Archive for August, 2014

Very well-said.


My facebook feed is filled up with a deluge of celebrities and friends taking the challenge to dump a bucket of ice water over their head and then challenge other friends to also participate. It’s all an attempt to raise awareness and funds for ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gerhig’s disease). Unlike previous ice bucket challenges that have gone around the web, this one seems to be doing some good. While the challenge is to dump the ice or write a check– well, people are doing both. Happily writing the check after enduring a few seconds of bone chilling cold. 

It’s hard to be a cynic when you read articles like the one recently published on Forbes or from an ALS family. Or the cold hard numbers of dollars being raised. (And this is assuming that we are only counting the money going to ALS associations and not…

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Dreams are funny things. Mine usually don’t make a lot of sense, or only snippets of them do, not enough for an almost full-fledged story, but last night I dreamed this:

This dream happened almost totally in recall, where I was explaining the origin of this urban legend to another student, who was curious as to why mud-covered footprints had been appearing all around campus. It’s a rather silly story and not life-changing in any sort of way, but it was one of those dreams where I woke up having to think about whether or not I had heard this before. Who knows? Maybe there is already an urban legend about a wild mud-man roaming a college campus somewhere in the world.

In a science building on a quiet (imaginary) college campus one fine, sunny, day, three students and their professor, Mr. Kowalski (yes, that was his name in the dream) stood looking out the window across a grassy expanse to the math building on the other side. The math building was nicely landscaped and included a usually serene pond on the side where various creatures, frogs, birds, and even fish, had made their home. The problem was that this lovely pond had recently become saturated with mud, essentially turning it into a mud pit. The animals had fled in response to this change in habitat, leaving a dreary, swamp-like, cesspool in their wake, devoid of all life.

The head of the math department had asked this science teacher to investigate, to find out what he could about what had happened to the pond and the science teacher, in true science teacher fashion, had happily obliged. He asked three of his students (I was one, along with two male students. One of them I know in real-life, a friend of mine in the theatre, the other I don’t) to help him dredge the pond for samples which they would then study and, hopefully, come up with a solution. We went out, armed only with long-handled fishing net and a bucket. Arriving at the pond, we noticed what seemed to be a mud-covered turtle shell on the opposite side. We were excited; perhaps the turtle had survived the mud! The student with the net, not me, stretched out over the pond to scoop up the turtle. After a few tries, he connected with the shell and attempted to maneuver it into the net, but something was wrong. What we thought was a turtle shell was proving to be much bigger than previously thought.

He struggled and struggled with the net. We could all tell by now that it wasn’t a turtle shell, but, intrigued, we watched to see what it could possibly be. In an instant, the object moved and then exploded up out of the mud, shrieking and drenching us with mud. To our horror, we saw that it was definitely not a shell, or a rock, or any other normal thing, but a humanoid form, about the size of a chimp, but seemingly made entirely out of mud! We began to run, screaming, back to the science building, pursued by the mud-man. The student with the net, in a flash of brilliance, swung the net around with such force, landing it squarely on the side of the mud-man’s head and stunning it, long enough for us to make our escape back to the science building. When we were safely inside and looked back through the window, it was gone. We never saw it again, and, despite efforts to remove the mud from the pond and restore it to its former glory, it remained a mud pit for ever after that. From time to time, mud covered footprints, not human, more claw-like, would trail out from the pond to various locations around the campus, but the mud-man was never seen again. Eventually, the administration just let it quietly sit, not wanting the publicity or notoriety that comes with having an unexplainable story, but students wouldn’t let the story die, passing it down in the fine tradition of oral history.

I went back to the mud pit at some point as my present-day self, looking for it, even sticking my feet into the mud. I anxiously tensed, waiting for any sign of the mud-man, any little twinge of movement in the liquid mud, but none came and I eventually gave up and walked to the garden shed to hose the mud off my legs. That is where I ran into the student to whom I told the story, having to explain why I was out in the twilight in the mud, thus ensuring the story would be told for another generation of students.

That was the end of my dream, where I slowly came out of the haze of sleep into the morning. Like I said, it’s a rather silly story, but unlike many of my dreams, it was quite logical in that it had all of the elements to make it an almost complete story. It could be further embellished and added to, in order to make it a proper urban legend. The mud-man could have a backstory, a history, maybe as a science experiment gone wrong or a cursed human. He could do more damage, wreaking havoc on the small college town and its inhabitants. Perhaps at a later time. For now, I am content to let him reside on this page.

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I’ve heard and read a lot about forgiveness lately. My pastor recently addressed the topic in a sermon, a favorite author/blogger of mine blogged about it recently, and it’s a constant topic on Dr. Phil. It’s frequently addressed on talk shows, in magazine articles, and even in the news. Just what does it mean to forgive, really, and are we capable of it?

We’re taught from the time we are small to apologize for things that we do wrong. We’re also taught, if we’ve been taught good manners, to accept an apology from someone who apologizes to you. Growing up, I can remember giving and receiving less-than-heartfelt apologies to and from my brothers, cousins, and even friends. Usually, my guilty conscience would kick in immediately and I would plead for forgiveness from whoever I had wronged, sometimes because I was truly sorry and sometimes because I was afraid of getting in trouble. Most incidents, as children, were forgiven and forgotten in the space of minutes, hours, or, at most, a few days. Rarely did we hold long-lasting grudges; forgiveness came easy then.

It’s more difficult to do that when the wrong goes a little deeper than calling someone a bad word. So many people have injustices committed against them that can’t just be brushed off, that stay with people through their lifetimes. Murder, whether of a family member or against an entire people, rape, molestation, betrayal, all of these create any number of negative, devastating feelings that can’t simply be dismissed with a simple, “I’m sorry”. How does one forgive in cases like these?

As Christians, we are told to forgive. I love the story of Peter asking Jesus exactly how many time he must forgive. I can picture him asking, “Seven?” hopefully before Jesus tells him that, no, he must forgive seventy times seven, in other words, always. Even when his brother, Andrew, doesn’t clean out the fishing boat for the fifth time that week. I’m making that last part up, but you get the idea. The point is, Christians must forgive, over and again, if necessary. The hard part is actually doing it.

There are unclear specifics to this forgiveness business, however. Are we expected to forgive instantly? For some offenses, I think it’s fairly easy. I can forgive the jerk who cuts me off in traffic and narrowly misses my bumper pretty quickly, even on a bad day. Sure, it’s irritating and it could have resulted in an accident, but it doesn’t imprint my psyche in a devastating way. It’s forgotten in a matter of minutes, especially since driving in Metro Detroit promises that being cut off will be a daily event. But when an argument happens between two friends or family members, it can take a little while to forgive the harsh words and bluntness that come with that. Whether both parties are sorry for happened, or only one is, the sting needs to wear off before one can look at the situation rationally, out of the heat of anger. Saying that you forgive someone, only to bring it up again in a later fight is only lip service and not real forgiveness. True forgiveness means that one has let go of the anger, bitterness, and resentment that lingers after any kind of altercation.

Sometimes, forgiveness comes easily once we understand the circumstances behind an offense, possibly finding out that, in actuality, there was no offense. A spouse’s anger at the other for being late to dinner is quickly dissipated when a flat tire and a dead cell phone are responsible. An invitation that never happened wasn’t a slight, simply absentmindedness or a mistake. The hurt and worry might be there, but no one needs to be forgiven. Life happens.

Forgiveness for those other offenses, though, those deep, dark, things that affect someone’s life forever, those are the tough ones. I’ll never forget the story of the Amish schoolgirls who were all killed by a lone gunman who broke into their schoolhouse one unassuming day, seeking revenge on God for allowing his baby daughter to die. He sent the boys out and shot the ten girls that remained before killing himself. Five of the girls died. That same night, the Amish proclaimed that he was forgiven for this horrible crime. The gunman’s funeral was attended by the Amish, who publicly prayed for his family. By their actions, the Amish seemed to have really forgiven the man who so callously took their daughters away. (http://lancasterpa.com/amish/amish-forgiveness/) I have to wonder, though, in my heart of hearts, do they all really forgive? Do they really have the peace that comes with forgiveness? I’ve had to forgive some pretty big things in my life. I know how it feels when you really do let go of that bitterness. It feels clean inside, like someone opened a window, and when you think back on that hurt, as you inevitably will do from time to time, there’s no residual left. It becomes a non-issue. I don’t know how the Amish have done it, especially the families of those girls. I truly, honestly, hope that they have forgiven, that they can honestly be at peace with what happened. I don’t mean “be at peace” as in what happened was okay, but that they were able to not hold on to any anger nor have any desire for revenge. That’s a huge misconception about forgiveness, that by forgiving, you are excusing what was done. That’s not it at all. Forgiveness is giving yourself permission to let go of all of the negative feelings that linger after you have been done a wrong. I want the Amish to be spared the horror of reliving that event, day in and day out. I admire their courage and that they were able to pull together and support not only each other, but the family of the gunman. I don’t know if I could have done it that soon or that absolutely.

I also know how it feels to try and forgive, over and over, and even to think that you have forgiven, only to have those feelings come crashing back in on you. This is ongoing in my life. I was molested as a child for several years by my mother’s husband. I won’t go into specifics, but suffice it to say that I have a lot to deal with as an adult. Therapy is a wonderful thing and it helps, but I have to view it as part of a process, not a quick-fix. There are a lot of feelings to still be sorted out, a lot of rage that had built up inside of me for years that I had hidden away while I put on a happy face. I only thought to get professional help when I felt my emotional world crumbling around me. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stand that my abuser still walked free, without a legal taint to his name because of the statute of limitations, that people defended him, that people still thought he was a good guy, even though I knew that he was a scum ball. It still bothers me to this day. I have a lot of trouble letting that anger go. I don’t know how. I pray for God to take that bitterness away, to make it disappear, to give me peace, to let me forgive. Sometimes, I think He has, that it is gone, and I’m free of it. I feel triumphant and joyful; I have forgiven, just like I have been forgiven! Then, a flashback happens. Or a bad dream. Or a news story where some child is taken advantage of. It’s in those moments that I feel like I haven’t forgiven at all, like it’s a wound with a scab ripped off, raw and bleeding. I hate that feeling. I wish I could rise above it and someday I believe that I will, but I haven’t yet. I can’t imagine having to forgive the perpetrators of genocide, dictators, human traffickers, and other people who somehow think it’s okay to use their power to purposely hurt others. My situation doesn’t even compare to what some of those victims go through and I wonder how they go on. Some turn to revenge, alcohol, or other self-destructive behaviors, but I’m sure that some of them have forgiven their demons, too.

Forgiveness is a sticky subject. As I said before, it doesn’t mean excusing the fault. It also doesn’t mean that you have to reconcile with the people that you forgive. Reconciliation means renewing a relationship and in some cases, that’s just not doable. The person you forgive may have died, they may be dangerous for you to be around, such as an abuser, or you just might not want a relationship with them anymore, for whatever reason. There’s nothing in the Bible that tells me I have to let toxic people back into my life and really, it would be self-destructive to do so.

What about those situations where you’ve done something wrong, realized it, asked for forgiveness, but none is given? I’ve been in that situation, too. I wronged one of my very best friends in my late teens by blatantly lying to him about someone I was seeing, hurting him deeply. When I was found out, I blamed everything else but me. My apology was no good, mainly because I didn’t take responsibility, and he knew it. He never spoke to me again. I can look back now as a mature adult and totally understand that his anger was justified, not only by what I did, but by my lack of ownership and lackluster apology. I know I wasn’t forgiven and it still comes back to haunt me to this day. I screwed up a really great friendship over a relationship that only lasted a couple of months. Brilliant. Maybe the person who deserves an apology from you has died, or you’ve lost contact with him/her over the years. I look at these situations like this: I’m not going to receive forgiveness, therefore, I’m going to learn from my mistake(s). I try and make sure that I take ownership when I mess up, whether it’s at home, work, or just out in the world. I teach my children and my students that it’s better to ‘fess up than to lie about something they did wrong because it will be much worse when you’re caught. I value trust and honesty and force myself to be up-front about things much more than I ever did as a stupid kid. Does it always work? No, there are plenty of times when I don’t communicate well because it’s hard for me, but that doesn’t mean I will stop trying.

There are a lot of grey areas here, none of it is black and white. It’s not easy. Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when he told Peter that he must forgive seventy times seven times. It’s a process, not cut and dry. I only know that I am called to forgive, as I was forgiven.

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When I identify as an introvert, on Facebook or in real conversation, some people can’t believe it.

“You’re not shy!” they say. “You do theatre!” (or give presentations to large groups of people, or teach, or talk to people, insert other normal occurrence.)

The truth is, introversion has nothing to do with being shy, and I’m definitely not shy. They are completely two separate things. Being shy can mean that you find it really difficult to talk to anyone or to speak up for yourself. I want to shed a little light on what it means to be introverted.

I first started getting interested in learning about introverts and extroverts a few years ago. I have always, always, felt uncomfortable about small talk, going to parties, and being in situations where I don’t have any alone time. I always thought it was just me, that I was weird or strange. (Marty says I’m still weird, but that’s beside the point.) I also have a fair amount of anxiety and when that couples with one of those situations, it can really stress me out. Not every introvert has anxiety, however, so be careful not to assume that they do.

When I started seeing blog posts on Facebook from people who are introverts, I got really excited. They sounded just like me! There were other people who felt like I did! There were other people who loved being with their friends and relatives, but who then needed to “recharge” with alone time after the fact. There were other people who dreaded, or avoided, social events for fear of small talk with strangers or near-strangers. There were other people who hid at their desks or in their cars during lunch just so they don’t have to talk to anyone for a little while. Other people hated working in groups as much as I did! I wasn’t a freak; it was a normal thing.

There are different levels of introversion. Some people are really, really, introverted, hermit-like. They don’t have a lot to do with other people and don’t go out much at all. It’s not a bad thing, just what works for them. Other introverts are hard to single out. (Not that you should do that. We really don’t enjoy being singled out.) The most basic definition of an introvert is someone who needs some alone time in order to be at their best. The length of alone time needed varies from person to person and other characteristics, such as not liking small talk or working in groups, while common, don’t hold true for everyone.

Extroverts, on the other hand, get their energy from being with other people. Some are huge social butterflies and some aren’t as obvious. Which of these you identify with, or if you conclude that you are a combination of the two, is completely up to you. Maybe you have qualities of both introverts and extroverts. I have the feeling that many people, although they would identify with one or the other, would admit to having some tendencies of the opposite. I have some dear friends who are extroverts. They are a blast to be around! Some of them could be with people all day, every day and they can talk to complete strangers at social events about any subject and sound intelligent, something I envy. I’ve tried that, but it always feel forced and fake. I tend to start to ramble, or sound really nervous and I come off looking like I’ve lost some IQ points.

Parties can be difficult for me, everything from informal home gatherings to candle/food/bag home parties to wedding receptions. I’m usually not thinking of how fun the party will be, but of what things I can say to people without sounding like an idiot. Many times, I’m thinking of the least amount of time I can spend there without being rude. Once there, I say hello to people I know, but then normally try to find a quiet corner where I can observe rather than actively participate. I may very much want to see the people who will be there, but I feel anxious about going, even though I may have a fabulous time once I’m there and stay much longer than I anticipated. If that happens, though, I know that I will need a lot of quiet time afterward. I travel to a specific conference once or twice a year where I sometimes give presentations and where I’m with fabulous people all day long. Sharing a room with someone would be cheaper, but I crave a sanctuary where I can be alone when I choose.

Things are different, however, if I have a job to do, a purpose to my talking with others, another common introvert trait. Parent/teacher conferences? Unsettling for other reasons, but usually no problem. Rehearsals for a play? It’s fine, I’m working. Meetings? News to tell? News to receive? Piece of cake. Giving presentations comes easy for me, probably because I already know what I’m going to say and although I’m speaking to a room full of strangers (and friends, in some cases), it’s not a two-way conversation. Answering the phone? Ehhhhh…noooo… Not unless I know it’s going to be important, like one of the kids’ schools calling or a potential employer. I always listen to the voicemail, though, and if it’s important, I will call back.

Now that’s not to say I don’t like to have conversations. I enjoy in-depth discussions on many, many, many, topics, one-on-one or in small groups. I love connecting with someone, listening to someone’s problems, or exchanging the day’s events with my husband and kids. I can talk to cousins and siblings for hours. I just like my conversations to be meaningful rather than talking for the sake of talking. Otherwise, I’m fairly direct about whatever information I need to get across.

If you have someone in your life who likes to hang back at functions and/or disappears for a while and you haven’t been able to figure out why, they may just be a bit introverted and need some recharge time. Just give them some space and they will return, ready to participate. When I was a kid at the lake, my cousin found it incredibly frustrating to find that after hours of playing in the water, I wanted to disappear into the cottage to read a book. “You can read a book anywhere!” he would say. “You’re at the lake!” Now, it all makes sense to me.

I don’t want to prattle on and on about this. There are already several wonderful articles on introversion, extroversion, and how to tell if you’re one or the other. I know that I repost some of those a lot and while some people may find them interesting, there are probably those who think, Another article on introverts? Really? For me, I like seeing them. I like to know that even on those days when I feel like I don’t fit into the world in general, there are others who are like me. While there are times when people enjoy being unique and different, some actually take great pride in it, deep down we also want reassurance that we are not alone.

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