I Like The Person I Am Becoming

I have been insanely, crazy busy for the last several weeks. Way, way, way too busy to indulge in writing. It’s been painful to compose stories in my head without the ability to get them typed up and then feel them leak away, knowing later only that it had been a good one.

But this thought floated through my head tonight as I left our last nightly ice cream after-VBS party and I thought about how much fun I’d had being the director this year. How satisfied I felt. How much I had grown through the experience. How much I had enjoyed – gasp! – other people’s kids. I thought about many of the things happening to me and in me right now and this thought settled in, front and center:

I really like the person I am becoming. I truly do.

For those few people who know me well, they know just how big a statement that is. So I wanted to take just a minute to say it out loud – so to speak. I like who I am. I like who I am becoming. And I’m excited to see how I grow next.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Modeling Behavior

Is it easier to see your bad qualities in your children or your good?

Does your answer to that question say something about your personality?

Does seeing your bad qualities in them make you a better person?

If it makes you a better person, is it worth it?

These are some of the questions I’ve been pondering lately.  And for the record, as I’m sure you’ll see in this post, my answer to the first is that it’s easier for me to see my bad qualities in them than my good.  The stuff I admire in them almost always reminds me of their dad.  And, yes, I think that says a lot about my personality.  I’m without a doubt my harshest critic.  So keep that in mind as I talk about all the bad stuff here.

Anyway… onto my observations… My family is kind of explosive and quick to react.  The kids immediately assume when something bad happens that someone did it to them on purpose.  They yell.  And when they disagree with each other, it ratchets up at an alarmingly rapid pace, with each getting more indignant.  The are hard on each other when one makes a mistake or is slow to figure something out or says something stupid.  They have no patience with each other.  They hold grudges.  They over-analyze each other.

It’s exhausting.

It’s me.

I’ve become increasingly tired of all the negative energy.  Especially as I’ve watched it blossom in the youngest.  I’ve been asking myself: Why are they like this?  Where did they learn it?  Is it me?  Am I a terrible mother?  Have we failed them?

Children model what they see.  So while I’m willing to accept that I am not actually a terrible mother, I do know where they learned it.  Yes, they learned it from their parents.  From us.  They’ve learned plenty of good things from us too, but it’s the bad traits that I’m talking about today.

I’ve been watching them.  I’ve been saddened by them.  I’ve been learning from them.

I’m reading a book called The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter L. Scazzero.  In one chapter, he talks about the importance of understanding how our family background impacts who we are now and how we interact with others.  He encourages his readers to constantly look back at their childhood and family to see what positive and negative reactions they have that are automatic because of their upbringing.  He believes this will help inform you about the hidden motivations behind your decisions and thus allow you to make changes.

I’m applying something similar as I watch my kids.  When I see them react, I look at how I might have modeled that behavior for them.  I think about times I’ve behaved the same way toward them.  I face the fact that they can only repeat what they know.  I try to find compassion for the poor children who don’t even understand why they are acting the way they are.  But I know.  It’s how I’ve shown them to act.

I think I’ve passed through the grief stage of this analysis.  I’ve tried to deny it.  I’ve gone through despair.  I’m moving through acceptance and into a place where I can attempt to model different behavior.

And this.  This decision to behave differently for the sake of my children.  This decision is the silver lining on this dark cloud.  It’s the bright spot in my disappointment in self.  I’m slowly becoming a better person – a better wife – a better mother.  I’m doing it for my children.  I don’t want them to be 40 with impatient, volatile children, slowly figuring out what they are doing wrong.  Or, worse, not figuring it out.  I want to get it right.  And I want it to rub off on them.  So when they are 40, they can work on the problems on the next tier down.

I hope I’m not too late.  But then that gets me to that last question.  Even if it’s too late to modify them, if it makes me a better person to have seen it in them, was it worth it?  If I’m better than I was and they are no worse than I was… did the world still get better?

I don’t know the answer.  All I do know is that I am doing the best I can.  And that best is getting just a little bit better every day.  And if I’ve modeled a boatload of bad behavior over the years, at least they are seeing me model the ability to change.  Or, at least, I hope they are seeing it – because it’s certainly there.

Trusting and Creating

As I said yesterday,we are back for our third year at a family art conference.  We  attend our art class for three hours each morning with optional mini courses in the afternoon, worship each evening, and  enjoy a beautiful location that allows for hiking, swimming, resting, and enjoying God’s great creation.

One of the hardest lessons for people to learn is to silence their inner critic.  We each have a tendency to compliment others’ work while dismissing our own.  Why can we see the beauty in other people’s creations so much easier than we can our own?

This year, the worship leader spoke about how our God is a creating God and since we are created in His image, we are creators too.  All of us.  We are all artists.  We all have that capacity within us.  She pointed out that it doesn’t matter how good your work is, how well received it is, how perfect or flawed: you are an artist, regardless.

We call people who have children parents, she pointed out, regardless of whether they are any good at it.  So, too, you are an artist, regardless of your skill level.

The idea here was to get people to relax and create.  And love their creations.

It’s easier for the kids.  They love what they create.  It takes years of effort on the part of our society to drive all that hope and creation and self-love out of them.  And if we can’t stop society’s effect, it will take years of attending events like this one to add it back in.

I chose to take stained glass this year.  It was recommended that I bring a pattern or picture that I’d be interested in doing.  My first thought was of Van Gogh’s exploding Tardis:

doctor-who-van-goghs-exploding-tardis-poster

I was not surprised when I was told it was too much.  I had some back up pictures.  One was of the backside of a sunflower.  It was interesting but not nearly as difficult. That’s all relative, of course.  It might be easier than an exploding Tardis… but it was still an ambitious project.

2013-08-12 08.55.18

I put in a lot of hours outside of class.  Two or three afternoons and a couple of evenings.  There were 60 pieces, many of them tiny.  They had to be cut, trimmed, ground, fitted with copper foil around the edges, placed together and held in place by horseshoe nails.  (As a quick aside… do you have any idea how terrifying it is to hammer a nail right. next. to. your glass creation?!)  Then I had to solder all the seams – front and back, attach the lead border, solder it to the seams, and clean it all up.

I finished though and it looks gorgeous.

2014-07-17 19.51.35

A lot of people stopped by to check out our work.  A number of people insisted that this couldn’t be the first time I had done stained glass.  They didn’t believe me when I said I had never done it before.  This kind of reaction was, in my mind, both complimentary to me and healthy for them.

Other comments, which were also complimentary to me, seemed perhaps unhealthy for them.  At least, if you are looking to believe that we are all artists.  They would say stuff like “your whole family is so talented” – as if somehow being married to a potter made me more of an artist.  I know they were just telling me that they liked my work and felt I was talented.  But I couldn’t help but hear a tone of “well, we’d expect such work out of you… but me…”.

The thing is, I don’t think of myself as an artist most of the time.  I’m an engineer and a mother and a wife.  My life is full of non-art stuff.  I told my husband the other day, “I’m an artist one week out of the year.”  It’s this week.  At this conference.  When I can devote almost my entire self to creating something.

And that’s where the talent lies, I think.  In taking the opportunity and making the most out of it.  Removing the distractions and the self-criticism and just doing it.

am an artist… as it was described in our opening worship service.  I am not an artist in the way that most of us think about it.  I’m not more talented than the person across the table.  I don’t have some innate skill, some gift.  I’m you.  I go into every project thinking I can’t pull it off.  And every year I do.  And you can too.  You just have to believe in yourself.

So, please, do yourself a favor.  Go out there and create something.  Think and dream and design and build.  You won’t regret it.  The sense of accomplishment is worth all the frustrations and failures along the way.  Trust me.  Better yet, trust yourself.

Books, Books, Books

About a decade ago, my husband and I decided that we had too many books in the house.  Some of you book lovers out there will claim that this isn’t possible – that no one can have too many books.

That’s simply not true.  There are too many books when you can no longer access all the books you have, when they are stacked in front of each other, when they line the walls, forcing you to stack other stuff in front of them because they take up all the wall space.  When you simply can’t access most of the books you have.

Note we decided that there were too many books in the house.  We didn’t decide that we owned too many books.  Actually, I think we knew that we owned too many but we weren’t actually ready to part ways with them.

So… we packed them up in tubs.  And tubs.  And more tubs.  And put them out in the storage building to be dealt with later.

And here we are at later.

There has been a confluence of personal growth events and decisions over the last couple of months that has paved the way for where we are now.

First, we both dearly love our Kindles.  We rarely crack a spine of a book anymore.  Books that we love… more and more, we are deciding to repurchase in electronic form.  Now some, with beautiful pictures or the author’s autograph, we will always keep.  And we’ll probably always have a wall or two of books – just to feel at home.  But we simply aren’t likely to read them on paper anymore.  And we know that.

Secondly, we have been growing the desire to keep a cleaner, less cluttered house.  This has created a willingness to stop purchasing things and to let go of many things that we do have.  Including books.  In theory.

Finally, we are about halfway through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  We are excited about taking control of our money instead of vice versa.  We are excited to know where our money is going.  And we are excited about paying off our vehicles and then the mortgage and student loan to be debt free.

One of Dave’s recommendations is to sell whatever you can to earn some extra money to achieve your financial objectives.  So we decided to do a joint garage sale with other folks from the class, this dovetailing very nicely with our drive to rid ourselves of stuff.  That took us out to the storage building, where we started extracting those tubs.

Sixteen tubs of books.  Sixteen.

My husband nobly committed to getting rid of half of them.

“Half?!” I exclaimed.  “We need to get rid of more than half!”

“It’s a start.  Maybe I’ll get rid of more.”

“So much for making room in the storage building!”

“They won’t go back in the storage building.”

“Then where will they go?” I asked.

“In the house.”

“Where?!”

“I’ll find room.”

“Where?!”

“Well, I might have to get rid of some of the books in the house to make room.”

“You could get rid of all the books in the house and not have room for half of these!”

“You know, you could try meeting me part way.  I’m trying here and you still just want to slash and burn.”

“I don’t want to slash and burn.  I’m trying to inject a bit of reality into this.  There. Isn’t. Room.

“There’s nothing rational about this.  There’s not room for reality.  It is what it is.”

“Fine.  We’ll start with 50%.  But nothing in tubs.  Nothing in the storage building.  Nothing stacked in front of anything else.”

He agreed to that but I don’t see how he’s going to make it happen.  There’s already stuff stacked in front of everything else.

Oh, and one of the great things about all this great personal growth stuff we’ve been going through?  That entire discussion above was done with humor and grace.  No anger.  No irritation.

It’s pretty awesome.