Sunday, March 30, 2014

Thou Shalt Not

We all know them.  We've seen them embroidered on pillow cases, etched in stone, and laminated on our bible bookmarks.  The 10 commandments were some of the first words in the Old Testament that people could relate to.  I mean, how hard is it to not murder or covet your neighbor's ox?  To avoid sounding blasphemous, let me explain.  We are a rules based society.  We crave guidance and restriction on all of the things in our life.

I find rules quite primitive.  I understand their purpose as they keep us from creating chaos where free-will lies.  Without rules, we are left to our own devices, many of which cause harm to ourselves or others.  For this reason, rules and I have a mutual agreement.  I value them for the important stuff and they value my ability to challenge a rigid life by following every rule ever written.  In case you were wondering, it is IMPOSSIBLE to follow them all.

I often watch in wonder as friends, family and colleagues spin themselves in a mess by their constant efforts to get everything right.  Its just not possible folks.  I am often asked, "How do you get it all done?"  The fact of the matter is...I don't.  And I'm ok with that.  I understand there are ramifications from rule-breaking, but when the ole scale of pros vs. cons comes out, the free spirit in me wins out every time.  I simply don't desire the stress and predictability that come with a procedural life.

I was raised in a very conservative home in a super liberal area.  One thing I learned very quickly was that all people didn't see things the way I did.  A harder lesson in that was to grow to a point where I saw value in people that were not like me.  I'm sure I was the source of lengthy prayer vigils by my parents and loved ones, but I was more intrigued by the human spirit and the lessons I could learn about the Lord from them.

One of my favorite examples of this is from a story when I was around 12 years old.  We lived in a large, brick farmhouse.  My parents often rented the upstairs to tenants to help supplement the household expenses.  I can remember vividly memories of going to the top of the stairs and laying by our tenant's door so I could smell the smoke from his pipe.  I realize now how strange this seems, but in my life, I never knew a man who smoked a pipe and I found it fascinating.  Upon further investigation, I found him to be an extremely intelligent man with a lifetime of experiences all over the world.  I loved to see him sit in his "smoking chair" while he read or wrote.  I imagined that he might be the smartest man on earth.

I have since met many folks that would classify as smarter, but what I learned from him was the art of learning.  He modeled for a 12 year old girl that the need for learning never ended.  It sparked something in me that still resonates today.  I often sense the need for a quiet moment to frame my knowledge, reflect on it, and then express my views on what I learned with no real purpose or restriction.

As I sit on the eve of my 40th birthday, a swirl of expressions seem quite fitting.  I reflect on the past and how it has framed the person I am today.  I marinate in the present, knowing that life will never be quite like it is today.  I dream about the future and what it holds for me and my family.  In classic AO style, I find myself goal setting for the next 40 years.

A Quite Unorthodoxed List of "Thou Shalt Nots" for the next 40 years
(Not to be mistaken for a list of rules to follow)

Thou Shalt Not Wear Doc Martens

I admit it.  In my youthful life, I had a pair of Doc Marten Mary Jane brown leather shoes.  They were the most comfortable shoes that travelled some pretty weary roads.  The year before I became an administrator, the strap broke on my beloved Docs.  It was probably perfect timing as I quickly transitioned to high heels and belted dresses.  As the old saying goes, "You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl."  I'm not much of a country girl, but I am a girl who longs to wear Doc Martens and jam out at a concert with some awesome music.  Even in a high-profile job, I find myself expressing that Doc Marten side often.  What I have found is that I don't need a pair of shoes anymore.  That music-loving, free spirit still makes an appearance frequently even while wearing her black patten leather heels and matching jewelry.  I love that part of me and hope I can always see glimpses of her regardless of what shoes I'm wearing.

Thou Shalt Not Refuse Turkey and Dressing

My dad ruined Thanksgiving for my entire life.  Its true.  One night, I sat at my kitchen table until very late refusing to eat the turkey and dressing that was for dinner.  My dad was pacing around the house telling me how people in Ethiopia were starving.  You can imagine my response to this - I calculated how much it would cost to mail my cold turkey and dressing to those hungry people.  My mom, on the other hand, was playing the peace maker role and trying to love me enough to make me WANT to eat all of the food on my plate.  I finally gave in and ate several bites before I threw up the entire meal all over the kitchen.  I have never liked Thanksgiving dinner since.  While I will probably never get over my distain for tryptophan or corn bread shredded up with nasty stuff, there is a part of me that recognizes the need for flexibility.  Yes, I admit it.  I'm stubborn.  Over the years, I have found myself choosing battles.  Sometimes I choose the right ones and other times, I choose ones I have no business hunkering down at the table on.  It usually leaves me with a cold plate of food and an upset stomach.  While the fighter in me will never die, I hope my years lived will guide my perseverance to fight with purpose and not with tired emotion.

Thou Shalt Not Stand in Line

I read a text last week that irritated me.  I quickly realized the reason I was bothered was because it came from someone that didn't really know me, but had given his advice regardless.  It is all too easy to listen to the advice of others and change your compass frequently.  As I have outlined in this lengthy post, I am not a "Stand in Line" kinda gal.  I thrive on the relationships in my life that help me grow to be a better person.  I try, with all my might, to be the best wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, family member and employee that I can be.  I fail.  Everyday.  The constant falling from mis-trys has skinned my knees.  Oftentimes, it has left scars.  The thing is, I am perfectly ok with it.  It is most important to me that I act in kindness and love in all that I do without compromising my core.  Its a constant balancing act that I don't take lightly.  There are times when I speak harshly to my husband or over-correct my kids.   There are also times when I express my unconditional love when its not due or display patience when my rope is thin.  I challenge myself in this life, to do the best I can, learn from my mistakes, and never stand behind someone just for the sake of standing.

Thou Shalt Not Sit on the First Pew

Growing up as a pastor's daughter is tough.  You are constantly under the microscope and understand fully the ramifications of every decision you make.  I spent many Sundays on the first pew at my dad's church, Flint Creek Church of God.  Each week, a movie reel of mistakes would flood my mind reminding me of every single sin I had witnessed that week.  I am thankful for this time as it provided me a strong spiritual foundation.  Simply stated, I learned to pray through my inadequacies to the only person that could forgive me of them.  Those prayers continued through my journey at a small Christian college where everyone knew you, but many misunderstood you.  It was in the balcony at Lee College that I realized the most important factor in salvation.  While many focus on the "Thou Shalt Nots" all he asks of us is to focus on the "Thou Shalts."  My craving with a personal, REAL relationship with my savior surrounds my core being.  I am thankful that he loves me and that he gave his life for me.  I'm not sure I could do the same.

I would be remiss if I didn't close with a few thank yous.

*Thank you to my husband for taking every step with me.  Its not easy.  Its not a fairy tale.  Its real life.  You will always be my missing piece.
*Thank you to my parents for falling in love 42 years ago.  You have given me space while molding me at the same time.  I'm sorry I didn't always see it that way.
*Thank you to Lily and Tate for showing me that the best things in life come from God's way.  I couldn't imagine my life with you and now I can't imagine breathing without you.
*Thank you to all of you, family and lifetime friends.  To say that you change my life daily, would be an understatement.  I thrive on knowing you.
*Most importantly, thank you to a savior who forgives and models love.  I hope I make you proud.

And with that, I bid farewell to my 30s.  Looking forward to rocking another 40!


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

AO's Simple Guide to Great Things in Life

I looked in every small shop on every side street all over the city. It had to be just right. And then, there it was, sitting on a shelf in a small shop down an alley from a much bigger shop. I knew it from the moment I saw it. It was a "thing" I would treasure for a lifetime. 

I am not a things person. I am a people person. There are few "things" in this life that really matter to me. Exceptions to this are those things that invoke a memory of someone or somewhere I love. These items transform a chaotic day into something tolerable simply by serving as a reminder of a different time. It is these very "things" that sustain me to the next treasured time with those I love. 

Some of my most treasured things include glass eggs from Grandma Dee, a pew in my living room from dad's church, and a painting from an artist I met in Florence, Italy. 

The history of the New Orleans Water Meter cover dates back to the 1920s. They can be found all over the city. Their popularity grew after Hurricane Katrina as a symbol of pride that represented the history and uniqueness of the city. 

What better way to remember this lovely trip than with a pendant featuring this unique piece of NOLA history!  It's kind of funny that I bought a pendant with the word "sewerage" on it to conjur up fond memories. That's the way life works. It has a way of changing your perspective with one simple thing. This four day birthday getaway mirrored my life views in so many ways.  I will cherish the memories for ever. 

So I give you...

"AO's Simple Guide to Great Things in Life" 
(A part of my everyday, but especially essential for trips such as this)

1 - Avoid Prostitutes and Voodoo

I know what you are thinking. This first one is a bit PG Rated. I have a firm rule of thumb on this very thing. If The Rev says it, then I can say it.  Since this very jewel came out of my dad's mouth, I am certain it bears repeating. I have heard advice like this my whole life. My dad learned early on that he best give the bulleted version of the "Thou Shalt Nots" (stay tuned for my 40th bday post - a feature on this very subject) to his free spirited girl rather than a 3 point sermon. When I called him Friday night before I left, he said, "Babydoll, avoid the prostitutes and the voodoo. Oh and make sure you eat at Irene's". Thankfully, I heeded his advice on all three. 

2 - Eat Good Food.

It sounds simple but there's something to be said about the girl that plans the food venues of the trip long before any of the activities have been decided. Simply stated, I love food. Good, local food makes me feel at home and welcome - like I am a regular to the town. And I clearly define a city based on its food options. The less homegrown, local options, the less apt I am to visit. I guess I'm a "food snob" in that way. We enjoyed all of the local flavor of New Orleans - beignets, poboys, jambalaya, red beans and rice. With every bite, my affection for the city grew fonder.  Irene's won the "best meal" category by a landslide. It was the kind of place where the servers felt like family and made you want to stay all night. We almost did!

3 - Music That Moves You

My mom gave me a birthday card once that told the story about a 90 year old woman tapping her foot and shaking her hips as she walked in every room. Inside she wrote, "Always keep dancing. Love, mom".  I can't help it. Music is the generator to my soul. I love all kinds - the bigger the brass, the better. From the piano player at Irene's (in backdrop of picture above) to the fiddler playing for coins on the sidewalk, New Orleans oozes with great music. It's the first thing you hear when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you hear before you lay your head down to rest at night. 

4 - Love the One You're With

I fail at this one the most often. Life leads. I follow. Before long, I don't recognize anyone around me. Marriage is tough and building a genuine, authentic relationship is even tougher. Quite simply, sometimes time is the only healer of things. We found that out early in our marriage, but knowing and doing are two different things. Last summer, we committed to carve out time for each other.  This trip was no exception. We needed time for just the two of us.  Each night, we ended our day by the pool listening to jazz music. We would talk about our past, cherish our present and build on our future. There is not a cookie cutter for making the most of your marriage, but I'm convinced that the greatest ones are built on times like these. 

5 - Look Up

We've all heard it - NOLA is a city of sin. You can see it around every corner. I can assure you there is plenty of sin in the ole 504. One thing you don't hear much about is God's beauty that can also be seen around every corner.  

The delightful artist that sold us a new piece for Lilys room. 
The beautiful shutters that adorn every window. 
The store owner who was thrilled to see his pendant as a perfect fit for my favorite chain.
The street performers - there were hundreds - everyone with extreme talent.  
The wonderful server at Cafe du Munde that delivered an amazing cup of hot chocolate. 
The well crafted balconies that give each building a unique European style. 

"It has been said that a Scotchman has not seen the world until he has seen Edinburgh; and I think that I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi-Gras in New Orleans." ~ Mark Twain

Although we weren't there for Mardi Gras, NOLA has moved to one of my favorite cities. I fell in love somewhere between a "Streetcar Named Desire" and a bag of beignets.