Showing posts with label Thanksgiving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thanksgiving. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

I'm a Lightning Rod

I've been told I'm a lightning rod.  Like it's a bad thing.  Maybe the judgment is because a lot of people don't understand why anyone would want to be the tall iron rod placed atop high buildings, waiting to get hit by lightning.  The people who feel this way don't understand lightning, electricity, tall metal structures, tall people, me, or Benjamin Franklin.  You see, lightning rods are for protection.   Protection of structures and people.  Benjamin Franklin studied storms and electricity.  He learned that by placing tall iron rods on top of buildings, the electricity in a cloud could be drawn out through the rod and then channeled into the ground, protecting the structure and the people in it.  Ever since then, lightning rods have always been placed on tall buildings.

Back to the question of why is being a lightning rod a bad thing?  It's not.  I'm here to tell you, it's not.  If you want to run around chasing electrical storms on purpose, trying to get struck by lightning, that's a different thing and it doesn't help anyone, especially yourself.  What I'm talking about is the willingness to stand up tall, take a hit that could otherwise cause decimation, and channel it to where it can't do any harm.  The problem is you have to be brave, willing to stand out there by yourself, and not be afraid of getting a jolt.  It also helps if you're tall, which I am.

I went to high school in the very early 80s.  I was in high school when the AIDS epidemic was sweeping across our country, sending everyone into tremendous panic.  Nobody knew for sure how it was contracted.  All we knew is that it was prominent among the homosexual population and with drug users and people who had received blood transfusions.  It was a frightening time.  And a scary time to be gay.  I had many gay friends and they didn't want anyone to know they were gay, for a lot of reasons, but one of them was AIDS.  In my school, if anyone even thought a person was gay, they were ostracized, bullied, and shamed.  People called each other horrible names.  It was hard to see people I cared about treated this way.  In the closing senior assembly, instead of reading scripted lines that I was supposed to give for a particular skit, I spoke out to the entire student-body about how wrong it was to have treated our fellow students this way.  I named names.  I named clubs.  I named administrators.  I received a standing ovation, but not from everyone.  Just from the disenfranchised, the bullied, the marginalized and the wronged, and their friends, which was most of the school.   The drill team did not stand, nor did the cheerleaders or administrators.  The jocks didn't stand and the school officers did not stand.  But a few weeks later in my yearbook, dozens of people wrote about how much they appreciated what I did and what I said and many were from those "popular" people who had been silenced by their friends.

I have never chased storms, intentionally seeking to be a lightning rod, but there have been times when someone had to do it---had to climb on the building and take the strike.  I've tried to stand up for people throughout my life.  Friends at school, people I worked with and for, people I went to church with, and my own family.  I've tried to look out for the little guy, the misunderstood and the forgotten.  Sometimes it has been me.  Sometimes I have had to look out for the health and well-being of myself so that I could continue to care for my husband and children and do my own work in this world.

The hardest has been when I've been the lightning rod in my own family---standing up to my parents.  It's not easy to say to your parents that you will no longer tolerate their abuse, narcissism, and their hatred.  It takes a lot of guts to stay home on Thanksgiving and make your own dinner in order to have peace in your life and spend quality, loving, respectful, wholesome time with your husband and children.  It requires grit and heart to put your hand out and say, "no more!"  It takes dedication and fierce maternal love to not allow the caustic tradition of abuse to sink its teeth into your own posterity.  I've done that and I'm glad I did.  I would willingly do it again.  Someone had to stand on top of the Empire State Building of my life and say, "you shall not pass!"

Tomorrow on Thanksgiving, it's my birthday.  Sometimes it's on Thanksgiving, which I kind of enjoy.  It's nice to be in the kitchen and enjoy the company of people I dearly love.  And for the pie.  Pie is better than cake, always.  I'm told that after I was born, I came home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day to a dinner prepared by my grandmother and all my mother's family.  I am happy to say that this year, like has been the tradition now for many years, we will eat in our home, surrounded by people we love and we'll be missing and loving the children who live far away, talking to them over Skype, I'm sure.  Long ago the traditions of my parents' family have been dimmed and changed.  What a blessing!

Here's the thing about lightning.  If it hits you, you're either going to die or you're going to be badly hurt.  If it hits your building or home, it's going to cause damage or set the thing on fire.  It's going to split trees or kill cattle.  It does damage.  It's nothing to mess with.  I have chosen to watch the sky for brewing clouds, listen for the claps of thunder to warn me when danger is near, and when the darkness gathers, to boldly stand on top of my life and say, "not here, not in this family, not in this home."  I guess that a lot of people would prefer to keep company with people and in structures where there is no lightning rod, mostly because they don't recognize the danger or pay attention to the sky, but I look for lightning rods because I know they'll keep me safe.

There are even people who blame the lightning rod for the lightning striking.  That's not how it works.  When a cloud is full of electricity, it has to be discharged somehow and it will strike somewhere.  Why not control how the power is channeled and reduce risk of damage and death?  When I stood up to my parents, I told them that the things they did to me were not going to happen to my children.  I stood in front of my children and protected them.  I stood in front of my gay friends in high school and tried to protect them.  I've stood in front of refugees and spoke up for them.  I've told women in church circles that their gossip needed to stop.  I've tried to protect the people I care about, including me.

This birthday and this Thanksgiving day, I'm celebrating and giving thanks for many, many blessings.  They're personal and sacred and I will not name them here.  The one thing I will share is that I'm grateful for the strength God has seen to fit me with, for He knew the storms I would face, both in my family and in my life as a woman in this crazy society.  God alone has blessed me with discernment to know when my chain is being yanked, when things are not what they seem, and to see through lies that I've been told and even to be able to sort the best from the better and good.  He has encouraged me and shown me the way to stand up on the top of my life and say, "not here!"  Why?  Because I'm a child of God, too!  Everyone always says, "we have to be nice to so-and-so, they're a child of God, or we can't judge that person, they're a child of God."  And that's all exactly true and right!  But newsflash!  I am a child of God, too!  And God does not want, expect, or condone me allowing myself to be abused, disrespected, gossiped about, or lied to, any more than He wants, expects or condones it for any of the rest of His 7 billion children.  If I'm willing to stand up for the disenfranchised and forgotten, but also for myself, does that make me a bad person?  No.  Because I can't protect anyone else if I'm beaten to a pulp by ignorant or toxic people.  I can't serve if I've given up myself.   I am tolerant of differences, but what I am not tolerant of is hate and bigotry.  I can see through the phony and the bologna.  When actions don't match words, well Houston, we have a problem.  When the fruit doesn't match the tree and the pudding proves what it's really made of, well, that's just no bueno.  You can't have your cake and eat it.  You can't profess climate change and global warming and then drive a gas guzzler 1-hour round trip to work every day.  You can't stand up for LGBTQ people and not stand up for Christians.  Not cool.   I'm not perfect, but I'm not a hypocrite.

Something beautiful happens when lightning strikes sand.  It happens only under rare conditions such as on a beach where the sand is high in silica or quartz and the temperature goes beyond 1800 degrees Celsius.  The lightning can fuse the sand into glass.  It forms a breath-taking sculpture buried underneath the beach.  That is how I see my life.  My brother keeps telling me to "get over it."  You can't get over your life.  Things happen.  I can't change those things.   And I really wouldn't want to because it made me who I am and my children who they are and it brought my husband into my life.  What I can do is channel the power that could be a negative force of destruction and make something beautiful from it.  That is what I have done.  I'm learning that the conditions for my glass masterpiece were indeed rare.  The house I emerged from was like a hot oven of fear, angst, pain, and heartache.  It was at least 1800 degrees Celsius there, if not hotter.  And there were rare conditions on the beach because every person in that family of eight people has or did have gifts and talents and personalities, expected by God to do great things, to raise good families of their own, and to be strong, gigantic forces for good in the world.  The sculpture is there, but it has to be dug up.  It has to be found.

From a scene in the movie "Sweet Home, Alabama."

This Thanksgiving and birthday, I'm publicly grateful for my lightning-rod self.  I'm even more grateful for the guts, grit, and resilience that God blessed me with, which my husband helped me cultivate, and that my children now possess in themselves.  I'm honored to have been given the chance to stand up with a rod of iron in my hand and let the pain and drama, abuse and neglect, flow through me to the ground where it belongs---in hell with satan himself.  It has not passed into our home, into my marriage, or into my children.  I am grateful for the details I pick up on and the intuition I have about others who might also be hurting or suffering the way I did.  I can help them.  I'm grateful that my Creator has trusted me enough to hold that rod of iron.  I'm just trying to protect people and myself.  It's not a bad thing.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Small Plates and Generous Blessings

On Thanksgiving,  I love to pull out my grandmother's pretty dishes.  They're fragile now, having seen countless meals and soapy sinks over the last 90 years.  They were made in the 1920's and I like to wonder about all the dinnertime conversations they've heard, all of the celebrations they've shared, and all of the changes they've witnessed, in people and in our culture.  Grandma's dishes are much smaller than my dishes.  The dinner plate is probably 2 inches smaller in diameter. The soup bowl is bigger though.  The cup and saucer are tiny.  Dessert dishes are petite, but bread and butter plates are larger than the salad plates.  There are plates and bowls for everything.  Serving bowls and platters galore.

I remember getting them out for suppers at my grandparents' home when I'd go stay with them.  They were created during a simpler time for simpler appetites. When people had bread and milk, fruit preserves, cheese and onion, and buttermilk for supper.  I remember those suppers.  A little fruit in a bowl, some cottage cheese in another, a slice of homemade bread with butter, a glass of milk, and a slice of onion.  Every single night.  Sunday dinners at Grandma's were always roasted chicken, a small serving bowl of potatoes, lots of vegetables, bottled fruit, and dependably pie.  One roasted chicken fed everyone.  The plates were small and the portions were small.  And nobody died.  Now our plates are large, people are larger, and attitudes enormous. My grandparents were not poor by any means, but they were educated, intelligent, God-fearing, simple, and grateful.  They lived to be in their 90's and they were happy, smart, healthy, and worthy.  Small plates worked for them.

I have learned some lessons while washing my grandma's dishes.  One is that paper plates are never right for dinner unless you're camping or Mom is in the hospital.  There's something ritualistic about getting them out of the cupboard, placing them on the table, making the table look pretty, looking at the pretty little flowers during the meal, remembering all the other meals eaten on the dishes, and then carefully washing them and gingerly putting them away until next time.  Another lesson is that small plates are good.  Nobody needs to eat as much as they want to.  Food is to keep us alive, not entertain us as a hobby.  And pretty things are important in a world that's vulgar, loud, and selfish.

I used to feel badly about myself when I'd listen to friends or family talk (or complain) about all they had to do, all their projects and responsibilities.  Some were so organized it made my head spin. Soon I was convinced that I was some sort of malfunctioning and defective woman because I wasn't tackling all that others seemed to be handling with ease.  I wasn't the PTA president while raising 14 kids, taking 12 of them to soccer and 9 to piano lessons, making dance costumes, dishing out freezer meals on paper plates, keeping an immaculate house, planning homeroom parties for 6 kids on the same day, organizing service projects for the neighborhood, singing in the choir, teaching aerobics at 4 a.m., shopping with coupons so my groceries were free at checkout, remodeling a home by myself and installing my own counter tops, working on a cure for cancer, and keeping scrapbooks current for all said children.  

I was sitting in on violin lessons for two hours every week for two children, taking them every week to the library to get their 14 books each and reading those books so many times I still have them memorized.  I was studying scriptures to learn more about God so I could teach my children both formally and when gospel metaphors arose.  I did a lot of things as a mother, but the one thing I am probably most happy about is that I dropped everything I was doing whenever my children wanted to talk to me or needed me.  I stayed up lots of nights to catch up on work that didn't get done because our conversations were long and enjoyable or long and necessary to help answer their questions about maneuvering the outside world.  I can't remember all I did because I wasn't keeping score.  I was just doing what seemed needful, necessary, and nice.

Then it hit me one day.  After everyone's children grew up the "proof was in the pudding."  Their mothers had not really been that great at mothering.  They'd been really good organizers and chauffeurs and laundresses, and super-excellent scrap-bookers, but they'd not been such good teachers, listeners or confidants.  One of my children's friends told me once that they wished their parents would just listen, or just be happy to have everyone together without over-scheduling. Another confided to me that they'd never had a gospel discussion with their parents--ever.  They'd never had a "birds and bees" discussion or been taught about handling money.  I realized that a large plate heaped with a load of food is not all it's cracked up to be---being that super-mom character is not realistic.  You cannot have it all.  You absolutely can't.  You cannot be all things to everyone and still be everything to all.  I realize that my plate is smaller than others.  But it's just as full with the few things that are important to me as the other woman's large and carefully piled plate.  My pediatrician always told me not to force my children to eat.  "They'll eat when they're hungry," he said.  It's true. When a child is hungry, they will eat.  Because food is not entertainment.  Food is life.

If my plate is smaller than yours, if I have two children and you have 24, if I can barely keep up with my household responsibilities because of chronic illness, if I'd rather read or paint than be the mom that takes the neighborhood to see Britney Spears, if my idea of Christmas vacation with my grown children is to simply sit together in the same room only looking into their faces and listening to their stories, if I'd rather cook a simple meal and think about the blessing of it than pick up takeout for the 14th time the same week, and if I'd rather have one very expensive pair of boots than 140 pairs of cheap, nondescript shoes, please don't judge me.  You might just need me to save you from your over-eating, over-indulged, over-scheduled and over-affected life when you have a nervous breakdown.

We need to stop identifying ourselves and others based on our plates and what's on them.  My plate is small.  I have physical limitations that keep me from taking a large plate and heaping it full.  Bless your soul if you have a large, piled-high plate and you can manage it well.  Please stop asking why I only have two children because I once frequently asked that same question.  It's none of your business, and you are not a better mother or woman than me just because your reproductive system is prolific.  Please don't judge my uterus or my home or what you think my bank account contains based on the overstretched limits of yours.  Please stop wondering or gossiping about how you think I look totally healthy, but I'm not. It's not for you to worry about.  You worry about your plate and I'll worry about mine.

I love my pretty flowered plate that's fragile and only holds necessary nourishment.  It's lasted and it's worked because it's been treated with respect and love and care.  It feeds my body which is a gift from God, and it feeds my soul.  With thanksgiving in my heart I express my gratitude for my beautiful, fragile, small, but infinitely important plate and all the beautiful blessings on it and that flow from it.  My plate may be small, but it is wonderful and the miracles that continue to come from it are bounteous.  Indeed, God is truly generous.  Like my grandpa used to sing: "tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free."