The Parenting Manual

Y’all, I think I’ve done it.

I have written the best, most accurate, fail proof (though not fool proof) parenting manual of all time.  And it’s only two, three-worded chapters!  Are you ready for this wisdom I’m ’bout to drop on y’all?  Here goes chapter one:

Figure it out.

Whoa.  I just heard all of your minds being blown.

My generation is popping out babies right and left these days.  The church small group I was once a part of has produced 13 babies since the fall of 2011 – with another one on the way in the next few months!  That’s a lot of kids.  One big sweet, precious, sleep-siphoning pumpkin patch of kids.

Just scroll down your Facebook timeline.  Birth announcements seem to pop up every other day, some for first time parents, and a lot for repeat parents (including adoptions).  They make me happy.  I love newborns…I mean LOVE.  Those little tiny brand new babies swell my heart so, and I love that expectant parents are feeling the same things I felt when I learned of my little bundles.

I also feel slightly sorry for them, because they have no idea what they’re getting into.  I am not trying to call them ignorant – oh no, not that in the least – but they actually have absolutely no idea what they’re getting into.  I was the same way: having cute little nuggets in the house is such a novel idea.  After having survived two newborns (“survived” being a term that I can use as a father, because what their mother has gone through far exceeds mere survival), I know now what it means (mostly) to parent small children.  Now I see that what I thought I knew before having children was hardly a fraction of what I’ve learned.  It’s an impossibility to understand it unless you’ve been there, and I figured that out pretty darn quickly.

I mean, I always heard “they don’t sleep at night.”  Ok, so you mean, like, I don’t get to sleep in anymore because they get up at 5 AM or something?

Ha.  Hahaha.  Nope.  (And I didn’t even nurse!)

“You will literally have to give up your life for your kids.”  I mean, sure, I won’t have as much free time as I do now.

TERENCE.  THE AMOUNT OF FREE TIME YOU HAD BEFORE KIDS IS ACTUALLY INCONCEIVABLE.

Then there’s the biggest “I mean, duh” statement of all time: “You guys (parents) need to be sure to make time for yourselves.”  That’s cool, yeah.  Sure.  If not we’ll just bring the kids with us.

Rrrrright.  You go right ahead and have your relaxing dinner with your toddlers.

You have to figure it out.  Almost any parent that has ever lived is a wealth of information and advice.  Even then, it’s not enough.  I can’t deny that it’s helpful; my wife and I have sought our fair share of help and advice from our parents and in-laws, but it’s not enough.

I know I’ve thought this to myself many times, which is also why I know that other young parents like me are thinking it too: “Nobody told me.”  Nobody dang told me.  I didn’t know, however, that they didn’t tell me because they actually couldn’t tell me what was to come.  The handbook is that there is no handbook.  You will know when you get there, but there is very little that I or anyone else can do to prepare you for the nitty gritty, day-in day-out, no sleep, no money, no time, no sanity, sometimes harsh reality of being a parent.  It is the hardest thing you will ever do.  I don’t care what you’ve done before.  Listen to me:  It is the hardest thing you will ever do.  And you have to figure it out.

But y’all, thank God for chapter two:

You got this.

You’ll see.

There will be plenty of times that you’re going to think you’re the worst parent in existence.  It’s a guarantee; it comes with the territory.  You will fail your children.  Repeat after me: “I will fail my children.”  For the amount of times you mess up, you’ll have at least one victory.  Rest will come, you will sleep again.  I promise.

But YOU GOT THIS.  And you know why YOU GOT THIS?  Because you WILL figure it out.  And you know why you will figure it out?  Because of the fierce, stubborn, foolish, indelible love you have for your children.  Trust it.  Y’all, that love is a well, and it is deep and full and teeming with exceedingly more than you ever thought it could produce.  It is a well that will never dry up.  You got this.

And you got this because you are going to rearrange.  The most precious thing you have on this earth is going to be replaced real quick, and it will happen with the blink of an eye.  When you hold your newborn, the thing that you think will hurt immensely to let go of is going to fall so far down the list without you even noticing.  I’m telling you, you won’t realize it.  You’re going to pore over every inch of your baby in such amazement and wonder that you’ll forget about what you thought you loved before holding that little tiny life in your arms.  And that prioritization will, by default, lead you to figure it out.  (Whatever form “it” takes at the present time.)

And you got this because you’ll change.  My kids love to wake me up in the morning with mirrors held up to me.  Are you following me?  They’re experts at drawing out the dirtiest parts of me and, quite honestly, won’t relent until I start to clean some of it up.  This is the single most difficult thing that I can say I’ve endured as a parent: those little buggers have waged war against my flesh.  When I am awakened by a knock on the bedroom door at an hour that is earlier than I’d like it to be, standing right behind that door is my 3 year old with his dang mirror.  If I open that door and it is anything but a smooth start to the day, it will NOT resolve until I look in that mirror and make a change (props, MJ).  After all, I’m the adult here, so it is my job to die to myself a little bit so that my kid can start the day off on the right track.  He doesn’t know that I’m exhausted or stayed up late the night before, nor is it his problem.  In those moments is when you find success.  Although I fail at this more than I’d like to admit.  It’s offensive, in a way, because being Mommy or Daddy to your little one is a sure-fire way to reveal your flaws.  You just aren’t as awesome as you thought you were.  You thought you were patient, honest, calm, gentle, etc etc etc.  This part is tough, y’all.  Parenting forces you to let go and change, because really, you don’t really have a choice.  The stakes are high, because the responsibility to guide them in their first, formative years rests on your shoulders.  So you have to fall in line, because those beautiful babies are exceedingly more important than your pride.  There is no other option.

You’ll see.  You’ll see that you got this when your baby latches on for the first time, when nothing seems to keep him from crying until you stand up and bounce around, when she sits up and stays, when he successfully puts food from hand to mouth, when you wake up in a panic after she slept the night through, when the doctor confirms your instincts about what his sickness is, when she laughs at you, when he says “mommy” or “daddy”, when she takes her first steps, when he sleeps successfully in the toddler bed, when she hugs you at the end of a day that seemed like you were her worst enemy…you’ll see.

I promise you got this!  And you got this because you’ll figure it out.  And you’ll figure it out because of the undying love you have for your babies.  And that’s the long and short of it, my friends.

Any publishing inquiries for the aforementioned manual can be directed to the comments section of this blog.  Thank you.

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Journey to Authenticity – Pt. 3

A converging of paths.

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and gotten one of those carts that likes to veer to the right or left when you push it?  Man, they are annoying.  For a while there, I thought I was a dang magnet for those stupid things.  I’d spend most of my weekly trip to Target feeling like everybody was noticing how wonkily I was walking while trying to simply steer the cart (or “buggy” if yer from dayown heer, y’all).

If it is a particularly bad one, you gotta basically do calisthenics to get the thing to go where you want it to go, and turning it in the direction opposite of which it tends to veer can be a royal pain in the rear.

And this is when the cart is empty.

(If you ever wanna see all my faults on display, join me on a shopping trip and hope I happen to grab one of these tools of Satan.)

Do you ever feel like you are one of these defected shopping carts?  I mean, dang.

Y’all, I’m happy with the direction my life is heading in –I want you to hear that — but for a long time now I’ve felt like I tend to veer…

Sometimes I wish there was another decade between our 20s and 30s.  I’ve felt like my 20s were such a growing, changing season that I probably missed out on a lot of life that, looking back, I want to experience more fully.  And I could do that if I had 10 more years.  It would be nice to have the wisdom that I have now and re-experience a lot of what the past 10 years brought me.  I wonder if the energy, thought, emotion, and time I put into things would be different now.  I don’t regret the path I chose, but I long for more fulfillment from the path I didn’t.

We all make decisions in our lives that will completely change its trajectory.  I’m realizing that one of my biggest fears is regret, and so a lot of my decision-making flows through that filter.  So far I’ve done pretty good, though there are MANY times that I wonder “What would’ve happened if I chose the other option?”  Life changes are usually hard for a reason: every option is good.  In some way or another, the choice between two directions is the choice between what you love more instead of what is right and wrong.  You know what I’m saying, right?

Dang, that’s frustrating.  Then you spend the years following a major decision wondering what stages you would’ve performed on, what countries you would’ve traveled to, what college would you have gone to, what friends you would’ve made, what places you would’ve lived in, what things you would’ve created, what opportunities would’ve presented themselves…  ONE DECISION has the power to make your life look VASTLY different from what would’ve been.  It’s amazing and frustrating.  Dang frustrating.

And it’s frustrating because I still want to experience it.  Maybe I don’t want to live the life I would’ve had, but I need to find ways to be connected to the parts of myself that wanted to.  I’m happy where I am, but I want to tip my hat to where I could’ve been, and that is a big part of what I hope my near future holds for me.

I have a mental, tentative 10 year plan to incorporate old things back into my life – the things that I’ve let collect dust over the past 5-10 years.  And here it is:

In the next 1 year: Get back in dance class (while I still have my youth, teehee).  Just once a week, by January 2016.

In the next 5 years: Hopefully teach dance, either regularly or as a sub, and have some opportunities to choreograph.  Also, to have spent time (by the time 5 years have passed) playing viola more, and getting better at piano or guitar, or both.

In the next 10 years: All of the above, plus learning a new instrument and potentially joining a choir.  Also, maybe venturing back into the land of ceramics.

With a small business and two kids, that’s a tall order.  Goals aren’t always reached, but at least in the process I’ll reacquaint myself with SOME of the above.  Everybody has things they wish they had time for; things that nurture the passionate, artistic, dedicated, focused parts of themselves.  Without them, we are without a huge chunk of what makes us ourselves – what makes us authentic.

So, I’m ready.  Even though I am pushing this cart that doesn’t want to just go straight (my life), it is full of things that help bring fulfillment (thought most certainly not the only source of it), and I’m ready.  I’m going to start pushing it where it wants to go when appropriate, and even if I have to struggle with it, I’ll keep it on course when necessary.

And you should do it, too.  You probably owe it to yourself.  You’ve endured a lot and faced huge life decisions that meant sacrificing – or better, still – putting something else of value on hold.  It might be time to revisit those things; to feel like yourself, and experience the authenticity that comes from nodding to the potential direction in which your life might’ve gone.

I’m excited!  Are you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Overlooked

All names have been changed to protect the identities of those herein.

It was always an odd time for me: when summer nears its end, and the impending school year was to start anew.  Looking back, I can see that my affinity for office supplies (and the smell of the stores) has been a part of me for a long time, because I always had a ping of excitement when my mom would take me shopping for new school supplies for the new grade.  Then there were the few new items of clothing that I’d get, and that was cool, too.  And the last sign that the beloved days of lazing around, probably annoying the mess out of my parents, and little to no scheduled anything were over: school open house.  I suppose open house was always bittersweet for me.  Summer was ending, and something new was starting.  It was exciting, kinda.

I remember going to open house for 3rd grade.  I think that might have been a special year because my teacher had actually been my brother’s 5th grade teacher a few years prior.  Her name was Mrs. Blake.  From what my brother said, she was cool.  She had a good relationship with the kids, joked around with them, liked The Simpsons…cool.

Her classroom was walled off by these bizarre partitions that looked like they could’ve come down with enough force, and the door was extra big, with a slot machine-like arm for a handle.  I walked up to the door and pulled down the handle and opened it into the classroom.

I saw Elizabeth at about the same time she gasped and said “TERENCE!”  Smiling, she ran over to me and greeted me with a hug.  My 3rd grade self felt both a little awkward and flattered.  I can’t quite remember exactly where my history with her began – it was obviously prior to this event – but this moment stands out as a marker in my relationship with her.  So we were in the same class in 3rd grade.

Later in life, when I became old enough to put two and two together, I figured out (not with complete assuredness) that Elizabeth and I weren’t in the same class by chance.  I’ll never know if others were placed there specifically as well, though it wouldn’t surprise me, but she was the only child in our class – our school, I think – with Down’s Syndrome, and I had befriended her previously.  And I would become her ally.

[Pause: It’s important to note that there were others who certainly could’ve found themselves in my class under the same circumstances.  I had somehow built a reputation in my elementary school; I was smart, accomplished, and well-behaved.  I guess I was a teacher’s pet, but I know I was well-known by staff and well-liked.  I know this is horribly boastful, and I really don’t mean to brag, but there’s no reason to sugar coat.  I think my reputation might’ve had something to do with why we were placed in the same class.  That is absolutely not to say that Elizabeth was lowly and I was there to rescue or protect her – I was not her savior, but maybe she needed a support system.  Lastly, I don’t wear my elementary school amazingness like a crown of laurels.  That was 20+ years ago.  My amazingness these days measures around “poor to average” on the amazingness scale at best.]

 

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…”  Proverbs 31:8a

I’m not sure why I had a soft spot for her.  Kids can be cruel, too cruel, and I suppose I took great issue with people mistreating her because of a genetic disorder.  How unfair.  We sat next to each other for a good part of the school year, if not all of it.  I can remember how she would play with her pencils, tapping them across her desk on their erasers.  One time I tried to join her.  I hadn’t the slightest idea of what exactly she was doing, but I thought I’d give it a shot.  WHAM!  It took a half of a second before she swatted my hand away.  Apparently I was way off in my interpretation of the pencil-dancing.  It still makes me chuckle.

I can remember how she liked cowgirls, or at least I think she did due to the gusto with which she would say “RIDE ‘EM COWGIRL!” as she galloped around the room.  It made us all laugh.  I’m pretty sure most of the kids were laughing at her expense, and to be honest I think I did, too, the first one or two times I saw her do it.  Eventually I laughed with her.  How couldn’t I, feeling such joy coming from her?

Perhaps what I remember most was a sad moment during PE class one day.  The challenge of the day was to run towards the two posts with a jump rope stretched between them and jump over the rope.  There were only two posts and one jump rope, so that meant that each of us gave it a go by ourselves with everyone watching.  One by one we went, cleared the rope, then sat down in the grass to watch everyone else.  We were getting down to the end of the line, and Elizabeth was up next.  Off she went running, then she jumped, and down she went.  She pancaked face first into the mat.  Can you imagine the sound of roaring laughter from a class full of 3rd graders?  That’s what it sounded like.  But it wasn’t funny.  It wasn’t funny at all.  During the uproar I remember shouting “At least she tried, y’all!!!”  And again, “AT LEAST SHE TRIED!”  Thankfully my voice was heard by the teacher, who thanked me then addressed the class in the same manner.  I remember seeing her pick herself up and walk back to sit with the rest of us.  I wish I had been old enough to think to walk over to her to help somehow, or at least offer…or even just walk with her.  My heart still hurts when I replay that defining moment of my childhood.

Eventually middle school came, and Elizabeth wasn’t there, or at least I don’t remember seeing her there.  I’m not sure if she stayed behind in elementary school or if she went to a different school for 6th grade.  I still thought of her, though, and to this day she still holds a place in my heart.  I think she went to my high school, but it had been so long since I had seen her that I wasn’t completely sure if it was her or not.  I think I said “Hi, Elizabeth” to her once, but she must not have recognized or remembered me, if it was even her to begin with.

But middle school had it’s own memorable moments that bore similarity to the ones with Elizabeth.  Middle school is hell for almost everyone in some way or another.  If you aren’t part of the elite that seem to separate themselves and become elite for no tangible reason, you’re going to have some problems at some point.  I know I did.  I was obviously picked on in elementary school because of dance, but when boys start becoming “men” (in quotations because a lot of them still haven’t earned that title in the past 18 years) in middle school, differences are magnified and far less accepted.  Not to mention, I made the unfortunate choice to have longer hair when I started middle school.  Why on earth I thought that was a good idea, I’ll never know.  I guess I was naive still, and saw people as mostly good, so I didn’t think it would be an issue.  It shouldn’t have been.

 

“Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”  Psalm 82:4

At some point in the 6th grade, I started hearing about a boy who was supposedly a big loser.  Sickeningly enough, I found solace in that.  Somebody was actually more despised than I was, and he made them forget about me for a minute.  If I remember correctly, he was a “baby”.  “John Glass is such a baby.”  I had no idea who he was as he had come from a different elementary school than mine.  It didn’t take me long to figure it out.

One day we were spilling out of the gym after an assembly.  I don’t know why hundreds of 6th graders were allowed to rush the halls like a herd of buffalo, but we weren’t in any sort of lines.  I remember the crowd turned down a certain hallway near the cafeteria, and I heard a bunch of commotion, shouting, and loud laughter.  In my memory this whole occasion is a flash, but I think I remember seeing teachers trying to pull kids away and push through the crowd, and I couldn’t see why.  Then before I knew it, there he was.  John was at my feet, crying in the fetal position, face red, eyes squeezed shut, and tears streaming down his cheeks.

I stopped dead in my tracks.  My jaw hit the floor.  I felt the crowd sweep past me on either side as I bore against the force of people who kept coming behind me.  It was like when a wave crashes on your back, or when you stand at the shore while the undertow pulls at your feet.  I felt like I stood there for an eternity, but it must’ve only been a few seconds, because I eventually walked past him as the crowd was coming to an end and the teachers managed to get to him.  I kept looking back at him and seeing myself.  There he was, on the ground, crying out for it all to stop.  I can’t really bear to think of what might’ve happen to him as he was there, defenseless on the ground while hundreds of kids surrounded him.

I never actually met him, but I tried to defend John after that incident when I had the opportunity.  Sure, I had once taken delight that I wasn’t alone down at the bottom, but even then I couldn’t just let people continue to trash him.  I’m not sure what happened to him, either, other than the few times I saw him in high school.  He seemed to be hard and shut off from the world.  Why wouldn’t he be?  When you’re forced to a place of such vulnerability – humility – it’s no wonder that walls go up.  Who knows how high or wide or strong his were…or probably still are.

 

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”  Hebrews 13:16

Fast forward to about 5 years ago.  (I don’t mean to skip my high school and early 20s years, as I’m sure those years held enough lessons to be learned and pivotal moments.  If I’m being totally honest, I might’ve turned a little more selfish then in order to re-establish myself as somebody important, as well as focus on my career.  The lessons I learned during those times are different from the ones that came from the first two situations I’ve mentioned.)  If I remember correctly, 2010 was a pretty cold winter for us.  I remember one particular January morning walking outside to my car in 18 degree weather.  As a North Carolinian, these kinds of temperatures don’t work for me.  It is beyond frigid, and borders on unbearable.  I went to the gym anyway.

On my way back, I saw someone on the side of the road, begging.  It was 18 degrees outside, and he was standing there in a sweatshirt.  A sweatshirt.  His sleeves were pulled over his hands, clenched in his fists, and the drawstring in his hood was pulled tightly around his face.  Thankfully, the gym, Target, and the apartment I lived in at the time were all within 5 minutes of each other.  I made a quick decision to take a detour to Target to pick up a few things to help this guy in even the smallest way.  I got some granola bars, and made my way over to the outerwear section to get some gloves and a hat.  As I was trying to make an educated guess on what size gloves I should buy, I felt myself getting choked up, so I moved over to the underwear aisle to hide my mini breakdown.  Here I was, using my money to buy something to help make somebody more comfortable as he stood in the freezing cold, asking for help.  I didn’t really think what I was going to give him could do much help, and even if I shouldn’t have, in that moment I felt a tremendous amount of guilt for having the luxury to walk into a store and spend money on something (that I wouldn’t even use), then return to my warm home.

Thankfully he was still there when I returned to give him the bag of stuff I had gotten.  I stopped at the light at the intersection he was standing near.  By the time he walked over to me, the light was turning green, so I quickly rolled down my window to hand him the bag, so I wasn’t able to have any sort of conversation with him.  I quickly rolled the window back up, shutting out the obnoxious cold, and drove away.  I hadn’t gotten very far through the intersection when I looked in my rear view mirror and saw that he already had the hat on and was putting on the gloves.  It really was so bitterly cold.

 

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  Galatians 6:2

Every now and then, one of these three moments runs through my head, and I’m sure they will for the rest of my life.  It seems as if there is a definite reason why I can’t escape the memory of these; why I’m immediately taken back to how I felt as I experienced them.  Those are feelings that I can’t shake.  They are ingrained in me.  But how can these three all be connected?  Obviously the first two can be easily linked together, but the third?

The truth is, I wasn’t completely sure until I was well into writing this.  After re-living these moments from years passed, shedding tears for the downtrodden, and for the times that I was the same, I got it.

In order to help those in need, we have to become like them.

No, I can’t literally become somebody with Down’s Syndrome, I most likely won’t ever be in a situation where I’m on the floor while surrounded by a taunting mass of people who don’t like me, and at this point in life (hopefully never) I can’t be without what I have and beg on the street.

But I CAN gain try to gain understanding, empathize, and sacrifice.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had started to understand Elizabeth.  I tried to get into her world and play with my pencils like I would have several years earlier in my life.  At an age where imagination begins to fade away, I could join her in the exhilaration of riding a pretend horse.  When things came easily to me, I could see and appreciate the full-hearted effort she put into trying to jump over the jumprope.  Thankfully I get that now, so hopefully in the future I can bring myself back to that place so I can be giving of myself to somebody I don’t quite get.  Or that maybe my first reaction to somebody who is a mystery or makes me uncomfortable is one of acceptance instead of shunning.  I pray for that.

I’ve never been even close to being at risk of being trampled or kicked by a group of people, or at least not physically, anyway.  But I felt what John was feeling on the floor that day.  My heart broke for him, and felt real empathy for the first time in my life.  Empathy is what drove me to defend him, even when I was viewed as the same as him.  Given my position in life at that point, I wouldn’t have naturally spoken up on his behalf, but for the same reason, I did speak up, because even if I was someone who was shunned, John needed somebody to support him.

When I gave the beggar those few items, I only felt the smallest amount of sacrifice.  I was out $20.  I have no idea what it’s like to be without to a degree that would put me on the side of the street and hope that somebody would look upon me kindly, but isn’t the first step to making a difference in the life of someone who is, a small step towards sacrificing something?

Becoming like the ones who are in need, the overlooked, is to take their yoke upon ourselves.  We ought to be bearing their burdens.  Sure, we could write a check to our favorite charity or smile at strangers, but to make a difference in someone’s life, don’t we have to walk with them?  Share in their journey somehow?  Connect ourselves to them in a real way?  It might mean an uncomfortable conversation, acting in opposition to our reputation, or bringing ourselves to a place of humility, but we have to.  We have to identify with the overlooked lest we become the overlooked.

 

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  2 Corinthians 5:21

As a Christian, shouldn’t the gospel compel me to act in this way?  Christ, who knew no sin, became sin so that I could be His righteousness.  Christ became what I was in order to bring me righteousness.  His perfect act of becoming is the perfect display of understanding, empathizing, and sacrificing.  Can’t it be that those who are forgotten or overlooked are brought to a higher place in a similar way to how Christ has made me His righteousness through His sacrifice?

Modeling this behavior is difficult, and God help me, definitely something I need to work on.  It is the ultimate act of love; one which contains immeasurable power.  It’s an act that can reach much farther than the three examples I have mentioned.  Perhaps you are already doing it and don’t realize it, so keep an eye out.  Just what would happen if we all became servants to those who are “beneath” us?  It’s  a concept that seems counterintuitive, right?  But just as we should have a desire to deeply affect the lives of the overlooked, that same generosity will probably be given to us.  And I think Somebody already has.

Journey to Authenticity – Pt 2 and Thoughts on 30

Death begets life.

“Even in the desolate wilderness, stars can still shine.”  -Aoi Jiyuu Shiroi Nozomi

A few weeks ago, I was surprised by my family and friends with a birthday party to celebrate my impending (now present) 30th birthday.  My wife threw the whole thing together, and it turned out to be quite a fun occasion.  At the time I still had about 2 weeks until I officially began a new decade, but the celebration was timely, as it happened to fall on the coldest day we’ve had this Fall so far.

I think November is a great month.  There are the obvious reasons, of course, like the weather, the leaves, the holidays, but it’s an extra special month around my house because my wedding anniversary is on the 10th, followed by my birthday 9 days later.  The novelty of November always sets in when it arrives.  I love the warmth that the celebrating of year-markers of major life events brings.  And who doesn’t love just stuffing their face on Thanksgiving?  (Oh, is that not what it’s about?)  The scents are fuller, that air crisper, sentiments greater.  There is a certain exhilaration that ushers in this season of change.

And with that exhilaration is an inescapable sting.  I went into a funk when I turned 29 last year.  I don’t know, y’all, I guess I thought that my youth only had a year left to stick around, and that any vitality I had left in me was about to run dry.  It didn’t help that, added to the sadness I felt for that particular birthday, I get seasonally depressed.  I know there are a lot of you (if not all to some degree) who struggle with the same thing.  I typically gain weight (not just from the holiday sweets, either), become numb to just about everything (except my children – MAN they carry some dang joy with them), and I go into a mental hibernation.  The things I love about Autumn are mudded by the things I dread about Autumn.

The death that cold brings about is twofold.  The earth retreats and withers, is cloaked bleakness and numbness, and shrouded in bitterness and dreariness.  And so am I.  So you can imagine that, in a time of year when I already feel lifeless, going into the last year of my 20s was an extra blow I wasn’t ready for.

But not much longer after the cold began, I could see Spring on the horizon; a new season.  Turning 29 started to signify new life instead of loss…the brink of change, the first line of a new book.  I started to realize that 30 isn’t old.  My youth hasn’t actually escaped me, and actually, I get to begin a new decade with youth AND wisdom hopefully.  It’s like when you restart the computer: there is still life, everything starts fresh, and some things begin again with new improvements.  Yesterday has been shaken off, and today is a blank slate.

The outside is deceptive in Autumn and Winter.  Plants shedding their foliage is actually an act of conservation: nutrients are kept within, cell membranes are maintained, proteins are broken down and re-made.  I have finally realized that the same can actually happen to me.  This time of desolation is a time of refinement, the cold a preparation for warmth.  29 has been a year of internal investigation.  I’ve been trying to take account of my make-up and rearrange and strive and grow.

Growth…maybe that’s it.

Maybe the pain of Winter is actually the pain of growth…growing pains.  Maybe the ache of losing my exterior is actually the ache of something greater welling up within.  Maybe the pain of this temporary dormancy is the pain of the dam beginning to burst from the life building up behind it…like a web of bones around my heart is coming undone*, getting me ready for the zest and bounty of warmth and Spring.  Or a new decade.

So, welcome, Fall, and welcome, 30.  I have to believe that joy is waiting at the end of the slumber.  It HAS to be waiting.  Color of a new dawn, words of a new song, life of a new season – of weather and age…all awaiting, being refined in the death that precedes them.  I’m going to accept this death in light of the joy that will come because of it.

I would say that it’s appropriate that I celebrated my birthday on the first bitter day of the cold season, wouldn’t you agree?  I think that evening was the impetus to me really understanding this process.  Instead of glooming and dooming in the sadness around me, this year (even if I still retreat) I’m going to strive to hold onto the hope I’ll be revitalized.  It’s possible to celebrate a new age in the cold, because they are both signs of something greater to come.

 

*This is a direct quote from a song written and performed by Audrey Assad called “New Song”.  I am posting the video below if you want to take a listen.  I think it goes well with this post, and possibly fills in the blanks, as this particular blog post feels a little scattered.  The song might not be your taste in music, but the lyrics ring incredibly true and speak to this theory of death begetting life.  It’s about the yearning for something to breathe life back into the mundane, for the things that typically bring joy but somehow seem to do be doing the opposite be renewed, that even after a difficult season, there is something greater to live and feel: a new song.  Water still flows underneath a sheet of ice.  Enjoy.  🙂

Journey to Authenticity – Pt. 1

Guys, if you tire of reading about the same dang thing, let me know and I’ll stop.

By now we all know that about five and a half years ago I made a huge life change.  I left a career path that had been in my bones until about a year before I decided to abandon it.  My wife and I moved to a different part of the state, she started a new job, and I went boldly into the unknown.  With the fresh start I had, I set out on a journey towards authenticity.  As I take account of the last 5 years (Jason Robert Brown, anyone?), I’m beginning to be able to name all of the things that I’ve felt for a while that had been innominate.  It’s interesting, really, because all of this is basically happening in retrospect.  I guess hindsight really is 20/20.

I’ve learned that I’m somewhat introverted (and I don’t mean that in the “It’s cool and different and trendy to be introverted” thing that’s been happening lately.  And I don’t possess ALL the qualities of an introvert; just a few, and at varying degrees.)  I’ve attained the ability to identify my emotions (which is weird, sometimes).  My mind almost always goes too deep for normal conversation, and most of what I think is veiled when spoken…mainly because the thought of explaining myself is too exhausting to even take a stab at it.  My eyes have been opened to how human we all really are.  I’ve seen how selfless I am capable of being, and that even when it shows sometimes in my actions, my heart still has a long way to go.  I’m still learning to be satisfied, to aspire to greatness, but moreover, to keep sight of reality.  I’m realizing how important the things that I delight in actually are in my life, even if they’ve caused me great angst and pain in the past.  But probably most of all, my confidence in being who I am is ever increasing.

I realize that the preceding paragraph might have sounded entirely boastful.  I hope that’s not what you take away from it – be sure that the lessons that I’ve learned during these past 5 years typically came from a place of being humbled in some sort of way.  I considered adding “pride swallowing” to the list above, but that’ll be a lifelong battle, and the fight against that nasty beast is a constant struggle for me.

There are three things that seem to stick out in my head as avenues by which I came to these beginning phases of authenticity.  My goal in sharing these things with you is to hopefully inspire you to turn inward and get a better grip at what actually happens on your insides.  I still think that if we were all completely authentic, the world would actually be a better place.  I’m finding that true authenticity is a journey that will last a long time, and quite the difficult one at that.  In the very least, maybe something I say will resonate with you that may challenge how you think, or allow you to see somebody in a different light.  Or maybe none of that, and if you read the rest of this, I think you’re awesome.

Consider this part 1 of a 3 part series.

 

I’m an anomaly.

An anomaly is something that deviates from what is standard or expected.

I don’t know, guys, what is actually expected of me?  Just because something is standard, is that what our expectations are?  I don’t know.  All I know is, for my entire life there has seemed to be a standard to meet as a man, and for most of my life I haven’t met it.  As it turns out, I was never actually “less than,” and “not meeting the standard” doesn’t mean I fell short.  I’m just different, I guess.

I mean, I’m a ballet dancer.  I know I know, you all know that bla bla bla, shut your mouth, Terence, we get it – but let that sink in your brain a little bit.  I would imagine that some of you might find it quite odd, even though I keep beating you over the head with it.  And I know this because that perception makes up a vast majority of the response I have gotten to my art form for basically my entire life.  It’s not normal.  The art form itself is not normal (even though it ranks right up there with singing/using your voice – we are all given the tools to dance, so it seems quite primitive to me) – you’ve got girls and guys dancing around in tights, the girls standing (and turning and moving) in deathboxes of shoes on the tip of their big toe, guys carrying girls over their heads (sometimes with one arm), girls with their legs up by their ears, guys soaring through the air – sometimes with a 720° added to it – THIS IS NOT NORMAL BEHAVIOR.  Even less normal, speaking in terms of the dance world, are male dancers.  Women are a dime a dozen, and it would seem that men are somewhat of a precious commodity.  Even still, in our culture, being a male dancer is an EXTREME deviation from what is normal or expected.

This bleeds into other areas of my life.  Music, TV, fashion, hobbies, interests, social life, relationships, jobs, and on and on.  Even though I like Mario Kart from time to time, you’re not gonna find me “hangin’ with my buddies playin’ video games” or “catchin’ the football game.”  Is that how you say it?  Catchin’?  Speaking of which, I don’t even know how to speak “typical male.”  Do I call you guys “bro” or “man” or “buddy”?  “Sport”?  Forgive me if I don’t address you specifically beyond a “hey” next time I see you.  I don’t wind down with a beer, I don’t have a desire to play 9 holes (nor could I, really), and don’t ever, EVER, ask me to play basketball.  I’m tall, yes, and mega coordinated, but I’m gonna save myself the embarrassment and just stay away from that whole thing altogether.  (Unless my son wants to play basketball, in which case I will absolutely take necessary interest in it and go to as many games as I possibly can.)

I know it sounds like I’m bashing all these things.  I’m not, and truly speaking in jest.  While these things don’t reflect much of my personality, I don’t think they are bad in any way.  Actually, I think it’s kinda cool that there are certain characteristics that mark the male gender as a whole.  For example, when I look at the sports that most guys take great interest in, what I really see is passion that is almost unrivaled.  I see it in the players, the coaches, and the fans.  I can identify with that.  I also see a great sense of community.  Sports have a way of drawing people together (men and women, and men and men) in a world where most everything else divides.  I can identify with that, too.  Obviously, this passion can be taken WAY too far and crossover into something stupid and nauseating, but I love that it exists.

I’ve known these things about myself for a long time, but being able to have peace about my anomalistic nature has been a struggle.  Imagine if the things that you love, that feel most natural to you, were under constant scrutiny.  Imagine if that scrutiny made you feel separate from the rest of the world.  Imagine if the constant destruction of the things you hold dear, that you take great delight in, that you pour your heart into, were used to make you feel not good enough, sub par, not worthy, less than, vapid, and of little value.  The hardest fight I had was in middle school.  So much changes in our young lives during those years, and I had to fight for my own legitimacy at 13 years old all by myself.  My family was most definitely supportive, but during those years the opinion of your peers is more important, even if it shouldn’t be.  Still, there is some importance to feeling like you have a specific role in the community around you.  I am still not sure I ever did back then.  I wonder if that season of life cemented who I was to become.  Most directions I turned were dead ends and I was only left to turn inward – to my own heart, my own brain, my own emotions…to this day I am incredibly independent and internal.

It’s interesting, though.  The things that make me an anomaly are the very things that were despised about me; the things that made me retreat.  Yet those exact things are what should’ve been turned outward, shared, and appreciated.  Right?  Forget all that, I was rarely even respected for them.  Somehow when I was open with myself, I must’ve been “gay” or “girly” or “weak.”  Nope.  The things we love don’t actually define us.  This isn’t a “gay or straight” issue, but as an example, there are gay and straight male ballet dancers.  “Male ballet dancer” isn’t enough to draw any concrete conclusions about a person’s identity, and I certainly felt that being labeled because of it (or anything else I’m interested in) was unjust.  And you might, too.

Side note: I have realized that I am probably more tender, soft, and emotional that a lot of men.  I’ve also realized that this actually serves to highlight my masculinity.  Thanks, wife, for changing my mindset about that.

Look, y’all.  There is a perceived standard for a reason, and it’s because most people fit it – and it isn’t bad in ANY WAY.  However, I know that EVERYONE has something kept in the corners of their mind, the darkest chambers of their heart, that makes them deviate.  And that is AWESOME.  It’s time to bring those to the surface.  You know that thing I’m talking about.  The thing that, when you think about exposing it, makes you feel that slight tug of fear.  The thing that, when you are full engrossed in it, YOU COME ALIVE.  You don’t have anything to lose, really.  And as I am finding, as you grow in the peace that comes from accepting that this thing MAKES YOU “YOU,” you’ll find authenticity in so many aspects of your life it’ll make your head spin.

Then we’ll be a world full of anomalies.  (I know, then we wouldn’t actually be anomalies since that would be what is standard.  Just go with it.)

I hope that made sense, guys.

And I promise I tried to remove any tone of self-absorption or pompousness, so if any of it remained, please excuse.  This is my diary out loud.  Isn’t that a song lyric?

My poor brain is gonna explode one day.  I just know it.

 

A little perspective

This is one of those stupid times nobody tells you about when you’re a kid.

I’m sitting here in some random neighborhood in Durham, NC with a car that overheated because of a stupid hose that disconnected because of a stupid clamp that apparently can’t do it’s job and stay clamped. I know exactly how to fix the problem but I am unable to do so because I don’t have any stupid tools with me. Now I have to wait 30 stupid minutes for a tow truck to come take me back to my workplace, where I had left not that long ago to run one stupid errand.

It’s Walmart’s fault. Their stupid website told me that there was a store 3 miles away from work. It was only when I got there that I realized that there was no clarification on the website that this was a GROCERY STORE ONLY. Fantastic. It was in that parking lot that my car stalled (it’s done this before – I won’t tell you what kind of car it is, but I will never be buying one of those again), leaving me perpendicular to parked cars, not being able to move. I felt so stupid. It took me 5 attempts to get the stupid thing started again, and when I was en route to another Walmart (an ACTUAL super center), I smelled the burn and saw the indicator that it overheated. So naturally I went to the nearest random neighborhood I could find and began trying to remedy this stupid situation.

Alas, I am still waiting for a tow truck.

The whole thing is stupid.

I mean…maybe not the whole thing.

The weather is really nice. The neighborhood seems quiet enough.

Im sitting on a brick half-wall in the shade. That, coupled with the breeze, is quite nice.

It’s a really beautiful August day here in NC.

Work can still happen at work without me; nothing’s gonna fall apart because I’m not there.

My current situation really isn’t that bad, I suppose.

I have a car. Sure, it’s on the fritz currently, but it does it’s job most of the time.

I ate lunch. I drank. The heat is bearable, even if I had to sit in it directly.

Thank God I don’t have to sit in sweltering heat with no food or water.

I’m in a neighborhood, so if my current situation were dire, I might be able to find somebody to open their doors to me for a few minutes.

I’m not without access to shelter. I guess that’s kind of a “win” by global standards.

(Look at that! Just got a phone call that the tow truck should be here in 10 minutes.)

I have a place to go home to that isn’t in foreclosure.

I have kids and a wife that are healthy.

I have food to put on the table.

I have a job to go to tomorrow (although I created that job for myself and I’m my own boss, it’s still a job).

I’m not worried about my electricity getting turned off. I know that I have access to clean water at the turn of a faucet.

I don’t live in a place that I have to worry about walking outside my front door to an unsafe world.

Within reason, I don’t have to worry about getting shot today.

I’m not currently worried about losing my city, home, loved ones to air strike.

I’m not being beheaded in Iraq.

Yes, I can freely practice my religion.

…I guess my current situation isn’t really that stupid.

It’s just not what I had planned for today.

Yes, that IS God laughing.

a blogger struggling to blog (i’ve said it before – i really don’t like that word)

this is a blog about blogging.  and maybe bloggers, too.  also probably the creative process and why it can be frustrating.

what a terrible first paragraph.

i’m not a writer.  i mean, yeah, i write…or type, or whatever…but i’m not “a writer.”  there is definitely a reason that this is the 9th post on this blog since i started it 8 or 9 months ago.  i feel like i have a lot to say, and usually it gets down on “paper” to some degree of concision, but i’m having some dang block right now.  of course the natural series of events that happens after i realize that something i’m writing is going nowhere (like the 950 word post i had been working on that i had to stop looking at) is that i start freaking out, deleting stuff, regretting deletion, questioning everything about myself, believing that i’m not interesting enough to write about life experiences, wondering what my purpose is and why i live the life i live…i mean seriously.  my struggle as a non-writer to deliver eventually leads me to thinking that my life is a waste!  so crazy.  (obviously i’m not being serious…completely.)

and will somebody please clarify once and for all if the period comes before or after the paren???  i can never remember.

then i start thinking that i need to find a niche.  i could go down the dad blog road.  maybe the religious road.  perhaps a food blog – but if i do that, be warned that i will go on and on and on about how amazing pizza and ranch is – because i’m not a chef either!  (but can i get an “amen”???  if you’ve ever had cpk’s ranch, you’ll know why my eyes fill with tears at the thought of DIPPING my pizza in it – especially when they aren’t skimping and give me the bowl of ranch instead of the saucer.  yes.  LORD!)  sytycd (“so you think you can dance”) is running currently, so i could spend posts upon posts reviewing every episode of that parade of clowns.

i definitely couldn’t be a fashion blogger.  although, the more and more i comb through blog related hashtags on instagram, the more i’m realizing that the world is filled with fashionistas.  i mean really.  it’s almost as if the fact that you wear clothes qualifies you to be a trendsetting fashion blogger.  it’s great because a lot of what i see is jank.  yes, a lot of it is totally gauche, but somehow most of it all looks the same: same poses, same pictures, same phrases.  they’re a dime a dozen.

and why is that?  what is it about buying a semi-professional camera, dressing up in something that you think is just CUTE, having somebody take pictures of you in which you pretend that you are caught off guard – you know, the pics where you’re mid-stair walk, or when you just happened to be caught tucking your hair behind your ear whilst looking behind you, or when whoever is taking the photo happens to catch you, profile, gazing into the distance, deep in thought – and writing about how great your outfit is?  i’m fairly certain that there is something extremely sociological/psychological happening.  come to think of it, i’d actually like to speak to a professional about what inspires these blogs and the people who write them.

then there is another type of blogger that seems to dominate the fortress of amateur, personal blogs on the interweb.  it’s the 20-something-female-my-life-is-perfect-but-not-really blog.  [NOTE: before i go any further, i hope that none of you bloggers find this offensive.  there are a few of you who may be reading this that are thinking to yourselves “ok RUDE.  BYE.”  rest assured, if i follow your blog, whether on facebook or otherwise, i don’t think you fall into the aforementioned category.  honest to God.  don’t let your feelings get hurt.  if i thought you were one of these girls, i woulda unfollowed a while ago.]  i can’t tell you how many “messy wife”s i’ve come across.  and you’re probably wondering what in the heck i am talking about.  they call themselves “messy wives.”  messy wife.  messy.  wife.  it sounds silly, doesn’t it?  like, what is a messy wife?  *writes a blog.  signs it “the messy wife”*  LIKE WHAT THE HECK.  are you incapable of cleaning?  would you be better off wearing a bib while eating?  no?  ohhhh, i see.  it’s a somewhat of a code name you use to give the impression that while your blog is all about everything you can do to attain the perfect little life, you’re imperfect on the inside.  noted.  continue.

i guess i can’t be too annoyed by this, because at least these “dirty spouses” are acknowledging that they aren’t actually perfect, despite that that’s what their blogs might tempt one to believe.  it is what it is.  (i will add, though, that i appreciate the handful of these types of bloggers  who occasionally write about deeper things, personal things.  i respect that.  and whoa.  i am NOT trying to make myself sound like some expert blogger.  this is getting crazy.)

but aren’t we all kinda messy?  it’s understandable that we would be tempted to make things seem peachy on the outside – ESPECIALLY if things are REALLY out of whack on the inside.  my blog is called “terence transparent.”  it’s actually somewhat of a misleading title.  sure, i am being almost completely transparent about the things i have written so far, but guys, i FILTER.  i’m not just gonna air out all my dirty laundry.  in my head (which is getting full to the brim with thoughts – i curse whoever made me a deep thinker) i am not lacking subject matter for blog posts.  i do, however, strive to be as open as possible about what i do choose to write about.  but it’s difficult.  it’s hard to thoracotomize myself and be as bare as i have been.

and couple that with my severe lack of writing abilities…??  yikes!

it reminds me of when i was still dancing.  for as difficult as i find writing, i can tell you that baring one’s soul on stage is waaaaay harder.  i mean, you’re already in tights – no questions about what a dancer looks like – but on top of that, you have to come to a place of complete vulnerability.  i don’t know if i ever truly reached the point where i opened my chest and ripped my heart out.  i tried, though.  i really tried as best as i could.  to be honest, i’m not even sure that it’s even possible to measure true transparency or vulnerability in art.  maybe the effort that i put into showing myself was in fact the accomplishment that i was trying to attain.  who knows.  it’s probably more of a process than an end result.

but let me choreograph.  my body feels and moves.  my mind is connected to phrases and energy…these things i write about would be more easily danced about.  my fingers can clumsily tap their way across a keyboard, but i want my feet to fly across the room…turning, and jumping, and reaching.  but in this current season, that isn’t possible.  it will be one day, hopefully soon, but now right now.  these feelings and thoughts and ideas can’t be danced.

and that’s why i struggle to write.  that’s why the 950 word post i mentioned before is now down to 450.  that’s why i started ANOTHER blog post in the middle of this one that is also unfinished…almost unstarted.  (i’m just makin’ up words right and left – whatever works.)  and that’s why there are 4358 years in between blog posts.  and that’s why this blog exists.  there is a song inside of me, yearning to be sung – steps yearning to be danced – and this is the safest place to sing and dance somehow.  this giant network we call “the internet” somehow feels safer than being on stage in front of an audience of mere hundreds.

and to the messy wives: show yourself a little more.  tear the walls down, unlock the door, draw the blinds.  we know you aren’t perfect, so no need to scream it.  just be real, i guess.

and this one is 1381 words long.  so much for that writer’s block.