Saturday, December 18, 2010

Passing with a D

I have to ask, “Am I really applying myself?” I mean reeeeeally applying myself.

Man I used to hate it when I heard this as a response to why something I was doing fell short of external expectations. Especially in school I heard this. In retrospect I was blessed I guess. School really wasn’t that hard. I don’t recall wedgies, or bullies an issue either. More so I found myself a victim of apathy and disinterest. Being class clown wasn’t necessarily a respected remedy according to the administrators.

I was resourceful though. I also valued the resource of good friends, common sense, a handful of manners, and respect for elders. I was able to get by. Some called it the”path of least resistance”; I considered it wiser to stay out of the woods and use a trail previously ventured. At least I knew where it was leading. There was comfort in that. Although many dreams for me were not going to be found on the paths carved by others, I chose the security of doing what was expected of me, what was familiar, what was pleasing.

Asking for what I wanted was often frowned upon as I may or may not have always been “traditional.” Yes I know the “squeaky wheel may get the grease”, but the squeaky may get taken to garage and replaced.

I found “applying” myself was when I was able to please others by manifesting tangible results and progression through the suitable application of my lessons. This ability was a reflection of not only the teacher’s skill, but in my ability to absorb the material thoroughly. Take the lemons, make the lemonade, pour them a glass, what for the approval. Go for the “yum!”

It is hard to feel like I am applying myself nowadays when I go against the grain. When I am not fitting into the social mold of what is expected of me based upon comparison to my peers. However when I see some of my peers, I do not always see a soaring spirit, fulfillment, and one who is creating a compelling future. I do not feel that every day has to be like a birthday party at a park in summertime, but I feel that following one’s own instinctual navigation is admirable.

I want to find solace in the application of my efforts–in a personal avenue I find inspiring, and compelling –worthy of praise. Worthy of admiration. Worthy of notice. Worthy of forgiveness.

I no longer want to feel that I am going through life passing with a D.

I want to feel okay with the fact that I am terrified at times. I want to revel in the fact that I broke free of the “me too” mold. I want to be judged by how far I bounced, rather than how far I fell. I want to be proud that my lack of need to be praised is worthy of it. I want to be a role model by trying not to be one.

I am no longer willing to exclusively base my life’s grade card on being able to get by, or even being comfortable. I think to get closer to an “A” there requires some feelings of exhilaration, exhaustion, ecstasy, and absolute surprise. Surprise in what we experience, what we create, what we endure, what we contribute.

With that I think we must endure grating pain. We must hurt others at times, yet have the stones to look them in the face and say “I am sorry”–the distance between the realizations that we have hurt them, to the point where we get to make it right is a cutting wound in itself.

I think a passing grade is feeling we did not only do “enough”, but more than enough–till it hurt sometimes. The trek from a passing “D” to closer to the summit of an “A” is defined by our contributions, and the examples we leave behind in our quest for ourselves. I realize I would rather be a loser because of how much I gave than a winner because of how much I took. Our grades are not always based on the academic.

Passing with a “D” is when the schedule never changes, the relationships ripen, and angry acceptance of the mundane becomes comfortable. Enough is okay, someday is acceptable, and okay is acceptable, and someday is enough. To me, it is one stumble from failure. However in life, there is no summer school. I see where God often places tutors in front of me. I see where my teachers appear frequently, yet in my comfort, I may be “napping on my desk” when I should most be paying attention. Not applying but absorbing. Do the extra credit.

As I have said before: “In life, not every classroom has a desk, nor every church a steeple.”

In my personal shift from ambition to meaning, I find it easier to get the passing grade, and a higher one at that. The grade is simply a result of steeping myself in the visceral experience of living with an alignment of a higher calling. When I find that I am heeding the call, the application is something that to me is as necessary as the breaths I take. Application becomes effortless and necessary with vigor. Progress toward the goals becomes a by-product of a passionate navigator.

My teachers are different now. Class is held in new rooms. I pay attention. I value my lessons. I just do not know if what I am doing follows the standard criteria to be worthy of a 4.0, an “A”, or a smiley face on the upper right hand of the paper. However I do know that I consider a smile on my face and the faces of those I serve and surround myself with will be worthy of a diploma somewhere down the line.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Make plans not outcomes

“Cracker Barrel wisdom” is what I call it from time to time. I do not mean this disparagingly at all. If you have ever been to the afore-mentioned restaurant, it is a large but cozy, “country-kitchen” style with a “General Store” greeting you upon entry. The store harbors many sweets and treats as well as a variety of novelty treasures appearing to have come from days of old.

I like the old placards and signs of a wooden nature with old-school wisdom and humorous quotes. Some offer scripture and simple proclamations such as “T.G.I.F” or “Gone Fishin’”. Nice. Perhaps you may be a collector of little fridge magnets with some of this wisdom. One I have seen comes to mind. It states–“We make plans, God laughs.” Well that’s encouraging.

I guess I have a hard time picturing God actually laughing at my attempt to add structure to my day or my life. I liken it to my kids coming to me and informing me of their plans after school, what they want to do and with whom, and then share their excitement as the go on to tell me of a party they desire to attend the upcoming weekend, or maybe even share their future careers goals. I then bow my arms, placing fists upon hips, toss my head back, and let out an “Oh, that’s what YOU think” type of deep guttural belly laugh. Okay, maybe that was a bit extreme to make a point. I do not think that if I plan a picnic, God will make it rain to teach me a lesson either.

I think God wants us to make plans. I think we are encouraged to look ahead. I also think we should not stand idle hoping that a treasure map with a big “X” will appear telling us that we are to take five paces in this direction and then twenty paces to the next. It is part of the adventure contained in the potential of a misstep where we gain wisdom. I think we gain strength through our scars and calluses.

A father-figure style of direction is more of how I see it. Like a father, we are allowed the power of choice but are held accountable for our actions. Whether praise or reprimand, we align with the divine direction that is presented to us. If we turn our backs on this direction, we will burn our fingers on the stove, run with the scissors, and eat too many chocolates. We suffer. We get grounded. We must trust our navigator that we will indeed reach the shore with proper planning. However, we must also remember we cannot control the weather, but we can adjust our sails!

Our ability to be flexible enough to adjust our compass points mid-journey is what allows us to arrive safely. It is our faith in taking these detours or perhaps carving a new path is where I believe deep alignment with God lies. I think we are encouraged to venture out, but not be afraid to hand over the wheel from time to time. It is our ego that allows us to end up in the bad neighborhoods.

I feel encouraged and inspired when I make plans, not outcomes.

Rather than being paralyzed by fear awaiting my next shove down life’s path, I embark without fear, yet respectful of what may lie ahead. I realize that I may be challenged, I may be rewarded. By not focusing on what I feel “should” happen at the end of my journey, I can still stay present in the moment allowing me to feel the presence of the grace that will take me to exactly where I should arrive.

I do make plans. It is like packing a backpack with all the clothing and items you expect you “may” need–food and water, a compass, tent, and extra clothes. I plan on using some of these things, however that could change. I am okay with that. However if something does crop up unexpectedly along my journey, I hope God puts a Cracker Barrel nearby so I can get breakfast, some candy sticks, and sit in a rocking chair.