can write them out to share with you. …I am hanging out with the kids from the wrong side of the tracks with every card stacked against them – talking life & literature and letting them teach me how to love. …I am sitting across from a friend and a full coffee mug & we both have tears in our eyes from all the laughing. Or just plain crying. …I crack myself up at yet another witty (aka smart aleck) text response that I have so craftily composed on the fly. As I have said before, sarcasm is my best language. …I am snuggled under a cozy afghan reading a beautiful story with Emmylou or Eliza. Or just myself. …I am peering through the lens at an ordinary moment that takes my breath away with its everyday beauty.
Pieces of me. With dreams attached. All but forgotten most days. And I wonder if there will be time on the other side of this adventure for me to walk through the doors that I closed behind me when I entered the delivery room. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But for now, I will give 40 with littles all that I’ve got and let 50 with a 7th grader & junior take care of itself. And who knows what kind of dreams will come true in the meantime. And what kind of opportunities to live my with whole being might be given to me. I just don’t want to let what isn’t steal the joy of what is right in front of me. Now.
And then there is this… My manifesto for 40 (one of many). May it be so.
“living eulogy. she danced. she sang. she took. she gave. she loved. she created. she dissented. she enlivened. she saw. she grew. she sweated. she changed. she learned. she laughed. she shed her skin. she bled on the pages of her days, she walked through walls, she lived with intention.”
I hope that this little space will become a conversation between friends, so please contribute your thoughts and struggles just like you would if we were sharing a cup of coffee together. I cherish your input on this journey as I attempt to gather the fragments of our days through stories, pictures, and musings.