Today

by Christie on September 18, 2014

Today was a very ordinary day. Nothing special or particularly extraordinary happened. I woke up early and exercised. I made breakfast (frozen waffles tossed in the toaster), cleaned kitchen counters, and prepared lunches. I broke up fights. I said “yes” to a few more minutes on the computer. I said “no” to a few more pieces of candy. I double-checked my older son’s homework and helped the younger one get dressed. I sat at my desk and struggled through a few work projects. I read emails – some good, some bad, some just kind of annoying. I walked the dogs around the block. I met with a contractor about our broken floor boards and leaking sink. I texted my husband, listened to some good music, checked in with a friend. At night, I went to a committee meeting at church, and before the day is done I hope to spend a little time reading in bed. I laughed a little, smiled a little, and sighed a little. I felt frustrated at times, happy at times, and content most of the time.

Yes, by all accounts, today was a very ordinary day.

There are so many days like today – so many ordinary, nothing special days. No extraordinary events, no dramatic celebrations, no top-of-the-world accomplishments. But have you noticed that it is days like today – these ordinary, nothing special days – that make up majority our lives? It isn’t the Shining Moments, the Extraordinary Opportunities, or the Big Breaks that make up a life. In fact, the highs from those things tend to be fleeting, sometimes disappearing before we have even had a chance to open the bottle of champagne. It is the ordinary, nothing special days that stick around. John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” Well, I think that life is what happens when you are busy living ordinary days.

Yet every message I see – every ad and commercial, every Facebook update, every filtered and Photoshopped photo – seems to be promoting the extraordinary. It’s no wonder why so many of us feel like we’re a step behind, like we’re not enough this or that, like we’re languishing in the ordinary.

We tell our kids that they can be whatever they want. Because they can be. We tell them to shoot for the stars. Because they should. We tell them that they are good and kind and smart and brave. Because, of course, they are.

But in our quest to teach them to be strong and daring and, dare I say, extraordinary, I can’t help but wonder if we are somehow forgetting to teach them to appreciate the ordinary? In our encouragement of Big and Bold Dreams, are we forgetting to nurture the soft and quiet ones? Are we prioritizing a moment of greatness at the expense of a life of goodness?

Fortunately, children seem to be programmed to find joy in the ordinary, to find purpose in simply being good and kind. My youngest son absolutely lights up when someone complements the good snacks that he picked out at the grocery store and he is never prouder than than when he is able to make his brother laugh or feel better. Kids, it seems, just want to love and be loved, be kind and brave, and do the right thing.

A couple of weeks ago, Jackson told Matt about some trouble he was having with a boy in his class. We talked about how sometimes kids can feel kind of icky inside and just need a friend. We talked about things he could do to help the boy feel better. And we suggested that he spend the next day at school be EXTRA nice to the boy…you know, just to see what happens.

The next day I waited in my usual spot on the playground after school. He usually saunters over to me, dawdling and goofing off with friends along the way. Yet on that day he ran over and the first thing he blurted out was, “Guess what?!? I was extra nice to so-and-so and he was nice to me too!!!” Now let me explain something: not once has Jackson ever come running to me with news of any kind after school. Not ever. Never. Not when he aced a spelling test. Not when he scored the winning goal in gym class. Never. Ever. Information tends to flow out of him more like a leaky faucet than a burst pipe, coming in bits and pieces, slowly and over a long period of time.  But this news – the news of being brave and kind, of trying to be good friend – was something that he just couldn’t wait to share. This, to him, was absolutely extraordinary.

While children might have Big and Bold Dreams of becoming an astronaut or an actress or a major league baseball player, I think that they really just want to know that the soft and quiet dreams – things like being a good friend, trying hard, loving whole-heartedly, and being loved unconditionally – are enough, that these things are more than enough.

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a mother and raising a happy family. I had a few Big and Bold Dreams, too, things like traveling to faraway places and owning a couple horses, but most of my dreams were soft and quiet. I wanted to have a strong marriage and build a loving family. I wanted to create a comfortable home, maintain good relationships with extended family, and have a handful of enduring friendships. I wanted a desk where I could do whatever work it was that I decided to do. I wanted to color pictures at the table with my kids, read stories before bed at night, make cookies, and dance in the kitchen with my husband.

Yet now that I am essentially living out these soft and quiet dreams that I had as a child, some days it just doesn’t feel like I am enough. I tell myself that I need to do more, be more, have more. Something in me or around me tells me that I should be better at this or that, that I have dropped one of the way-too-many balls that I am juggling in the air (family, marriage, career, friends, etc.), that I have fallen short and am not quite enough.

And something tells me that I am not alone because I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I know too many people who are good parents, who are good employees, who have healthy marriages and solid relationships, who are kind and good people living out their soft and quiet dreams each and every day, yet still feel like they are not enough, like they are falling behind in some way, like they are somehow a disappointment because they haven’t achieved their Big and Bold Dreams.

So I find myself wondering: How can we encourage our children’s Big and Bold Dreams while nurturing the soft and quiet ones as well? How can help them shoot for the stars while teaching them that there is more than enough right here, around them and within them? How can we prevent our children from developing this feeling of never enough-ness that so many of us feel as adults?

Well, I think it starts with the difficult task of teaching ourselves these lessons. It starts with respecting our Big and Bold Dreams, but living out our own soft and quiet dreams with pride and confidence. It starts with praising the times that we, as adults, have tried hard and loved fully and acted bravely, regardless of the outcome. It starts with showing ourselves a little kindness and mercy; prioritizing things like friendship and community and family; and congratulating ourselves for all the ways that we are doing a pretty amazing job as a parent, spouse, friend, sister, brother, neighbor, or whatever. It starts by treating every day like a special one, by deeming ourselves to be special and more than enough.

There is a popular poem by William Martin that starts with “Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives” and ends with the advice to, instead, “make the ordinary come alive for them” because the “the extraordinary will take care of itself.” If there is one poem that embodies my parenting philosophy it is this one, and its prophetic words continue to ring true in my own life as well. Because what I have found is that the times when I have done something with an eye on the potential prestige or in a quest for something extraordinary, I have been sorely disappointed. But the times when I have done something with kindness, courage, and a full heart, the times when I have made the ordinary come alive, the results have always been…well…extraordinary.

As parents, we all have Big and Bold dreams for our children. But as much as I want my children to shoot for the stars, I want them to be content and satisfied here on the ground. I want them to learn how to be a good friend, not just as a child but as an adult, when friendships become harder to maintain and more important than ever. I want them to figure out how to love their enemies. I want them to be hard workers and good employees, of course, but above all I want them to be good brothers, good husbands, and good parents (should they choose to become a husband or a parent, of course). I want them to understand the power of stillness and rest and listening. I want them to know the value of handwritten letter, a long hug, and comfortable silence.

And, more than anything, when they lay their heads on their pillows at night, I want their last thought before falling asleep to be: Today was special. Today I loved and was loved. Today I lived. Today was extraordinary.

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UU? What the heck is UU?!?

by Christie on September 16, 2014

Rainbow Chalice  UUA

 

When people find out that I am Unitarian Universalist, the question I get asked most often (aside from “why the confusing name?”) is “Unitarian Universalist? What the heck is Unitarian Universalist?”

To which, my immediate answer is always: “Thanks for asking! Do you want the long answer? Or the longer answer?”

Unitarian Universalism is certainly not a easy faith to explain in just a few sentences or with a soundbite answer –  but then again, is any faith? Nonetheless, a few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Unitarian Universalism for Michelle DeRusha’s site. I first “met” Michelle a few years ago and I am continually blown away by her grace, humility, faith, insight, and generosity of spirit. Despite the fact that we have different religious traditions, there seems to be a certain commonality of faith and mutual understanding that transcends words and theology – and isn’t that what spiritual community is all about, really?

In any event, since the post was published last month, life seemed to get in the way of my writing/blogging plans and I am, regrettably, just getting around to posting something about it here on my own site. Below is an excerpt of the post, but if you are interested in learning more about Unitarian Universalism you can read the full post here, visit 100 Questions that Non-Members Ask About Unitarian Universalism, or ask me any questions that you might have.

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As a somewhat fringe religion – with a confusing mouthful of a name, no less – many people have never even heard of Unitarian Universalism. And even those people who have heard of it still might not really understand what it is. Heck, there are times when even I have a really hard time explaining just what it is.

Some people assume it’s a religion of atheists; others mistakenly call it “Christianity Lite.” And while there certainly are atheists and Christians who consider themselves to be Unitarian Universalists, both of these characterizations are, of course, vast over-generalizations of what Unitarian Universalism is and who Unitarian Universalists are.

So what is Unitarian Universalism? And who are we?

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Despite the common assumption that it is a relatively new religion, Unitarian Universalism is actually the combination of two religious groups that have been around for hundreds of years – Unitarians who traditionally believed in a unified source (rather than the Trinity) and Universalists who traditionally were progressive Christians who believed that everyone was saved regardless of religious belief. Some of the more well-known historical Unitarians or Universalists include Louisa May Alcott, John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Benjamin Franklin, and e.e. cummings.

Today, Unitarian Universalism has evolved into something much wider and deeper and more amorphous than its traditional roots. Simply put, Unitarian Universalism is an open and accepting and seeking faith. And while there is no prescribed doctrine to which Unitarian Universalists must adhere, there is a commitment to encourage spiritual growth and honor each individual’s personal faith journey.

You can read the full post here to find out more about Unitarian Universalism and what it means to me. Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

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