On finding my place

Discover Challenge: Finding your place

I have a confession: I have never felt like I “belong”.  As a kid, I never understood other kids. I didn’t like to play the same things, and I didn’t like the same entertainment.

The first book I remember reading was Jurassic Park — I was 7.  After that, I read all of Michael Crichton’s books and learned all I could about the science proposed in the books.  Other kids my age were reading about the adventures of Ramona and Nancy Drew while I was reading everything I could about genetics and wondering if we could really make dinosaurs from mosquitoes and if aliens were making us sick.  When I was 10, my favorite shows were ER and Days of our Lives, not Rugrats or Doug like the other kids my age (funny enough, I had an affinity for Barney though).  At school, I had no clue about what my peers were discussing, but I knew all about Ross and Carol’s breakups and makeups and who was killed this week on Days.

Things didn’t get any better as I got older.  Around age 13, after a tornado scare, I became obsessed with the weather and the weather channel.  Now, this wasn’t the weather channel of today with series and specials.  It was 24/7 weather.  When I was home, I stopped whatever I was doing every 10 minutes to see what was new on “Weather on the 8s” so I could analyze the radar.  I was such a weird kid.

In addition to my weird entertainment habits, I didn’t have a very stable home life.  I didn’t live with my mother until I was almost 10, and remember hoping it was the start of “normal”.  I remember thinking that finally, I’d have chores and rules and all of the other things people had on the TV land shows I stayed up all night watching after grandma had gone to bed.  Things didn’t turn out quite like I imagined.  While I didn’t have a chore chart, I did at times become the primary caregiver for my little family; a task my little sister and I took turns with.  The other kids were worried about who they were inviting to their birthday parties and I was wondering if there would be electricity when I got home. These things made me very grown very early and so I couldn’t relate with others my age at all.

All of these things gave me a very strange and independent personality.  Even as a child, I was very reluctant to ask for help.  When I was in the 5th grade, I attended a school outside my district and had to ride the city bus to school.  Well, one day, I lost my bus money and instead of telling an adult, took my sister’s hand and started walking the 5 miles home.  My teacher stopped us and took us home and told me to NEVER do that again, to come back to the school and tell someone. Well, the next time I lost my money, I was “smart” and took side roads home so we wouldn’t get caught.  We made it home that time,  but this ” I can handle it” attitude became very ingrained, so when things were bad, I just kept it to myself.

Being an outsider made me very good at pretending.  Pretending to like the things others liked, pretending to understand the struggles of being a kid, and pretending everything was okay.  When you spend all of your time pretending, it’s hard to grown into an individual because you just have to become those who you’re around and because you don’t want anyone to know how bad things are, you don’t really connect with anyone.  You don’t really belong in any “group” because you don’t know who you really are. It’s really hard to find your place in the world.

I’m not saying that I spent all of these years alone.  Throughout my life, I have had the greatest friends a girl could wish for, but I always had the feeling I was being who people wanted me to be.

Somewhere along the way, I found me.  I can’t really pinpoint when it happened, but I became a mix of all of those people and groups that I was part of for so many years. I became this quirky person who can adapt to any situation and find the good in all things. I am never out of place no matter if I’m dining with millionaires or serving at a soup kitchen. I am just as comfortable in a formal dress at a fancy dinner as I am in my boots and ball-cap in the sheep pasture. In a crisis, I am the voice of reason.  I became a confident problem solver and the one people turn to when they need answers or rescue.  I love who I have become and I wouldn’t change one thing in my life because I have found my place in the world; it’s everywhere! I belong wherever I am with whoever is there!


On life’s questions

Weekly Challenge: Tough Questions

Why? If you have ever had a four-year-old, then you are very familiar with this question because you likely hear it 587 times a day.  You know the kind of questions I’m talking about: Why is the sky blue? Why can’t I catch the wind? Why doesn’t the dog have to poop in the potty?  While these type of questions will drive you crazy, you are the person they trust most in the world and, to them, you know everything. These are questions you can answer, and you do so in many ways – you have to keep it interesting.  So, sometimes you will be silly.  Have you ever told your kid that thunder is just the angels having a bowling tournament? Enjoy this because as they get older, the questions get harder and harder to answer.

Most likely, before they are ten-years-old, someone in their young life will die; it could be a grandparent, a favorite teacher, or a friend.  One night, you’ll be tucking them in to bed and as you lean down to kiss them good night, they will once again ask you why.  Why did they die?  You are still the person they trust most and the one they turn to figure out the world.  If your family is religious, you might say that God needed another angel and tell them you’ll see them again one day.  If you’re not, maybe you’ll explain the circle of life and how everything goes back into the earth to replenish what we’ve taken from it.  With both scenarios, you’ll encourage them to cherish the memories they have and to focus on life.

When they are sixteen, someone will break their heart. They will come to you and ask why? Why does it hurt so much?  You will tell them the story of your first love and your first broken heart. You will assure them that with time, the pain will ease; that one day, they will find the person that shows them what true love really feels like.

When they are in their early twenties, they will come to you and ask why. Why can’t I figure out what to do with my life?  You will encourage them to find their passion. You will listen as they talk about writing, history, programming, or engineering.  You will see their excitement when they explain their subject.  When they ask why they aren’t good enough because they are turned down for job after job, you will encourage them to keep trying because the right one is out there.

A few years later, they will call you in the middle of the night and ask you Why.  Why is this baby still crying?  You might giggle a little bit and once again offer the assurance that this won’t last forever. You’ll remind them that babies grow very quickly into toddlers and toddlers in to children and before they know it, they will be answering a phone call just like this one.

When they are in their forties and their spouse decides they are ready for a different life, you’ll be there.  You’ll be there for whatever they need.  Late one night, after they’ve put the kids to bed, they’ll call you and once again ask why.  Why do I still love them after everything they’ve done to me? After all, you’re still the one they need, the one they’ll always need to help them figure out the world. You’ll tell them that they are allowed to feel whatever they need to for as long as they need to. You’ll remind them of that very first heartbreak so many years ago and how, one day, the hurt was just gone. You’ll encourage them to take this time to figure out who they are now; to learn who they are without their spouse. You’ll be the hand they need when they can’t juggle it all and the shoulder they need while they try to figure it all out.

One day, they will get a call; a call to come quickly because your end is near.  When they get there, they will take your hand and ask one last question.  How.  How will I ever make it without you? You will look into their teary, questioning eyes and grip their hand with all the strength you can gather.  You will tell them that they will be okay and you wouldn’t be going if it wasn’t time.  You wouldn’t be going if you hadn’t answered all of their questions.

When they get home they will go to check on the kids one last time before bed.  When they are tucking the last one in she will look up and ask them why? Why did you die? They will climb in the bed and take her into their arms and say, “Let me tell you what a really wise person once told me…..”

On the strangeness of life

Life is weird; it’s mystical. What I mean my mystical is that we can never fully understand it.  Think about the last time something changed you.  It’s probably hard to pin down because often the things that change us the most seem insignificant when they happen; it’s only when we look back that we see what truly transpired.

For as long as I can remember, whenever someone has asked me what superpower I would have if I could pick one, my answer has been the ability to read minds. I know it makes me seem like I’m nosy and just want to be in everyone’s business, but that’s not it at all. I want to understand people. I want to understand what makes people who they are. I want to know why they work in the jobs they they do, why they give their time to certain things, and mostly why they treat people the way they do.

What I have learned, and I’m sure others have figured this out too, is that it’s often the unpleasant things in life that make us who we are.  I say unpleasant because “good” and “bad” are too hard to define; however, it’s not too hard to define when something is unpleasant to us.  I went shopping with a friend a few days ago and we were talking about my unusually high self confidence. I pretty much think I can do anything. It made me think about how I have come to be this way.

I told her that I can point to the exact time period when I went from fearful of failure and caring what people thought to my current attitude of confidence and apathy toward other people’s feelings about me. It wasn’t a huge thing really, I had to move and didn’t want to, but that was absolutely devastating to my teenage self. Years later, I’m glad it happened.

Here, I explain how the death of a friend and my treatment of her before her death, changed the way I treat people.  Although it was a big thing, it’s also a common thing as death is more common than anyone likes. While I am not glad to have lost my friend, it made me a better person and I will forever be in her debt.

Have you ever though about going back and changing things? What else would those things have changed? What good would you lose if you changed the bad?  As for me, I wouldn’t change any of the unpleasantness of my life, because it has made me who I am, and I like me. That may sound prideful, but it’s me – take it or leave it. The truth is, we are all who we are because of what we have experienced.  Everything changes something; how we look at that something is what determines whether that change will be for the better.

If you can point to a pivotal moment and wish to share please do.  What “little” things have made you who you are?


On Cheating

I am a non-traditional student at a small, private liberal arts university.  As you can imagine, I feel somewhat out of place among the 18-20 year old students that roam the hallways.  Typically, I enjoy my time in the classroom, but this week, I faced a situation that just pissed me off.

A few days ago, I was sitting in a class waiting for the professor to arrive to administer an exam.  The professor was a few minutes late, so I was reviewing my notes one last time and minding my own business. This particular classroom has tables and I sit at the front table near the isle.  Rarely do I turn around, so I honestly can’t tell you who else is in the class even after 14 weeks together. Usually, I mind my own business and ignore any insidious conversations I overhear about drunken weekends and “mean” professors, but that day the conversation wasn’t about any of that.  It was about cheating.

To be specific, from what I could tell, students from the tables behind and beside me were discussing their cheating techniques.  In fact, I’m pretty sure they were passing around a copy of the exam we were about take.  They were discussing exactly the height to keep your phone or paper so it wasn’t visible to the professor through the table top and the kick plate (or whatever that thing is I prop my feet on) and how they never take an honest exam.

I was stunned, and at a loss about what to do.  I was all at once angry and feeling like a fish out of water.  Ethics are kind of a big deal to me.  I believe in fairness and justice.  I spend hours a day preparing for my classes, as do many of my classmates.  We spend time reading the assigned materials, studying for exams, and writing papers.  They say it takes 3 hours out of class for every hour in class and I have found that to be true for a lot of my classes, so I do it.  School is not the only thing in my life either.  I have a herd of sheep and I volunteer at my local humane society and with various other non-profits which all takes a significant amount of time, so this “I didn’t have time” doesn’t hold a lot of water in my book.

The class I’m talking about now requires very little effort.  It’s a freshmen level class that requires almost nothing outside of class.  Basically if you show up and copy the slides, you’ve got it made.  The professor gives a fairly comprehensive study guide and makes every effort to answer questions about the material.  This professor wants students to pass.  Still, these students felt the need to cheat.  The funny thing is, that most of them attend every class.  EVERY. SINGLE. CLASS. What they are doing during lectures I don’t know because in that class, if you pay any attention, you can pass with minimum effort.  To make matters worse, it’s a multiple choice test.  Just by guessing, they could do pretty well, yet they risk a zero and being kicked out to take a shortcut.  I really don’t understand it at all.

As I said, I was in an ethical pickle.  Did I report the overheard conversations, or just mind my own business?  I ended up taking my exam and sending an email later because, like I said, I feel an ethical obligation towards fairness.  I know that there are students in that class who struggle to get good grades, as there are in every class, but they do the work and do the best they can — without cheating.  In the end, it doesn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, because these students are only hurting themselves.  In a few short years, they will be in the real world where cheating can lead to more than a zero and a trip to the dean’s office.  It’s true that they probably won’t be taking many multiple choice tests once they leave college, but they will have reports to file and presentations to give or any number of things.

There is one thing they will definitely need for their future that they are obviously lacking – integrity.  They will need to be someone others can trust or no amount of education will help them get ahead.  Someone who can’t be trusted to take an exam certainly can’t be trusted to manage other people or run a business with any kind of integrity.  I hope for their sake that this professor gave a different exam than they were expecting because maybe they will learn that, like we learned from the Donner Party, shortcuts just aren’t worth it.

On Shame

The two main part of speech are nouns and verbs.  Nouns are people, places and things, and verbs are actions – things we do.  Shame is a word that can be both a noun and a verb.  It can be a thing or an action.

Have you ever felt ashamed? That feeling you get when you know you’ve done something wrong. That feeling that makes you want to crawl into yourself and disappear. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes from within because it helps keep us in check. Hopefully, it keeps us from hurting others too much. Shame as a feeling is a noun. It has substance and purpose. It is a thing. As a noun it means embarrassment or discomfort.

Shame as a verb means to humiliate, to mortify. Recently, shaming has become a popular thing. We fat shame, slut shame, and poor shame.  We humiliate and mortify each other. For what? To make ourselves morally superior? To show how “Christian” we are?

What got me thinking about shame are graphics like these:

They get shared on our Facebook pages and people don’t really think about how they might affect others. Think about it. Think about how it feels to open up your Facebook news feed and see this stuff if you are a person who, even though you try your best, can’t feed your family without food stamps.  You know, if your one of the more than half of people on food stamps who work.  How do you think it feels to the guy who searches everyday for a job or the man who worked in a factory for 20 years only to be replaced by a computer?  How does our shaming help those people? What does it do?

Seeing poverty as a moral problem is a practice older than the United States.  I’ve been doing a research paper on poverty in Early America and I find that our views today on poverty haven’t changed much in the last 250 years.  (For more on my views about poverty, feel free to read this)  People say that if someone is poor, it must be because of sin or something else of their own doing. You know what? People use to say the same thing about illness. Would you post about cancer or ALS being the sufferers own fault? No, people don’t do that because we know better now. We know that illness isn’t a moral issue it’s a physical issue. We now know that mental illness isn’t caused by demons. We need to apply this thinking to poverty as well. Considering that the poorest parts of this nation are in the Bible Belt which has the highest rate of church attendance and the most people claiming to be Christians, it seems odd that poverty would be a morality problem.

But the Bible says…….
Yes, the Bible says lots of things that can be taken completely out of context.  My favorite is “work or you shouldn’t eat.”  Have you ever looked at the rest of that chapter? Paul is reminding people that just because the Lord was going to return quickly, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our normal everyday things until He does.  The proverbs, written by the son of a king who never wanted or worked for anything, are used to shame people.  Do you know what else the Bible says about the poor?

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.

I could keep going, but I’m sure if you can find verses condemning the poor, you can find more that say to help them.

The Bible also has a lot to say about how we speak to others…

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

See, when we shame others for having less than us, we are putting ourselves above them. We are not following the example Christ gave us.  Christ, above all, was humble. He lowered himself because he knew that humility leads to honor.  As Christians, we are to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”

So, does “shaming” have a place?  When should we shame others? We should call attention to people who harm others. We should shame the rapist. We should shame the racist. We should shame those who hurt children and animals. We should shame those who oppress the poor. Those people need to be made aware that we will not stand by and let them hurt others. We should always be a voice against those who do harm.

Friends, we can stop hurting others with our words. We have control over what we say to and about others. We choose  everyday what kind of person we are going to be. Can we not just choose  to be kind, compassionate, and humble? Can we choose words that build people up – not tear them down? Can we choose to help and not hurt? If we all choose to not let any harmful words pass through our lips or on to our Facebook pages, how much better would this world be?

Before you post things, think about everyone who sees your Facebook page? Is anyone struggling to make ends meet? I’m talking about people you know; your family, friends, people you go to church with. Has anyone been laid off and is desperately searching for a job? Think about them when you post things. Try to put yourselves in their shoes before you shame them, before you mortify them, before you humiliate them. Try to see things from the perspective of those hearing what you say or reading what you post. Maybe then the world will become a little bit more kind.

I’ll leave you with this…


On Being Poor

In 1833, publisher and economist Mathew Carey wrote a series of essays titled “Appeal to the Wealthy of the Land, Ladies as Well as Gentlemen, on the Character, Conduct, Situation, and Prospects of Those Whose Sole Dependence for Subsistence Is on the Labor of Their Hands.”  He dedicated this pamphlet “as a small mark of approbation of their Liberality, humanity, and fostering care, directed towards the relief of a large, oppressed, and suffering class of females, whose case often presents scenes of distress, to which nothing but ocular demonstration could secure credit, in a country far more prosperous than any other portion of the habitable globe.”  Wow! That’s a mouth full for sure, but in all of those fancy words, Mr. Carey made a keen observation – people in America, this new country full of opportunity and prosperity, were too poor.  Sadly, they still are.

I have been firmly in the middle class ever since striking it out on my own.  I’m one of the lucky people that was able to get out of abject poverty.  As an adult, I’ve never worried about where I would sleep and I’ve never gone hungry.  I’ve always had the ability to pack up my things and move when the mood struck and that often meant crashing on couches and spare rooms until I figured out where the next road would take me.  Currently, I could decide to move to a dozen different states and about five countries without much planning because I’ve got a friend or two who would accept me with open arms.  Mobility is one of the marks of the middle class; the ability to change, hopefully for the better, your situation.   People who live in poverty and only know others who are in the same situation don’t have that ability.  They are stuck in whatever situation they are in with no power to change it.

As I mentioned earlier, 1833 America had the same problem as 2016 America — once a person became poor, by birth or circumstances, they usually stayed that way.  Mr. Carey was one of the few people of his time who believed that it was everyone’s responsibility to try solve the poverty problem – through direct assistance and fair labor practices. (Sound familiar?).

In his pamphlet, he mentions 4 arguments that the middle and upper classes gave against helping the poor.
1. That every man, woman, and grown child (over 8), able and willing to work may find employment.
2. That the poor, by industry, prudence, and economy, may at all times support themselves comfortably, without depending on charitable aid, from said employment.
3. That their sufferings and distresses chiefly, if not wholly, arise from their idleness, their dissipation (waste), and their extravagance.
4. That taxes for the support of the poor, and aid afforded them by charitable individuals, or benevolent societies, are harmful, as, by encouraging the poor to depend on them, they foster their idleness and improvidence, and thus produce, or at least increase, the poverty and distress they are intended to relieve.

Does that list sound familiar?  Of course we no longer expect 8 year-old children to work    ( 16 is apparently a good age to start supporting the family), but the rest certainly seem to still fit in with America’s view of the poor.  How many times have you heard people say that the poor are just lazy? What about wasteful? How about drunks and drug addicts?  According to The Kairos Center, 48% of the US population are considered low income or impoverished.  That means one out of every two people have very uncertain futures.

While 48% of the population don’t, or barely, make enough to live off of, only 23% of the population receives some form of public assistance.  What’s even more shocking is that 56% of those recipients are employed.  That’s over half! That means that almost 20% of American workers don’t make enough to fully support themselves.  The “lazy” argument doesn’t really hold up, does it (I’m talking to you GOP)?

“They’re spending it on drugs” you say.  Well, actually not so much.  A few states have tried implementing drug testing programs for recipients.  It turns out that these states wasted tons of money for a statistically insignificant amount of positive results.  So, no they’re not a bunch of drug addicts.  “But, they’ll become dependent on the system.” Again, no.  Over half of all people who receive assistance come off of the programs within 2 years.  People don’t want to “live off of the system”.

I can hear you asking me what the problem is then.  Its the same thing it was in 1833.  Wages.  Mr. Carey lays it all out.  In 1833 a day laborer, with his wife and children all working, could expect to make $156 per year.  That same laborer could expect his expenses to be $166.21 per that same year.  That left a $10.21 deficit if all of them were able to work 365 days a year – these were not 40 hour work weeks either; such luxuries didn’t exist.  Today, if a person making minimum wage works 40 hours a week 52 weeks a year, he or she will make $15,080 a year.  Again this is assuming that they take no days off ever.  If their rent is $500 a month, which is a low ball number for most areas, then almost half of their income is almost gone and that doesn’t even count what they pay for utilities.  Can you see where I’m going here?  They are in the same situation as laborers almost 200 years ago.  How do we fix this?  Getting a higher paying job isn’t the answer because, according to the jobs report, 60% of all jobs being created pay minimum wage.

I find myself asking this question a lot, but how is this still okay?  How can we, as a nation, decide that almost half of all Americans are not deserving of financial security.  We have to either raise the minimum wage or expand assistance programs.  Period.  We can’t continue to pretend there is “nothing we can do.”  We can fight poverty with legislation.  We can raise the minimum wage.  We can implement a system of Universal Healthcare.  We can offer assistance for childcare.  We can make getting a college education more affordable.  There IS a lot we can do.  We just seem think that some people are more worthy than others and that everyone should be able to make it on their own no matter what the wages are.  Well America, you’re wrong and in the words of Mathew Carey, “This is one of those decisive facts which ought to silence unnecessary objections for ever on this important subject” – we are letting down 48% of the population and its not okay.

If you disagree with me, check out what the Department of Labor has to say on what will happen to our economy if we raise the minimum wage.