Forgiveness: It’s What’s For Dinner

Published in the Ferndale Record, October 29, 2014

It’s almost time to sit around the dining room table with family and either really enjoy it, or really hate it. Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings have a way of making us remember either why we love the people we do, or why we left home and rarely come back.

Recently I heard a speaker talk about how to obtain confidence, specifically spiritual confidence – the kind that let’s you know you’re doing good things and making progress without having to be perfect. I needed this.

I also needed each of his six practical suggestions to get and stay on this road, but one of them knocked me out. He said it like it could be done, and many will believe it can’t, but I think it can. Here’s the suggestion:

“Become really, really good at forgiving. Forgive everyone, everything, all the time, or at least strive to do so, thus allowing forgiveness into your own life. Don’t hold grudges, don’t be easily offended, forgive and forget quickly.”

I’ve been playing with this for the past few weeks and here’s what happened. I don’t naturally give others the benefit of the doubt—I have to work at it. But when I force myself to try, it’s easier the next time.

For instance, it means that when the guy on TV yells at me to buy OxiClean, or an ad pops up on a website inviting me to learn “73 Things About Reese Witherspoon You Didn’t Know,” I need to replace the snark running around my brain, and remember one of the things I’ve learned about marketing – it’s meant to be in your face.

Or, when I’m on the freeway and that woman on her cell passes me just in time to make the same exit I’m taking, instead of muttering and laying on the horn, I can relax and tell myself that maybe she really, really needed to be somewhere in a hurry.

These examples sound syrupy, sniveling and unimportant. They aren’t. Simple steps make the big ones easier. It’s a chain reaction, I promise.

When we think we know what someone else should be doing, saying or being, we really don’t. We know what we see. What we can’t see is what’s in their hearts.

Forgiving is one of those things that doesn’t have to be easier said than done. I know this because I’ve lived with people, (yes, LIVED with) who knew how to, and chose to forgive instantly.

I’m not talking here about huge issues that stem from hurtful relationships and habits. Those need to be addressed on their own levels and take time.

But maybe they won’t take as much time as we think. Forgiveness can be done and over with in seconds. The deed, the slight, the hurt can be forgotten – but here’s the catch: we have to just do it. Not wait, not let it simmer, not ruminate about how we’re right and the other person is wrong (although that may be true). We can simply let go of the rope.

Soured relationships turn sweet, impatience gives way to understanding and holiday dinners become something to look forward to.

The freedom associated with this is at once terrifying, exhilarating and enlightening. It’s like high stakes risk without the chance of a crash and burn.

You win every time.

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When You Can’t Fix It

Published in the Ferndale Record, October 1, 2014

One of the best parts about working in an elementary school is making things better. A knee scrape? Bandages make tears stop. Fall off the monkey bars? An ice pack eases that twisted ankle. Even hurt feelings are talked through and children run back to class together, still friends.

Sometimes these quick fixes happen too fast for my liking. The nurturing part of me wants the child to linger so I can dry tears and impart warm words before sending them back into fray. This happens only occasionally.

The dichotomy of circumstances at school and those in other parts of my life is not lost on me. A situation, a person or relationship that I see as troubled gets my attention. My nature is to spring into action, to fix it, to be proactive, to make the hurt go away. The catch is that usually, real life doesn’t work like it does in kindergarten through fifth grade.

It’s not that these other day-to-day situations can’t be fixed, but I’m not necessarily the one to do it. That’s the problem. There lies the anger, the sorrow, and frustration that accompany so many scenarios in the life of a nurturer. Other people help, too. In fact, other people besides me are crucial.

When my best friend’s husband was in an accident that almost claimed his life, I dropped everything – like anyone would, and went to her side. So did many other people and this, I’m sorry to say, annoyed me. She was MY best friend, not someone else’s! I was the one she should lean on. I was the one who would make her life easier.

I expressed these sentiments to my husband and he kindly explained that at this moment in my best friend’s life, she had more needs than one person could fill. I could definitely be who I was to her, but others were wanted and needed, too. It was all about continued, ongoing and widespread support and nothing about me.

My nurturing instinct doesn’t just want to fix problems; it wants to make the pain vanish. If I could do this, as much as I hate to admit it, it would defeat the very things that build character in other people. Pain might go away, but there would be no courage or growth, no accountability or responsibility on the other end. I would effectively erase all of that, too.

Watching people I care about suffer is uncomfortable and at times close to unbearable, but I’ve been through rough spots, too. And I know that’s where personal and spiritual strength is born – in the crucible of suffering.

So, I try to remember the following:

-When I can’t fix it, whatever it is, I remember it’s probably not mine to fix – at least not entirely.

-My job is to be kind, supportive (in the ways most needed, not necessarily in the ways I perceive as helpful) and non-judgmental.

-Prayer, good vibes and white light are things I can offer in the direction of whoever needs it.

I’m more of a positive influence when I stop feeling helpless, and start doing whatever I can with the above rules. Flailing along and making it about my needs are never right.

Toasters and cars are fixed by people who know how to do those things. I can’t definitively mend most situations, but I can let go of what I can’t do and concentrate on what I can.