A Different Kind of Freedom

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Today is the 4th of July. I’m grateful for the Land that I Love, Home of the Free because of the Brave and My Country Tis of Thee, but today I am considering a different kind of Freedom.

To My Friend I Haven’t Seen In A Long Time Who Gained Some Weight,

It was a delight to bump into you yesterday at the mall. I am excited for you to come back to the place where I usually see you every day. I know you are ready, but when you said, “I don’t want people to see me like this,” it made you tear up a little.  My heart broke with yours hearing you bravely share those thoughts but I also have insight on the matter, seeing that I am 20+ years your senior—and I have too much to say for a text.

  • It doesn’t even matter that it was from the medicine. I know you may prefer to wear a nametag or a T-shirt or perhaps a large sandwich board that advertises “I HAVEN’T BEEN EATING THAT MUCH—IT’S FROM THE MEDICINE.” That might make you feel less self-conscious, but why? Why does it matter HOW people get bigger? That is a conversation to have within your own mind and you’ll know when you get to the end because the finish line sounds like this: People of all sizes are important and brilliant and special and loveable and attractive. By the same token, some jerks and jack-wagons are skinny so….there’s that. You are still super cute and adorable and loveable and fancy and a goddess. Learn it. Know it. Live it.

Oh You Fancy

  • Retail lies. That includes the store where you saw me, stores where you can get a scarf and a 6 pack, ESPECIALLY Stores with a Secret, and the store you used to manage. Combat lies with the truth. ESPECIALLY when shopping for bras & undies & bathing suits and Spanx. If it doesn’t fit, go up a size. Do like Jerry Seinfeld did and use a sharpie to change the number/letter when you get home if you have to. Clothes are not the measurement of Your Awesome Self. You are worthy of nice things that look good and FIT WELL– even if you have to choose a different section of the rack. Or a whole different store.

Hey Girl

  • People really really like the You that snorts when you laugh, gets irritated at the small things, shows vulnerability and capability and grace and charm and style. People will really really continue to like the You behind those beautiful watercolor eyes, no matter what you’re wearing and whatever dumb and possibly temporary numbers are associated with the skin-covered residence of your soul.
  • Repeat after me: “I’m not that big of a deal.” Listen, the world didn’t rotate around it’s axis and the sun because you were a svelte & leggy size 6 (or 4) ((or whatever size you were at age 22)) and it is not going to come to a screeching halt with people grabbing their hats and clutching their pearls with a loud gasp and a vinyl record scratch just because you walk in the room taking up 3 or 6 or 11 more inches than you used to. You are still you. You are still fabulous. You kind of ARE a big deal, just in a good way. And so is everyone else, no matter what size they are.

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And here are a few wise words from my writing hero that shaped and cemented my perspective a while ago. You do not yet have the benefit of membership in the “F-you 40s” club but until you get in, try these thoughts on for size (haha! Size!!  See what I did there?):

“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

“I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt. I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly wherever I went. I decided to treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, who did embarrassing things like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles at the beach, but who I was proud of because they were so great in every important way. We walked along, the aunties and me, to meet Sam and our friends on the beach. I could feel the aunties beaming. They had been in the dark too long. It did not trouble me that parts of my body – the auntie parts—kept moving even after I had come to a full halt. Who cares? People just need to be soft and clean.” Anne Lamott

I hope that this helps, Sweetie. I’m sorry you are troubled. I understand because I’ve been there and I am there. Please don’t keep your wonderful self from us any longer than necessary. Life needs you and your people love you, support you, respect you and cherish you right now today. If you need time and space, by all means, take it. Please, though, do not rob joy from yourself because you aren’t who you were. YOU ARE NOT WHO YOU WERE!  CONGRATULATIONS!! None of us are! Don’t you dare punish yourself for adapting to the harsh realities of this stressful, chaotic, demanding unrelenting world. You have added experience and trials and victory to the self that you were. You are changed, that’s true. GOOD. FOR. YOU! Now on this Independence Day, let’s declare ourselves separate and complete from the lies that we hear about ourselves not being “enough” or being “too much” or “not there yet.” Commence your freedom celebration. The world needs your sparkle!

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Graduation Blessing 2016

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On Sunday night, several of our Coastal Community Church families gathered to celebrate the graduation of three special Virginia Beach seniors.  They go to different schools, vary wildly in their hobbies and interests, and the main thing they have in common is their parents have studied the Bible together every other Sunday for several years.

graduation Sarah Beth Matt

Clearly, they are thrilled we are making them participate.

 

As parents, members of a church small group, and fellow Christ-followers, we wanted to provide a Rite of Passage to express our pride in them, our hopes for their future, and to mark the occasion of their arrival into adulthood.  Although they have different birth orders, talents, interests and circles of friends, we wanted to provide an intentional memory for them–no matter how awkward– where they would see there are more people who have their back than they even know.

After a yummy buffet of barbeque & fixin’s, our host gave them “Seats of Honor” and the parents said a few words.  Here is what I read to Beth:

Elisabeth Dansby

Before you were born, you kept changing directions. This is normal early on when a baby isn’t taking up much room, but once the time draws closer to birth, there is an optimal way for the baby to take position. You had other plans. In other words, it wasn’t easy but you made it out okay.

Watching you grow through the years has been a delight and at times an exhausting adventure. You bring joy and humor to our family and you are a great example of diligence, attention to detail, and a strong work ethic. You have had to grow up early in many ways and you have made some difficult yet wise decisions that will bear fruit in the years to come.

We named you Elisabeth taking your Aunt Laura’s middle name –with an “S” instead of a “Z” because you are a unique individual who does not fit into a mold.

graduation Laura Beth

Whitney, Aunt Laura and Beth in 2010

 

Dansby we chose for your middle name to honor your great grandmother “Mimi” who was a lighthouse to her family and community, a hard worker, and a somewhat irreverent but faithful and loving woman who highly valued her family.

graduation Mimi family

Mimi’s 90th birthday –Beth is the baby “in arms” over Mimi’s R shoulder.

 

You were born the week that both Mother Teresa and Lady Diana, the Princess of Wales passed away. It struck me then as it does now that the celebration of your arrival brought hope for our world upon the departure of these two amazing ladies.

I want to share a quote from each of these ladies, one very rich, and one very poor, but both with many characteristics worth emulating:

“I think the biggest disease the world suffers from in this day and age is the disease of people feeling unloved. “ ~Lady Diana Spencer

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” Mother Teresa

The verse that I want to share with you is a tutorial about love from 1st Corinthians:

“Love is patient. Love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast,

It is not proud, it is not rude.

It is not self-seeking, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things endures all things.

Love never fails.

Now these three things remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.”

Now that you are a young lady, an official adult, and a high school graduate-to-be, you have much more control over your “birth” into the world than you did as an infant. You are focused, practical, and wise beyond your years. You may change directions, as you did in the womb, or you may know exactly what you want to do and move towards that goal with lightning speed. It is up to you. We have done our best to shelter you, teach you and bring you safely to this point. We now believe your future is in your hands. We will always be here to support you, cheer you on, and love you. You have experienced heartache that many will never comprehend, and your victories have mostly been silent ones without a crowd of cheering onlookers.

graduation Hendrix

This is what brings me to today. There may not be an auditorium filled with peers hanging on your every word, or thousands of Instagram followers loving your every selfie, but please never doubt and always remember, you have influence. You have power. You are irreplaceable. You are a dangerous woman, with a pack of supportive fans praying you forward.

Walking in the Light

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March and April have passed in a blur of pollen and procrastination, but one thing I was able to accomplish was a tour of LanternAsia at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.

I was insistent we get there before dark so we could see the “Art by Day” as well as the “Magic by Night.”  This exhibit is made up of 36 handcrafted silk & steel displays highlighting traditional Asian themes replicated from China, Japan, India, Thailand, Korea, Burma and Singapore.

As we walked through the mile-long path, I was awe-struck at the handiwork, thoughtful planning and intricate execution required by such a project.  This type of exhibit dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.) **thanks Google** and is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and will only happen this spring in Norfolk.

I may never be as excited about the Garden Christmas lights ever again.

Lanternasia peacock fanlanternasia peacock

As the sun went down, the garden transformed.

Awe-inspiring craftsmanship was evident at every spot…

…and the night was filled with WONDER.

 

Toastmasters Icebreaker

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I recently joined a public speaking club at work called “Toastmasters.”  We work together in a supportive environment to help each other become better communicators.  Last week I gave my first speech, called an Icebreaker.  I mined previous blogposts for information that would help me introduce myself in 4-6 minutes.  Afterwards I got some great feedback and enough encouragement to be excited about next time!   Here is my first speech:

Listen. Focus.  Wonder.

These three verbs hold special meaning for me. Several years ago a friend gave me the book “My One Word” and challenged me to choose one word of intention for that year instead of an overwhelming list of resolutions and I have done so ever since.   I will be introducing myself using three of my recently chosen Words:  LISTEN FOCUS & WONDER.

Working in a call center was a large part of the motivation to choose the word LISTEN for 2015.  It was just over a year ago in mid-December that I became employed by USAA—my first full time job in 20 years. LISTEN was a great stretch word for me vocationally as I spent 3 months in training.  We all know how important it is to LISTEN to our members, their challenges, timelines, preferences and concerns.  The word LISTEN also benefitted me at home with Chris my husband of 25 years, and our four—you heard that right– FOUR teenagers.  Before choosing the word LISTEN I frequently offered what I considered the “helpful service” of finishing people’s sentences for them.  What can I say?  I’m a giver.  As it turns out, that particular gift is not always appropriate, appreciated, or even accurate.  Instead of “reading” people and jumping in to validate their feelings and offer an empathetic example of my own, I am newly challenged to offer my full attention and the gift of processing to the speaker.  To LISTEN shows value and respect, allowing the speaker to fully express themselves and clarify their thoughts. I also discovered the difference between “hearing” and “listening.”

Webster’s Dictionary provides this definition for listen:

“To pay attention and take something into account.” (repeat)

Did you hear that? Are you still listening?

Before LISTEN my word had been FOCUS.

As a creative, spontaneous, impulsive, social multitasker, I have a lot of fun most days. The frustrating downside comes with my tendency to   lose things, forget important details, and speak or act without thinking.   My initial motivation to choose the word FOCUS was to become more organized.  While that is still happening (gradually), I also recognized my sometimes spastic behavior was largely fueled by fear—fear of forgetting a great idea, or losing the opportunity to have an important conversation.   FOCUS could indeed help me become more organized in my thoughts and behaviors as well as my environment.

One of the definitions I found for FOCUS was

“selectively concentrating on one thing while ignoring other things.”   (repeat)

Focus led me to prioritize which led me to the reality that I cannot do it all and am wasting a lot of time trying to. I still have a front seat on the FOMO struggle bus (fear of missing out) but I focus on what I am supposed to be doing and experience relief that the rest is not my circus, not my monkeys.  There is freedom in focus!

For 2016 I chose the word WONDER. With LISTENING and FOCUS there was a heavy need for discipline.  With the demands of work and now 3 of our 4 children in college, the empty nest is staring me in the face.  I determined it was time to spend some intentional time recovering what brings me joy and inspiration.  I love to create, write & doodle but as Teen Angel sang to Frenchie in Grease “I’ve got the dream but not the drive.”  My inspiration tank is tapped and in need of refueling.  Seeking and experiencing WONDER provides a space to enjoy an intriguing moment with no immediate expectation of performance or application.  No action is required, there is nothing to emulate or capture, share or explain.  My goal for 2016 is to marinate in delight and admire the incomprehensible.  I want to be swept away in amazement.  I’d like to linger in the strange.  I hope for moments of content confusion. On many days, I’m sure WONDER may mean “I wonder where I left my keys,” but I am primed to be, as E.B. White once said, “always on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”  I encourage you to pick one word to inspire, delight or challenge yourself this year!

 

WONDER 2016

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I came across this word on the whimsical Christmas cards I purchased this year but never sent.

Merry wonder Joy

 

“Wonder” to me means inspiration without responsibility.

When elusive inspiration finally finds me and pushes me to write, create, or speak, it is usually attached to a crackling lit fuse with a demanding countdown clock urging me to ACT! SAY!  DO!  FINISH!

Like the hour-hand on a  clock,  almost imperceptively I am learning to be disciplined.  This means I must find time to create/write/sing/dance on the regular and not wait for inspiration to move me.

Wonder is different.

Wonder provides a space to enjoy an intriguing moment with no expectation. No action required, nothing to memorize or capture, nothing to even share or explain.   I’m sure wonder can result in productive activity, but for me right now in the middle of this decade, peering into 2016, WONDER means to simply experience delight and admire the incomprehensible.

I want to be swept away in amazement.

I’d like to linger in the strange.

I hope for moments of content confusion.

I revel in surprise and bewilderment.

These longings do not mix well with most essential tasks. If healthy dinners and sparkling bathrooms and clean/folded/put-away laundry could somehow be produced spontaneously, I would be crushing adulthood.

wonder minion

Alas, details and repetitive tasks drain me, turning my sparkles into gray mud and making me want to punch kittens. So I am in search of WONDER. If I could figure out a way to experience WONDER in the monotonous moments of my life, I would need no other wish.

EBwhite Wonder

I am revisiting The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron this year which encourages the “Artist Date.”

In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion ,

a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. 

You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist.

I think this is going to be my pathway to WONDER in 2016.

Cheers to 2016 — THE YEAR OF WONDER!

Final Thoughts on LISTEN

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“Listen my children and you shall hear, some words you better hold so dear.” ~Mr. Rosser, circa 1981
Ever since my 8th grade teacher Mr. Rosser uttered these words, I have needed constant reminders to listen. I much prefer being listened to.
Listen
Do you want to hear a secret?
Do you promise not to tell
oh oh oh oh closer
Let me whisper in your ear
love listen
My 2015 word has served me well this year. I have received many reminders to LISTEN, sometimes from a still small voice within and other times from the people around me.
Listen Etsy
One new skill that I have noticed developing this year is the intentional hesitation to chime in. I have realized, perhaps for the first time ever, that just because I have something to say, does not require that I do so. This is a revelation to me—having an unexpressed thought. For me this has become a huge part of listening, since the pause allows someone else the chance to speak up–quite often someone who will add something of great value.
Careful before you say, “Listen to me.” ~Into the Woods
This holding back does NOT come naturally to me and requires a whopping dose of focus, self-control and patience.  Sometimes it even means allowing an awkward silence.
Listen to your heart/when it’s calling for you
Listen to your heart/there’s nothing else you can do
I don’t know where you’re going and I don’t know why
Listen to your heart before you tell him good-bye.
I have realized something else while attempting to listen well this year.  Although I may attempt to relate to others and read their emotions in any scenario, often I am wrong in my assumptions.  We may indeed feel and express sympathy more easily than true empathy for others when the one sharing triggers a similar experience or memory within us — but no two experiences are the same.
listen kind
Empathy requires focused listening to figure out what the other person needs — which very well may differ greatly from what the listener assumes is needed, especially if a situation is not something the listener has ever experienced.
Listen to the mandolin rain/Listen to the music on the lake
Listen to my heart break/every time she runs away
Listen to the banjo wind/Sad song drifting low
Listen to the tears flow/down my face as she turns to go
I also realized something new in my quest to be a quality listener.  When I need someone to listen to me, especially to help me solve a problem–either personally or professionally —  I can simply ask someone who is knowledgeable for the help I need for any situation and quickly get an answer or an opinion.  However, sometimes my preference is to discuss or learn how to do something in addition to getting the immediate answers.  Greater still is the process of developing a relationship throughout the learning process–whether a friendship, a mentor, or cooperative creative endeavors.  I enjoy asking different people for assistance and hypotheticals and I take time to consider who I will approach based on what they know as well as how they relate and communicate to me and my learning process.  This is a powerful awareness!
wisdom listens
Reading may be the ultimate form of listening–so thank you, readers, for generously and graciously sharing your time with me by listening to my thoughts here on the Automatic7 blog.  May you all be heard and listen well!

Thoughts on Motherhood

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My friend had a baby yesterday and I could not be more excited.  I have been a mother myself for 21 years and lots of thoughts are coming to mind that I want to share for her benefit and as a reminder for all of us not-so-newbies.

  1. The focus is on the baby now that she’s here, but you are important too. You are a CHAMPION WARRIOR QUEEN and I hope you remind yourself of that truth often. YOU DID IT. You (and your husband) ((and God)) made a WHOLE NEW HUMAN BEING! Thank you for doing the very challenging work of bringing hope and joy and sweetness into this world! And thank your mom for bringing YOU into the world. Take a second and realize that all this hype over your new baby is similar to the celebration over you when YOU came into this world. Though mom gets lost in the shuffle of caretaking BIG TIME, know that you are special, important, a miracle yourself and ALSO worthy of care, swaddling, and drinking every two hours if you cry hard enough.new-baby-feet
  2. Parenting is selfless and unconditional and rewarding and also SO VERY HARD. You will be shocked at how hard it is. I mean, you already know it will be “demanding” and “overwhelming” and “a challenge” and that you’ll “never be the same.” But dude. You are about to KNOW it. Please allow yourself to admit that it is hard. Remember that mistakes are OK and we all make them and none of them will be a deal-breaker—not even if she loves musicals and hates snow. You will make this parenting thing look easy but it’s okay if it turns out to be harder than you imagined. It was/is hard for EVERYONE at times. And if it’s not hard now, then it’s about to be.mother baby bird
  3. When you are tired and he is tired and you both need sleep and there’s none happening, and we are done with all the celebrating and excitement and joy and there’s just mess and stuff and needs and sickness and responsibility, do this: breathe in & breathe out and remind yourself that you can do this. If you are feeling defeated and alone and worn and done, remember there are others who feel and have felt how you do. Tell someone, take a nap and treat yourself. bethparkerartEvery day is Mother’s Day.
  4. Reality is the most creative, beautiful, original life there is—not Pinterest. Not Facebook. Not Instagram. As addicted as we all are to the “money shots” don’t forget that it is only a fraction of what is happening in anyone’s world. In my day we only had to deal with Family Fun magazine and Woman’s Day with the smiling perfection beaming with a perfect meal on the table and a spotless home. All I had to do was not look at the magazine and/or throw it away. Now we are bombarded with perfection and its easy to lull yourself into thinking this is what everyone is experiencing except you.  Remember that Life Online has been heavily edited.  As a friend once told me, “Lift Any Roof.” Inside every. Single. Home. you will find some non-postable issue with each and every man/woman/child/family. We are all struggling but are blessed with sharable moments. Great momsKeep sharing yours, but keep others’ in perspective.
  5. Let life change. It will not be what you expected. Repeat after me: IT. WILL NOT. BE LIKE I EXPECTED. Not the outfits, not the holidays, not the photo ops, not the meals, not the body shape, not the Sunday mornings. Nothing will be like you envisioned. Let it be. It will still be great…just a different great. nailed it nails
  6. Remember how loved you are. Take the love you have for that baby every moment of every day and bask in the brand new awareness that you were created by your Creator to help Him create. He gazes over you as you gaze over that sweetie. He has big plans for you and for her but it almost doesn’t matter at the moment because of all the love. Virginia LoveFeel it. Know it. Rest in it.
  7. Congratulations and welcome to the Crazy Fun Exciting Amazing Adventurous Parenthood Club! May the force be ever in your favor as you ease on down the road. December 1, 2015 is a great day to be a family!