Forty Things

In an effort to make sense of the passing of time, and embrace the transaction taking place of youth for wisdom, I have assembled a non-comprehensive and somewhat unoriginal list of 40 things I have learned over my forty  years.

Playing cards is more fun if you wear bright red lipstick and listen to Vicki Carr. A plate of cold cuts also improves game play–especially generic thin sliced honey ham.  Aunt Helen would typically  just throw some slices on a plate straight out of the plastic container, but I always thought that was cheating. I mean, how hard is it to roll the ham into little edible tubes? Come on Helen.

May I hon? “Hon” is the official term of endearment on my mother’s side of the family.  It also makes any plea more palpable. Try it out.

“Get that for me!” (aggressive)

“Get that for me hon!”  (adorable)

A Spotify playlist can never take the place of a solid mixed tape.  I recently discovered  a treasure trove of mixed tapes from my adolescence.  Some carefully assembled with damn near professional transitions and others taken straight from the radio, with subtle static and the occassional commercial for Summer Jam.   My husband continues to tease me about my cryptic labeling. But, I know what is on every one of those tapes.  The Duality of Man is a tape my Dad made containing benign hip hop and ganster rap. Songs I Really Like to Listen to Right Now has a whole lot of Counting Crows, U2 and Radiohead on it. Then there is my neon pink and yellow tape with the label torn off, which we all know contains radio cuts of SWV,  Mint Condition and some tracks off De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising record. The point is, my labeling system is consistent.

AlwaysNeverSometimes…Life is wrought with nuance. There are very few always and nevers, and an abundance of sometimes.  Getting rid of  “You always…” and “You never…” allows for better marital problem solving and overall relational health.

I want to see other women as my sisters and not as my competitors. I am so competition averse that I actually end up thinking everything is a competition that I must avoid.  Ironically, in that scenario, everything IS a competition. My solution? I don’t have one yet. I guess that is what the next forty years is for.

Parenting is hard, but I think that’s what I like about it. When taken seriously, it begs us to come to terms with our own short comings before they take up defensive position in our young. Love is the easy part, the existential reckoning, however, is a doozy.

“Patience is a virtue, a wait won’t hurt you. In the long run, it will serve you.” (Ladies and gentleman, the musical stylings of Soul II Soul — “Our Time Has Come”) I’m not naturally patient.  This may be, in part, why I am not a skilled house keeper.  If I have to wrestle a hanger for more than 15 seconds, that garment and its demon hanger are going to end up on the ground. Although I think I have become more patient with the humans I love, I am less patient with myself and people who drive slow in front of me.

I am only responsible for my own choices. I realize this is not a new novel idea, but those of you who know me, know this is hard for me.  Really hard.  I tend to think I am responsible for everything from poverty, to traffic, to lysteria outbreaks.  I have a fun little Junior Jesus complex, as my friend Dee calls it.  Fortunately, I am not the Messiah.  In the coming decades I am going to try and focus less on single handedly solving the crisis in Syria and start by just remembering where I put my car keys.

In an argument, the first one to the cross wins. My brother-in-law, James, is the author of this life lesson and it works. When we turn towards grace, then anger starts to morph into something more like love–more like reconciliation.  This is a marital game changer. Don’t fight to win. Fight to grow.

We bring weather with us wherever we go. Uncle Kenny shared this little gem with my daughter’s 4th grade class and it stayed with me. I am capable of producing all kinds of weather systems. I aim for sunshine, but am known to bring much rain (I am a big cryer).   Occasionally, I have dropped a fat bomb cyclone on my kids, but I really try to save that for emergencies. We can’t always bring a sunny disposition but acknowledging that our mood and emotional energy affects the people we are around is important.  If we can’t being sunshine at least we can have an umbrella handy for the people who will be in contact with our stormy moods.

Pain only knows itself.  Pain is by nature self absorbed. I am much less hard on people in general having embraced this fun fact.   It also has helped me to identify when my own pain blinds me to my affect on others. Then again, how would I know, if I am blind, who my pain might be hitting?

Music changes my mood. One way or another. I can manipulate the hell out of myself with it.

Our bodies age so that we learn to let go of the physical. I was complaining to my lovely mother about the various and sundry maladies that seem to be appearing weekly, if not daily on my personage.  My mom, who is sixty two, agrees that it can be disconcerting at times, but insists that if I see it as letting go of the physical, of the trivial, of vanity, of the shell that houses my soul, I will start to see that I am growing into eternity.  Just like I had  to get really, really pregnant and uncomfortable before I was not only wiling, but desperate to push a human being out of my body– our bodies need to decline, so our souls can grow out of them. I am exchanging my body for my eternity.  Seems like a pretty impressive exchange, except that the very concept of time and eternity makes my head want to explode…so the exchange seems mildly terrifying albeit a sweet deal.

Steeping garlic and tarragon in simmering milk and then pouring it over a bed of spring onions and crisped chunks of herbed bread and then smothering it with guerre cheese is…just….just…(insert extended guttural utterance indicating bliss here). Thanks for this Momma.

Oh, to be not a sponge, or a shield, but a container.  I am naturally spongy.  I will emotionally absorb the hell out of whatever human is near me, be it family or the lady on the elevator.  It is an unfortunate gift.  My over active empathy gland can be a real jerk.  However, my dear friend Chris Holowaty, told me that it is better to be a container.  Sponges absorb what is not theirs.  Shields deflect and can hurt others in defense of their own heart, but a container collects and pours out.  This is where faith in God comes in handy.  I have a place to pour it. As a mother, having a containment policy is handy.  It cuts down (not out) on crying spells and tongue lashings.  Working on fortifying my container and preventing spillage.

Mascotting is not for sissies. See Sparkygate 2017 for details.

I am blessed to have kids but I do not have so many dang kids because I am blessed.  I have known far too many couples who deserved babies and were never able to have them, and too many others who had them and did not value the privilege. It is a lie from the pit of hell (as my mother would say) that children are a sign of blessing.  They are not merit awards. They are not bonus checks.  (Although, according to Mike they are a little like a time shares. You aren’t sure what you are signing up for when you “attend the meeting”– if you know what I mean.)   Children are not an indicator of worthiness. They are a gift to those who choose to take up the mantle of parenthood. It is the experience of helping a child grow up and out into the world that is the blessing. Too heavy handed? Probably, but I can’t help it. My hand feels like a thousand pounds right now.  All muscle.

Always give it to Marshawn on the 1 yard line.

Monitor and Adjust.   When life gives you four kids…

Present Heather should help Future Heather.  My husband is a master at this skill. He is always considering how his future self will feel about his choices.  Particularly in the area of product placement.  Need a flashlight? Past Mike is on it. Need some hot coco in appallingly cold weather conditions?  Mike knew you would.  Marshmallows or no marshmallows is his only questions. Some say, stay in the present. Mike says, that’s fine…but what about future you. That guy would like to avoid getting screwed. I fail future Heather on the regular, and beat the shit out of past Heather for sport.  I am working on being nicer to past Heather and more thoughtful of what future Heather might need.

Hot chocolate is better with chili in it and yet very few coffee establishments want to serve it to me this way. Where is the justice in that?

Blessed Self Forgetfulness. Tim Keller made a strong point that conceit and insecurity are two sides of the same coin.  Both come as a result of comparing ourselves to others.  Either we think we are downright more awesome  and get prideful or find ourselves ‘lacking and get depressed.  I am a undercover comparer shrouded in an “I don’t care how I look” bodysuit.  I have lackluster leg structure.  I joke about it a lot and stay as casual and unassuming fashion-wise  as possible to draw attention away from them. In other words, I am noticing your legs–and I am wishing they were mine.  But, the problem isn’t my legs, or yours.  The problem is that I am thinking about MY legs so much, instead of nurturing them and being grateful they exist at all. Trying to think less about myself all together makes me feel kinder, more authentic and more loving. (But, if I could safely get a ankle transplant I might….MIGHT)

Growing things change and changing things grow. Mom strikes again. We can’t grow without being willing to change, and we cannot change unless we are willing let go of what we were.

One way to get your kids to start eating something other than dino shaped chicken nuggets and cereal is to teach them to cook dinner.  I do not understand the science behind this, but for some reason, if I make my young sautéed mushrooms in a rosemary wine reduction, they act like I am asking them to eat garbage, but they will eat overcooked herbed carrot fries by the handful if it is their handiwork.

Marriage requires nudity.  I don’t like being completely naked (See Mount Olympus). It’s just not my thing. I practice a sort of primitive snap chat.   I like to be in control of lighting and coverage at all times, so as to emphasize the elements of my birthday suit I fancy most.  Being nude for me, is like taking live selfies without editing options. However, marriage  asks that we take off everything and show ourselves both figuratively and literally without filters.  If we keep parts hidden (physically or emotionally) because we find them unattractive, we can be together but we can’t be as close as we were intended to be.

If you can’t make it good, make it memorable.  Pretty much every blog I have ever written has been about this. If I could tattoo it to my forehead without looking weird I would.

Feelings don’t get hurt, but egos do. Tim Keller told me, via the internet, that when my  “feelings are hurt” it is actually my pride that has been wounded. I am hurt that I am not who I thought I was, or who I wanted you to think I was.  I am wildly sensitive and easily hurt, so apparently I have an ego the size of Texas. Maybe that is why I invented my alter ego Tonya.

Space Dust IPA is truth serum. Healthy in small doses.

Hearts either break apart or break open.  I have heard this put in several ways, and have no spin, just recognition. Hearts that break apart tend to hurt others. Hearts that break open, grow and strengthen.

Prayer is a strange and wonderful thing. Sometimes I pray and I am pretty sure I am talking to myself.  Sometimes I pray and I am actually talking to who I am praying with. Sometimes I pray and I am merely complaining. Sometimes I am  begging. Sometimes I just scream at God as loud as I can. Sometimes all I can do is breathe, and that ends up being my prayer. Sometimes I pray and I fall apart. Sometimes I pray and I get put back together. Sometimes I pray and don’t feel anything. Sometimes I pray only because I think I am supposed to.  Sometimes I pray and nothing happens.  Sometimes I pray and it all makes sense. Sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes I am okay with the mystery.  Sometimes I am not.  Sometimes it becomes very clear to me, that God is real and so I will keep on praying.

Peace comes from a quiet mind, entertaining no hypothetical bind.  This is a line from a song my sister wrote. It has become a mantra for me since I not only have a very noisy mind but I am incredible at coming up with dangerous and sinister hypotheticals. It is a dark gift.  I have taught this lyrical mantra to my children in an effort to counter their worries and assuage my own.

Struggle changes us one way or another. It either makes us bitter, or it makes us wise. Either way we change. Another Keller wonder-thought to think upon.

When preparing a meal whose origins are of another land, it is imperative to listen to the music of that land whilst cooking.  For example, I love to prepare enchiladas to the musings of  the Gypsy Kings.  Making Cordon Bleu? I suggest the Amelie soundtrack. If I could govern my own country, I would make this a law, punishable in no way, but a law just the same.

Govern yourselves or you will be governed.   My mom’s dear friend taught her this one.  It is wildly effective on unruly youth since they are generally not fans of governance.

Even Mother Teresa struggled with doubt and depression. That thought used to terrify me.  If Mother Teresa doubted God and his kindness, being the saint that she was, then aren’t we all screwed? But, after a great deal of consideration, I have come to this. What kind of human would she have been if she did not struggle with those things– having witnessed that degree of suffering.   Only the coldest of hearts would not break. It brings me peace to know it is okay to wonder. To not understand.  To love God and love people anyway.

Mumus solve everything. They level the playing field.  It is like fashion communism. An equal distribution of fabric.

I would like to be a pastor for a day and give a sermon with bullet points derived entirely from the movie Elf. 

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  I am okay with the neighbor part I think. Although, poor Dave and Marilyn, next door, pretty much only see me if I need sugar.  But, I am not too adept at the self love. I think I have been a little put off by the idea that people need to love themselves more.  We modern folks love the hell out of ourselves to a fault.  But, my friend Jenah put a spin on this that was helpful. She told me that when she wakes up in the morning, she looks in the mirror and says I love you, how can I help you today?How can I take care of you so we can go out there and fight the good fight. This makes self love about being our best so we can be available to others, not so we can supplant their needs.  So, I shall implement this policy…but perhaps I will make it an end of the day love chat. I am not a morning person, and I don’t really like anyone until about 8:30am.

The truth really will set you free. An honest marriage is infinitely more beautiful and sustainable than one with secrets.   Mike and I call it the full knowing.  Those seasons of reveal can be painful, but without them we can not deepen our root system or protect our nest.

Very few arguments are worth winning. My dad is endlessly fun and light hearted, but he is also a deep well. Every once in a while he will casually say something ridiculously poignant. That is probably what makes him such a great song writer. He can simplify the profound. He made this point in regards to marriage, but I think it applies to encounters of every kind.  Social media debates are a great illustration. People will fight to the cyber death with a stranger in Iowa, to “win”.  They will tear their mystery opponent apart if need be–attacking their position, their grammar, their profile picture, their character, all in the name of winning.  There are causes worth fighting for, but not every cause is a calling and very few injustices can be rectified through “arguing”.  I have been in my fair share of debates.  And a few were even worth my while, but most devolved into something other than progress.  As I get older, I want to lift people up,  not just call them out.

Build up the library of your heart.  Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.~ Psalm 90:12  The term wise up is fascinating. We think of it like, get your head in the game, or you better recognize–but, in the biblical sense, I think it might  mean, build up the library of your heart.   Store up truth and goodness, so that when things fall apart, you can put yourself back together again. And boy, do I fall apart sometimes. Usually, because my hormones have staged a mutiny on my soul, or because I didn’t take the high road, or I am in the midst of sub par parenting episode.  I am not immune to a good old fashion melt down, but the more expansive my library–the less often I lose structural integrity and the more I can be strong for others.   If you love Wisdom and don’t reject her, she will watch over you” –Proverbs 4:6.

Forty is the new 39.  

CHALLENGE:  Mike Pasley, you are it! What are your forty things?