Sunday, July 30, 2017

1 Cup Walnuts: Optional

It had been some time since I'd made cookies and when I saw the packages of Nestle chocolate chips and walnuts on the pantry shelf, I knew it was time to preheat the oven.  Everyone has their favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies.  Mine is on the package.  "Nestle Toll House Cookies."  It wins with me every single time.  No other recipe does it for me like that one does.  Maybe it's the brown sugar?  The chocolate chips themselves?  Or just maybe, it's the walnuts.  I really think that is the secret.  Walnuts in nice large pieces combined with the semi-sweet chocolate pieces and the butter really does turn into homemade confection perfection that's best with an ice cold glass of milk.

I made a double batch and put most of them in the freezer in small bags.  Later in the week I was enjoying a cookie with milk after lunch when I wondered why most people I know don't put the walnuts in cookies.  It's true that a lot of people use different recipes that might not call for the nuts, but even people I know who make Toll House cookies usually leave the nuts out.  "That's too bad," I lamented to myself inside my own brain, "cookies are always so much better with the nuts."  I was thinking of all the reasons a person might choose to leave the nuts out like allergies, general dislike of nuts, not having them on hand, and maybe they're sometimes seen as an unnecessary and expensive ingredient that can just be left out.  Chocolate chips are supposed to be the stars, right?  Then suddenly, a morose thought danced over my mind.  I was that cup of walnuts in the Toll House cookies from my childhood family.  And I didn't make it into the final batch.  

Does that ever happen to anyone else?  I'm thinking about how cookies are truly better with walnuts and then I'm unable to breathe and tears are streaming down my face because I remember some things from growing up.  A cookie and milk turn into a metaphor for my family relationships with my parents and siblings.  

Earlier in the week I had listened to two tapes my sister shared with me that we had made for my grandma living out of state.  We had made them for her at Christmas time.  It was a little like our own version of the Donny and Marie show.  Some piano tunes, a few jokes, each child talking about school or what was going on in their lives, and my parents sharing things that the children were up to and how much snow was piled up outside.  

My husband asked me if it was smart to listen to the tapes.  At the time I had thought it was a good exercise, one that hadn't bothered me too much, although I had silently cried myself to sleep that night in the wee hours of the morning after listening to them with headphones and the files uploaded onto Google Drive.  It was like the wreck on the highway that you just can't not look at.  I couldn't stop listening.  My own voice was there.  Young, naive, sometimes happy sounding, and sometimes sad.  I could hear in my voice how much I missed my grandmother.  I really loved her and it was hard for me when she went to stay with my aunt in another state.  I talked on the tape about wanting to get $80 dollars so I could go and see her.  It never happened.  

The second tape made me cry when I realized it was my last Christmas with my family before I got married and that only two Christmases later my parents were separated and would later divorce.  There would be no more Christmases for me with my family, at least all together.  The wheels came off the cart after that, the horse tripped and died, and every one of us in some way or other has the bloody scars and missing limbs to prove it.  

In my family, I am the cup of walnuts.  For some recipes it will say that the nuts are "optional."  What does that even mean?  Optional?  Not needed?  Not wanted?  Put them in if you feel like it today, but not if you don't feel like it next time?  The Nestle Toll House Cookie recipe doesn't say "optional."  It assumes that you're going to put the nuts in along with the vanilla and the eggs.  They're supposed to be in the dough.  Nuts are required to make the cookie taste like a Toll House cookie.  There are supposed to be large mounts of crunchy nuts to offset the sweetness of the chocolate and brown sugar.  Nuts are supposed to balance out the rest of the flavors.  They're not an optional ingredient.  But in my family, I'm optional.  Actually, more like permanently crossed off the recipe.

 Divorce should be illegal unless your parent goes to jail for murder or commits incest.  Parents ought to try a whole lot harder to love each other and protect their children.  And asking children to testify against their parents in court should be illegal.  Especially in a stupid custody battle where it's clearly a power struggle and not really about who loves or wants the children most.  Children should not be asked or forced to take sides between parents.  That should be illegal.  And it should be against the law for grandmothers and aunts and uncles and cousins and dogs and cats to turn into spies, trying to catch children in the act of taking sides, only to result in one child getting sentenced for eternity as the cup of walnuts not wanted in the Toll House cookies.   

It's key to remember who chooses whether or not the walnuts go in or not.  The one making the cookies.  In my family, one parent made all the cookies and decided one day to just stop putting in the walnuts.  

When you listen to a tape with your parents' voices and the voices of your siblings, knowing what was all about to go down later on and that as the oldest child you would pay the ultimate price for your parents' mistakes, it makes your heart hurt.  It causes the rashes to come back, the palpitations to start again, the headaches to rebound.  It puts you in a time warp when you hear your innocent voice and wonder how anyone could choose to exclude you from the recipe.  When you hear how young you were when you made the choice to testify in court, you know it wasn't fair to have been asked to do it.  You know now what the price was.  Too expensive.  Always too expensive.  But time is time and you can't get it back.  You can't have those years again with your sisters and brother that you were robbed of, just so your parents could prove a point.  And the water keeps traveling down the river.  It's not the same water it was when it started out from the high mountain slopes, melting as new spring run-off.  You can't retrace your steps.  Yes, with God you always get a second chance or a 20th or a 100th, but not in your family.  There are limited chances and terminal results.  

To my family, if you read this, I get that I'm expendable, optional, less worthy.  We see things differently.  I don't believe in brushing things under the rug and you do.  I believe in redemption and you don't.  I don't like family secrets and you won't admit we have them.  I take responsibility for being a 20-something naive girl but you expect me to have behaved like a 90-year-old with 14 PhDs in Human Behavior and Actual Consequences of Going Against Your Mother.  I'm stronger because of what I went through, but I have scars that never quite seem to heal.  I'd do it all again the exact same way because I believe I was doing what was best for me and what was right at the time.  I miss you, the way I remember you at your best and brightest, and I'll always love you for the good things you brought into my life, even if was for a short time.  

To my dad.  I love your sense of wonder and science-y brain.  How you can make beautiful things with your hands and work out just about any problem.  You know this state like the back of your hand with your eyes closed and you love nature.  I always thought your jokes were funny and I loved when you played the piano---"Diana" was my favorite.  The old white truck and hikes in the mountains, drinking out of springs and identifying plants. You always told me I was smart--thank you for encouraging me to learn. 

To my mom.  You taught me how to sew and cook and bake and how to care for babies.  I talked too much and drove you crazy--I could see it in your eyes--the impatience and disapproval you could never hide .  I always wanted to know the answers to all the questions and I was probably a handful.  Going shopping downtown to ZCMI and Castleton's were good times, especially when we'd get chocolate eclairs at the bakery. Believe it or not, I liked to help with the canning, especially the peaches.  You taught me how to get a job and never stop hustling until I had one and how to write a winning public speech. 

To my sister, L.  You put up with a lot from me.  We fought a lot and also were good friends a lot of the time.  We shared a room and clothes and chores.  Scaring each other with the old rocking chair and the ghosts in the basement.  You always could make me laugh.  

To my sister, G.  You were also really good at making me laugh.  You always got so excited about so many things and it was fun to have you tell your stories.  It was nice after you were married to get to know you on a new level.  We have some fun memories.  

To my only brother.  You were always special, the only brother.  You always made me smile.  You loved to be outside or building something all the time, always so smart.  You do beautiful handiwork, and my home showcases your talents.  Running the river with you will always be a highlight.  

To my sister, A.  You were so small when I left home.  I'll always remember singing with you at bedtime and tucking you in at night.  You loved being a little farm girl and wearing your overalls, playing outside all the time.  You always were being a comedian and smiling.  

To my sister, J.  The littlest one of all.  Maybe your voice on the tape made me cry the most, you were so very small.  Always precocious and talking 100 mph with perfect diction.  Always happy and trying to help everyone get along.  

To all of you, I love you.  We're all where we are now for reasons personal to us.  And it's alright.  At least I hope so.  I hope you're all well.  That you all are happy and healthy.  I pray for you each every day, that you'll know I love you, even from far away.  

Does the cup of walnuts know it's being left out of the Toll House recipe?  Of course, it does. It needs to find a new recipe and make its own sweetness.  I think I've done that.  In fact, I know I have.  Maybe the blessing for all the pain is that I've been blessed with a close and loving family in my husband and children.  I don't believe God wants us to suffer forever or even at all.  I do know He cares about each of us and the burdens we carry.  God forgives us when we seek it from Him.  Because of God's Son, Jesus Christ, all our pain can be taken away and beautiful blessings can be given to us to make up the difference.  Jesus is the Difference.  He walked with me in those rough years and even this week when I realized I'm the cup of walnuts.  He walks with my parents as they get older and face health challenges.  He walks with my sister and her sick son.  He walks with us all and sometimes we're lucky enough to be aware of Him by our side, but He is always there.  

I'm okay with being the optional ingredient, the cup of walnuts left on the counter or maybe still on the pantry shelf.  I'll go and make banana nut bread or steamed pudding and put all my walnuts in the recipe and I'll be the best cup of walnuts I can be, for the sake of my husband, my children, and my God.  And I'll forgive and seek forgiveness, remembering that forgiveness is always between me and my Savior.  I'll seek and receive solace from my Creator who knows the whole story, who doesn't see my side or someone else's side, but who sees the whole view, the panoramic view, and because He sees the eternal view and me as an eternal soul---He understands me and He loves me.  I'm not just an optional cup of walnuts in His eyes.  For that I'm eternally grateful.  

Friday, July 7, 2017

Exclusion? Inclusion? Friends or "Friends?"

You know the kind.  The people (usually women) who want the world to think they're cooler than they really are.  The ones who seem to flit and float above every flower, bestowing the gift of themselves upon every blossom.  It seems they have never-ending energy, taking meals to all the neighbors, hosting backyard parties all the time, liking and commenting on every single Instagram post and Facebook status update.  They're always posting selfies and kiddies and us-ies.  Are they really that important?  Are they truly as happy as their IG account suggests?  Who flew over from England and knighted them expert over all things they profess to be experts in?  Does the world really revolve around their hearting the crap out of Instagram?  Do their friends' lives really depend upon their support?  Admit it.  In your heart, these friends of yours really make you feel quite badly about yourself.  How can you keep up with constant posts of perfect cupcakes and home decor, leisurely days at the pool, book suggestions a mile long, and recipes from Pinterest that we all know nobody really makes.

I beg you to look more closely.  Are these people really happy?  Do they have what really matters?  What are their relationships with their husbands and children really like?  Are they secretly feeding addictions they want no one to know about?  Are their marriages healthy?  Do their husbands secretly celebrate when they leave town for business each week because they can escape their wife and kids Sunday through Thursday?  Are their financial houses really in order?  Do they really only eat Pinterest salads?  Are they as nice to the people not in their circles or who don't follow them on IG as they are to all the people they play to 24/7?  Are they using or manipulating you in some way? Trying to make you feel less-than because you don't subscribe to their mantra or shop where they shop or exercise at their gym?  Are they trying to sell you something?  Anything?  Even if it's just their friendship?  

I've been around a while.  I've seen a lot of trends come and go.  I've been a student of human behavior since college and I'm told I have an uncanny ability to size people up.  I watch and I observe.  I know more than I say.   I've noticed a change in people since social media exploded and became our culture's crutch.  While it has its merits of which I enjoy ease of communication and tools to do my work at a more rapid pace, it has its warts.  Inclusion and exclusion have whole new rule sets, which creep over into real life.

Before Facebook, a person's circle of honest and real friendships was a lot smaller.  Sociologists will tell you that you can't really have hundreds and hundreds of friends.  No person on the planet has the time and talent to BE friends with that many people.  Friendship requires work, sacrifice, empathy, respect, thought, connection, and time--both time spent together and time growing the friendship.  In human relationships, we have circles that work outward like the ripples in a pond.  The circle gets larger as we work outward.  The people in the outer circles are less close to us than the ones in the inner circle.  These people used to be called associates, not friends.

With Facebook and friending, we've crossed a horizon that I'm not sure was meant to be crossed. Are the people on social media following us really our friends or are they merely voyeurs?  Likewise, why are we following all the people we're following or friending?  Just to see what they're up to, not because we really care, but because we simply want to know?  Before social media, we had no access to this type of open and unashamed peeping-tom behavior.  If you wanted to know how someone was doing, you had to look them up in the phone book and give them a ring---talk to them in person.  Now people Facebook stalk each other, spend hours poring over photos and posts, maybe giving a generous like, but usually just looking, peeping, trolling.  

When this crosses over into real life, it messes up all the rules of etiquette.  Are you supposed to invite every Facebook friend to your child's wedding reception?  Do you think that just because you're friends with someone on FB that entitles you to said invitation?  Can you see how it helps to warp and contaminate honest relationships?  If you're friends on FB with one person in your neighborhood, do you have to be friends with everyone?  Newsflash:  You're not supposed to be friends with nor are you required to like everyone in your neighborhood.  While we should be kind, civil, respectful, and loving in our attitudes to all people, FRIENDSHIP is something that takes years and years to grow, bloom, and thrive.  It doesn't happen with the friend or follow button on social media. 

What about inclusion versus exclusion?  Does it have to be all or nothing?  Can't we, or rather aren't we supposed to be choosy about whom our associates are?  We tend to become like the people we affiliate with (birds of a feather....), hence the need to be vigilant in choosing our friends wisely.  I don't care if it's on Facebook or in the backyard.  The people we associate with have powerful influence over our attitudes, goals, and behavior.  I believe in inclusion in the way that we are all children of God and we should be kind, loving, and generous in our attitudes toward all people.  But I believe in exclusion because we will not agree with everyone on the big things, the messy things, and not everyone should be welcome in the inner sanctums of our lives.  Some things are just private, right? And many more things are for only very trusted friends.  

Many years ago, my husband wrote a song called "Merry-Go-Man."  I love it because of its power chords, raging base guitar, and for its message.  It talks about a man who is all things to everyone.  He's supportive of things he doesn't believe in because he wants to be popular.  He says whatever the people want to hear.  He just wants to be loved.  It's a powerful parable about people who speak smooth words in order to gain power, but in the end they have none because they have no integrity---they don't know who they really are.  People like these spend so much time looking for approval, feigning support for others in the hope of a big return, only to find themselves eventually discovered as untrustworthy, disingenuous, and phony. If anyone ever decides to call them out, they haven't anything to stand on.  Their own personal relationships are often in shambles, though they might be in total denial.  Generally, there is proof in the pudding, so to speak.  

It's the arbitrary rules that are so dangerous.  We're all supposed to know and comply with everyone else's made-up personal rules.  I guess we're supposed to be mind readers.  Well, read my mind then. I'm sick of all the new rules, the lack of propriety and etiquette, and basic good manners.  It seems people don't really care about each other in real life, but on social media they sure as heck do. Liking someone's 40034 pictures from their trip or tournament or party is better than being a valiant visiting teacher, right? And if you can't get over to give your sisters a spiritual message and check to see how they really are, because you're so busy hearting everything on IG, just do a drive-by cupcake dropoff--that always works!  (Not really.)  

Solution?  You can do what suits you, but I would suggest you sharpen your discernment skills and tune into what your soul is really telling you.  If social media causes you stress, depression, anxiety, and lack of confidence, then reconsider how you should be using it in your life, if at all.  If you're the one who is a FB stalker, then stop it now and show real compassion instead of just trolling people's accounts.  If you're confused about who your friends really are, then do an assessment.  Who do you trust?  Who are you confident in?  Who loves you no matter what and has never betrayed you?  Who do you actually talk to or spend time with face to face?  You might be surprised.  For me, the people on this list are not avid social media people and that is not where my relationships are with them.  Some of my best friends are so busy and know I'm busy and so we don't talk every day or even every week, but when we get together, we are together, and it's honest, real, and tangible.  I recently purchased a new smartphone and I didn't install social media on it---intentionally.  I'm going to force myself to only look at social media once a day from my computer or tablet, and then be done with it.  My family and real friends communicate with me via text, phone, and email, so I'm not missing anything and even when they do post, it's not often so my once-a-day check-in will suffice.  

As for the whole inclusion/exclusion thing, we shouldn't be made to feel guilty because we don't want to be friends or FB friends with everyone.  It's how God made us.  We're not supposed to have 4000 friends or even 400 friends.  It's not humanly possible.  We are commanded to love all people as our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, but that doesn't mean we have to be friends with them all.  It's entirely different.  When people wake up and see that it's okay to have separate groups and not be invited to everything or know about everything, or even have the desire to be invited to or know all, I know it would make us a happier culture.  It's okay to go back to the way it was before Facebook, you know.   And for those who are the Merry-Go-Men-and-Women, please just stop and ask for help for your narcissism and insecurities.  That alone will make the world a better place.  

For the record, I'm not offended if I'm not included in other people's circles, but what does annoy me is the smugness with which some people seem to flaunt the fact that I'm not included, all the while crying foul because they weren't included in mine.  You can't have your cake and eat it, so you've got to choose.  For me, inclusion is for all of God's children in an eternal plan as brothers and sisters.  Exclusion is where I get to choose who's circles I want to accept invitations to and whom I want to invite into mine.  It's how it worked before Facebook!  Give that a good think this weekend and see then if you just might agree.