why teenagers should clean toilets

i recently read an article by a mom titled “Please don’t help my kids” (read here).  the frustrated mom lays down some firm ground rules about assisting her kids at the playground.  while her tone seems to be a bit harsh, i really appreciate the heart behind her words.  i appreciate her desire to race independent kids who know how to stand on their own two feet.  who can be creative, original selves in a world that screams conformity.  who understand resilience because they’ve practiced it, endurance because that is the framework for their lives.

i began “working” when i was just 12, scoring my first few babysitting gigs with the children of my parents’ coworkers.  on one particular night, as my dad was dropping me off, he encouraged me to do the dishes and help straighten the house while the parents were away.  his thinking: if you clean for them, they will be wowed and want you back.  i took his advice, cleaning the kitchen while the children played and watched movies.  the parents came home, refreshed from a night away and ecstatic that they didn’t have to deal with a mountain of dishes.  they paid me well and called me again.

that’s when i learned the importance of adding value to my job.  doing that thing that took the position just another step further in quality.

at the age of 16, i decided to spend my summer working as a young counselor-in-training at the church camp i grew up attending.  me and the few other staff members my age were all considered too young (rightly so) to handle a cabin of campers on our own, so we spent our days doing odds and ends jobs around the camp, and our evenings/nights with the campers.  i was put together with 2 other young girls to assist Marilyn, the housekeeper.  our daily job: cleaning toilets.

we arose at 6:30a each morning, moving quietly about the cabin, careful not to wake the counselors and campers who didn’t have to rise for at least another hour.  we ate breakfast together, then set off in golf carts with cleaning supplies.  we cleaned every bathroom on the campus, from the hair-spray, body-wash fruitiness of the girls’ cabins with showers full of hair, to the dingy, dirty nastiness of the boys’ wash houses that wreaked of urine.  Marilyn was a stickler about hair left in the drain so we scrubbed until the sinks shone and picked out every loose hair that lingered.  the boys had a nasty habit of clogging the conventional toilets, and then turned to pooping in the urinals.  i’d never touched poop until that summer (and never have since).

we finished mid-to late morning with the housekeeping, went to lunch with all the campers, and then i headed to the concession stand, a little trailer with a fridge full of sodas and counter full of candy, and sold sugar to children.  we stayed up too late laughing and joking about boys, and i woke up too early the next day to repeat the cycle.

14 years later, i find myself in a fun, rewarding position at a yoga studio, where i get to interact with people and help build the business.  i have a marketing and promotional background, i’ve written freelance articles and pieces for many folks over the years, i’ve managed departments and had significant positions in companies.  and still, i clean toilets.

why?  because it’s so necessary, so basic.  toilets need cleaned (and floors swept and the counter wiped off) everyday.  because they get used everyday.  if they told me in high school i would eventually use my degree to work a front desk and clean the bathroom.  I would have laughed.  but my dad’s words still linger in my head.  go above and beyond.  work hard to wow your boss, and you will be asked to stay.

what i appreciate about the article, mentioned above, is that this is a similar type lesson the mom is trying to teach her young babes.  when we teach our children anything less than the importance of cleaning toilets, or the value of climbing the slide ladder by themselves, we make them believe the impossible lie that life can be lived without hard work and basic effort aimed at tedious tasks.  we instill the idea that life is not worth the toil necessary at times to move forward with dreams and goals.  that life is somehow easily gotten and that there is no beauty in the simplicity of serving others.

that’s why babes need to learn to pick themselves up when they fall from the monkey bars, and teenagers need to clean toilets, and adults need to rejoice in their challenging work.  because life, rich and full and beautiful life, will be the prize for those willing to work for it.

asking for help, pacing myself and other life lessons

“it is better to travel well than to arrive.”
-Buddha

about a month ago, i left my full-time, all-consuming job with a winery to pursue and fine-tune some dreams that have been brewing deep inside of me.  namely, yoga and natural health.  my schedule has lightened and is much more determined by me.  my income sources have also lightened, so i’ve added “selling Pampered Chef” to my list of fun endeavors.  all of this has left me on somewhat uneven ground, tilting back and forth as i try to find my sea legs and steady myself again.

a few of my less than shiny character traits have begun to rear their little heads during this time of transition.

recently, my shoulder has begun to hurt.  a deep, burning ache that happens when i’m using the computer or driving and especially after an intense yoga class.  feeling discouraged, i resolved to try harder.  until one day, after class, my arm ached all afternoon.  through two movies and lunch and shopping.  ache, ache, ache.  i hesitated to ask anyone, afraid i would need to lay off of yoga and all the things i’ve been working on. finally, i asked a teacher at the studio if i should just take a break.

“no,” she said, “not necessarily.  you may just be doing something wrong.  you should have a teacher look at your form.”  my relief at being able to keep practicing was short-lived as i considered asking someone to not only watch me practice yoga, but also to offer critique.

i’ve always been incredibly insecure about my “performance” in just about any area of my life.  in an effort to avoid commentary, i strive to do better than any expectations, to wow people before they can decide i’m not good enough or don’t have the skill.  asking for someone to help me see what i couldn’t felt less like help, and more like judgement.

nevertheless, i knew i needed help and it wasn’t going to happen spontaneously.  after class yesterday, i asked my teacher to come over, to watch me.  a couple other students, overhearing my request and having similar questions, stood by.  despite my fears, she listened and offered suggestion, noting my form and how my lack thereof was likely contributing to the pain.  she gave me some exercises to gain strength and i felt humbled.  in one of the best of ways.  humbled that another human would handle my request for help with gentleness and respect.

another character trait that has been known to both help and hurt is my “all or nothing” modus operandi.  “all or nothing” people are great and have a lot to offer.  they go after goals with tenacity and perseverance.  they are passionate and driven and, for lack of a better phrase, get shit done.  but “all or nothing” people are surprisingly fragile, susceptible to burn out and running themselves into ground.

that’s where i found myself in my last work position.  i accepted a job that had long been neglected and was in need of serious, deliberate attention.  i called it my wild stallion.  and initially, i enjoyed it despite the exhausting hours and sleepless nights.  but over time, it took its toll as i worn down more and more.  until i finally had to call it quits.

now, in my new season, i find the drive revving back up and my desire to hit the road running have kicked in.  especially in the area of Pampered Chef, especially after our spring conference last weekend.  i came back convinced i would be a director by July, setting my sites on that goal and going hard after it.

the yoga fell into the shadow of this dream, as did my studying for naturopathy.  suddenly Pampered Chef became the destination, not the vehicle.  i’ve joked that it feeds my need for instant gratification, as my dreams for yoga and natural health are things that will take years to attain.

this is not to say i’m quitting Pampered Chef or anything, as my “all or nothing” personality tends to dictate.  but i do need to put it back into its place, to realign my perspective.  i want to do PC well, to succeed and make money, but it’s not my life’s calling.  it’s not that thing that’s recently awoken within me.  it’s the vehicle for getting there and, who knows, may just pay for all my future dreams.

needless to say, life is busy here.  like the winter, i find my life is in a bit of still hardness. soon the soil will be tilled, the seeds planted, the baby plants growing and thriving and putting off fruits to nourish little bodies.  but for now, it is slow and hibernating and the perfect place to learn big life lessons with gentleness and humility.

you’ve come a long way, baby

last week, my little sis had surgery (it was brief and she is recovering nicely) and i agreed to meet her at the hospital.  running late, i had to call before hand to send her my well-wishes and get directions to the surgery center.  as i spoke to my dad, i came to realize that it was just him and my mom there with my sister and, now that my sis was actually back in surgery, my parents were alone together in the waiting room.  and it was ok.  neither was pressuring me to get there, neither indicated a need for intercession or a buffer.  i was told all was well and to be safe getting there.

i cried as the realization of this moment washed over me.

but let me back-track just a minute, to give a greater perspective on the significance of this. my parents separated during my senior year of high school and divorced during the freshman year of college.  it was  a bitter time, full of anger and anguish and disappointment for all parties.  my parents found it hard to be around one another without incident, and we existed that way for years, my sis and i serving as buffers, nervous about moments where the two may have to be in the same space as one another.  it was a hard road, full of anxiety and pressure on my sister and i’s part to keep the peace.

but now, (NOW!), they were sitting there, in that waiting room, not best friends but not enemies.  gathered for a common purpose and not needing anyone to intercede.  they have come a long way in healing, and therefore our family has begun to heal.

a friend once told me she believes we pick the families we come into.  that before we’re born, and we’re just little speck babies out there in the universe or heaven or what have you, we pick the life we choose to enter.  i don’t know how i feel about that or if i agree with the philosophy, but it is incredibly empowering to think that we’ve chosen this life.  then i’m not the victim of the things that happened in my childhood or the events of my family.  i chose this life.

i choose this life.

at the start of 2013, i wrote this about the words i wanted my year to focus on, and so many of them have played a vital role in my year.  in preparing for 2014, tho, that phrase above–i choose this life–keeps coming to mind.

i choose the changes i’m making, the direction i want to go.  i choose my health.  i choose to love.  i choose to cherish the humans i’ve been entrusted to care for.  i choose to go into the kitchen and make a delicious, nourishing meal instead of going out for cheeseburgers (ok, i’ll choose that most of the time).

so, cheers to 2014!
“make good choices!”

a new vision

“where there is no vision, the people perish….” 
    -Proverbs 29:18

“the most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision.”
   -Helen Keller

as the New Year approaches and i find myself embarking on (many!) new adventures, i decided to attend a Vision Board workshop at my yoga studio.  what, you may ask is a Vision Board, let alone a Vision Board workshop?!  i had similar questions myself and had a hard time describing to others what i intended to spend the morning of my day off doing. still, something stirred in my spirit and i knew that was exactly where i needed to be.

the concept of a vision board is simple: compile all those things you want to Be, Do, and Have, whether in pictures, words, phrases, and display them on a board.  in doing so, you create a space that houses all your desires, and reminds you daily what you’re looking for in this life, where you’re aiming yourself.  and on a deeper level, as i soon learned, you’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to admit you want something.

we started our time together with a brief series of yoga moves, warming up our bodies and allowing the morning to slough off, like old skin.  whatever it took to get us there, whatever our mornings included, soon melted off and a peace settled about the room.  the coach explained a bit of the science behind the vision board, words that went over my head as i didn’t bring my journal to write them down.  and then she set us free to dream.

in the middle of the room were hundreds of magazines for the taking, and scissors and glue sticks and poster board.  i gobbled up several magazines like a child starving and began searching for images and words.  initially, i just grabbed at anything that attracted me, not thinking about what i really wanted to see in my life.

this has been such a strange time of transition.  i recently started studying naturopathy, which has shifted the focus of my priorities.  i also decided that my current job was taking too many precious resources, mainly time, and that i’d rather be spending those on the path it seemed i should be on.  i reached out to my yoga teacher, which in turn led to a job with a local yoga studio.  i am currently merging into my work there, while slowly cutting down my work with the winery.  i am also supplementing my income by selling Pampered Chef, so my time lately has been spent learning the ropes and spreading the word.  needless to say, there is a lot of change and transition happening.

which left me breathless, so to speak, when it came to the vision for my life.  this transition has forced my hand in a way, to develop that picture a bit, but there are still so many other items, tangible pieces that just weren’t coming into focus.

i wrestled with myself as i turned page after page.  what do i desire to have, to do, to be?

the more feverishly i worked, the more i wrestled.  the more i wrestled, the more feverish i became.  until finally i realized the issue: my own limiting beliefs.  focus, i told myself stubbornly.  focus.  what do you REALLY want?  as if my vision board where now some budgetary to-do list, with limited resources to supply it’s coming to fruition.  but there were no limits, and that was the point of the exercise.  what would life look like and include if you had no limits??  that was the very point of this time.

i had missed it.  i had let the limiting voices become mine.  but i didn’t let them take over.  i started to let myself answer honestly and without reserve.

i want to have peaceful mornings, i thought, to create a home, to have yoga be a more central part of my life.  i want a family to warm these rooms, to hear the laughter of little people.  more tangibly, i want to be engaged and be married.  i ripped out pictures of engagement rings and my wedding dress, and a couple holding hands.  i want to visit Paris and New York City.  i want to own my own business and remodel the kitchen.  all these things went on the board.

vision board

above all else, the coach added at one point, is the feelings associated with these things you desire.  how do you envision yourself feeling? she asked.

i struggled with this the most.  the truth is, i gave up a long time ago hoping to feel.  it is a classic survivor skill, neutralizing all expectation and hope to avoid disappointment.  i just didn’t realize how deep it went.  at the heart of all my wrestling, i was scared.  scared to admit what i really desired, scared to see it come to fruition, scared that maybe it wouldn’t fulfill me as i hoped, scared it may never come at all.  i was, and am, scared of good things happening.

i verbalized this to the lady next to me, fidgeting as i admitted it.  do you ever feel that way, i asked.  she nodded confidently.

“that’s called vulnerability,” she said.  ahh, yes.  vulnerability.  my old frien-enemy.  how to ever make peace with her, but that is a different post for a different day.

with my vision board complete, i rolled it into my yoga map and rode my bike home, the visions swirling in my mind.  the coach suggested putting it somewhere we could see it daily, and looking at it, reminding our subconscious selves what we’re looking for in this world.  so my little work of art sits on my dresser.  and the words “boss” and “family” and “cooking up a business” stare back at me when i wake and when i get dressed for the day, to remind me of what is possible and prompt me to pursue my dreams.

 

awaken my soul

i walked into a coffee shop in Grand Rapids, MI, content to know no one.  to sip a delectable latte and study for a couple hours.  in town for work, i had nowhere to be and no one to demand my time until 3p.

within just a few minutes of finding a spot to settle in, i heard my name from a voice behind me.  i turned, not sure who could know me in this city, only to find an old friend from college days.  he was actually a friend i knew through an ex-boyfriend, and he had transferred to another school after our freshman year.  we saw each other off and on over the next few years, as our paths crossed in various ways, but that would have to have been nearly 8 years ago.

of course, the natural questions came forth and i quickly learned that he doesn’t live here either, but is fundraising to move his family to Spain for mission work.  i always find in these situations that i have so many questions and an eager desire to know what the other person is up to, that i don’t share much about myself.  even when asked.  so i briefly mentioned that i was in the city for work, but at the coffee shop to study.  then i went back to asking about him.

but he persisted, and i found my pulse quickening and my eyes brightening as i explained my desire to study naturopathy and natural healing options, as well as go through yoga teacher training, and my hope to combine the two.

and then i said something i wish i could recapture and put in a bottle, to carry around with me at all times.

i said, “it’s one of those things that just makes me feel alive and excited every time i think about it.  i think we need to pay attention to that, because that’s how we know what we’re supposed to offer to world.”  he nodded emphatically, and smiled, and got excited with me.

as a young person, i thought passion about life was a given, and i watched older people with quick judgment about the dutiful lives they seemed to live, committed and busy, but without much true passion.  i took that passion for granted, as i went to school and bought  cars and bounced from one idea to another.

but somewhere along the way, slowly but surely, my overabundance of passion began to dim.  and now here i sit, feeling slightly jaded about life, wondering if anything could ever feel “new” again, could make my blood race with excitement and passion.  dramatic perhaps, but these have been the honest workings of my mind lately.

then an old friend pops up in a coffee shop in a strange city, and asks what i’m up to.

the thing about “distance learning” is that i could legitimately go through my entire study without talking about it.  i could slink about with my textbook and highlighter, and do my thing in the corner where no one could see.  where no one could ask what it is i’m studying, or why.  they could never hear my heart for the subject, and worse, neither could i.

so, a friend walks into my world, and asks that simple question, and without thought i spew off a stream of thoughts about what i’d really like to be doing, how i’d really like my life to look, and feel that passion bubbling up under the surface just as in days of old.  and i feel a ray of sunshine peep through gray snow-filled clouds, as if to say that Spring is on it’s way, and keep going because all this is a sign that you’re on the right path.

afterall, we are all created to offer something beautiful to the world, to awaken others to live their lives wholly and fully.  but we can only know that by finding that thing that makes us feel awake and alive, and chasing it with all we have.

the thing about family….

today has been a weird day.

i am alone in a quiet house, no other living soul but the cat as he bounds from room to room, chasing imaginary foes.  or friends.  it’s always impossible to know.

i started the day with yoga and coffee and lots of items on my to-do list.  spent the afternoon learning to make wine.  dinner with the honey.  said good-bye to him until Saturday.  read a bit, watched a bit of tv.  got an email from a family member that bothered me.  chatted with my sis about said email.  text dad about said email.

and something happened.
in a strange, round about, unexpected way, i got the response i wanted, that i’ve been hoping to receive for a very long time.

i got acknowledgment and understanding and apology.  just when i was least expecting it.

my cousin recently shared on facebook about a quirk she has that is reminiscent of her dad.  this led to us going back and forth about little things we do that not only remind us of our parents, but also our parents’ parents, etc.  i shared with her how i will say, “i just want a little taste” anytime i ask for a bite of someone else’s food, and make a smacking motion with my mouth.  this is a move my mom and grandma have made many times in life.  and i shared how i sound more and more like my mom when i sing, of the sweet memories this always brings up of singing hymns in our country church.  i always beamed with pride at how beautiful my mom’s voice is.

i carry these quirks and feel connected in such a deep way anytime i realize i’m doing them.

that’s the thing about family.

no matter the road you’ve been on, the pain, the frustration, the misunderstanding.  no matter the time in between conversations…a simple text can make things better.  a quirk can connect you back to those you love, those you want to never forget.  you can forgive in an instant because your love and desire for approval can overshadow even the greatest offenses.

you can speak your truth and hope that someday healing will come.  you can hold the candle high that someday your children will be sharing the quirks they have in common with you.  they will smile knowing you are never far away.

looking for a sign

i have to start this post with 2 disclosures.
1. i haven’t prayed in a loonngg time.  and 2. i’m not really a person for “signs.”

that being said, i experienced both yesterday and it pivotal.

let’s back up a bit.

i’ve been thinking for awhile time, but even moreso in the last 6 months, that i’ve wanted to pursue some further education in the natural health field.  i did an intense batch of research back in February/March timeframe and settled on the school and program i wanted to pursue.  what i didn’t settle on was the financial solution.  so i put everything on hold until i could remedy my finances a bit and carve out the money needed to begin.  i set my goal for August and moved on, carrying the packet of information on this program with me regularly, pulling it out every now and then to remind me of my real focus.  my true north.

then August came.  and went.  and the money wasn’t really there like i expected.

but September was different.  September saw a bonus that would comfortable cover the initial down payment.  September saw me really have to wrestle with, literally, putting my money where my mouth had been for so many months.  i would get incredibly close to enrolling in the program, only to find myself shirking back in fear.  i wrestled with my hesitation, and what i would tell someone else in my position.  coaching myself to take a risk and follow my heart and all that cliche’d nonsense that is actually really good advice.  i told anyone who would listen about my struggle but internally i would feel an overwhelming chorus of “YES” anytime i considered the program or read the course descriptions.

and then i decided to try something different.  i decided to try prayer.

ever since leaving the church earlier last year, i’ve avoided any of the old practices i used to observe, needing a deep separation from anything that reminded me of that world.  it’s not that i’ve felt prayer to be bad; i’ve just not felt overwhelmingly convinced of who or what i was praying to, of what exactly was out there to receive my prayers, and even to the extent of what would want to even interact with us enough to want to answer our prayers.

i wouldn’t have even considered the option had i not been to visit with a spiritual guide of sorts, who’s first piece of advice was the practice of meditation.  his suggestion was simple: use meditation to pray, be specific and come with questions you want answered, and, if necessary, ask for a sign.  he mentioned feathers and butterflies or anything else that might serve as validation.

so yesterday morning i sat down, crossed my legs and closed my eyes.  i began to slow my breathing and focus my thoughts.

“ok,” i said with some skepticism.  “ok, whoever you are out there, tell me…should i start this program?  that’s what i want to know.  and send me a sign…a sign of….” my brain immediately thought “turtle,” my rational self thought that was silly.  still, “turtle” kept coming back to mind, over and over.  “ok,” i said, “show me a turtle.  if you think i should do this program.  show me a turtle.”

it was all i could do to remember to find a turtle.  i was on a business trip and busy with different activities and had to keep reminding myself to find a turtle in a place that was not really known to have turtle inhabitants.

towards the afternoon, on a walk across the island we were on, a sign caught my eye.  it looked exactly like one we had seen in the Florida Keys so i walked over to it, only to find this:

tortugas

that’s right, the bar was called “Tortugas,” the spanish word for “Turtles.”  it was not altogether obvious, lost in so many other messages.  but it was there nonetheless.

it was my sign.

but truth be told, it was really just an affirmation of what i already knew to be true.  that’s the thing about signs.  they really just help you to have the courage to choose the path you’re already on, to give you the confidence you need to put your foot out and take that risk.  it minimizes the hives and hyperventilation you feel when thinking about jumping off that cliff.

i registered for that program this evening, and will be starting a Doctor of Naturopathy as soon as they accept my application. happy to finally replace the debilitation of fear with the exhilaration of excitement; thankful for whoever or whatever is out there that sent “tortugas” to nudge me forward.