A Morning’s Tale

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This morning, I rose.  Groggy and heavy, I drug myself to the bathroom and tried to convince myself that it was a brilliant day. That I would find something elegant to wear.  That cereal piled high in bowls would suffice. I watched my son curled up next to the indention where my body formally lay.  He had snuck in sometime during the night when I didn’t notice and was soaking up my warmth, his face bearing a similar expression to the moment he was first born.  My heart pulled at the reminder of him rising from my body, shining and screaming.  I was and am ensconced with happiness.

I stepped over the dog and toward my daughter’s room. “Raise your arms, honey,” I whispered. “I’ll help you with your t-shirt.”  I hated to wake her.  This beautiful girl who is growing loves to lounge around on summer mornings reading and staring aimlessly out the window at rabbits and cardinals, poetry in her brain. But it was camp day, and she had just begun the evening before settling into this new experience, singing with wild abandon all the camp songs she’d been taught by happy college kids.  She slumped over and let me dress her, arms dangling with a mass of blond hair in her face.

There are layers of obligations before my day even begins.  Feed the dog, let him out.  Apply make-up, find childrens’ shoes.  I make lunch, look professional, curl hair, take vitamins.  Sometimes I just like to shake it up.  Shampoo last.  Kids eat on the couch.  My hair in a bun. The routine of daily life can drain a soul. But soon things are bagged and packed and the kids are out the door toward the car and I think to myself that I’ve got this. That somehow in the crack of morning I have balanced this precarious rhythm.

But the garage door sticks.  Some stupid light flashes and the button jams so I have to close it from the inside and go through the front.  My children begin bickering in the car so we have a car-time-out despite the fact that my daughter is old enough to know better.  And when I arrive at my son’s day care I remember that it’s water day, and his lunch box is sitting on the kitchen table, and he’s going to be the weird kid wearing a drippy t-shirt in the slip-and-slide.  I bite my lip.  Can’t everyone see that I have already remembered so much since yesterday?  Last night I dreamed of a business deal and contract revisions and woke up afraid I had agreed to a venue clause in Delaware.  We cannot escape our realities.

So I calmly kissed the boy and headed back to the car.  I aimed it back home for a lunch box and bathing suit.  Ten minutes later I loaded up again, but when I turned to talk to my daughter in the car the mug of coffee spilled, drenching my ice-blue pants in medium roast brown.  I had just gotten them out of the cleaner’s bag this morning. I bit my lip again.  I took deep breaths.  And I began the process of negotiating the garage door opener yet again.  Later on the way to work after dropping off my daughter wearing new pants I’m navigating child care for the next week.  Pick-ups and drop offs and swapping weekends and arrangements.  I am wondering what we’ll eat for dinner and breakfast and whether I will have the stamina to make more sandwiches.

I think of how horrible I’ve been as a friend and daughter myself, always taking, never giving. I think somehow this is my selfish season.  There are days I call my mom and just rattle off what’s happening in my life without even stopping to say hello, or wondering what’s happening in her own. And when I call my friends it’s often to just vent about something without reciprocation.  And I’m filled with shame for lacking an even greater capacity to love, until the dings of email remind me that I have more pressing obligations.

It rained on the way to work today, fat pelting drops that gave trucks permission to slow to a turtle crawl.  And I progressed forward in tiny lurches forward toward an office, and a meeting, and executives with agendas.  And when I arrived I made a comment about the traffic, rolled my eyes, and I sat down with a heavy sigh.

Today has finally begun.  It’s a hair past 8:30.  No one really knows the backdrop of a life.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/burningimage/2363258975/sizes/m/in/photolist-4AQjyp-4JjXce-4Krva2-4KF9Dj-4STFMz-4Tbgjc-59S5ba-59ZWf8-5akZxM-5fqg2i-5hK1oz-5r3DoA-5tdngD-5tYQkD-5vJGbr-5JMg5o-5RZqd6-676xCX-683poN-6bMwku-6i14P9-6pybJg-6r99Ud-6rVwNA-6vogim-6yLKJH-6VFTEM-789Mm4-78MLKv-7fzA14-mdXYRC-8aiTpA-9w8eWL-nyTdxB-ajL7uF-hFGSyC-8ey5Wr-mfPuYg-87SwfE-7CfbZ4-agYDbQ-bnBkXw-9Brckz-9rPxcR-9qdw4t-9d2zXu-c4Ttfy-cca2eq-7PAweF-fbY3MF-bMZ5LK/

A Lunch Hour Prayer

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I’m writing this on my lunch hour, the phone timer set so my imaginary demons won’t report to the world that I’m spending work time on personal business.  Because I feel such guilt over walking out the door at 4 or when I spend too long in the break room and my heart is always forever pushing back shards of shame.  It’s my former government employee and youth director mentality I’ve never been able to get over, punctual and ethical in all things. Do more, exceed expectations, never lie and always proofread. But guilt is a wrecking ball, and after so many years it chips away at an otherwise stalwart heart.

God has given me an amazing gift of perseverance.  I’ve faced near-death and cancer and divorce and heartbreak and turmoil and yet somehow my internal clock still beats incredibly strong, and my default sensors are always half-full, and I tend to always get back up and start whistling.  But the devil’s found this loophole, you see. An enormous guilt that sweeps over me like a sulfur wind. Because God expects me to do certain things in His image and I’ve gone off and failed him.  And Jesus died for my sins and I can’t manage to carry out the stupid trash or concentrate on a managed care contract.  Seriously, what good am I.

So here goes the rampage of emptiness that fills my heart – a guilt that starts like a small fire I can so totally control.  But let’s be honest: we all know fire jumps protective lines and travels where it should not and thus I allow guilt to creep into my smile and my laugh and my brain and all the various crevices of me. And what remains is a hollowed-out version.

Oh, precious children whom I love.  There are moments I want to hold you so tight you might suffocate and I sit cross-legged in your rooms and watch how you contort your lips like a fish and my whole body is full of you.  I draw little hearts alongside of you on crisp white paper and make up silly songs and for fifteen glorious minutes I build castles out of magnatiles with the pointy ceilings that click together just so. And I hold your hands on our long family walks so we can discuss wildflowers and beetles but then like a flash I simply want to get off the floor and tell you to find your own peace and quit fighting and watch a show because can’t you see I need a minute? Can’t you see I need to sit alone on this front porch and see if he’s texted or if updates have arrived because I have to awkwardly navigate the real world with a broken heart?  I need to be free of you for a little while.

And these beautiful ones say so softly “Put the phone down momma. Why don’t you ever play with us anymore?” Because one moment I’m hot and another I’m cold. And my entire life’s fortune is in front of me blinking and the guilt of knowing this ravages a hole into my heart.

Oh, God whom I gave my life years ago.  My weak, sagging life has always been unequivocally yours, from the moment I gave it to you in that small chapel with dirty stone floors.  My servant-hood has never varied, and you know this.  And yet I do not seize you. I do not throw myself in worship and I am not an example as I wish to be.  You know me. I so love the piercing shrill of a curse word and I like to sip on sparkling champagne on a summer night too often and I’d rather read fiction than Colossians and I don’t want to give up things and not do things and the Bible is sometimes just a wee bit more boring than I’d like.  You know I want to eat broccoli and yet sometimes I have a hangover and I sulk on the garden floor half-heartedly pulling weeds and visit with you behind clenched teeth.  I need to be free of my suffocating expectations. Can’t you just let me feel happiness for once and not rip it out from underneath me?

Oh, relationships that end.  Come on, now. I have blue eyes and I’m funny and bubbly and supportive and smart. I wear a slinky dress one day and cowboy boots the next. Isn’t this something that’s desirable to the hearts of man? And yet when things don’t work out for good solid reasons that are mature and understandable I sulk and stomp because why wouldn’t men want me despite the crushing odds? Can’t we all just walk through life in a blissful state of romance and turn the truck around and you show up on doorsteps with bundles of flowers? Is this really too much to ask? I am so excellent with being alone, but lonely is another issue entirely.  I recoil and spin in all directions and have no willpower.  And because I’m dramatic I then tear up and cast side glances to God and wander around my home and my town and the aisles of Whole Foods and I feel all random and tied up in knots.  Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I should have done more.  Maybe it’s me that is the reason for the leaving. The guilt in reaching out too much and playing my hand and being too open with my emotions fills me with dread.  Damn guilt, it crept in again through an open portal.

There are times I am not a writer and not a lawyer and not a mother and not a lover and I’m just a flat-out mess as real life walks over me like a homeless bum, desperate and lacking.  There are days I want to lay flat on my back and just stare at the ceiling for hours upon end and hope the day passes to another sun and another moon and another season and another everything.  And yet we are to use the time given to us and delight in the toil and trust that God will forever be faithful, so guilt creeps upon my eyeglasses and taps though the glass into my one working eyeball.  “Hello in there? You realize how lucky you’ve got it, woman?” And I rise again, crawling to sit and half-rising off the bed to sore feet and a bruised heart and I half-ass my way through another day, another life, another dinner, another weekend.

But slowly a hint of a smile returns.  And quietly a voice starts to hum from inside, where the spirit lives.  It’s barely audible, the prayer that forms. But it’s there, like an imprint God has sewn into the fabric:

Enough. I have done enough and loved hard enough and God is enough and therefore I release you, stupid ugly guilt that has crawled through my veins and is tearing at my spirit.  I will walk down the hallway after eating this protein bar for lunch toward the restroom, since the timer is about to go off.  I will go to a meeting.  I will respond to emails with thoughtfulness and I will refrain from making bad decisions and will not reach back to the past. I will take deep breaths and drink more water. I will hug my children today when I see them.  But if I don’t? If I sulk for a few more days and still do stupid things and drink a soda and tell my children to watch another show and text the dude? That does not define me. That does not make my life less worthy.  And it certainly has nothing to do with how much God delights in me, and desires me, and loves me.  Oh, God, let me refocus my life not for me, but to delight again in you.  To find peace in a love that is calm and replenishing. That is enough.  My dear Father, that has always been enough.

Now, it’s back to work. There are contracts a-waitin, and they ain’t gonna write themselves.

Photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/henry_hemming/13973928195/sizes/m/in/photolist-nhQ31t-asqkJW-gHgTvK-gFJFoz-dQXhXi-8B8NQN-aFBzLR-ciRhGE-dMe84B-adDGg4-bGSkRF-btXzbA-btXxRG-bGSn9i-bGSm9e-btXxK9-btXyz1-bGSkEZ-btXyXf-bGSm3g-bGSmNp-bGSms8-bGSmhR-bxsLJE-asi3Fr-myQQ92-8LwW6j-7KhDa4-dTkTu7-9a4jan-bcpdAP-amPDzV-ajykMp-7AV4qv-8ergxe-eWXpy7-88bgji-8AMeYi-8vGnwi-eyQByk-f8Cf5z-f8QQYE-fUDnNh-dgq518-eWXAcs-eWLbhF-ajzVfZ-asFLxn-f6CkiR-eWXpgw-8UcZjv/

Top Ten Ways to Laugh More at Work

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I have had my share of crappy, miserable, insanely-awful Tuesdays.  My mornings usually consisted of lukewarm coffee, screaming children, re-heated muffins, and boring NPR stories.  I was stuck in traffic, with bad hair and pants that are an inch too short, and when I got to work I noticed half-done reports and a computer keyboard covered in the crumbs of yesterday’s subway sandwich.  Is that really the day care calling to say my kid as a fever?  Do I honestly have a meeting in ten minutes? It’s only Tuesday for crying out loud.

But sometimes the negative can be turned into the positive. It’s a byproduct of being a writer, I suppose, where I look at life as one huge collection of stories.  But I’ve had to ask myself – was I good about finding the humor at work all those years?  Work is the one place where you hang up your personal, jovial self in the closet next to your blazer and and trudge off to Get Things Done.

I think back through my career.  I’ve snapped at support staff for packets not fully prepared and have been angry at opposing counsel for unrealistic discovery demands.  I’ve worn sour expressions and said so many disparaging things I’m sure my co-workers wanted to slide Midol pills underneath the crack in the door with a note that read “For heaven’s sakes take these pills, eat a cupcake, and come back when you are nice.”  But what do they know?  Work is a place where you Get Things Done.  Where you beat deadlines and answer emails and attend meetings.  Grrr.

But can’t we get some fun up in here?  I’m not talking about the lame birthday cake parties in the break room.  I’m talking about real and honest joy.  Is it even possible given today’s demands?

The answer is yes.  An overwhelming yes.

But you have to go about it the right way.  One particular website suggested that in order to break the tension in a workplace, a manager should bring a panic button into the meeting and tell their staff to “just push the panic button when it gets too stressful.” It breaks up the monotony!  It creates a light-hearted environment!  It’s so darn fun!  If I were in a meeting where my manager brought in a panic button, he’d have about as much credibility as my two-year-old.

Another piece of advice said to take fifteen minute walks, develop games with cube-mates, work puzzles in the break room, and take jokes with you to meetings.  This just doesn’t ring true.  If I was discussing a merger, I couldn’t be all “hold up there, folkzies.  Before we begin this discussion, have you heard the one where the elephant walks into a bar?”  No offense to those people who love puzzles, or elephants.  I’m just saying it wouldn’t work particularly well for me.

But the more advanced I became in my career, the fear and insecurity of being accepted wore off and faded into oblivion.  So I began to let loose and hauled my normal happy self into the office. After all, my shoes are from TJ Maxx and my brain only works about half the time.  If I had a joke about an elephant that I thought was really funny, I’d probably say it.  Because elephants are endearing little things that crush vehicles with their hind quarters.

So here are the Top Ten Things that I learned after so many years that helped me start to enjoy work again. To bring humor back into my working life.  To learn to really live a little:

(1) Don’t take things so darn seriously.  Humor creates a psychological distance.  After all, if you don’t get that report turned in and your boss gets mad, and you end up being fired, you could work at Dairy Queen and eat Blizzards all day.  Think of the toppings!

(2) Get out of the office for lunch.  This is key so your head isn’t buried inside your computer from 7 am until closing time, causing you to be grumpy and lumpy and snappy.  Just leave.  If you aren’t hungry, drive around.  Pick up some iced tea.  Head to a park and walk a bit.  But take a mid-day break.

(3) Think of your commute as a very special time, not some horrible long wasted hour.  Listen to music that uplifts you.  Pray.  Call a friend or check out a book on tape. Enjoy a cup of good coffee.  This is your time, without kids yelling or bosses snapping or husbands talking. How many times do you tell yourself “I have no time for me!”  Well here it is, you whiner.

(4) Be the bearer of silly little gifts.  Everyone brings something different to the table in a workplace.  Some people are more organized.  Others are great with follow-up.   Some are good listeners.  Reward those talents by leaving candy or gum or little treats on their desk with lame, corresponding sayings that you find online or make up.  You’re worth a mint to me (mentos)!  The way you listened to that client was so smart (smartees!) Your organizational skills are worth all the cash in the world (100 grand!) It’s not laugh-out-loud funny and might cause people to roll their eyes a bit (rolos!) but it makes people smile and it helps them see you as a human being and not just a widget (or whatchamacallit!)  Tell me to stop.

(5) At every opportunity, send out poems (Today is just another day, it’s Wednesday in December, but if you have a moment at all, can you call that counsel member?)  I use www.rhymezone.com so much I think they created that site exclusively for me.  Now, instead of simply barking orders, you can bark orders in rhyme, which is far better and makes you more likeable.  Unless you’re firing someone.  Then I’d steer clear of rhyme.  I also like to use unusual similes and metaphors, like “this is similar to fighting alligators” or “imagine this project is a large lion.”

(6) Be a gossip killer.  When someone comes into your office, closes the door, and says “I’m so sorry but I just have to get this off my chest” and then begins to rant about someone with glee, think strategy. It’s fine to listen.  But when they are done, ask them if they often have to replace buttons on that blazer or start a conversation about space exploration.  Don’t give in to employee-bashing.  It’s not helpful, it ruins the office mood, it destroys morale, and it’s hateful.  Hateful humor doesn’t warm the heart. Unless it’s your boss, of course, which is an exception and you can both plot his/her demise in good conscience.  Think of what will be on the gravestone.  Pick the funeral flowers.  Whatever.

(7) Send notes of praise and thanks all the time, to anyone you can think of. Email someone’s boss and blind-copy them.  It makes you feel better, and happier, to give rather than receive.  We learned this as children around Christmas, and it’s so true.  Unless you are receiving a new Nikon 5100.  Then getting is good.

(8)  Smile.  When someone walks into your office, stop your train of thought long enough to let a smile erupt on your face.  Even if it’s forced.  If you hold it long enough, it might turn real.

(9) Despite advice to the country to form “lunch bunches” and all kinds of work pot lucks, I’m not big on dining together with work colleagues all the time.  After all – you see these people enough.  Do you really want to sit together in the break room heating up leftover lasagna?  Find your own space.  This makes everyone happier and more interesting.

(10) And finally, admit when you are wrong.  Apologize when necessary, and embrace your faults.  No one can find humor, warmth, and joy in the workplace if you are constantly trying to fight battles of will, or cover something up, or lie to save yourself.  Be true to your inner self.  The self you were born to be.  The self that wears pants that are sometimes too short with coffee stains.  It’s cool.  You aren’t the only one.

We all have those kind of Tuesdays.

Photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/xlordashx/6045901304/sizes/m/in/photostream/