Perception = reality

Several years ago my husband was caught flat-footed when some of his teachers told him that they didn’t feel like he was a particularly supportive principal. He felt he was very supportive and was hurt by their criticism. But when he stepped back and took time to listen and hear what they were saying, he realized that what he thought he was doing to be supportive instead wasn’t what they needed. He changed–and the relationship between him and the teachers improved significantly.

What he learned from that experience is that perception = reality.

We may be caught flat-footed ourselves when something we say or do is taken in a different way than we intended. We may intend something as a joke–but someone else sees it as hurtful. We may say something in what we think is a compliment–but because of life circumstances, it may come across as a put-down.

Our response might be “That’s not what I meant at all!” and we may be frustrated and irritated. We may say “You shouldn’t feel that way”…and perhaps that’s true.

But…perception = reality. And we need to learn to accept that.

It’s not always easy, and it requires a willingness to listen. We have to put our own defensiveness aside and try to put ourselves in someone else’s place. How we see and experience life is impacted by many factors, and it’s unique to each of us. We see the world through a constantly shifting lens, because our life experiences are constantly changing.

Our world is full of people who are convinced that everyone sees and responds to stimuli the same way…but we don’t. The more we are able to recognize that–and the more we are willing to understand that perception = reality–that more we have opportunity for meaningful interaction with and understanding of each other.

Parenting…the never-ending journey

I’ve been thinking the last few days about what I thought I knew about parenting (before I became one) and what I’ve learned in the many years since.

I think what I was most surprised about is that parenting is a never-ending journey. I figured that once my kid(s) reached maturity (somewhere around 22 or so), they would be on their own–either married or leading a successful single life–and then I could just sit back, wait for grandkids (that I could spoil), and relax. Doesn’t happen that way!

When the kids are little, your parenting involves helping them learn…and part of that includes helping them learn how not to get into trouble or get hurt (hopefully). It’s a challenging time, but it’s also fun watching them try to make sense of this world around them.

Then they become teenagers–and everything changes! You still want to help them stay out of trouble, but sometimes they have to learn things the hard way. So you keep your fingers crossed…pray a lot…and hope that they’ll actually survive to adulthood. It’s far more stressful than when they’re little because they tend not to be as willing to listen to the wisdom you would so much like to share….and while you can see that some of their choices will be things they’ll regret later in life, they don’t.

Eventually they reach maturity. They’ve gotten through college or other training…have found someone to love and are entering the adult world. Finally–you can relax! Not so fast…now your worries include whether they’ll find a job that will pay enough for them to pay their bills (and whether it will be a fulfilling one). You worry about their budgeting (or lack thereof)…their decisions about renting/buying…whether they will stay close or move a distance away… But you can’t do anything about all of that…you just have to let them go–but you still worry about and for them.

Then grandkids come. They’re a delight! But then the journey takes new directions. Sometimes–especially if you do a lot of the babysitting–you want to do things differently from the way their parents do, but you realize that they’re not your kids and you need to support the parents. Okay…you can deal with that.

As the grandkids grow, they also sometimes struggle with making wise choices–and you struggle as well. Your heart sometimes aches when you see them making decisions that they will regret down the road. But your role is different now. Sometimes the grandkids are more willing to listen to advice from you than from their parents…sometimes you are simply a safe place for them.

But the journey never ends. Once you have a child, you begin a never-ending journey. Yes, sometimes you would like to get off the train…to not be concerned about the kids/grandkids/great grandkids and their decisions and choices. But unless you completely cut ties, that’s not going to happen–and cutting those ties so completely carries with it its own worries and challenges.

Every stage of parenting has challenges…but it also has joys…never-ending

It’s not only children who grow. Parents do, too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself. —Joyce Maynard

The attitude you have as a parent is what your kids will learn from more than what you tell them. They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are. —Jim Henson

Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you. —Robert Fulghum

 

“I want to be an adult!”

The graduation season has just ended, and there’s a comment (sometimes implied, but sometimes stated) that I’ve heard from a lot of graduates and those who are close to graduation.

“I want to be an adult!”

Just what does that mean? Probably not what those who are saying that phrase think that it means!

Often it seems to mean that somebody just simply doesn’t want anyone else to be telling them what to do. Or they want to be able to do what they want without worrying about consequences….or they want to be out on their own…

But being an adult is much more than that.

One of the big things about being an adult is taking responsibility for yourself–and the consequences of your decisions. When you are child, your parents are able to protect you from those consequences sometimes, although good parents don’t shield you from all of them. But when you are an adult, you are responsible…for both good choices and less than good ones, along with the responsibilities coming from them.

It means figuring out how to pay for many of the things that were provided for you when you were at home…food, shelter, clothing, utilities, health care, car expenses…

That requires a job. And finding a good job–and by that, I mean a job with a future–means getting some training, whether that’s through college, an internship, an apprenticeship…

It also means making wise choices about how to deal with your sexuality. For some, that means coming to terms with sexual identity and/or gender identity. For most, it means figuring out wise decisions about when/whether to have sex–and the potential consequences of that! An unexpected child can throw a significant monkey wrench into your plans…as can sexually transmitted diseases.

It means listening to that little voice inside that suggests when something may not be wise…or when the “friend” may not be the best person to hang out with.

Not everything has to be learned the hard way. There are older adults who are willing to mentor you–if you will let them. Sometimes they want you to learn from their mistakes so you don’t have to go through what they did. Sometimes they are simply people who care for you.

Don’t be in a hurry…listen…try…fail–and learn from your failures…fall–and get up again…and trust. Trust that there are people who want only the best for (and from) you. Trust that there are people who love you. Trust that there are people who will walk with you.

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Which way is up??

A couple of weeks ago I had one of the most frightening times of my life. We were taking a couple days vacation at a beautiful resort with an indoor/outdoor swimming pool. At one side of the indoor pool there was a large water slide, which ended in a shallow (3′) section of the pool.

We’d been watching a couple of young girls go down the slide, having a great time…and we decided to try it ourselves before we went back to our room. We climbed the steps to the top…and my slight queasiness should have been a red flag for me. But I ignored it, deciding that I wasn’t going to let my timidity hold me back.

While there wasn’t anything to hold onto while getting yourself in place, it wasn’t that hard to get ready to go down. My last thought before letting go was that it might be fun to keep my eyes open until just going in–to see what was going on.

But…

As soon as I let go and started down the slide, I felt completely out of control! I know I screamed most of the way down…banging into the sides and going much faster than I had ever anticipated.

I did manage to close my mouth before landing in the water, although I did get some water forced up my nose–not unexpected.

What I didn’t expect was the complete disorientation I felt. I did not know which way was up.

The water wasn’t that deep, so it should not have been difficult to stand up. But it was. I kept kicking, but never felt bottom…couldn’t tell if I was going up or down. I finally hit my head–fortunately lightly–on the edge of the pool, so was able to grasp that edge and stand up…choking and gasping.

Some folks sitting at the edge of the pool had been about ready to come in after me because they sensed that I was flailing…not in fun.

I have never been so scared in my life…so disoriented…so unsure of where I was.

While that was a physical disorientation and scare, I’m finding it also a good metaphor for what I am feeling in other ways. As I read the news…as I see posts on Facebook…I wonder which way is up? I hear and see words being used that I thought we (as a country) had left behind years ago. I hear and see comments about those who are “different” that marginalize them and indicate that they are somehow not of as much worth. I hear casual talk about bombs…about going to war…and I fear.

Which way is up??

It’s that time of year again…

So…it’s that time of year again. Time to put away the winter clothes and pull out the summer ones. But not completely.

The weather forecast is calling for a chilly night again tonight (about 39 degrees), although it’s supposed to warm up again–at least somewhat–next week.

I’ve almost done this several times, but every time I was about ready to, the forecast called for a return to more winter-like weather.

But I decided that today it was the right time of year.

I put away almost all of my winter clothes…just kept out a few items that can work for either cool spring days or winter. I kept out a few jackets as well that will work just about any season. So hopefully I’m ready for the next few days.

For many of us, we’ve also just recently celebrated a time of putting away the old and entering into the new. Last week was Easter–a time that acknowledges death and yet rejoices in the power of life over death. In some ways that sounds so easy…after all, we see it happen every spring as trees and other plants bud out again and the grass turns from its seeming death into green.

But it’s not.

For life to triumph over death, something has to die. Our old way of seeing…our old expectations and hopes…sometimes even loved ones.

It’s not easy to let go of all that.

But every time I seasonally change my closet, I’m reminded that there are things I have to let go of…they no longer fit…I no longer like them…I don’t need them. And the same is true of my life.

It’s that time of year again. Time to let go…and time to be reborn!

Sunday’s coming…

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t gone through some difficult times in their lives. For some that’s caught up in the loss of a loved one…for others loss of a job…or a faith crisis…or anyone of a myriad of things that can send one into dark places.

About 2000 years ago, there was a community that went through another difficult time. The one they had followed…the one who challenged the status quo on behalf of the poor, the dispossessed, the “other”…this one who came in unconditional love had been taken by the authorities…beaten…crucified…and buried. His followers didn’t know what the future held–for themselves but also for what he believed and taught. Was this the end?

We know the story. We know that his death was not the end–but the middle of the story. We live the end of the story by the way we live. It is our responsibility to keep his teachings and actions alive…to stand with and for the poor, the dispossessed, the “other”…those the status quo would call “less than.”

We know that when they laid him in the tomb…and they went through the dark days of mourning…we know that Sunday was coming…the day of resurrection!

And so, for all who are in dark places…for those who wonder if the church is dying…if there is hope for the future, I would simply say this:

This is not the end. Sometimes we have to go through a time of death in order to come out on the other side into the new life that is beyond anything we can currently imagine. This isn’t to say that it’s easy. It’s not. But Sunday’s coming…!

 

Welcome the stranger…

Last night I sat in on a wonderful evening of story-telling from members of (and about) my faith tradition. Some of the stories were funny…some were more somber.

My faith tradition was birthed in the United States, but it did not have an easy birth or childhood. We were “different”…we challenged the status quo…and we became refugees. We were driven from place to place, and our founder was ultimately murdered. In many ways, it’s a wonder that we survived.

But the story that caught my attention last night was of one of those times of wandering. We were forcibly driven out of our homes in winter. We lost most of our earthly possessions–and many families did not know where their fathers were…or even if they were still alive. The journey was a difficult one. Sometimes we were able to find shelter–even if it was dirty and smelly; sometimes we were denied even that. Ultimately we found people who cared…people who saw us not as “other” but as human beings in need. We found a city of 1500 who were willing to take in 5000 refugees who had nothing. We found a temporary home while we regrouped so that we could go on.

As I listened to that story, I thought about the parallels with today…with my parents’ generation and my own.

In the 1930s there were people fleeing and looking for a place of shelter. They were people who had lost everything and who were afraid for their lives–and the lives of their children. Some found shelter, but many did not and perished.

Credit Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Today there are many fleeing and looking for safe places for themselves and their children. Some have found shelter–but many are still looking.

Yes, they are “other”…they are different.

But I am part of a country that has grown from the contributions of immigrants and refugees. I am part of a faith tradition that was welcomed as refugees. I am also part of a bigger faith tradition whose story includes both being welcomed as a stranger–and then being challenged to do the same to others. My people were welcomed…and I grew up believing this poem by Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)