Mostly Enough

I shouldn’t feel this way.  But I do.

In spite of my best efforts, in spite of all I do, all I say and all I strive to be. In spite of how many braids I plait, clothes I fold, rides I provide, meals I make. In spite of how much I take an interest. In spite of how many emails I have sent concerning them, conversations I have struck up because of them. Tears I have shed over them. In spite of the concerts I have attended. Piano lessons I have paid for. Not to mention hockey and skating lessons, soccer and softball fees. In spite of the board games I have played and bike rides I have participated in. In spite of all the times I have lain in bed at night with them in the dark. In spite of every dose of medication I have administered and days I have taken to be home with them.

In spite of everything.

I still don’t always feel I am doing enough.

So I sat with Husband on a Sunday afternoon on the edge of a bridge, lazily watching a river trout jumping in and out of the water, while minnows swam in a school right underneath our toes. I sat watching the breeze gently rustling the river grass while birds flew gracefully overhead. I sat.  On a perfectly beautiful autumn afternoon in the beauty of nature and the perfection of a gorgeous sunny day. And all I could think in those blissful moments that should have brought me peace and tranquility was how inadequate I felt as a mom.

How “not enough” I was as a parent.

No calling to mind of any of the above list could have really convinced me otherwise in that moment and time. I simply felt that I wasn’t doing enough. Being enough. Showing enough.

Felt I wasn’t enough.

And while it seems I have been succumbing to these feelings more and more lately, I don’t always have a reasons for why I do this to myself.  Why this happens. I know the research. I know what this generation is characterized by- indulgence and lenience. It is an age of tolerance and low expectations.  And I know my own story and personality well- I am an overachiever. A perfectionist. And as usual, somewhere deep in my perfectionist psyche, I am punishing myself for inadequacies that I think are there. That I felt others in my family could see and feel as deeply as could I.

My lack of patience. My quick temper. My exhaustion that affects both my mood and my energy level. My frustration. My intolerance. My tendency to speak without thinking carefully through beforehand. All combining to make me feel shame and despair- and added to that, make me even feel less than “not enough”: more like a complete failure.

Since Sunday, I’ve been thinking about these feelings. Ruminating about them in my head, if not even a bit out loud with Husband and my mom in casual conversation. And coincidentally, I happened to come across this little blurb from Jen Hatmaker’s new book tonight as I scanned her blog. Here’s what she had to say about her beliefs about parenting:

Only our overly-critical, overly-involved generation could possibly engineer such carefully curated childhood environments and still declare ourselves failures. We are loving, capable mothers reading the room all wrong.

Can I tell you my goal for my kids? That childhood was mostly good. People, I declare “mostly good” a raging success. If I was mostly patient and they were mostly obedient, great. If we were mostly nurturing and they were mostly well-adjusted, super. Every childhood needs a percentage of lame, boring, aggravating, and tedious. Good grief, life is not a Nickelodeon set. They need something to gripe about one day.

Mostly good is later remembered as “loved and safe.” I know because I now label my childhood “magical” even though my mom slapped me across the face in 7th grade and never bought me Guess jeans and accidentally left me at church numerous times. Mostly is enough.

You are doing a wonderful job. Parenting is mind-numbingly hard and none of us will be perfect at it and all of us will jack a thousand parts of it, and somehow, against all odds, it will still be enough.

Words like cool water on a parched tongue.

Mostly is enough.

And it’s okay to make a few mistakes along the way. In fact, it’s NORMAL.

Tonight, Daughter and I exchanged a few unpleasant words- mostly from my mouth, not hers. And after we got through most of the ugly, the message that cushioned all that had been said was the fact that we both really did love each other.  A lot. I know I sure do, and she tells me the same still, every night. Sometimes we Two have a funny way of showing it, but through it all, that love is constant in spite of the bad bits that tend to color our relationship. It is there, in spite of everything that makes me feel “not enough”.  Not good enough. And thank heavens for that. Because love remains in spite of the misunderstandings, frustrations, clashes and head-butting that sometimes occurs, I can carry on- with the understanding that love will also carry both me and my family through the good, the bad and the ugly. For love is and always will be a constant in this family: even when the storms roll in.  Even when the bullets fly.  It is and will be the foundation on which our family life is built upon. And although we might fight like it is 1999, we still love each other through it all.  We’ve committed to that.

We love each other. And that love, while imperfect, is never mostly enough.

It’s everything.

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The problem with schooling: We don’t value the whole child

I am sitting here at my desk in the far corner of my kindergarten room. My room is bright and inviting, full of interesting things to discover and explore.  There is a play-kitchen center where children can use their imaginations to pretend they are a short-order chef or a store-owner.  A puzzle and games center for problem-solving.  A wooden theatre for using puppetry in the telling of creative stories and singing songs.  There is a writing station, a book area, an easel and a chalkboard.  And there are lots of toys that can be used for a multitude of purposes for which the imagination holds no boundaries.

In my classroom, there are little people.  Some of these little people like to sing.  Some like to dance and jump.   They love to roll and skip and hop and run. They love to talk and share and discuss.  Every one of them will often have so many ideas bursting through their amazing minds that they will share things with me all at once- their voices creating a cacophony of overwhelming sound.  I often have to remind them that only one person can share at a time, as Mrs. Gard (in her (ahem!) seniority), has ears that can only pay heed to one single voice speaking at once.  The fact that they delight in the ‘telling’ cautions me to never discourage them.

In my classroom, we learn how to read and count.  These foundations of learning are certainly a priority.

But we also learn the following:

*how to work out problems with a friend

*how to grow a plant

*how to share our feelings

*how to be a friend

*how to co-operate

*how to participate in group activities

*how to respect individually-owned and classroom-shared property

*how to take responsibility for our belongings

*how to ask for help

* how to take care of personal needs

*how to express ideas and feelings through play, through music, through art, through dance

* how to choose materials in our day-to-day learning and then use them in a variety of ways (one of which is our recyclable bin which often has supported the building of airplanes and robots)

* how to respect another individual’s personal space

I think most would agree- these are worth-while endeavors for learning, both in the kindergarten classroom and beyond.  Yes, reading and counting (literacy proper and numeracy proper) are valued in our kindergarten classroom.  But these ideals are not everything we believe is important for learning. For in this room, we place importance and value on more than just the children’s minds: we place value on more than merely the use of anyone’s mind-my own mind included, for that matter.  In this room, we value hearts and hands and feet and whole bodies.

Our learning is not just centered within our heads.

One way we accomplish this goal is through learning using the five senses.  When we learn about apples, we don’t just count them- we pick them and touch them and smell them and taste them.  When we learn about plants, we grow them- feeling the dirt beneath our fingernails.  When we learn about pumpkins, we plunge our hands into their slimy centers to discover the seeds that lie within.  We don’t just read about them in books or count manipulatives meant to represent them.

We discover them.

And to be honest, these things are really not all there is to the learning accomplished.  For when we are learning about apples, what we are really learning to do is appreciate that food comes from somewhere- that if we don’t grow food, we will have nothing to eat.  We are learning that  fruit growers (among other farmers) are necessary to our economy.  We are learning to value and appreciate the important work they do and the products they provide.

And when we learn about plants, we are learning how to work together in community- how to share the workload so that everyone has a job.  We are learning social responsibility and citizenship and ecological awareness.  And in learning about pumpkins, we are discovering that we can take creative risks- even for the ones who have never done something like this before.  For some have not ever experienced the joy that is pumpkin-carving. The joy that is a pumpkin seed bursting on their tongues. We are learning how to share and take turns, and in so doing- learning to value and respect one another.

In kindergarten, there has always been a strong emphasis placed on the whole child.  The child’s mind, their heart and their body.  We don’t separate the mind from the body or the heart from the mind- they all work together in harmony in this milieu.  So when we are learning in kindergarten, there are always multiple, myriad lessons underway- the most important of which are not usually academic.

I fear that in following and ascribing to the school format we have inherited and adopted that is focused on standardized testing and outcomes, we are valuing only one aspect of the child: that is, their head.  What could be defined as the cerebral. And while that is important and worthy, we are doing children a disservice if we are not appreciating the various aspects that make the whole child.  Particularly for children for whom the cerebral is not their main area of strength.  Their area of gifted-ness.

I would ask you to consider the following:

“The purpose of education has been debated for centuries.  Many educators and child development experts argue that the overarching goal of education is to promote the highest possible levels of cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and ethical development for each child.  The whole-child movement is based on the proposition that education must move beyond preparing children to become “well educated” citizens who are productive participants in the economic system.  Education must also cultivate in young people spirituality, reverence for the natural environment, and a sense of social justice.  Education must inspire children’s creativity, imagination, compassion, self-knowledge, social skills, and emotional health.  In this way, the term holistic education simply means cultivating the whole person and helping individuals live more consciously within their communities and natural ecosystems”(Miller, 2005).

In this way, education that is holistic in focus and purpose has at its focus yes, the intellect, but also the emotional composition, the social relations, the physical health and ability, the artistic sense, the creative capacity, and the spiritual potential.  “It seeks to engage students in the teaching/learning process and encourages personal and collective responsibility on the part of professionals charged with student’s development.” (Kochar-Bryant, 2010)

I believe that all classrooms are at potential risk- all classrooms are at potential crisis point.  We have sadly erred from the purpose of schooling in developing the individual as a whole in all aspects of being. But since I teach in a kindergarten classroom, I will write focused on this.  Our kindergarten curriculum is special.  Our classrooms are precious places set apart for discovery. We must not allow anyone to take away from us the joy we find in learning using our whole selves.  We must preserve the right children have to a curriculum that appreciates and understands the child as a person in all the aspects of their development. And we must encourage teachers to fight for what they believe in.

In my kindergarten room, we will (as we have always done): learn to count the desks, chairs and tables in our room and arrange geometric shapes into patterns.  But we will also learn how to care about these materials- how to respectfully use them and store them away when we finish play.  We will learn ideals about how to share and cooperate while playing and discovering.  And we will learn how to care for the materials and people with whom we interact in applying math principles to everyday living always with the intent to care and invest.

And in this room, we will also (again, as we have always done), value literacy goals like speaking and listening, reading and writing.  But we will do so for a higher purpose than just a check-mark on a report card.  We will value these foundational pillars for the ways in which they help us connect to the essential others in our world, having as our focus that learning is done so as to become the incredible friend, classmate, companion and group member we were meant to be.

This is the goal.

Nel Noddings (2003) has said that many of our schools are in a crisis of caring, failing to enable students to become caring, compassionate individuals as well as failing to model for them the same.  Let us not fail them in continuing to perpetuate the agenda that their mind was only made for the purpose of being a mathematical computer spitting out data.  Or as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge.

Let us remember: the mind was made to care.

Keeping an Open Heart

13a But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened…

― Hebrews 3:13New International Version (NIV)

“If we learn to open our hearts- anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”
Pema Chödrön

“I used to be very suspicious of other women. I felt it was my duty to prove myself to other women. To defend my imaginary superiority. To hide my imaginary inferiority. I felt like I could never let my guard down, never relax. This was before I found my perspectacles. Now, mostly, instead of perceiving other women as competition, I put on my glasses and I see each woman God places on my path as a gift, an invitation, a resource, sent to teach me something I don’t yet know. Sent to help me heal in a specific way that only she can. Even when it becomes clear that the relationship is not going to work out, that we will have to part ways, she is still a gift because I am learning how to part ways with another child of God lovingly and gracefully. And so I get to practice taking care of myself and others. And I am able to relax. To stop grabbing and hiding. To understand that God sends exactly who we need, 100 percent of the time.”

―Glennon Melton

I was sitting at my desk sifting through emails and other life-related stuff- trying to balance my work and life and everything in it, when that feeling surfaced. That itchy-soul feeling. The kind of feeling you get when you know life and seemingly everything in it is driving you stark, raving mad.  Making you feel crazy.

It starts small- a slip of the tongue or a minor offense that can easily be apologized for and then swiped under the table, brushed off as an anomaly. But then it comes again. That itchiness- worsening when something else in your life goes horribly awry. You have ‘one of those days’ which leads to another of the same. To another and another. Someone hurts you, you hurt someone else. And the offenses grow and develop into something ugly. So the cycle continues, the itchiness growing into discontentment. Frustration. Anger and resentment.

Patterns become cycles which grow into lifestyles if we are not careful.

And those days which begin as just small inconveniences can lead to a quantifiable measure of difficult days before we know it, causing us to believe and harmfully develop a mindset that says ‘life is just plain, downright horrible’. And that it’s sometimes just not worth the effort.

Not worth the effort to understand and listen from the heart, that is. For that is the moment we realize: we must examine the heart to see if the issue was stemming from there in the first place.

Sometimes we need to have an open-heart surgery. A figurative open-heart surgery, that is.

Today I had to perform one on myself. A procedure to open my heart rather than close it off to the circumstances and concerns I was facing. And instead of feeling hard and angry toward the issue I was presented with- which might have been my normal bent, I was able to, little by little, see the issue at hand through some dandy perspectacles. Able to claim love over frustration.  Embrace joy over resentment. Anne Lamott says sometimes experiencing glimpses of heaven is just wearing a new pair of glasses, and I concur. Seeing our troubles and concerns- our frustrations and grievances- through fresh eyes, as how it might look like from another vantage point is sometimes all we need so as to open our hearts to one another.

Because sometimes those perspectacles put everything we thought was horrible into crystal, clear focus. Causing us to see that things weren’t as bad as we thought they might have been. Not as insurmountable as we first envisioned.

And all because our perspectacles enabled us to keep both an open mind and an open heart.

Fight for Joy…

We walk through a shorn grain field- all prickles and stumps, toward the thirty-acre stand of stalwart hardwood that situates itself behind our property. Sun streams unfiltered on our head and hands, warming us as we stroll. Our feet scuffle along through the brittle roughage that remains rooted to the earth while our eyes remain fixed on the tree line just over the horizon that awaits in the peaceful quiet of the wooded center, serving as a promise. A promise of what is yet to come.   But first, we will push our way inward through brush and saplings, through tall grass and undergrowth that will slap and poke at our legs and hands leaving marks and tufts of some unknown weed on our pant legs. Young tree branches smack our arms when we forget to keep watch. We trip and stumble.

It is a struggle to push through. Yet we labor through this minor inconvenience for the joy that awaits. For the promise that is the sun trickling down like a waterfall through the branches of a reddened maple. Or for the delight that is a bed of leaves arranged just so on the forest floor. Daughter catches hold of a tree and swings around it dizzily as if it were a Maypole. I later find her gathering fallen leaves and fern growth in her little hands which she brings to me declaring her intent. We are to put them in a vase when we get home with a little water and voila! An instant bouquet will have been formed.

But all this, still yet a promise as we struggle through the entry point, as we manoeuvre our way along through the narrow passageway that leads to more. Sometimes we have to fight for the joy.

And didn’t the pastor say as much in his prayer? That he would have us fight for joy, contend for delight? He would urge us to not give up when the going gets tough, when the contentment starts to vanish. We must fight all the harder for joy when things are hard and life is challenging. Joy might seem elusive but it still lays waiting for its claimants to find it. To declare it as their own.

Joy is nothing special if it always comes to us easily.

For those things and people in life we have cried over, longed for, carried on about, cared for, thought deeply about, prayed greatly over, hoped for, believed in, desired for, sought after and belabored on behalf: those are the things and people that will illuminate our understanding of joy, piece by painful piece. Little by little. What will bring us joy is that which we have sacrificed for, one way or the other. What we will have invested in deeply. The returns might not always be as forthcoming as we might hope in the short-term, but the long-term investments are mostly more than worth the blood, sweat and tears.

So we press on.

Fighting so that we can find joy, have joy and live joy with the ones we love right now. Fighting so that we can live joy for the ones we’ve loved (past). In the life we live (present). In the life we plan to live tomorrow (future). But always fighting so that we can experience joy- right now and again tomorrow. We can’t change yesterday but we can fight for today, fight for tomorrow. And we fight knowing that what we’re struggling for is worth the effort.

Because joy is always worth the fight.

So I fight daily for joy- believing: hope against hope that the struggle is worth it.  And I watch the joy begin to grow, inch by precious inch.  One day at a time.  One small gain made after the other.  Knowing that I will always find joy if I keep my heart open for it.  If I keep my heart tender.

The joy of field trips…

Retrieved from Johnston’s Schools website

I came home tonight after watching a killer last set in my daughter’s volleyball game (please do not ask a whole lot of questions about the first four sets, ‘cause that score was kind of private) to which I heard the following anguished cry from Youngest not even five minutes after lighting the home fires:

“Mooooooooommmmmm….(heave, heave, sob, sob)…..I just….(sobbing) burned down my house on Minecraft…accidentally. And it was my favoritest house ever. And I just had made it…..(sobbing).”

It’s interesting how these funny little things follow me around- just begging for me to write about them. We were at the dentist today about a permanent tooth that Daughter had broken two weekends ago on a Saturday afternoon. How do you tell the inquiring dentist that your child broke said tooth playing “Abduct the Baby” with her little sister? It’s just not the normal excuse. And just for the record, the dentist did ask. (I was very vague). I mentioned this all to a friend at the store and she said that her child had also had a similar catastrophe, only to another part of the body while straddling the black bin in their driveway, singing at the top of her lungs.

I could just totally relate- neither one of us thought either occurrence was less than normal. But I guess the average person does not live this way.

So what this story is REALLY about is our school field trip today. Wow, just wow. Where do I begin…? For the record, the above stories were just my warm-up.

How does one frame a blog article about a field trip adventure in which a bus full of three kindergarten classes of children ages 4-5 is pulled off the road for an hour and a half because its crisis exits are screaming “Emergency! Emergency!” in a language all their own? How do you even start discussing bathroom issues? Or temporary bushes with prickles that can serve as the restroom when all else fails? Thank goodness for Kleenex.

All I have to say is this: to those passer-bys that saw a woman jumping up and down, touching her derriere, rubbing her belly and then doing scissors jumps/jumping jacks, you try entertaining 35 youngsters for an hour and a half on the side of the road. I dare you. It’s a game called Simon Says and kids love it. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Okay, seriously. I am just so thankful for the neighbors who saw me (obscurely, I swear) hiding in the bush with one Little Person and then kindly offered their “facilities” to the rest of the kiddos on the bus. Thank you. Words cannot express… I am sure I looked like a wild woman because at the time I was also trying to protect said child from the dog that kept barking at us from across the road. I was sincerely concerned for everyone’s safety, not the least of which was my own.

Back to the woman across the road. She was simply the best. And what she did was humbling, it was simply just too kind. (Now that I think about it, were we doing them a favor by removing ourselves from the bushes on the sides of their road?) At any rate, that woman deserves a Good Neighbor/Good Citizen award- she was amazing. Simply above and beyond amazing. She turned her television on, offered us her washroom (which we paraded in steadily for the better part of an hour, boots, dirt and all) along with water to drink from her kitchen faucet. And she trusted us enough that she left and drove off with all of us still on her lawn. I mean, really: where but the country would this ever happen. We then continued to enjoy the property, playing numerous games of Duck, Duck Goose and the afore-mentioned Simon Says until the Department of Transportation showed up in all their glory after having got lost a time or two on the back-roads of P.E.I. and generously fixed the bus

It was a time. A TIME I say. I sure had fun.

Needless to say, I had planned a full slate of activities for the day. I am nothing if not a glutton for punishment. I had invited a professional chef to come into the school and bake apple pies with each of my students as a surprise for their parents. Boo hoo, ’cause that unfortunately never happened. But then again: the apples were not ‘all there’, shall we say, by the end of the day anyway (became the snack); even if they had been, cooking pies in a half of an hour would have been even an absolute miracle even for her and she’s one of the most amazing chefs I know.

So, it’s been a slice. A slice of every kind of apple I know, including Honeycrisp (which the bus driver ended up finding and picking for me after I had run all over the orchard looking for them during my five minute break (or I could call it my ‘break your neck’ as that’s my kind of luck), I spent my time aimlessly running around the orchard only to find these beauties were growing in the row marked “Jona Gold”. So that’s how they keep ‘em a secret. Who knew.

Can’t wait for the next field trip.

When You Don’t Feel Thankful

Retrieved from Clouds 365 Blog

She stands folding clothes as they talk on the phone. A small stack of washcloths emerges as she reaches the end of the pile. She starts in on the socks trying to find matches while the other voice carries to her over phone wires. And all the while she is listening. Sometimes God speaks loudest when we are doing the basest of tasks. The laundry room can be a holy place.

“I am having a hard time feeling thankful,” she admits. It’s hard feeling thankful when you reach breaking point. When you are falling. When you lie face to the ground. This is not a place to say ‘thanks’- it’s a place to ask ‘why’. A place to demand answers, reasons, explanations.

Ground Zero is not a place for gratitude.

She closes the laundry room door and starts walking, phone to the ear.

There are so many biblical verses that tell us we will never be given more than we can handle and that there is always enough grace- but it is hard to believe. Sometimes. Hard to believe that God is enough. That we can live life. That there is more than enough strength thorough steady, common grace. Hard to believe that God’s grace is sufficient.  It’s a matter of perspective really. Not always circumstance.

For even in our darkest moments- there is light that shines.

I tap out words many hours later. The sun is just rising on a darkened world. Through the trees, I can see the beginnings of light. Through all obstacles, light shines through. Soon, there will be a brilliant display of glorious, epic proportions. There will be a wash of colour, a splash of pinks, oranges, yellows and reds. There will be a glorious sun rising. And it will be beautiful.

But in this given moment, it’s just a peek of light. A promise that more is on its way.  There is still darkness all around.  And if we didn’t know otherwise, we would think it would be like this forever.  But this we know: there is always the promise of a new day.  If yesterday wasn’t all it was suppose to be cracked up to be, well there is always today. Bleak night will turn into morning light.  We have this surety.

And even if that isn’t enough- if the promise of a new day with new hope isn’t enough, and I don’t really feel thankful or particularly grateful in spite of that hope, there are some things that can draw in in spite of my feelings, in spite of my circumstances and the particular place I find myself occupying in life RIGHT NOW. There are things I can still be thankful for…
1. Thankful that I have a choice in how I view my life. I can view it through a lens of despair or a lens of hope. I have at my disposal a choice: how am I going to view this. It’s mine to make.
2. Thankful that I have a choice in what I voice about my life. I can describe it in gloomy terms or in glowing terms. I have at my disposal a choice: how am I going to talk about this. It’s mine to make.
3. Thankful that I have a choice in how I interpret meaning for all the events in my life- both difficult and joyous as they stand right now. These events can be interpreted as disastrous shards that should be discarded or as beautiful pieces fitting for the masterpiece in the making that my life is.

I have at my disposal a choice: how am I going to talk about this. It’s mine to make.

I stop looking out the window and look deep into my soul- searching for light, for some kind of illumination. And I remember that I had found some earlier this week in an exchange made between two dying women, both of cancer- but one full of hope and promise, the other without either of those spiritually speaking. And this is what the latter said in her beautiful letter to the woman bent on ending it all:

“Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.” (Kara Tippetts)

Although life is full of pain and suffering and tears and unknowns, our lives are not meant to suffer through, to log as if in a chart book- ‘glad that day’s done’, to check off as over and finished. They are meant to be lived. To be experienced. Enjoyed and known. To be analyzed and understood as part of a Master Design. Meant to be celebrated. For each single day on its own is beautiful or terrible, depending on the perspective I might have had that particular day: but the entirety of the life is beautiful. And in our suffering, along with our joy, we find that God is making something incredible of all the pieces.

But He’s not finished with us yet.

Sometimes when things seem the messiest, the most work on the exquisite design is underway. And even when we don’t FEEL thankful, we can still BE grateful that the design is still in process.  It’s not completed yet. It’s just getting started. And it will be something beautiful- a breathtaking display of glorious wonder. When all is said and done.

We just have to strive to believe.

Who I truly am

Kitchen Sink, by Andrea Smith

We are drying dishes at the kitchen sink, she and I, when she asks me in words other than I will be using right here, right now: “Do people get me? Do they understand and appreciate who I really am?” I am at once taken aback at the question. I dry a plate and set it down, picking up a utensil and carefully turning it over in my hands even as I turn her reframed question over in my mind. Does anyone ever truly appreciate who we are underneath it all? Do we really ever know how to love one another like that- freely, openly, honestly, truly?

I have been thinking about that question all week. Thinking about how much we appear to care- thinking about how much I know I do care. Care about how other people understand me in all my complexity. For we are complex, complicated, intricate people with more definition and capacity than just what lies at surface level.

Sometimes I think we are all so fragile- like a Faberge egg. Something so delicate but so detailed in its truest form.

And so, I think within us all there is a desire to see both ourselves and others for who we truly are. To be acknowledged for that good that lies within, whatever form that goodness might be in its purest sense. Because I also think that underneath our harshest critiques of our own selves, underneath all the mis/takes and errors and failed opportunities and blunders we so often make (we don’t deny our failings), we do see within ourselves that we have at the very least, good intentions. Some might even go further to say that they are actually something better than merely a ‘try’: that they are loving and kind and compassionate and caring in their truest being. That’s how we can see ourselves when we gaze to the very deepest parts of who we are- when all the trappings of reality are peeled back and our soul is exposed raw. Not many people would describe themselves as truly hateful, horrible and unkind. We know that we are not that cruel. That’s because we can see the best in ourselves. We have that ability and are afforded that position and perspective: to see the truth about who we really are underneath it all.

We know who we are at our innermost core. And who we are is not that bad.

But often when I look at others, I see what I want to see. If that person has made me feel happy, I see the person as warm and loving. If the person is funny and makes me laugh, I see the person as witty, humorous and entertaining. If that one in question has made me think, I see them as deep and contemplative. If the person has made me feel sad, I see the person as hurtful and wounding. Or if I feel angry as a result of our interactions, I see in that person everything I don’t like or prefer about our relationship with one another. I see the failings. The truth of the matter is, I see what I feel.  And what I see is often very one-dimensional. If what I feel is positive, then the view is positive.  If what I see is negative, then the view is negative.

I don’t have the unique vantage point of knowing everything about the person so as to make an affirming, open-minded view. I can’t really ever get inside their head.

But what if I kept an open mind and saw people how they truly wanted to be seen? As how they saw themselves? Flawed, but beautiful. Tarnished but valuable. Imperfect yet complete. Becoming who they were meant to be while being who they truly are at this given moment of lived experience?

What if?

I have a dear friend who has told me time and again that she believes that within everyone is goodness and pure intention. She acknowledges that within humankind there is the possibility to inflict pain and wound. She sees that the world has pain and suffering . But still she insists that there is something good within people in spite of this reality. I see parts of what she is saying as reflecting my own belief. Coming from a Christian world-view, while I do believe that there is injustice and ill will within the hearts of humanity, I do see that we have been given a desire toward goodness. But because there is pain in this world, there is pain within us. Hurting people hurt. That does not make hurting people at the core of who they are evil. It does make them implicated in the act of unkindness, but not forever defined by it. That same hurting person is probably wounded. Or suffering in some way. But aren’t we all at the heart of our truest self? For when we are wounded and injured- particularly at the core of our being, our ability to focus on kindness and compassion is limited. It’s just not a priority. Not to mention that kindness is a muscle we use. The more it is used, the more it develops and grows into all it was intended to be.

I realize that at the heart of who I am is the desire to do what is good and right and pure and acceptable. The fact of the matter is that I can’t reach that standard every day and in every instance. Sometimes I fail to project the heart of who I am. Fail to project the image of who I know I can be. That’s where grace comes into play. Because I am loved by a Father that knows my heart and loves me for all I am, He takes me as I am and helps me be all I was meant to be.

In spite of how good I think I am.

In spite of my failings.

In spite of how good I might falsely project myself to be at times.

In spite of how others see me.

In spite of my superficiality.

In spite of my missteps.

In spite of everything.

He loves me anyway- that’s because He alone can see to the heart of his creation. He alone can see me. The beautiful person He lovingly thought of and breathed life into at the moment I was still just a dream in the heart of my parents. He knew me. He still knows me. And He always will.

Oh for a love like that. What grace that entails.