Relying on others vs. yourself

Dear Daughter,

Last night, on the very funny show Modern Family, the father Phil decides that he wants to walk on a tightrope. So he gets all of the equipment and places the tightrope only a foot or so off the ground at first, just so he can get the hang of it before making it higher. He struggles, however; he falls off the tightrope every time and eventually decides to give up. But then his son, who’s probably about 10 years old, says something very wise:

“Maybe you keep falling because part of you knows you can fall. Maybe if the wire was much, much higher, you wouldn’t fall.”

I’ve found that this philosophy applies to a lot of areas in life. Sometimes, when you know that someone is there to catch you, you’re more likely to fall.

For example (a very practical one), when I was out of college and just learning how to cook (things other than Ramen noodles and mac ‘n cheese), there was a huge difference in how I acted in the kitchen when by myself as opposed to when I was with my mom. When Mom was with me, I questioned every move I made. I would ask her if I’d measured the ingredients correctly, or if I’d stirred for long enough or if the chicken was cooked enough. But when cooking by myself, I didn’t have anyone else to rely on to answer those questions for me. I had to figure it out for myself, and doing so helped me become a better, more independent cook. You’d think I would have learned more from Mom’s expertise (and don’t get me wrong, I did learn a LOT from her), but it was stepping outside my comfort zone and experiencing my own trials and errors that had the greatest impact on my ability.

There are countless other ways in which this concept applies. If you’re grieving something and you know someone is there to listen to every tearful woe, you might grieve a little longer than you would otherwise. Drug or alcohol addicts who have loved ones that keep taking them back in when they mess up are more likely to keep messing up, because they know they won’t really lose anything either way.

There’s a fine line between having support and knowing when to do things on your own. You don’t want to abandon the people who are there to help you, but there comes a time when you do need to step out and experience life on your own, or else you’ll never grow. It can be painful and scary, and you might even fail, but the lessons you learn from doing so will make you far better, without a doubt.

After listening to his son’s wise words, Phil hangs the tightrope seven feet off the ground. And sure enough, he makes it all the way across. He knew that this time around, the consequences of falling were far greater, so he tried harder, focused more intently on doing it the right way, and therefore found success.

We all need to rely on other people to help us get through life. But every once in a while, you need to place the tightrope a little higher and trust in your own ability.

Love,
Mom

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What a servant’s heart looks like

Dear Daughter,

Yesterday I wrote about the five love languages. I indirectly shared that my love language is Words of Affirmation (so keep those compliments comin’!). It didn’t take me long to figure out what your language is: Acts of Service. How do I know? This is how:

One Saturday morning, I came downstairs to see this beautiful table prepared for me. You had made breakfast and wanted to present it in a way that was special. When you saw how delighted it made me, you beamed with pride. It made you so happy to know that your hard work and creativity were being appreciated.

This is just one of the many examples of your servant’s heart. There have been several occasions when you’ve prepared food for us. (A chef in the making, perhaps?) One night I was feeling exhausted and you knew that, so you insisted that I stay on the couch while you made dinner, cleaned up after dinner and got yourself ready for bed without my prompting. You regularly help clean the house, and you’re more than willing to do what it takes to prepare for the baby’s arrival. Also, lately you’ve been helping some of the teachers after school, which was your idea. You have a carefully thought-out plan of which teachers you’re going to help and on which days. And you’re only eight.

Daughter, for the past few months I’ve been writing you these letters in order to teach you things, but in this case, you’re the one who is teaching me. When I think of my own love language, what first comes to mind is how I want to receive love. When I think of yours, the obvious answer lies in how you give love. You show your love in such tangible ways and yet don’t seem to expect anything in return. Helping others simply for the sake of helping them truly is pleasing to you. This is such a gift, my dear.

Thank you for giving of yourself, time and time again, and joyfully. Thank you for teaching me what real service looks like. Thank you for making me proud of you.

And thanks for breakfast.

Love,
Mom

What’s your love language?

Dear Daughter,

A few years ago, a man named Gary Chapman wrote a book called The 5 Love Languages. This book describes five different ways in which people give and receive love. Chapman states that every person is born with one of these languages, and it’s best to know the language of your spouse, significant other, and anyone close to you, so that you know how to better communicate with them.

Here are the love languages and their descriptions, from 5lovelanguages.com:

1) Words of Affirmation. Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.

2) Quality Time. In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.

3) Receiving Gifts. Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures.

4) Acts of Service. Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.

5) Physical Touch. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.

I think the assessment of these languages is right on, and knowing them is helpful in all relationships, not just romantic ones. Learn the languages of your closest friends and family members, and try to start speaking to them in their language. They’ll appreciate your willingness to reaching them in a way that makes them feel most loved and secure.

For example, let’s just say (hypothetically, of course) that your mom’s love language is Words of Affirmation. If you want to make her happy, then tell her all the reasons why you think she’s smart, beautiful, talented and all-in-all fabulous. She’ll be like putty in your hands…

Love,
Mom

Why hardship makes us feel like heroes

Dear Daughter,

Sometimes, grown-ups act like children.

I could (and probably will) write several letters detailing reasons why, but today I’m going to focus on one: we adults like to brag about our hardships.

If life is tough, or super busy, we tend to wear that as a badge of honor. Somehow, the more difficult life is, the more important we feel. I think because we come out looking like a survivor? Or maybe it’s just part of our American genetic code. The earliest Americans had to struggle to find freedom, and their hard work paid off. Maybe we all want our own story to look like that. Except that, once the hard work is over, we go through an identity crisis.

Having been a single mom for seven years, I knew about struggle. I didn’t have it nearly as bad as many other single moms did, but still, life was no picnic. A lot of my friends and family felt sorry for me, and I have to admit that at times, I enjoyed that attention. I liked when people said, “I don’t know how you do it,” because it made me feel like a superhero. MOST women wouldn’t make it in this rough-and-tumble life but I can. That must make me special. When I finally did get married—the one thing I had been wishing for all along—I stopped receiving pity from others, and I kind of missed it. Which is just so silly I can’t even stand it. But that’s what we adults do.

The problem with this way of thinking is that the alternative is devalued. When someone’s life is going smoothly, they are viewed simply as someone who’s “got it easy,” rather than being commended for doing something right. As if a peaceful life has everything to do with luck and not with making good choices. As if the gods of Life’s Greatest Stories select some people as their Chosen Ones, and the rest are deemed boring and uneventful. Because of this backwards way of thinking, some people go looking for drama, just to bring attention onto themselves, and that usually never ends well.

In the midst of our struggles, we eagerly play the martyr while fighting for a better life. But once that better life comes, we want the hardship back. Because hardship makes us heroes. It’s a vicious cycle, and I’m the first to say that it makes no sense.

So, Daughter, I urge you and your generation to reverse the cycle. Make an effort not to wear your struggles like a crown, and avoid seeking drama for the sake of looking like a hero. Do give help and compassion to those who truly need it. But don’t place hardship on a pedestal like we adults have been doing for so long. Aim for a peaceful life, not a challenging one.

Love,
Mom

My own list of failures

Dear Daughter,

In yesterday’s letter, I urged you to acknowledge your weaknesses, so that you don’t assume you’re good at everything and blame others when you fail. Today, I’ve decided to lead by example. I’m going to share my own weaknesses, the things that shrink my ego down to the size of a peanut. Here goes…

1) Running. I’ve been told on way too many occasions that when I run, I “look funny.” No one can say why I look funny or help me correct it; apparently there’s just something about the way I run that makes them point, stare and chuckle. Needless to say, such comments make me reluctant to go for a jog around the block. In recent years, however, I’ve decided that I don’t care what people think, and I don’t care that running is one of the most painful experiences on earth… I try running whenever I can just because it’s good exercise. I will never ever admit to being good at it, though. Especially when I can see the neighbors snickering at me behind their curtains.

2) Anything having to do with math. I’m a lover of words, not numbers. Writing comes easily to me, math never has and never will. For example, the other day you asked me what 6 x 4 is and I honestly did not know the answer. Need I say more?

3) Art. I don’t know where you inherited your artistic ability, but it certainly wasn’t from me. I can barely draw stick figures. Whenever I get a blue card in the Cranium game, I break into a cold sweat. They want me to draw with my eyes closed?! I can’t even draw with them open! And the Sculpturade one? Whatever I sculpt always turns out looking like a piece of… it’s just not good, okay?

4) Doing hair. I can put your hair in a ponytail; that’s about it. Lately, girls have been wearing small braids that start at their part and go down the side of their head. I want so badly to be able to do that to my and your hair but every time I try I fail miserably. It’s a good thing you’re not very girly because you would be utterly disappointed by your mother’s hair-stylin’ skillz. (Or lack thereof.)

5) Cutting potatoes. I know this seems like an odd item to include, but I’ve seriously had a complex about it my whole life. When most people cut their potatoes, they cut them into smooth, crisp lines and perfectly shaped pieces. My potato falls apart on me every time, and when I’m done it looks like a hacked, crumbled mess. It really boggles my mind. What am I doing differently than everyone else? I like to blame the potato but that’s something an entitled college student would do, so I’ll own up to my failures and acknowledge that it’s all me.

I could probably go on and on, but I’ve humbled myself enough for one day. My point is, I know I’m bad at these things and always will be. In school, I had to work really hard at math and art because otherwise my grades would have tanked. This involved lots of tears and frustration, but I made it through. And you will, too.

And now you know why I never make potatoes.

Love,
Mom

How to keep from feeling entitled

Dear Daughter,

I read an article the other day about how current college students are part of the Entitlement Generation. This means they feel entitled to good grades and a hefty paycheck, even if they haven’t put in the hard work to earn such rewards. They complain when professors give them a low grade, and when it comes time to search for a post-college job, the article says many of them feel they deserve “high salaries and quick promotions. On average, they expected a starting salary of $53,000 a year.”

This mentality has led to a general disrespect of authority, and well, to put it bluntly, it’s turned our young adults into punks. I’m only a decade or so older than them, and even I have noticed that.

The writer of the article blames parents, and she might be onto something. “The entitlement mindset… came from a generation of adults who believed that kids should never be allowed to fail, or told the truth about their abilities, or learn that getting what you want is sometimes hard.”

I don’t think parents wanted their children to be spoiled punks; they wanted their kids to feel secure about their academic or athletic performance, and to stick up for themselves when they’re being treated unjustly. These are good lessons to teach a child but only to an extent. I find myself falling into this way of thinking with you sometimes, and now my eyes are opened to the consequences of such parenting.

Daughter, in order for you to truly succeed in life, here’s what you need to know…

You will be great at some things and really, stinkin’ bad at others. Acknowledge your weaknesses and focus on and work hard at your strengths. (Especially if it ends up getting you a free ride to college! Please?) When I say “work hard,” I mean it. Don’t spend just an average amount of time and effort and expect greatness. Invest in your strengths and interests; give them the time that they deserve.

For those things that you dislike but are forced to do, i.e. calculus or physics, (maybe you’ll like those subjects but they were the bane of my existence), work just as hard as you would at the subjects you do enjoy. Learn what it takes to do well at something that doesn’t come naturally to you. This is a humbling practice, but in the end you might find it’s even more rewarding than succeeding at the easy stuff.

Respect. Your. Elders. Every once in a blue moon a teacher will give you a grade that’s truly unfair, but that rarely ever happens. If you get a D on a test, it’s because you deserve it. Work hard so that you don’t get any Ds, but even if you do, don’t go whining about it to the teacher. Own up to the fact that he or she knows way more than you do and gave you the grade you deserved. When it comes to sports or some other activity, put in the work that your coach requires of you. Don’t ever get too big for your britches and think you don’t need to pay your dues. You’re not that good.

In the meantime, I promise to do a better job of keepin’ it real. (In love, of course.) I’ll encourage you where you need encouraging and I’ll rebuke you where you need rebuking. Because if you grow up thinking you deserve only the best and will throw a fit when you don’t get that, you’re in for a tough life, my dear.

Love,
Mom

Why some people do evil things

Dear Daughter,

There are a few things in life that are impossible to understand, that our human minds are simply not capable of comprehending. And one of those mysteries is: what makes some people do evil things?

We all hurt others at one point or another, whether intentionally or not. That, I can understand. What I’m talking about here, however, is straight-up evil. Like, dark and twisted, horrendous acts.

I don’t know why I watch or read the news. It can be so depressing at times. I hear a story about what one person did to another and all I can think is, “What on earth would make them do such a thing? How does the thought of doing that even cross a person’s mind?”

This past week, in our very own region, a 19-year-old girl was found dead, at the hands of her 18-year-old male friend. I don’t even like writing those words, especially knowing that you’re going to be reading them. But that’s the cold reality of the situation. I keep running through my mind what might have happened, and all I can come up with are questions. What made that boy so angry that he thought to kill the girl? How does a person get to that point? And then I think about the girl’s poor parents, and how they’re making sense of this situation. If something like that were to happen to you…

We want to hate people like that 18-year-old boy. We want to shove all bad people into the corner and label them as trash because of the horrible things they’ve done. And they definitely should be punished by law, if what they’ve done is illegal. But I’m coming to learn that what the bad people need more than anything else is love.

I refuse to believe that some people are born evil and others are not. I believe God has created all of us to be good (as in, not evil; we are still sinful), but some are pulled away from goodness at an early age because of their family situation or a traumatic instance or a psychological disease. If someone has been treated wrongly their whole life, they’re likely to treat others wrongly because that’s all they know.

Let’s take the instance of this teenage boy and girl. There are some reports that they used to date, which tells me jealousy must have been his reason for wanting to hurt her. Maybe he found out that she was interested in someone else and he couldn’t even fathom such a painful thought, so in his mind she was better off gone forever. Maybe he was never taught how to deal with his emotions in a healthy way; maybe he’s so profoundly insecure that jealousy tipped him over the edge.

My point is, there’s usually an underlying psychological reason why people do evil things. Those of us with healthy families and self-esteems find that difficult to understand at times because we can’t relate. But we must give grace to people who do bad things. When you hear such a story as the one above, instead of lashing out about how horrible that guy is, pray for him. He is clearly broken and needs help and love and guidance. And be kind to those people in your life who seem to be hurting. You might just give them the acceptance they need to keep them from doing something stupid.

There will always be evil in this world. But evil will always be defeated by love. So, love others like crazy.

Love,
Mom

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