Aware

JanuarySunday

I haven’t experienced this deep a need to write for quite some time. Yesterday was a sunny Sunday, perfect for sleeping in. I awoke with my mind so packed full of jumbled thoughts I felt if I didn’t express them somehow, I’d come undone. I was glad to have Steve home and as always eager to hear whatever I have to share. There was no good starting place, so I just dove in headlong and spent the next twenty minutes dog-paddling through the maze of my muddled mind. All alliteration aside, I at least felt like he understood most of what tumbled forth.

I was labeled gifted at age six and moved from first to second grade in the middle of my first year of school. I hated being plucked out of the warm and familiar and deposited into a classroom where the teacher was perpetually cross and the students were all older and not amused by having this shrimp of a kid plopped down into their world. In spite of the upheaval, I had already caught the fever for one day becoming a teacher.

Sadly, none of the gifted programs or advanced placement classes I took over the next 10 years in school was designed to teach me about myself in a way that would help me make sense of the way people like me think and process information. I’m 51 years old, and I am just now beginning to understand it. Articulating it? Well, that is another thing entirely.

I’ve come to learn that those with highly creative minds tend to have trouble processing everything that goes on in their heads at once. It’s like trying to organize and control a hundred butterflies in a room with a fifteen-foot ceiling. At any given time, there is far too much information flying about to make sense of much of it. Is it any wonder creative types are labeled eccentric, odd, different? Is it any wonder we are prone to deep depression and periods of reclusiveness?

This past fall I started college at age 50 in an elementary education program. Apparently I forgot my Type-A tendencies and perfectionism. I also didn’t realize until yesterday that my oldest son is not completely alone in being split down the middle between the mathematical/scientific and the linguistic creative. Ironically, have always struggled with math, and I think I’m beginning to understand why. My son and I will have some interesting conversations.

As a young child, my life was rarely within my control. I was two when my home broke apart, and over the next two years I would be shuffled back and forth between two parents whose love compelled them to fight—quite literally—over who would have custody. The last fight led to a kidnapping that put my father and me on the run from the FBI for more than two years. The next several years brought a variety of hardships that I will not detail here, followed by my father’s death and a move back to Florida with my mother. By then I had known fear, loss, abuse, confusion, abandonment, and crushing grief. I was twelve.

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I became an overachiever over the next year or so and poured all that effort into music. I learned how to play, sing, arrange, and compose music. I learned how to direct band, orchestra, and choir. I earned fourteen district and state band medals. I learned to read 3,400 words per minute and to write poetry and stories and books. There could be no shortage of stimulation for this frantic young mind still too busy to grieve the loss of childhood innocence, and so I pressed onward. I fell in love at 15, got married at 16, and became a mother at 17. There was no time for thoughts of childhood; I had a child to raise.

Looking back, it seems natural that I would take up the task of teaching my own children at home. I would spend the next twenty-five years educating our five children from birth through high school, graduating them one by one until the last one moved her pink tassel in May of 2013. I wrote two books the following year, then decided to go to college to pursue a teaching career. Some dreams never fully die.

So yesterday when all these jumbled thoughts starting dancing around and begging for expression, I spent some time trying to first understand what I was discovering, and then trying to apply it to both past and present. Discovery can be magical, but it can also be a frightening prospect when one doesn’t know quite what to do with what is found.

I can look back now and see the love for numbers that has always been a part of my thinking. The way I’ve always had an uncanny ability to remember numbers and sequences, the way I could memorize information on signs and recall it weeks later. How I would play game after game of Yahtzee alone because there was no one to play with most of the time, which led to an ability to add with impressive speed.

I’m starting to realize that the reason I started being afraid of math was the very preciseness I should have found a comfort—because not much in my young world was dependable. Perhaps I was afraid it wouldn’t all add up, and where would that leave me?  So I started shying away from numbers and leaning more heavily on the creative side of how I am wired. The result of abandoning numbers was a fear of math that set in and gripped my mind in a way that convinced me I was incapable of grasping math beyond the most basic operations. I am now paying dearly for that presumption, but I’m also fighting my way out of the cage.  Numbers were my friend once upon a time. I’d like to think they can be again.

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Somewhere along the line I learned to overthink everything. I never left that tendency behind. Now it plays out in worry, which gives me yet another obstacle to overcome. I get a lot of practice at fortitude and problem-solving, which puts me in the company of most every other human in existence. If exercise builds endurance, then I should be considered quite fit—at least as an overcomer.

Getting to know myself better grants the advantage of making sense out of certain behaviors and tendencies I see in myself both currently and in my past. I do consider it an advantage, although parts of this self-discovery thing can be quite bewildering. I’ve noticed that I need precise direction—not because I have no discipline but perhaps because I have too much, and want to know exactly what is expected of me so I don’t fail. There was far too much about my childhood that eluded me no matter how hard I tried, how much I achieved, how high I flew. It could be that at this point in my life there is a lot more I can control, so I am determined to do just that.

I am under no delusion that I am in sole control of my life. That is a job only God can shoulder, and I recognize my innate human frailties. I possess great abilities by God’s provision and grace, and the better I understand those abilities, the better I will be able to use them to build into not only the lives of my family, but of the students whose education I will enrich along this journey.

I am still excavating the mystery of the woman in the mirror. Ideally, I would like to know me at least well enough to function optimally in my roles as a child of God, wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, mentor, friend.

My word for 2015 is AWARE. I am beginning to see why.

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So Long, 2014

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It is with mixed emotions that I bid you goodbye. You’ve been confusing, and wonderful, and revealing, and reviving, and disappointing, and hopeful. And hard.

I embarked on a college adventure to fulfill a lifelong dream of teaching. I will always love you for that. That first semester was a doozie, but I got through it and I’m excited about the journey ahead.

Within your walls, deep friendship died. Only within my family will I ever feel comfortable truly trusting again.

I learned many things this year. Some of those lessons were joyful, and others were some of the most painful I’ve ever experienced. But all were beneficial, each in its own way, and I’d like to stay focused on that.

You brought me my beautiful little grandson Strider Allen, his little face a mirror image of our Mattie and still so like his beautiful mama Jenna. I will forever be grateful for his entry into our world.

Transition is rarely easy, and moving into being a mother of all adults has been hard. I’m still learning the ropes, and while I’m not always the greatest at it, I keep trying. There are parts of it that I love, but I admit some parts I really hate. In some moments I want to plead with God to turn back the clock to when my babies were still babies. In so many ways, life was a lot simpler then. I miss those years gone by.

Overall, as tough as you’ve been on me, I have to be grateful for the growth. Without hardship there is little impetus to stretch upward and break through the constraints of our comfortable places, to force us into new–and sometimes frightening–adventures.

So I raise my hot cocoa mug and pop a Christmas chocolate in your honor as I bid farewell to the old and welcome the new. Here’s to further lessons, but Lord willing, less difficulty and more smiles.

Welcome, brand new year.