Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

Sometimes we ask, “How does this end?”

But does it really ever end? Or are endings really new beginnings?

Here are some of my favorite “endings” that actually opened the most amazing doors to new beginnings:

The first evening of my mother’s “running away” from dementia, that helped her feel both at home and free from home, all at once.
Soiled toes after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. We thought our beaches would never be the same, but God was gracious to restore in due time, as He always does.
What sea stars do when they free themselves from their captors out of children’s beach pails and escape back to the sea, alive and free again!
The end of a rum runner schooner from 2 centuries ago…nobody has the $ to rescue it, so it just keeps eroding on a remote beach, a treasure to the few who frequent the far reaches of the peninsula, a legend to those from afar…


The end of a virtual fantasy and the beginning of an indestructible, eternal bff-ship.
The end of life as we knew it pre-Katrina…once the grief passed, the rebuilding was mostly emotional, projected onto the current landscape should you visit NOL.
The end of David’s life, 6 weeks in a coma and no hope…but the doctors had us sign papers to authorize unorthodox treatments and I stood glued to the wall praying as they applied said treatments in the form of laughing gas and yelling at him to hang in there and stay with us….and he did, and turned 19 last month.
Hurricane Ivan’s destruction, 2004, year before Katrina – rocking my baby in my lap singing hymns as our ears popped when the winds hit 130 and we could no longer hear trees falling around us, but had to trust totally in the Lord..our kids remember that night and our faith and serve God with gratitude to this day.
The ending of a century-old era, my Cubbies losing. Oh, ye of little faith! God delivers if You sit tight and see what He has in store!
Elizabeth died some days after this 93rd birthday…but her death was the beginning of a new legacy of strength, courage and untold creativity….Just open your heart to what lies ahead.
Death of hips – yeah, finished the marathon in David’s honor, but was sidelined early in life with titanium and polyurethane shortly thereafter….pace thyself!

The end of anonymity – red flag hair day unexpectedly revealed last Sunday. God reigns in all things!

Thank You, God, for endings, which usher in brand new opportunities and beginnings. You are the Omega and the Alpha, and everything in between. You’ve got this! May we all embrace endings as we would beginnings….both bring new life and growth.

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Attending a swanky holiday soirée last night, my eyes spotted this tired Santa’s eyes, who was haplessly keeled over in the corner of the dining room, largely unnoticed:


Poor Santa! He looks exhausted. I would be, too, if I were him, along with the Honorable hostess who created this magical holiday celebration.



This was one of two giant, breathtaking trees in the home.


I liked the eyes on this sun, too, the ceramic forming eyebrows and expression above the homemade custom tile backsplash.


Private, outdoor bathtubs serve two other purposes in the coastal South besides bathing: to fill with water and cover during a hurricane so you can flush toilets when there’s no electricity or water, and to fill with adult beverages on ice during Christmas and Mardi Gras parties.


The giant, horizontal-limbed oak tree gets to wear lights, too.


Hey God, in the flurry of festivities leading up to Your Son’s birth, we haven’t forgotten the reason for the season! Thank You for giving us opportunities for both fellowship and solitude as we reflect on the many blessings You gift us with at Christmas. May we all have eyes to appreciate the many wonders of this season.

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In the last installment, Subtropical storm Alberto was about to impose on my world. Perhaps the main twisted part had to do with the media coverage elsewhere (for ratings’ sake) than what actually was the case here.

The good news was it provided some great surf for the local surfer fanatics who don’t have the luxury of living in Australia or Hawaii. And that my kid’s skull wasn’t impacted. The bad news came home this morning:

No worries, we were able to save the ankle tether and this was just a backup surf board.

Now we’re just waiting for a “real” storm.

I don’t think I’ve introduced you to Donut the therapy dog yet….Santa brought him at Christmas to our house from a very special place across the country, for our special needs kids:

(when in my lap, he doubles as Toonces the Driving Dog)

He is decked out for Memorial Day.

God bless all who sacrificed their lives for ouR freedom….

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To get to my beach, one must travel through fields of peanuts, pecans and cotton.

One day this week on my early morning commute, I couldn’t resist pulling over to capture the dew-soaked cotton, which practically drips out of its blossom-shells when it gets closer to going to market.


Tromping through the wet grass to explore these real cotton balls was well worth trashing the heels I was wearing to work that good morning.

Each plant is, at maturity, about four feet high. Each blossom bursts forth with four distinct “balls,” each of which has a small, hard seed nestled deep inside, which you can feel when you pinch the cotton ball. It is like pulling apart stiff cotton candy to get to the seed.

It’s been a rainy season, so some of the leaves are a little browned in places. Tropical Nonevent Karen is providing us with additional sog which may hamper the harvest.

Yes, it really IS this white on the bushes! The reason they have to bleach it in the mills (to get your white t-shirts and medicinal cotton balls) is because it yellows slightly after it’s been picked and has died. Plus, the process of harvesting kicks up a lot of dust and dirt, so it goes through a lot of wear and tear from field to factory.

Here in the Deep South, we say that this is the closest we’ll get to seeing snow.

To get closer to seeing other good mornings, please click here.


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If I ever die commuting, I will die so happy,

thanking God for the sights I get to see on my commute:

Bottlenose Dolphin Feeding Near Pier

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Did you ever have something happen in your life that made you realize that it wasn’t God that was bigger than a problem, but it was YOU that got bigger, and God had stayed the same as He always was? He is, after all the Rock, they say. He doesn’t shift and grow. We do.

I, in all my self-imposed Christian wisdom (along with self-righteous Biblical interpretation (which justified my self-imposed Christian wisdom), was taught a huge lesson this week in spiritual perspective.

I had always thought, believed and “known” that “my” interpretation of God’s way was right (or pretty right, anyway), and that others were just blind to the truth. Poor them. Poor me.

This week God put a child in my path who has shown me that He has not, is not, and will not change. It is I who must change.

Today I spent 6 hours in a classroom/lab and learned how the Gulf of Mexico has a current that goes from southeast to northwest, which is why it always appears that my family has moved their encampment on the beach way to the right, after I’ve been boogie boarding the waves for more than 15 minutes.

And this week my sands shifted just a little bit, thanks to His righteous current.

I had the sensation I sometimes had riding the “L” in Chicago, or a roller coaster when slightly disoriented. Your brain knows it is you moving, but for a brief sensation of a moment, we are buffaloed into perceiving that we are not moving, but rather the contents outside the car appear to be moving…concrete sidewalks, walls and all.

Or like when I couldn’t even see my family, much less any strand of beach, once I’d swam all the way out to the border-buoy.

Or like when we find ourselves gazing up at the stars on a clear night with no earthly interference. We see the stars so clearly; their winking twinkle is comforting…like a baby strapped into a baby-contraption. There is security in knowing our place. All is well when we are dependent on One who is greater, stronger. That primal feeling then gives way to the realization of how SMALL we are…and the insecurities of our insignificance quietly simmer and bubble forth as we gaze.

We are so miniscule!

How we strive to jockey for our perceptions of greatness on this tiny planet! No wonder we think size matters.

And yet, there is so much more beyond, in the universe and in the unknown dimensions.

I, who have always advocated for X, Y and Z in my Christian walk, was introduced to a little fellow – and I mean LITTLE – this week, who has seen all, done all and been there done that. No child should ever have been exposed to what he has come to know as normal and right. So I now find myself in a position of having to help this child, and the only way to help him, to bring him closer to half a chance at a decent life, to bring him closer to God, is to help him in ways that I had previously been indoctrinated NOT to do.

How confusing is that?! The ways society and Christianity says are “right” and “good,” and now a child is so messed up, that the only path for him to have a crack at right and good flies directly in the face of what man dictates is right and good?!

Yes, God is SO much bigger than any box we put Him in. Just when we think we have it all sewn up and figured out, God will set us straight….

Self-righteousness sux.

Perhaps the walk closer to Him means taking a more circuitous route. They say the path is narrow, but that doesn’t mean that narrow path doesn’t meander around and venture near the lapping flames of Hell, rendering one parched and singed, making the reward all that more refreshing.

How much more meaningful is meaning, after a desert of meaninglessness.

Cold water only feels good when you’re nice ‘n hot, baby.

Thank you, God, for expanding the puny universe of my pea-brain…thanks for greater perspective…and for helping me to color outside Your lines.

What has rocked your spiritual plumb?

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For my new followers from the last post, welcome – and allow me to confess that the heart-wrenching style with which that post (and several preceding it) was written, is only half of me. The other half is the ghost of Erma Bombeck, albeit merely a wish for a sliver of her master wit. Like the big, red clown nose one of our nurses wears on the children’s unit, humor is one sure way to counterbalance what otherwise would be very difficult profession for one’s heart to manage.

And I have not been very funny lately, since about Labor Day weekend – come to think of it, those were the last funny post out of my fingertips – because there was nothing all that funny while I was furthering my education and cramming for a national exam during the past three months. A grim undertaking at best, it is over. It was about as much fun as untangling my bra straps fresh out of the dryer.

I am beyond happy to report that I passed, have achieved a new and improved professional stature which only my colleagues give a rip about because few others can recognize the futile, haughty jumble of alphabet soup behind our names, anyway. Doesn’t really matter…I never hang my credentials in my office anyhoo…one, who cares, as long as you get the job done, and two, it’d be just my luck to hang ’em and have some kid go into an aggressive rage and break one the day after they were hung.

At any rate, I am finally starting to regain feeling in parts of my numb skull (no comment), which was due in full to said academic undertaking. I am vaguely aware that I have been nominated for the Versatile Blogger award, for which I am most honorably flabbergasted, but I will not be able to fully acknowledge nor make good on my responsibilities for this until I altogether come to. This acknowledgment shall be forthcoming, I promise.

Besides, I have yet to sit down and master the fine art of linking in text here. I suck at reading directions. And I’ve limited patience for fiddling. Yes, I’m the one who’ll be responsible for the off-balance, cockeyed tyke bike under the tree Christmas morning, the one with the handlebars coming out of the side of seat and the horn attached to the spokes of the wheel. And hauling my bleeding kidlet to the ER shortly thereafter.

That is, if it weren’t for my left-brained, instructions-guru husband, who tirelessly crouches and grouches over the assembly-required items at 11pm on Christmas Eve, while I innocently sip hot cider in bed playing online Scrabble. Rest assured our respective roles in this matter were decidedly determined after our first child’s Christmas, when we battled it out for which way was right, Cog A into Slightly-Off-Center-Grommet-B (“damn the manufacturers, gimme the drill”). No, sweetheart, go to sleep…that wasn’t Daddy and Mommy, just Santa’s reindeer on the roof. After that first Christmas, our roles were clearly defined in this department. Bless this one-flesh of mine…he has mastered the assembly details to where he now comes to bed within 30 minutes of the young masses falling asleep. Cool.

As I rub and blink my weary eyes and insert myself back into my life as I knew it in September, I have awoken to the results of the sole female in a house of six, turning her attention elsewhere for a season. I have opened my eyes and behold, entered the season of destruction. Season’s greetings, ya slackin’ mama! Thankfully, the Christmas tree and accompanying decorations have managed to materialize. The children made it through another semester, husband has been sufficiently trained not to expect me to cook for him anymore, and the houseplants resemble a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but alive – nothing a little Miracle Gro can’t help.

On the flip side, the pantry is filled with man-snacks, as though I have irreverently entered a remote hunting camp, minus the skinned and hanging deer. I am being asked to believe that the floor was just swept two days ago when dust bunnies the size of Texas loom underneath the buffet. And the teenager responsible for doing the dishes has managed to chip every last bowl, plate and saucer in the cabinet. Evidently, hollering out from behind my book in the bedroom clear down to the kitchen, “I SHOULDN’T BE HEARING ANYTHING CLINK WHEN YOU EMPTY THE DISHWASHER!!!” wasn’t enough.

During my mental hiatus, I am quasi-aware of some less-than-intelligent conversations which took place. Monday afternoons found me chauffeuring the children to piano lessons, which take place in the town’s most upscale subdivision where lonely, looming Munster-like but manicured mansions abound. You rarely see people in them because they are elsewhere, off fetching the salaries they need to pay for the homes they barely get to enjoy. Except, that is, for our piano teacher, who has cleverly set up shop in her parlor.

Each Monday I recall being talked into letting them roll the windows down while we waited for the last one to finish his lesson, and each Monday I recall having to shush all of them getting verbally rambunctious, their playful shrieks from the backseat echoing off the stately homes surrounding us. One Monday I wised up and the windows remained up. But last Monday, it was unseasonably warm, so down came the windows to enjoy the sweet breeze. Within moments, they were back to their shrieking shenanigans, and I absent-mindedly joined them: “Y’ALL STOP ACTING LIKE A BUNCH OF HOODLUMS IN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD…WAIT’LL WE GET HOME, OKAY?!”

Driving off after the lesson was over, I found myself wondering just what I meant by that.

Another intelligent conversation transpired yesterday while I held my 13-year-old captive on a drive to and from a nearby island:

Me: “So what else do you want besides an Xpensive Box?”

Him: “Well, I know what I want.”

Me: “Well, what do you want?”

Him: “I’m not sure.”

Brilliance. I suppose the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

In other waking observations, I see the three-year old has not been adequately disciplined to date. I submit to you Exhibits A, B and C:

Broken beads, balls & Buzz

Exhibit A: Freud missed a stage; the proper stages should have been Oral, Anal, Nasal, Phallic, Latent and Genital. Here is the Mardi Gras bead (from the string he broke) which he inserted into his nose last night, another bead he was ABOUT to insert into his other nostril, and the crude but useful implement Daddy fashioned in order to extricate the offending orb Made In China. We escaped an ER copay and the child escaped Daddy’s operating expertise, when a small miracle (the forceful snort the child emitted when we had him pinned to the bed to examine the problem) caused the bead to descend on its own out of his nostril. I do believe Daddy and Mommy were more concerned, because as we frantically considered our options, Snuffy, bead up nose, nonchalantly asked for an animal cracker.

Exhibit B: Behold the multitude of broken Christmas items. Each child is allowed to pick a new ornament each year. The little one took it upon himself to locate each and every shiny, red icicle, the ones chosen by eldest brother, and snapped them all into at least two pieces. See the shards of the remains of another brother’s hand-painted (glass) ornament. And somewhere in that melee of mess is a lone jingle bell without its ribbon. We thought we could get away with not having to put all the ornaments halfway up the tree out of reach this year. Apparently not. He may have a future in advertising when the guy in the Allstate commercials retires.

Exhibit C: The top off a Matchbox race car. No clue how he pried it off so clean – he’s going to make a fabulous burglar someday. The little duckies from the farm set – baby duck ripped from its family, mother duck absent altogether, no telling where he put her. He probably ate her. And last but not least, Buzz Lightyear. Note the dangerously exposed wires where his left hand used to be. Left hand is now unceremoniously filed in the kitchen tool drawer of no return – you know, the one that has no actual tools in it, but instead has scores of broken household parts we mean to get to “some day.” Buzz’s amputated hand now holds the spring which held his hand in place where the wires now dangle. He still talks with authority when you press his buttons; he’s just not as believable anymore. Maybe the mishap occurred when he crash-landed by mistake, that’s what we’ll tell ’em.

Of unrelated interest is the distressed coffee table on which the exhibits lie. It did not become distressed until we first became distressed and gave up trying to keep the kidlets from playing on it “to keep it nice” (for what?! coffee?! made a much better surface for wood-scratching toys like Legos and cars). Luck of all luck, the “distressed look” came into vogue right about the time I was about get a new coffee table. Always me, fashionable by default, like the boots I bought in 1984 which came in handy 20 years later. I suppose I will postpone the purchase of a new coffee table until  (lessee, 18 minus 3…) um, 15 years from now.

As if these gems weren’t enough to collect in one day, I present to you Exhibit D:

Crunchy Christmas

It is our custom to decorate the children’s bedrooms with Christmas lights each Christmas. We had just put him down to sleep last night, and within 20 minutes, we heard an unearthly choke followed by a blood-curdling wail. Running in the room, he was spewing red and orange glass from the Christmas lights he tried to eat, all over his jammies and the floor. He had inquired as to their taste earlier in the season, and we lectured him thoroughly on the dangers of consuming Christmas lights. He stayed away from the lights the rest of the time, and we’d had them hung high on the top bunk and near the ceiling, not anticipating Curious George to climb up, pull them down and chomp on one. No, not one, but two. I wonder if he liked the taste of the red one so much he had to try the orange. The happy news is, no implements or ER trip necessary, once again everything came out just fine on its own fairly quickly. Lesson learned. Lights removed. We’ll try again next year.

Lastly, I submit Exhibit E:

Christmas Cow-Tipping

Yes, the naughty little shaver had to go and mess with baby Jesus after breaking his brother’s nutcracker, placing the head where the star should be on the manger scene, and tipping over the cow for good measure.

It’s a wonder we haven’t had a third incident involving the septic tank this year, as busy as he’s been. I guess he’s gone from putting things down the toilet to putting things down his hatch, breaking big things like plumbing systems to breaking small things. I will consider this a blessing, and progress.

The only thing keeping him from getting a lump of coal in his stocking was what he urgently said today as he noticed all the leaves had fallen off the maple tree out front: “We need to get more leaves for the tree for Christmas!”

Ah, the season of destruction just may yet yield to the season of giving!

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In a land far away from our minds stands a lone angel tree today, seen by few, known by fewer. This tree is different from the rest.

You know of the others. Right now in stores across the United States stand hundreds of “angel trees,” decorated with carefully disguised identities of needy children in the community. These are children who through no fault of their own are in situations which render them financially less fortunate than other children on Christmas day. These children may live with their families or perhaps are foster children, but they still have the freedom to live with a family, attend school, and, although challenged, have a fairly typical daily routine in the daily world.

Allow me to introduce you to a similar, but rarely-seen angel tree.

This tree also has the names of carefully disguised identities of needy children, but these children are apart from the community. These children are the emotionally less fortunate who, through no fault of their own, have been subjected to and somehow survived unconscionable circumstances which have scarred their souls so badly, that they are unable to function in society as we know it. These children cannot live in a home, neither with family of origin nor foster home. These children cannot attend school due to their disintegrated hearts.

These children are locked away in an institution, both for their safety and for the safety of the community, or because they are the most emotionally fragile of children. They simply cannot handle life as we know it. They are there to mend their hearts and souls, and remain there until they are fit for society. This may take days or weeks for those in acute care; months, or even years in the long-term residential facilities…all of which are eternities, in a child’s eyes.

There they spend their days and nights, eating and sleeping, playing and fighting, wondering how they got there, and contemplating what they need to do to get out. There they try their hardest to get through each day with the shadows of their past following and haunting them, trying to do what schoolwork they can, trying to get along with others, with varying levels of success.

Some try their hardest because they have hope. Others do not try because they have given up hope, and need encouragement from one moment to the next. Still others try their hardest to show others their very worst, because if they can be disliked or violent enough, they can reject others before others have yet another chance to reject them…at least it is one thing in life they can control.

Their angel tree sits quietly in the corner of the small, empty lobby, the only unlocked room in the building. Other than the receptionist, it is only seen by the few still connected to these children who are able to visit: the state worker who must ask the child to choose between a voucher for clothing or a voucher for toys and who will be home with their family on Christmas; the ashamed, distant relative who is reluctant to be involved but wants to make a good show, the occasional lost driver who took the wrong turn down the end of the long road; the tireless staff and nurses doctors. Oh, and the UPS guy and mail carrier, neither of whom bring things addressed to specific children living there, except on rare occasions.

The requests for needs for these children seem somewhat unusual. The angels on this tree bear wishes for things like socks, because their roommate flushed their last good pair down the toilet during another one of his nightly rages, with enough bone-rattling shrieking to create a new nightmare for another child down the hall on the unit, unable to sleep…and not a shred of memory of the crisis, come sunup.

Like playing cards, since many of the games on the market, electronic or otherwise, further cause them to be unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, and may trigger violent flashbacks. Or reinforce their tendency to want to solve problems with disconnected sarcasm and indifferent violence.

Like soft, stuffed animals or dolls, since anything battery-operated requires batteries – and anyone who’s been behind those locked doors long enough knows that if you slam a battery in the door near the hinges just right, it will expose a very sharp object that can be found in the core of the battery, which can then be used as a weapon to hurt someone. Or, for the self-harmers, to cut on themselves and draw blood, and wind up wearing scrubs and on 24/7 observation for days as a result. It is unfathomable to think how a young child might learn such behavior, but there it is.

Hygiene products are also popular, since the hospital-issued products are not exactly kid-friendly, and it is much more fun by far to brush your teeth with sparkly bubble gum toothpaste, like most other children enjoy on a daily basis. A pretty ribbon for her hair. An emery board, since nail clippers are not allowed on the premises, and long nails can be used to gauge eyes in a sneak attack from behind. A SpongeBob blanket for a bed instead of the typical ho-hum hospital sheets. Warm Cinderella footie jammies. Or a visit from a volunteer big brother/big sister or mentor, an objective other who will play a game with them and listen to their story…a story most can’t bear to hear, a story which defies common sense and human rationality.

Food item requests are never found on this angel tree; some children are on strict diets due to side effects of medications. And besides, the child who roamed the streets for his next meal has been known to wheel deals with other children: “I’ll give you the coupon I earned for extra game room time, if you give me your snack.” Snacks are then discovered hoarded under mattresses, up in ceiling tiles or in the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom which the adults all assumed were locked and childproof.

Some children ask for earmuffs to block out the incessant noise, which may come from either side of their skull at any given moment.

How did they get there, anyway? It may be because their parents sold them for sex in exchange for drugs. Or left them for long periods of time to fend for themselves. Or perhaps they locked them in closets or entertainment cabinets for their convenience. Or molested them repeatedly over the course of years.

These are the children who don’t know where their parents are, and the parents are either dead from their misdeeds or are happily homeless, preferring drugs and alcohol over their child….or simply abandoned the child and left the state, never to be heard from again. Some children may know where their parents are, but their parents voluntarily turn them over to the state because they don’t want them anymore. These children may have been in 15 foster homes, with no stability or sense of permanency. These children may have been along for the ride and witnessed a drug deal gone bad, resulting in murder. Or witnessed murder in their very own living room. Or tried to murder their family during a psychotic episode.

The end result is a child who is unable to make sense out of the world, who relates to others as they have been related to, and who does not and may never know childhood, as it is supposed to be known.

These are the children we forget about because they are quietly locked away from the rest of us while they pick up the pieces of their bewildered, shattered lives. You will not see them in schools or on sports teams. You may spot them briefly at the store, at McDonald’s or on a playground closely monitored by staff, if they are deemed well enough to go out into public at the time and their medication and behavior are stable. If that is the case, you will likely not know it is them you are seeing, and it likely will not register in the moment you see them, just where it is they lay their head at night – a place where they must be to work out their raw feelings of depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis…their fear, their disappointment, their confusion, their rage

The angels on their tree represent a completely different type of need – a need that is real but often goes unknown and unheard by most.

Still needing and wanting to believe in something despite their inability to trust mankind, the younger ones hold fast to their belief in Santa. No, there is no chimney in this place, but they are assured that Santa has keys to the joint, nonetheless. Their lives may have taken an unthinkable course, but their anticipation and hope in being loved and cared for like any other human is entitled to, is no different from yours or mine.

I urge readers (and writers) to locate the nearest children’s psychiatric hospital in your area (and they are there, somewhere…I cannot point you in the direction of the children I know due to privacy and confidentiality issues). Please consider dropping off a small gift  for one of these children who will wake up Christmas morning behind locked doors…on the inside looking out, never sure when they will be ready, if ever, to be the one on the outside looking in.

This gift needn’t be material…write them an anonymous letter and tell them how brave they are, how proud you are of them for enduring all they have. Tell these children that they can do it, that they are loved, admired and respected. That they are believed, that their feelings are real and important. Tell them that they matter. Color them a rainbow with your words, that they might be assured that their world will hopefully not flood like that again.

Such a small gesture has incredibly meaningful ramifications.

For what is small to us, is huge to them, bigger than we might ever guess…whether or not we remember about their angel tree now and in years to come. Like a standout, cherished childhood memory, they will remember, and it may just be the one memory of hope and love that will help heal them on their horrific journey. It may be the one thing they have, hold, hang on to and refer back to as the biggest spark of light that brought them through their darkness.

God, help us all help the sequestered and forgotten children of the world, the ones least seen in our communities – the ones who most need miracles and a reason to believe again.

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Carl Jung, the father of analytic psychology, thunk up the notions of introversion and extraversion, among other things. Most people commonly associate the terms with the contrast between being shy versus being a social butterfly. However, the terms actually refer to how people recharge and get their energy, in my understanding. Extroverts draw energy from being around and interacting with others, while introverts feel and do best when alone.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (a personality test, of sorts), concocted by an astute mother-daughter team and based on Jung’s work, helps the test-taker determine what sort of person they are using four personality polarities, one of which is the introversion/extraversion scale. A psychological horoscope, if you will. Like most of psychology, it is a way to find fancy titles for characteristics about yourself that you already kinda sorta knew anyway, just like a juicy-sounding diagnosis brings pseudo-relief to the afflicted simply by validating their internal experience with a formal external label. “Oh, is THAT what it is?!”

The emperor has new clothes!

I have long teetered between being an introvert and an extrovert. I fluctuate and fluidly morph between the two. This has confounded me to no end. I want to know which I am, and I don’t seem to be able to nail myself down. And yet most of the time, I can tell which I am. I have somewhat of a bimodal cycle: over the long term, I can see eras of my life in which I was more introverted or more extroverted. And within those cycles, I can identify days in which I was one or the other, within the context of the overall trend.

A recent interview I heard with Chris Martin reminded me of this…he was talking about how he balances fame and self-awareness; he said he stands on the outside trying to get in by flaunting his fame, “Look at me, I’m famous, let me in!” Then he gets in, and about ten minutes into his flaunting and attention-seeking, he says something he realizes makes him look and feel like an idiot, and, shamed and humbled, he slinks back to his rightfully humble place in his mind.

This struck a chord with my teetering (which I suppose we all do – it is how we balance ourselves between any two extremes). I will sink my teeth into a goal like a dog with a bone, and I savor each and every moment, living it to the fullest. I do not quit. I am out there for the world to see, and proud of it. Determined. Driven. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Then after some time, something will happen to slow me in my tracks. I am going so fast, so focused forward, that it often takes me a bit to perceive the interruption, a bit more to acknowledge it, even more of a bit to comprehend it. I may even slow down and turn around temporarily, humoring it long enough to shut it up so I can proceed ahead again. I love the brink, after all. Adrenaline’s curse. But eventually it sinks in, and I, like Mr. Martin, am forced to assess my direction and slink back to my rightful place in ho-hum moderation.

Don’t get me wrong; ho-hum moderation is a good place to be. I just have to work harder to convince myself that I can stifle my penchant for the higher levels of stimulation I crave. And force myself to remain buckled in with my seatback in the upright position and the tray secured. It is really hard, really really hard, to discipline myself as such, when I believe in my heart that it is far more interesting to roam about the cabin and experience every bump of turbulence while simultaneously in perpetual motion. You get more effect that way. And perspective. You get to see out of many windows instead of just a couple. Taming the tiger in an adventure-seeker is no small task.

Then again…perpetual motion prevents us from seeing the slow-and-steady, which purports to win the race.

Balancing the opposing extremes is a delicate process, after all – and certainly not for the faint at heart. No, those who squarely know which side of the fence they’re on, rarely teeter. They find safety in their identity as clearly one or the other. They are either this or that in their personality, wont to change over. Sweet or salty. Indoors or outdoors. Hot or cold. Overly controlled or lack of control. Pre-dishwasher rinsers or throw-em-in-filthy. Ginger or Mary Ann. Spender or saver. Tastes great or less filling.

Once upon a time I took to the stage to express myself. Like my stagemates, most of us worked best solo. With each season and each composition, it was almost like a classic group therapy experience:

Stage 1: Getting acquainted: Everyone was thrilled to be working with each other. Everyone said nice things about everyone. Everyone’s ideas were great. It was going to be the best show ever.

Stage 2: Transition: After the niceties and rolling up of sleeves, then came the clash of ideas. Everyone wanted their vision of the final production to be realized, and began to get edgy and snippy when having to accommodate others’ ideas. Too many introverts who like to show off and remain private, thrown into a closed room for too many hours. Battles ensued. Tears flowed. Tempers flared. Assorted footwear angrily removed and violently hurled across the stage. It was bad luck of somebody didn’t go stomping off stage in a dramatic display of defiance. Hours were spent, but not wasted. It was necessary gnashing of teeth. It almost had to happen, to be gotten out of the way to give way to productivity.

Stage 3: Work phase: Everyone had seen each other at their worst and each had been nonverbally assigned a role in the family (e.g. mover/shaker, scapegoat, placator, intellectualizer, devils advocate, wet blanket, natural leader, etc.). Finally the work could begin, take place and get done. Then it was refined, and refined some more. Bonding happened. Give and take, gave and took. Everyone began to get pumped by seeing the possibilities and realizing them. Things came together. The energy gelled. The ugly turned beautiful, beyond everyone’s wildest imaginations, surprising even the most optimistic.

Stage 4: Wrapping it up: The performances. The joy of doing well, and all sharing in how good it was. The joy of making a mistake, knowing the audience missed it, and being able to laugh about it together. The pinnacle high of a job well done. The curtain call and applause making it all real.

My favorite part was being able to be an introvert in an extroverted role. Very much on display, yet encapsulated in my own world, shielded from the eyes of others by the glare of the stage lights. For all I knew, all that darkness in the theatre with only the exit light glowing in the way-back, was the same darkness I’d rehearsed to so many times before, whether with my stagemates, or alone, like going into a church to pray alone at an odd time, and having the whole place to yourself. Thanks to the blinding lights and deafening sound, the filled house was no different from the countless times I couldn’t sleep and went to rehearse alone in the silent dead of night. Thank the Lord for some forms of sensory deprivation. I might have been embarrassed and self-conscious if I had been fully aware of the audience.

Later, in broadcasting briefly, I enjoyed the same dichotomy of on-display anonymity. And now, ditto for blogging. You subscribers give me the willies. In a good way 🙂 I cannot see you, I will not know you, and vice versa, except through the safety and security of what I choose to share. You remain out there in the dark balcony seating, but I can do what I do best in the comfort and privacy of my inner being. The introverted extrovert who, no matter who acknowledged what I had done “privately” in the public, had the privilege of keeping a piece of my introverted heart to myself. Carefully letting others know me as I wished for them to know me, yet guarding my inner reality. No one could ever know that, no matter how bright the lights.

No one can ever penetrate the deepest of depths. Not even ourselves, really.

Perhaps I’ve answered my own question…I sound like an introvert. But stay tuned…this is prone to change. I am told that according to careers and personality types, I am supposed to be an outgoing extrovert, hands-down, no questions asked. I scoff at that notion. Rather, I find myself having a greater understanding for those I help: the bipolar who struggles for balance. The schizophrenic trying to reconcile one reality with another. The traumatized who is driven to trust but cannot. And any of them who find themselves at the tip of a double-edged sword who are haunted by one extreme, yet cannot do some of their most remarkable work without being at that extreme.

There is genius in walking the non-normative ledge. Innovations always come from risk. And innovative people and those on the fringes of the bell-shaped curve are never fully understood or respected by the masses inside the safety of the “normal” curve. Am I such a nut for the exhilaration I experience, running long and hard in diagonally-pelting rain, when my best ideas are generated in those moments, and life’s problems seem entirely solvable? Perhaps one must be a bit unstable themselves to help the unstable. There is value in understanding and appreciating the need – nay, the drive – to scribble outside the lines of life.

One day when I have all the time and money in the world, I hope to submit myself to advanced training (which basically amounts to selling your soul, investing what will be your last dime 30 years from now and  sequestering oneself for several years, cut off from income and subjected to selective human contact – otherwise known as pursuing a doctorate). (You have to be cut off from the norm to think on the edge, eh?). Then I hope to be qualified to masterfully and expertly analyze what is and what is not…the conscious and the unconscious, the real and the surreal. And, like all good psychology students, figure themselves out and put an end to the question of whether I am truly and introvert or an extrovert. This will determine whether I become a well-adjusted, smiling, actively aging person like in an ad for assisted living, or whether I become a well-adjusted, scowling, opinionated curmudgeon. I see the value and worth in both, and I can see myself perfectly happy in either role, justifying either based on the positive and negative experiences I have had throughout life. Aging is, after all, finding a healthy balance between change and stability, risk and security.

There is risk in investing in the mirage of security, and safety in taking calculated risks.

Well, how about both? Who says I can’t be a well-adjusted, opinionated, smiling, active curmudgeon? Maybe God made me that way on purpose. Perhaps there’s merit in straddling the line between extremes. Teetering means constant change, and change keeps us young at heart. Somebody’s got to make it look fun and exciting to be introverted, to the extroverted crowd. And just maybe I can better understand how and why God made people very much on purpose, precisely the way He made them…inside or outside the curve, or squarely in one camp or the other…or flitting between the two.

Vive la difference!

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