Saturday, April 19, 2014

Striving for 'Exellence'

I have never taken a compliment well. Never. They have always made me uncomfortable in a really itchy, Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory) anxiety attack, sort of way. I have never known how to respond, and I would typically counteract them by insulting myself. I believe most people find that annoying, as though I am fishing for more compliments or insincerely modest, but it is honestly the only way I know how to respond to a compliment. My husband has been very vocal about the ways in which this bothers him. "Just say, 'thank you!'" I hear from him repeatedly, but 'thank you' for what? Pointing out something that is not of me at all? Because I think, deep down, I have always felt that everything found good in me is not, in fact, me.

When I was young people were constantly complimenting my basketball skills. It made my skin crawl. I could instantly think of all of my flaws, and all the players who were better. This was more of a hindrance than anything, because not fully realizing my abilities held me back from being the best I could be. I know that now, but I also know that if not for the Lord, basketball wouldn't have even existed in my life. I had asthma so bad as a young child, that I couldn't even run across our yard without an attack. I never should have been able to play...but I did. Then, as I became more involved in basketball, and it became less and less affordable for my parents to help out, God kept providing extra income and ways for them to do what they could for me to compete. Basketball was never really mine, but I took it, I defined myself with it, I used it to pay for my college education, and I took it for granted. When my career ended prematurely with an unforeseen injury, all I could think about was how I had idolized basketball, and how I did not use it to glorify the One who gave it to me.

And so, compliments of any kind became even more difficult for me to accept.

Any physical beauty found in me was designed by the Lord.

Any talent or ability I have was given from the Lord.

Any good or kindness found in me is the work of the Lord.

And obviously any undesirable, unlikeable, horribly awful imperfect trait found in me, is me; wholly humanly little 'ole me. I tend to focus on those because those are the things I most want to change, and because those are the things within me, that make my skin crawl whenever a compliment is thrown my way.

Then I had children. And my children, imperfect though they may be, are amazing. I see them for who they are, their faults, their strengths, their struggles and triumphs. They are beautiful. Then someone compliments me, "What well-behaved children you have!" And I hear this a lot, because really...they are. And again, I can't just say "Thank you," and move on. I stumble and stutter, and think of all the times they are not, because this compliment falling on my ears, is not mine to claim. Everything good in them is from the Lord. Any good parenting decision we have made on their behalf, is from the Lord, and I thank HIM for the wonderful children they are.

But every now and then, I don't have to say a word, because every so often, in a perfectly timed, humbling moment, they will do it for me.

At a spaghetti dinner a few weeks ago the kids were quietly eating. They ate up their salad before moving on to spaghetti, which, I guess, in a lot of homes is pretty amazing. My kids love salad. They said their 'please' and 'thank you's, and finished their plates. As Elijah took his last bite, a woman to my right said, "Your children are so well behaved! They are very polite and well mannered at the table!"

I smiled, as my skin began to crawl uncomfortably, and Elijah promptly wiped the spaghetti sauce from his face with his sleeve.

She and I both laughed, and I felt relieved. Why? Being reminded of our humanness is comforting. Being aware that our greatness comes from Him, reminds us there is something more, something better, something perfect we have not yet seen.

All through high school I had a quote hanging on my closet door by Michael J. Fox, "I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Exellence I can reach for; perfection is God's business." And yes, you read that right. I can't remember if I typed it up myself, or if one of my parents did, but there was a typo in the quote. The word 'Excellence' was misspelled. I never fixed it. I liked the irony.

Maybe one day I will be able to gracefully receive a compliment without getting squirmish. But sometimes, that humbling discomfort is a great reminder of who I serve and why. I am not here to serve myself. I am not here to collect rave reviews. I am merely a child of God who has some food on her sleeve.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why Frozen Makes Me Melt

Dick Clark once said, "Music is the soundtrack of our lives." For me, I know this to be true. A song, a few lyrics, or even the first few chords can take me back to a long lost memory; good or bad or somewhere in between. As a writer, I've always been sensitive to music and the implications of the lyrics. I liked story telling in a song, but I could also be mesmerized by something fantastically unique or a great beat.

Music stays with you. I can't even remember all the Presidents anymore, at least not in order, I have difficulty remembering very key historical facts and dates, and I often forget what was so great about that last book I just loved. Don't get me wrong. I'm no ditz. I was a great student, but I'm a memorizer, a crammer, a forgetter of all things I just needed to ace that exam the moment the test is done.

However, if everything I ever learned in school, had been put into song, I never would have forgotten a thing, and I'd be a stinkin' genius.

Alas, the soundtrack of my youth is not so much filled with history lessons, as it is overflowing with Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and...The Little Mermaid.

To this day, I can sing every single lyric to every single song in The Little Mermaid. In fact, I can recite the entire movie line by line. But the songs were most important. If I even hear a hint of Ariel's voice, or a chord from Under the Sea or Part of Your World, I am instantly transformed into the little blonde girl with green hair from chlorine, swimming through the pool with my ankles held tightly together, certain that everyone saw me as I felt right then, a beautiful mermaid with a perfectly groomed head of hair flowing around me, beneath the water (ahhh the imagination of Disney).

I can picture the happy faces of my parents, like they are sharing an inside joke.

Only now, when I find myself in these reminiscing moments, I understand the looks their faces capture. The look of a parent basking in the moment, hoping to remember it forever; hoping against all hope that their little mermaid stays little forever.

Sometimes these old songs and old memories trigger emotions I don't fully understand; tears I'm not sure are happy or sad, and a longing for the slowing of the clock.

Today we took the kids to the roller skating rink nearby. Jelani skated with Elijah and Chastity, while I chased our toddler, who was causing skating accidents at every turn. At one point, with Isaac on my hip, I watched as Elijah and Chastity skated so slowly and delicately, scared of what might happen if they really tried. The song Let it Go came booming over the speakers and I watched kids (of all ages) begin belting out the lyrics. Little girls were stopping in mid skate to swing their arms open like Elsa in the movie Frozen, and a really strange thing happened to my eyes. Tears began to well up, completely unprovoked, seemingly brought on by a song that holds no really significant meaning or memory for me. We watched the movie once with the kids a couple of weeks ago, and that was it.

But what occurred to me as I forced back these tears which were bound and determined to embarrass me, is that I was listening to the soundtrack of my present; the soundtrack of my children's childhood. These were the songs my children would never forget, Let it Go, and Happy in particular will forever remind us of that moment, or silly dancing in the living room. For the first time in a series of busy days, in a bunch of busy weeks, on a string of busy months, I found myself frozen in a moment, realizing my husband and I are now our parents, sharing the inside jokes, and basking in the joy of our children...

...and I don't ever want to let that go.