Conundrums

unsolveableWhen I close my eyes and think about the all-loving God that I grew up knowing, I feel comforted like a warm blanket around my shoulders. The idea that if I pray hard enough, am good enough and it’s God’s plan everything will be OK, is one that I’ve subscribed to most of my life. The thought that having a “mustard seed’s” worth of faith can “move mountains” sustained me when questions and doubt have plagued me. Especially now — in such uncertain times when the COVID-19 pandemic, our government’s response to it and our actions and reactions to that dominate headlines and our social media feeds—this should be enough to see me through, but it’s not.

In my personal life manifesto, if you read it to the very end, I wrote, “Religion isn’t always truth. God is love. Fear is the enemy.” I believe this. I feel disillusioned with religion and have so now for several years. I’ve been afraid to write those words for fear of what others might think. Yet, my mind won’t let it go. If God has a plan and knows me, then He knows what paths my mind takes. He won’t let me rest until I write. And so here it is, my conundrum… Maybe like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, “God” is just another imaginary entity humans created to give us comfort in the knowledge that someday we all will die and hope that we will see our loved ones who have passed away again.

Even more so now, I’ve come to think that the world would be a better place with less religion rather than more. How many atrocities occurred and continue to occur in the name of a religion? It is just random happenstance, that I was born into a Christian family in the United States. I could just as easily have been born to a Muslim family in Iraq, a Hindu family in India, a Jewish family in Israel, a Buhdist family in China or an atheist family anywhere. People think strongly that their religion is the “right” one, but no one really knows definitively whose religion is the “right” or “wrong” one. Maybe they are all right or maybe none of them are. We are all biased. We believe what confirms our biases and dismiss or ignore the rest. My religion isn’t better or more right than anyone elses.

Politics and religion are typically two topics I’ve tried to avoid. Our country’s founders were clear on separating “church” and “state,” but they’ve become very entwined. Maybe, they always were? What’s the point of talking about something that riles everyone up and that you can’t really change anyway? Why should I care about public policies and agendas if they don’t affect me directly? Everyone has a right to their own opinions. Correct? On the flip side, why should I be afraid to share my thoughts and opinions? Our country was founded on freedom of speech. Why be afraid? Because, hate and retaliation are very real today. Name calling and belittling are not far-fetched responses to expect from those who disagree. Ignorance is bliss. Right? Am I better off not knowing what others’ political and religious views are? I long for the days of not knowing. However, I realize that this is not a luxury I can afford. I was privileged to not have to know as it didn’t really affect my life one way or the other. However, over the past few years I find it harder and harder to tamp down the uneasiness within me and remain quiet. Silence equals complicity. I believe this. Yet, reading posts and comments that are hateful, untrue and biased cause my blood pressure to rise, my stomach to turn and uneasiness to flow through my body. Responding doesn’t change anyone’s mind and seems to feed animosity. And so, I unfollow negative people, stop myself from reading comments on articles and limit the amount of news I view out of self-preservation. But does doing this, then make me complicit? This is where I struggle.

One of the basic teachings of Christianity can be found in Matthew 25:37-40

 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. “

Matthew 25:37-40  – NIV

Jesus did not teach that you only have to help the least of these if they are Christians and U.S, citizens. Thus, I have a hard time understanding how people can reconcile supporting President Trump and still consider themselves to be Christians. You only have to actually read the president’s Twitter feed or listen to one of his speeches to know that he does not remotely align with any of these core teachings. What does the economy matter, when people are hungry, sick and seeking shelter and we turn them away? Will a great economy, make the world a better place for our children and grandchildren if our water and air is polluted? What does it matter if taxes are lower, when our national debt grows? What does it matter if business is booming, if people are dying from COVID-19 and our health care system is overwhelmed?

When do his supporters finally wake up and admit they made a mistake in voting for and supporting this man? He is more concerned about his ratings, blaming others (the Democrats, the Fake News, the elite academics, Obama, Clinton and on and on), than he is in taking responsibility for his mistakes and being an empathetic leader. Yes, we should rally around our president in times of trial and put partisian politics aside. However, there is also a time to take a hard look at whether this president can look beyond his own ego and selfishness to do what is best for our country. Yes, both political parties have their flaws. There is name calling, lies and corruption all around. However, two wrongs have never made a right. I may not agree with all of Governor DeWine’s policies, but he makes me proud to be an Ohioian. He embodies the leadership and empathy that we need right now.

I would rather pay higher taxes, if it means helping those less fortunate, ensuring everyone has affordable healthcare and housing and protecting our environment.  Sure, there will always be people that would take advantage of said help, who don’t really need it, but I’d rather the help still be available to those who do. If that makes me a liberal, socialist, elitist or any other “ist” so be it. I own it. I would much rather live in a kinder, less selfish world.

Kindergarten Throw Back

Do you remember kindergarten? How about when your children or grandchildren were in kindergarten? No, not really? Is it all a bit foggy? Surely, though while we may not actually remember being a kindergartner, we do remember what we learned at that young age. And while, what we learned in kindergarten became the foundation of our education, I think especially now after a week filled with so much hate and violence, we could all use a refresher course. 

In between recess and naptime, we learned our ABC’s and 123’s, but more importantly we learned how to be good classmates, friends, neighbors and children. Among the rules we learned as 5-year olds are five of the most important to remember:

  1. Listen when the teacher (or someone else) is talking.
  2. No running in the halls. (Slow down!)
  3. Keep your hands to yourself. 
  4. Share with others.
  5. No name calling.

While all of these “rules” are important, I find that #5 may need the most review among American adults today.  Even as precoicious 4 year-olds, my daughters both knew that the word “Duh” was disrepectful and that the word “stupid” was a “bad” word and would call me (rightfully so) out if I used one of these words. Yet, when someone disagrees with one of our values, beliefs or opinions, many of us are quick to assign judgement and call each other names. 

political sign

I passed this political sign (to the left) on my way to the dentist this afternoon. I felt physically ill as I passed by.  I am glad that my  youngest daughter wasn’t in the car with me to read this hateful sentiment. While it is a wonderful example of alliteration, it would have been distressing to explain to her what a douche bag and douche are, and even more so to try to explain to her why these words were being used in this context. I am not offended by this sign, but am disappointed and saddened by it. A more effective sign might have been to tell me the positive reasons why I should vote another way instead (Republican maybe?). The writer of this sign does just the opposite of what his or her intent was – to influence me not to vote democrat. Yet, the off-putting aura of hate that surrounded the message makes me want to vote democrat even if I weren’t intending to before I read it.

While I whole-heartedly support our right to free speech as proteted by the first ammendment, even the Super Bowl halftime show is censored and music, videos and movies are rated based on content. I do not agree with the content of that roadside sign or for that matter of various tweets and contents on any given social media platform, I would never call the author a nasty name because of it (even though I may momentarially think it). While the old childhood rhyme may be “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  They do. Words do hurt. Words instill hate in our hearts. Words insight violence. Words matter. 

Last week my daughter was upset because someone in her class supposedly her a “mean name.”  We talked about the saying of “I’m rubber and your glue whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”  As Taylor Swift sings, “Shake it off” as the “Haters are gonna hate, hate, hate.” We agreed that when someone calls you something mean, it’s more about their lack of self-esteem than it is about her. This is true. It doesn’t matter what people think about you in theory. But pratically, speaking I can replay in my mind more exactly the hurtful things people have said to me more easily than the positive ones. While I shake it off, a sliver of pain is still left behind.

Words can inspire. Word can affect positve change. Words can lift us up. 
Words matter. 

Are there any other kindergarten rules you think we should revisit?

It’s About Time…

20180528_150323689_iOS.jpgIn the background of life, time steadily ticks — loudly or softly depending on the day.  From that split second when life sparked and you became a zygote, the timeline of your being began. Boom, you silently existed and not even your mother knew your timer had started. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years go by and you can’t stop time or go back for a re-do. Even as my hands type these words another 20 seconds of my life has gone by and yours too as you are reading this. We are on a journey that ultimately ends in the flash of a second when our life energy exits our bodies and we cease to be but memories to those who knew us here.

Time is hard to wrap my mind around. It is such a fluid concept. We measure it in terms of Earth’s relationship to the moon and the sun.  The Earth’s rotation on its axis, the moon’s orbit around the Earth, the Earth’s orbit around the sun. We measure time linearly, marking our existence as we travel through space.  My mind turns this thought over and over (and time continues to pass even so). Time is constant. Yet, my perception of time is not, nor yours I presume. This is especially true now as our news feeds flood with graduation pics, wedding photos and requests for prayers. It was true last Wednesday, as I stroked the head of my daughter’s 4-H goat as he unexpectedly breathed his last breath and lie still. Even more profoundly still years ago when I kissed my grandmother’s cheek the last time. My mind can perfectly replay the last time I saw her, sitting in a rocking chair on the porch with a blanket wrapped around her shoulder even though the thermometer read 90 degrees, the sun shining on her face. As I backed out of the drive way, I knew this would be the last time I would see her in this world.

My mind easily goes back in time.  It goes back to the day I felt that flutter of life within my womb the first time and longed for those nine long months to hurry up so I could hold my daughter in my arms. Yet, that moment that seems so long ago and like yesterday at the same time, happened seventeen years ago. When running on the treadmill, a minute feels like an hour (or more like a week!), while sitting in a cool, darkened theater, watching a funny movie, time flashes by in mere minutes.  The amount of time that actually passes by stays the same, even though my perception of it does not. While I’d rather that long drive to my next vacation destination feel like minutes and our time relaxing by the pool to feel like years, it doesn’t work that way.  A week after I’ve returned to work and the daily grind, that vacation spot only weeks ago feels like decades past.

Mindfulness teaches us to live in the moment. It reminds us to focus on our breathing and to be grounded in the moment we are living this second. Doing so helps slow down anxious thoughts and the rehashing of the what-ifs of decisions past. It helps shut down negative thinking and self-criticism. I don’t have to record every moment of my journey with a selfie or a hash tag.  Stopping myself from reliving the past helps me learn to be enough and be happy in the now.  Yet, when that “on this day” reminder, pops up in my Facebook feed or the cycle of the seasons repeats itself in my yard – crocus > daffodils > tulips > star of Persia > peonies… Time reminds me that it is a precious commodity that once lived cannot be repeated. Yet, if we are lucky we are given another moment. While I’d like that warm embrace of a first kiss to last years and a sniffling head-cold to last mere seconds, I don’t want to wish away my time here on Earth.  My life is seemingly not as linear as time dictates it to be, but my perception of time is a series of zigs and zags, stops and starts, ups and downs. Looking back on those memories remind me of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.  Having dreams and goals give me the inspiration to take a step forward toward the future that will be here whether I like it or not. And being mindful of the moment I’m in right this second, allows me to be grateful for that ticking clock of life.

Why did I write this post on time? I’m not sure. Would I like the power to pause, rewind and fast forward time? Oh yeah! Well maybe. It sounds good anyway! Would you?

Always Hope

Seemingly everywhere I turn, I am attuned to the suffering, angst and overwhelming depression around me.  If I focused too much on that heaviness, I could easily find myself wallowing in self-pity and inactivity; paralyzed and allowing fear to control my life. Is that living or merely surviving? Recently, I’ve felt more compelled to do something to further the causes that are important to me and not just be a passive bystander.

Those of you that follow me may remember that my 2018 motto is “Be Brave.” What does that mean? Have I been too fearful? Maybe.  More like timid. In the past, I often found myself holding back to keep the peace. But why? We all know life is not black and white.  Free thinking and the freedom to learn and grow allows for change and betterment. It’s those shades of gray that make life interesting. So, for me, being brave, is letting people know my authentic self. It means to take risks and speak (or write) my mind without worrying that someone, somewhere might be offended or not like me because of it. This was and is a huge, step for me, but one that feels incredibly right and liberating.

Discussion and differing view points are what allows us to come together as a community to find a meaningful solution instead of a “knee jerk” reaction or passively leaving it to someone else to decide. Having a voice, being informed and taking a stand, while listening and being respectful of others is the key to making a difference. It’s no longer enough for me to passively let “them” determine my destiny.

While issues big and small weigh on my mind at any given moment, as the title of this blog (“serendipity”) implies, it’s those little simple surprises that  remind us to smile, to be grateful and to always hope. So as the ides of March sets, I bring you the hope of spring and the promise sunnier days will come.

The first flowers of spring, sprout and bloom despite being frosted and snowed upon as the edge of winter recedes. And, now I just need to spot my first robin. Always hope.

Does Winning Have To Be Everything?

20170928_234413893_iOSMy fifth grader recently finished up her first season of basketball. She’s been learning the basics, since third grade and attended Coach Huger’s Basketball Camp last summer and fall. This, though, was her first year where she got to play actual games and not just a scrimmage at the half time of someone else’s game. She spent countless hours in the driveway shooting hoops and dribbling. She loves to play. Nevermind she’s this little, waif of a girl, she is tenacious and not afraid to shoot. She was ready to play.

Her coaches were awesome and gave all the girls on her team equal opportunity to play in games, even when they weren’t winning, which was most of the time. In fact, her team didn’t win one game all season. They lost a lot and by a lot. However, she didn’t let that get her down. She kept practicing and pushing forward.  She and her team made strides and improved immensely as the season progressed. By her last game they only lost by single digits. It didn’t matter to her that she lost (OK maybe it did a little as who doesn’t like to win once in a while?), only that she played her best. She learned and she grew as a player. I am proud of her. Not because she scored baskets or got to be the point guard once in a while, but because she is a team player and worked hard.  At basketball camp she was on the team that won the end-of-camp tournament both times. However, the best sport trophy was the one that made me proudest.

Juxtapose her experience with that of my oldest daughter. She played her last game as a ninth grader after spending countless hours on the bench. From seventh grade through ninety grade her playing time in games wasn’t more than an entire game total. I am just as proud of her as my younger daughter though. I cheered even louder and encouraged her even more for those last few minutes or seconds when she got in to the game. I don’t think I could have been more excited when she was finally in a position to shoot, was passed the ball and scored a basket in the very last game she played.  My heart broke for her on those games when she didn’t get to play at all. I think my heart ached for her more than her own disappointment in not getting to play at all. And why didn’t she get to play, I thought to myself after every game when she didn’t even when her team was beating their opponent by more than 20 points. She worked hard and she practiced hard.

Our school district has a strict policy about asking the coaches about “playing time,” so I kept my mouth shut as my disagreement in coaching philosophy grew.  I watched as her love for playing the sport and being on a team dwindled to nothing. She has no desire to play any more. She, too was a small side. However, she was more timid than her sister. As  parent I understand that not everyone can be a starter or the MVP of the team. What I fail to understand though why all players aren’t developed as opposed to only those that showed some natural ability.  In the beginning she went to basketball camp and practiced in the driveway; however, her enthusiasm diminished as even though her skills improved, her playing time never did.

As I was prohibited from asking the coaches about playing time, I encouraged her to talk to them to find out what she could do to improve and see more time in the game.  After finally finding the courage to ask, she came home more discouraged than ever when she was given a vague answer of “improved basketball skills and knowledge of the game overall.”  What??? The lowest day came when the coaches dismissed her and a couple other players from practice early to work with the starters as they weren’t “needed.”  I only heard her side so I don’t know if that was meant, but it’s what she heard.

10984214_10153569454479046_6742827290618213911_nI was frustrated to learn later that she and several other players not deemed “good enough,” sat against the wall during many practices and watched the starters scrimmage and learn the plays. She wasn’t even given the opportunity to learn the plays during practice. Is it any wonder that when put in the game she had no confidence. If she made any small error I could see her eyes travel immediately towards the coach’s, waiting to be pulled out. Sure enough as if it were a self-fulfilling prophecy, she’d be back on the bench in one or two plays. Even the very best players make mistakes in games, they: foul, travel, miss shots and rebounds, throw bad passes, and step out-of-bounds. The difference is they have the confidence to know they won’t be pulled from the game if they aren’t perfect. Mistakes are part of the game. A field goal percentage of 50% and above is considered good. That means most players miss at least one basket for everyone they make! You have to shoot to score. If a player is not given the opportunity to play during practice or allowed to gain experience in actual games (in middle school!), how will they ever grow into the players they could be? Is it politics? Coach ego? The drive to win? I’m not sure, but it sure sucks. I can understand the “must win” mentality at the college level and obviously at the pro-level as those coaches are being paid mega-bucks to win.

As far as I can tell even the starters of our winningest team didn’t go out to play Big 10 basketball or even little 10 basketball. Our stands are not crawling with scouts. Would allowing all team members the space and time to make mistakes and become better players in lieu of a perfect record be that horrible? I worry that this same fate is in store for my younger daughter as she moves into junior high in the coming years. I want her to learn that hard work does pay off in the end. I want her to know that winning isn’t the end all and be all. I want her to have a positive experience and good memories. I have fond memories of my time as a basketball player. Granted I played in our local CYO league, but I got to play the game I loved without worrying about being judged or punished for not being perfect. I may not have scored every game and our team definitely didn’t win every game, but when I look back on that time I remember the laughter, the camaraderie and the excitement of playing on a team and being part of something bigger than myself. That is what I want for my daughters.

I truly don’t get the need to win at all costs. Why is winning more important than encouraging and developing all our young athletes into becoming better players? I don’t think we need to give our kids participation awards to make them feel good, but I do think we need to give them all the opportunity to be better. Just think how good Michael Jordan’s high school team might have been had his coach spent time developing him instead of cutting him from the team. Luckily for basketball fans (especially those in Chicago), Jordan didn’t get discouraged. He continued practicing and practicing to improve his skills instead of giving up and believing he’d never be good enough.

Life is unfair. I get that. It’s a lesson we all learn sooner or later.  However, I’d rather it be later than sooner. What do you think? Do we place too much emphasis on winning in middle school/high school sports?

 

 

 

Death in the Fire Swamp

20180202_211428811_iOSA couple of times a year my mother, sister and I spend a girls’ weekend away from the hustle and mundaneness of everyday life. This past weekend we set off on one of these said adventures.  Our journey took us to Ravenwood Castle in New Plymouth, OH.  We participated in a murder-mystery themed weekend entitled: Death in the Fire Swamp. When my sis asked us whether we’d like this get-away weekend as a Christmas gift, I immediately texted back, “I’m in!” without really reading the fine print (oops!) The Princess Bride is my all-time favorite movie, so I figured, why not?

We surmised we might be in over our heads when a few weeks before we received an email from the nice Mr. Denham requesting baby photos for wanted posters, encouraging us to dress up and bring fake clues and reminding us it was a 24/7 adventure for which we might want to sleep with one eye open! All three of us where thinking the same thing: “WTF did we sign up for!?!” Alas in line with my “Be Brave” mantra of 2018, we emailed our pics and briefly discussed and then dismissed the idea of wearing costumes. Going in we knew this was not going to be our typical girls’ weekend of mani/pedis, followed by a bit of shopping and maybe taking in a chic flit and holing up in our hotel room to read a good book with a glass of Moscato in quiet, uninterrupted bliss.

For a trio of introverts, this elaborate weekend expertly put on by the Shadow Stalkers was a bit outside our (my – I really should only speak for myself) comfort zone. Luckily we were part of a team that included two hilarious sisters from Long Island that almost single-handedly found all the items on our scavenger hunt (such as an interaction with a fire department and feeding a live white deer!) and the Scooby Doo gang from Columbus.  Our mission was to determine who killed Miracle Max’s assistant, find a missing diamond, bring back various items in a scavenger hunt and participate in night searches to recover body parts (fake ones of course) to earn bonus points. Additionally there were other puzzles and brain teasers to solve mystery artifacts, pictures and bones to identify as well as well as an insurance policy number to secure.

20180203_151502221_iOSWithin hours of arriving at the castle, my mom had contracted “the grip” and had to speak with her fist on her head when she spoke and wear a look of extreme constipation. Luckily a healer was on site and eventually she was cured. At breakfast the next morning; however, my sis and I found out that we had an unfortunate brush with the killer the previous evening and were now “mostly dead.” By the end of the weekend all but one of our teammates was “mostly dead.”  While our team came in last place and didn’t find the diamond or sleuth out who the killers were, I think it is safe to say well all had a good time (thanks sis!).

Although I probably won’t sign up for another murder mystery weekend (especially ones with zombies), I would go back to Ravenwood Castle. When I awoke Sunday morning to a beautiful dusting of snow,  I found myself rethinking how much I usually hate snow, the cold and anything winter. (Being a February baby you’d think I’d be a winter person, but no.) As the snowflakes gently wafted down and settled in my hair, I wandered about and made the first footprints in the untouched snow and snapped some photos with my iPhone along the way.  My heart thawed just a little, teeny bit at the beauty winter can bring. I could have spent hours exploring and taking photos from various angles.  I can imagine myself spending a long weekend taking photos, writing and of course reading in this beautiful setting. While these seem like solitary endeavors to some for me it is exactly what I need. I feel comfort when my loved ones are sitting in the same room with me as we each enter our own imaginary worlds and as we escape into our books. I enjoy walking and chatting and of course laughing as we take funny pics along the way. Even more than the time away, I appreciate coming back home to my girls. This weekend embraced all of that and more.

Here are some of my favorite pics from the weekend. Enjoy!

What do you like to do on your get away weekends?

 

 

 

No Drama….Puh-lease!

nodramaNo drama. What does that even mean? Seriously. No drama. I’ve read these words in hundreds of dating profiles. I’m not exaggerting either.  There seem to be many single 40 and 50 something men out there who seem to have serious aversion to drama (or at least in Northwest Ohio anyway).  I’m not a psychologist or a dating coach – far from it. But, I am a writer and an observer.

As I read over profiles (yes, women do read them! Thank you very much!), looking for my “Ultra Match” or “Chemistry Match” or “My Top Prospect” or whatever match, I’ve noticed patterns that instantly throw up a red flag for me. For every “How you doing” message I receive, I find myself itching more to message back not that I’m interested in a date, but to offer my help in re-writing his profile so someone else might be!  Alas, I hold back and just delete the messages, unanswered. Although, I actually think I could really help people and make a small fortune on the side! Afterall, people put in a lot of effort in their resumes to land a job, why not put just as much into finding the love their life? Especially, if you are paying to be an upgraded user, why wouldn’t you want to make the best first impression possible.  I can picture it now — a small store front, a laptop, a camera, an Internet connection and I’m in business. If only it were that easy!

And so, free of charge, I give you…

Shar’s Top 5 Dating Profile Red Flags

  1. No Drama: Delete these words from your profile. Go! Do it now! If someone is overly dramatic, she probably doesn’t realize it and even if she does, saying you don’t want drama is probably not going to prevent it. If you say you lead a drama-free life, I think you are either a liar or boring or don’t want to put in any effort to the relationship.
  2. No Cheaters, Liars, Players or Gold Diggers. Duh! Does anyone want to date someone like that? Do you think they’d tell you if they were? This just gives off a negative vibe that you have baggage you haven’t dealt with yet.
  3. Ask me. Come on. What a cop out. You can’t take ten minutes to write a coupe of sentences about yourself? If a person doesn’t have time to write a short bio, do they really have time to date and build a relationship?
  4. I’m a nice guy. OK, if you have to say you are a nice person, it kind of makes me think maybe you aren’t. Show her you are a nice guy.
  5. I workout every day!  That’s wonderful that you have so much time available to commit to fitness. I wish I did. Us single mom’s with mom bodies and full-time jobs, typically don’t have the time (or energy) to devote to the gym every day. Oh wait…that’s why you are looking for women 10-20 years younger than you.  Nevermind. Carry on. Good luck with that!

What are your online dating profile red flags? Please share in the comments.  I can use all the pointers I can get:)