August 24th, 2009 by Karen

It’s a seemingly innoccous word, want. So deceptively simple even in definition: to wish, need, crave, demand, or desire.

But the answer to the question “What do you want?” is so brutally complex that it’s nearly impossible to answer definitively.

It’s a word common enough around our household…”what do you want for dinner?”, “what I want you to do is pick up your toys.”, “do you want a coffee this morning?”, “All I want is 5 minutes alone!”…but rarely do I actually ponder what I want in the long run.

I could wish for a million dollars and it would never happen. As much as all those self help books say that visualization is the key to actualization, I say that you have to train the horse if you want to ride it, not hope and wish that it would become tame without intervention. We’ve been digging ourselves our of our American Dream pile of debt by hard work, blood, sweat and tears. Not wishes. I want to live debt-free. Wishing is daydreaming and while a nice pastime, not a way to get the things you truly want in life. 

Needs are necessities like water, clothing, food, shelter. These are important and I guess in a way I want them, because to be without them could be fairly disasterous however so many people justify their purchases as falling within these categories. Paying for water bottles constantly rather than using the tap is crap. Buying a $300 designer ski jacket to stay warm when you live someplace that doesn’t fall below 30 F in the winter is crap. Purchasing expensively overpriced pre-made dinners from the grocery store is crap. Building a new house that is more focused on form than function is crap.  I don’t need that. I need clean water, durable clothing, healthy affordable food, and a safe home for my children.

Cravings are difficult…we feel them deep in our bellies and they can be difficult to ignore or voice. I’ve found that most of my cravings though are actually masking what it is that I really want. I crave french fries, but not because I even love potatoes in the slightest. I want salt. I crave chocolate, but I want a glass of milk. I crave time alone, I want to listen to my own meandering thoughts.

I will admit to having demands. Everyone does. I demand that you speak to me, not my chest. I demand that you treat me as my own person, not my husband’s wife. (Especially if you are billing me and I’ve been your dental patient for 14 years and he’s been to see you 3 times. Grrr.) I demand that you speak to my children with the same respect you require in return. I demand decent customer service. Unmet demands will be dealt with in a positive manner unless public humiliation is the only recourse.

Desire is a tricky beast. It’s so often hidden behind layers of lust and sexual innuendo that it’s hard to see it as a valid want. We speak of desire in a coveting manner…desiring cars, and jewlery, and the latest hottie to grace a magazine cover or movie. Desire is not these materialistic things that make us happy in the short term. It’s not a ring from Tiffany or a shiny new car or even a satisfying roll in the hay. These only offer fleeting fulfillment and leave us feeling even more empty than before.

So what do I want? My innermost wish? Deepest need? My craving? Insistent demand? Heartfelt desire?

I want to be loved. For who I am. For who I was. For who I am striving to be.

Simple. And yet, so complex.

Posted in Life, Tuesday's Topic | 1 Comments

Tuesday’s Topic – Finding Fair

February 27th, 2009 by Karen

Last Thursday, I received a call from my mother to tell me that my Great Great Aunt Louise had passed away. Sure, she was nearly 98 and yes she had been ill and confused for several years, but despite this, I cried.

I’m fairly certain that I was the only one.

Not because my family is cruel or because they conciously wished it would all be over. Just simply because “she had lived a long fulfilling life”. At what point do we cross over from death meaning mourning and death meaning absence of grief? How in the world is that fair?

Is is fair that she had to spend her final years locked in her own confusion about who came and went, who was really alive and who she believed still lived? Is it fair that only about 40 people came to the funeral? Is it fair that the discussion at her reception focused more on when the estate would be dispersed than her long well traveled life? Is it fair that the last of a generation should simply slip away with barely a mention?

Everyone went through the motions of what was expected…solemnly fulfilling their filial duties until it was appropriate to be finished. There was no fault to be found in the service itself. The flowers were impeccable, everyone appropriately dressed, the family mortician did a lovely job as he always does. But it was all flat. There was no sorrow.

The only person I spoke with that seemed at all moved was my cousin’s daughter who is only seven. In all the swirl of black clothing and Portland rain, she quietly went about her little way and ended the reception at my side. She was the only person younger than I and both of us the youngest there by a long shot. We sat on the couch and she showed me her DS and we ate little cookies together for a bit and then she asked if I wanted to see her room since the reception was at my cousin’s house. I said sure and she led me up the stairs. She showed me the sticker collection on her door (which I’m sure just kills my cousin who is an incredible interior designer), her collection of ponies and frilly dresses, and her books. She pointed out all the fun bric-a-brac that make up the world of a child then she turned to me in all childhood seriousness and said simply “You know, it’s too bad that Aunt Louise had to go to heaven. She was a nice lady.”

It was all I could do to choke out “Yes honey, she was.”

That small precious moment made up for all the unfairness of the day that had assaulted my heart.

No one else could see past the paperwork, the cost and the hassle of the end of a life, but a small child with barely an understanding of what it means to live did.

Posted in Family, Life, Tuesday's Topic | 2 Comments

Patience is a virtue…

February 12th, 2009 by Karen

This past Sunday when Joel and I renewed our vows, one of the readings at Mass was Corinthians 1:1-13 and although it’s oft quoted to the point of becoming trite, it’s still a lovely message. Love, unconditional love, is patient. It is kind. It endures always.

I am not the most patient person in the world. I have known this for a long time and regretably, so have those around me that I love the most. I come by it naturally I’m afraid. (Like father, like daughter!) I do not go through life with a happy and overabundant spirit. I usually start my day grouchy and impatient and I end it thinking impatiently of all the stuff I still have to do but have to wait on since it’s bed time. Impatience, perfectionism, and proscrastination are a bad combination.

Recently, my friend Mike suggested that I read The Tao of Inner Peace by Diane Dreher. Keep in mind that I DEVOUR books and can read 700 pages in a day with little trouble. This book has forced me to slow down and start taking things to heart. I’ve been reading it for a week and I’m only about 20 pages in. It’s frustrating and cathartic at the same time. It’s been a long time since I did serious self-discernment and examined my soul and boy…it needs some help.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22

I have been striving towards several of these in my life lately, but I haven’t been particularly focused on patience. Joel can tell you, I sit in my chair and grumble away most of the day. The spam annoys me, the temperature of the house, the stack of bills, the constant “mommommommom” of our littlest one, the misplaced notes that are somewhere on my desk but elude me until I no longer need them. Each minor irritation has its tongue lashing or harrumph from me. He has the patience of Job to put up with me, I know. I would have up and moved my desk to another room by now.

The more I reflect on the idea of patience, the larger a concept it becomes. Not only does it encompass my day to day attitude and interactions, but it directly affects my joy, my capacity to love, my inner peace. My lack of patience prevents me from being the gentle and kind person I want to be and throws my self-control out the window, at least where things like chocolate are concerned. Patience does not mean being a complacent doormat, but being proactive in the face of difficult or annoying circumstances.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. ~Ephesians 4:2

The last thing I want -ever- is for my children to be afraid of upsetting me or look back on their childhood and say “gee, Mom sure yelled a lot”. I need to learn to not sweat the small stuff, to take a breath before I criticize, to remember what impatience looks like through their eyes, because I was them once. I feel like I’m starting to make a little progress…seeing fragments of color flashing through my peripheral vision in a sea of gray and black.

It’s like patiently climbing a long spiral staircase, you can’t see the top, you can’t see the bottom, but you know each landing is higher than the last. If you’re patient enough and persevere, eventually you’ll see the sky.

Posted in Family, Life, Tuesday's Topic | 4 Comments

At the corner of Kismet & Karma

February 3rd, 2009 by Karen

I am not one who easily meets others.

Well, that’s not entirely true…perhaps a better way to say it is that I don’t easily approach others. I tend to be the quiet observer in a group, the seemingly shy one who smiles at the right times and laughs when it’s appropriate, then goes back to being a neutral shade of beige that blends in with the walls. I tend not to meet the eyes of people I don’t know in a crowd. Why? I don’t really know…a fear of what I might find reflected perhaps. I have tried in the past to convince myself that my self sufficency makes me a stronger person.

The last couple of months, I’ve been making a concerted effort to try to be more gregarious and outgoing and man, it’s incredibly difficult, but in the long run I think it will be worth it. In fact, I had the pleasure of meeting some really fine people just two weeks ago in Vegas. It was a struggle, but six months ago, I simply would have watched them from the sidelines without them even knowing I would have loved to talk to them.

When I was younger, meeting people was just as difficult, but fate has intervened on my behalf several times, despite my shortcomings, and I am very grateful for the people it has brought me.

My very best friend in the whole world, I never would have really known, if it hadn’t been for a trip to Ashland to the Shakespeare Festival in 7th grade. Our core teacher had one core class in the morning and one in the afternoon and we were each in different ones, so we didn’t really hang out or know each other well at all. Come to think of it, I think the only class Faith and I had together that first year was band. Anyway, neither of us had anyone to sit with for the long bus ride, so we ended up sitting together. We had an awesome time and after that, we were fast friends. Ten years ago, she was my maid of honor at my wedding and if I had to pick someone to do it again today, she’d still be the first person I would call. I in turn was her matron of honor and I like to think that she didn’t regret it, despite my razzing her with my toast. (You met him at French club meeting at a bar and neither of you drink and you took a long walk on the beach? Yeah, sure….) With families and distance, it’s harder to get together and hang out like we used to, but when we do manage to find an afternoon, it’s just like we never stopped being together on a daily basis.

I met my husband purely by chance as well. I was sixteen and part of the CYM core team at church and our youth minister signed us up for CLI, Christian Leadership Institute, up at Camp Pendola in the Sierras. I was -not- happy to be going. I was unsure of myself and frankly a little scared to be thrown into an unfamiliar situation. We got up to camp and we all went and sat down in the chapel/meeting room and the youth ministers started a skit. I had never met Joel before, but as he bounded into the room he nearly knocked himself out on the doorjamb. Over the course of the week, I found myself entranced by him and his goofy nature. We all parted ways and I went home to find that my beloved boyfriend of the time had been cheating on me with a friend of mine (broke up by handing me his wedding invite. ouch.). Fast forward a couple of summers and I found myself working at camp as a counselor and lo and behold, so was Joel. We hit it off and even though I had to kinda spell it out for him that I liked him, we fell in love. He hasn’t run away screaming in terror yet, so I count that as a bonus. We will have been together fourteen years and married ten this July 9th and yes, having everything on the same date (first kiss, proposal and wedding) has been very useful. I highly recommend it.

Finally, my most recent friend I met in quite a round about way. I freely admit, I’m a bit of a geek and I play an MMO for fun and stress relief…nothing like flinging around some fireballs to relieve frustration. One evening last year, none of my regular friends were on to play with so I switched to a different server. I picked one at random and within the first couple minutes, I heard about a player run radio station. I tuned in and was hooked by the Tom Lehrer the gal was playing. Since I work from home and my own playlist was getting rather tiresome, we started listening regularly and became acquainted with several of the other DJs. Last summer, I attended the IRCE conference in Chicago and two of the DJs invited me out to a B.B. King concert. I was nervous to go since I didn’t know them at all but honestly, I had a blast even though I stayed pretty quiet the whole time and that as they say was that. At Christmas, I ran into a bit of a dilemmma in game with one of my main characters. Trying to be more outgoing, I had impulsively agreed to allow her to be part of a bachelorette auction, but as the date got closer and I heard the various rp rumblings about people who were interested and why, I got more and more concerned. I didn’t want to back out and disappoint people, but I had a serious case of remorse. I voiced that concern to a small group of my friends and one of the DJs I met in Chicago, gallantly stepped up to save my character from a fate worse than death. In the process, we started talking more and more and he’s quickly become a fast friend and confidant. He’s been a huge support as I’ve been trying to get past some personal hurdles, rediscover who I am and nudge me down the path towards who I want to be. He’s also encourging me to slow down and listen to my own heart, which I haven’t done in a very long time. I’m blessed to have him as a friend.

None of these three I would have ever met, if I had been left to my own devices. The inital contact with each of them wasn’t something I actively sought out, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t think I needed someone. I can’t imagine how dreary and sad my life would be without them now and it saddens me to suddenly discover how many missed opportunities there have been to connect with others.

AN OLD man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give them some parting advice. He ordered his servants to bring in a bundle of sticks, and said to his eldest son: “Break it.” The son strained and strained, but with all his efforts was unable to break the bundle. The other sons also tried, but none of them was successful. “Untie the bundle,” said the father, “and each of you take a stick.” When they had done so, he called out to them: “Now, break,” and each stick was easily broken. “You see my meaning,” said their father.

My lesson: Alone, I am important to none. With others, we are are important to each other.

Posted in Family, Life, Tuesday's Topic | 4 Comments