Thursday, October 10, 2013

Of Oatmeal and Fractions

I'm sure my mother didn't mean it. She was frustrated. I was six years old and stubborn. The oatmeal was cold. And slimy. I wasn't interested. I dawdled and dabbled, but I didn't eat it. "Eat," Mom nagged. It was gross, it got stuck in my throat. Mom's frustration bubbled out. She picked the bowl up, I thought to take it away, but instead the slimy, cold oatmeal wound up on my head...the gooey mess of oatmeal paste running into my ears. I'm sure mom didn't mean to be cruel, but my stubborn, fragile six-year-old spirit rebelled. At that moment, I vowed I would never again eat a bowl of oatmeal.

And I didn't. Oh, I bought oatmeal and served it to my kids on chilly winter mornings. Over 30 years later, many of them do like oatmeal. But I was careful to make sure it was warm and sugary, so they would never have cause to sit in front of a cold mass of melted oats in a bowl. And I ensured that I never touched the stuff. Some times I would remember the trauma and wish that I could overcome it. But mostly, I just refused to eat it (did I mention stubborn already?). My spirit never reached the place where I felt safe enough to try again, to overcome the hurt.

We all have them. Some traumas are silly, I mean, oatmeal is not evil. Some traumas are far, far from silly. They are hideous. I'm not minimizing by any means. But I believe that healing is possible. And I have experienced it. Yes, with oatmeal. But with many other things as well. 

One morning as Robert sat with of his bowl of warm, creamy, brown sugar dusted oatmeal and I sat with my tiny tub of yogurt, he gently said, "Tell me why you don't like oatmeal." No judgement, just a gentle question. Then I realized it was a silly reason to hate oatmeal, and as I explained the hurt that had splintered in my soul all these years, I laughed. And then I cried. Robert gently took my hand and kissed it, kissing the childhood hurt away. I understood for the first time how it felt to trust and not fear judgement for my childishness. 

My 4th grade math teacher probably knew better than to traumatize a classroom full of eager students, but I try to give him the benefit of the doubt. His spit-wad shooting, book throwing, angry outbursts and desk kicking put a permanent halt to my desire to ask questions in class. I have carried a lifelong paralyzing fear of math and being laughed at or scorned for wrong answers. It was rudely reinforced year after year, teacher after teacher, until it ended my freshman year of high school, where my fear found me frozen in front of a roomful of my peers, chalk in hand, attempting to publicly work a problem I did not understand. I heard laughter as the teacher cried derisively, "What's wrong with you? Everyone else in this room gets it! You can stand there until you do too." I never did. 

Mental block firmly in place, I have learned to cope. Calculators and spreadsheets have solved most of my problems (oh, and I married an accountant). That is, until this semester, when I was confronted with a personal finance class, a required course. I entered the course determined to work my way past the block. I pleaded with the Lord to open my mind, hoping I could understand the things that had escaped me before. I felt safe and I wanted to overcome the hurt.

I did relatively well until the unit on fractions.The fractured thought processes ingrained all those years ago began to creep around my homework space at home. They rattled my brain as I began an online math quiz. I sat frozen, my shoulders stiffened against the laughter that was sure to happen as I struggled to work the problems. Except this time there is no laughter. Quietly, gently, the impression enters my mind and I know that I will never be laughed at again. I am surrounded by peace. I can relax, and as I do, the problems untangle in my mind. I understand that I will have to continue to put in the work, but the derisive laughter, the fear are gone. I can learn.

Sometimes a gentle kiss heals our hearts. Sometimes it takes more; it takes faith and prayer and work. But always, the healing can come. Sometimes gradually. I suspect I will always struggle a bit with math, but I can see the growth, the layers of learning, and I am thankful for that much. Sometimes the healing takes us by surprise. Recently, as part of a 'get to know you' activity, I was asked, "What's your favorite breakfast food?" I answered almost without thinking: Brown sugar dusted oatmeal with raisins.

Tell me I'm a fool, 
Tell me that You love me for the fool I am, 
Comfort me like only You can, 
And tell me there's a place 
Where I can feel Your breath 
Like sweet caresses on my face again. 

Take me back to You, 
The place that I once knew as a little child; 
Constantly the eyes of God watched over me. 
Oh, I want to be 
In the place that I once knew as a little child, 
Fall into the bed of faith prepared for me. 

I will rest in You, 
I will rest in You, 
I will rest in You. 

(~ Michelle Tumes, Brent Bourgeois)

Friday, October 4, 2013

What's on Your Playlist?

(Or why it's ok to play Christmas music year 'round)

A 10 year old boy was sitting in my office waiting for his mother. He suddenly looked at me and said, "Hey! This song is from Prince of Egypt!" I listened for a moment as Brian Stokes Mitchell's voice nobly questioned, "If a man lose ev'rything he owns Has he truly lost his worth? Or is it the beginning of a new and brighter birth?".

"Why are you playing that here?" he asked. (It's a little bit funny what some people think is appropriate music for my office waiting area. Like the guy who questioned William Joseph's piano only version of Led Zepplin's Kashmir.) I'm not sure what this boy thought, but I'm sure it surprised him to hear something he recognized and obviously knew well. I like the message of the song and thought it was very appropriate for a counseling office: 

So how can you see what your life is worth
Or where your value lies?
You can never see through the eyes of man
You must look at your life, 
Look at your life through Heaven's Eyes.

Later that day, a friend said she was looking for new 'workout' music and asked what I listened to when I walked. And that got me thinking about playlists. 

We all have them, lists of music that we like to listen to for different occasions. I love Spanish Guitar, especially on Saturday afternoons, with the windows open and a breeze gently rustling. I love good jazz, especially on Friday nights, when I need to unwind after a long week at work. Christmas music, though, inspires me in ways that are difficult to explain. 

And then I thought, "What would happen to people if we did listen to Christmas music all year long?"

The haunting melodic voice of Mindy Gledhill singing "In the Bleak Mid-winter" can soothe a dark windy day and reminds me to warm my heart with service:
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air,
But His mother only in her maiden bliss, 
Worshipped the Beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, Poor as I am? 
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb, 
If I were a wise man I would do my part, 
Yet what I can I give Him, Give my heart.
And the jovial melody of Carol of the Bells (ok, my favorite version is by the California Guitar Trio) seems to free my feet, and I can dance through almost anything. More importantly, it frees my heart:

        Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells,
All seem to say throw cares away....
Gaily they ring, while people sing
          Songs of good cheer....

(who doesn't needs some good cheer?)

Then there is the gentle lullaby we sing to sleeping grandchildren, that entreats us to receive the Savior:

          O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie,
          Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by"...
          How silently, how silently the wondrous Gift is giv'n!
          So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav'n.
          No ear may hear His coming; but in this world of sin,
          Where meek souls will receive him, still The dear Christ enters in.

Not too long ago, on an incredibly warm (that's an understatement) summer day, I found myself in a mood that did not match the happy laughter of the children playing nearby. Those moods don't strike me often, but they do come. On this day, it seemed as if every little comment, as tender and kind as it might have been, made me cry. Some days are like that. 

I said a prayer; I needed to feel some joy, to lift my mood. The day was full of places to go and people to see, so when I got in the car to travel to another destination, I quickly flipped through my playlists, looking for something peaceful. I landed on a Vocal Point album, Lead Thou Me On, which is mainly an album of hymns. But the first song that played that tearful summer day was, you guessed it, a Christmas song. Just the perfect one: 

           Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;
           Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the Babe is Lord of all....

As the song continued, I remembered anew the reason for it all...the reason for all that we do on this earth, why we are here and Who is most important to our existence. Peace overpowered my dark mood, I felt strength to go on, given from One who gives us both. 

           Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow:
            Christ the Babe was born for you, Christ the Babe was born for you!

It's a thought that needs to be heard- and felt- more often than just the month of December, wouldn't you agree?