Monday, November 24, 2014

Skating Around Important Decisions

This entire month my teen Sunday School class has been learning about the importance of becoming self-reliant. Yesterday's lesson was all about making important decisions--you know--those life-altering moments when we stand at the crossroads and strive to determine what is the best path. College, mission, marriage, career, family . . . little choices like that--those items that eventually determine who we will become. We all face those crossroads at multiple times in our lives. And the decisions continue. It's part of the test we call mortal life.

It's interesting how those plans change on occasion. For instance, at one point in my life, I pondered becoming a professional ice skater. One year for Christmas, my entire family received ice skates as gifts from Santa. We were thrilled. A lovely pond existed not far behind our home, and we spent many hours enjoying our new pastime. For someone who is not very gifted with grace, I found that I could balance and glide with ease with my new skates. (Amazing, eh? You would've had to see it to believe it.)  I believe I was about ten years old at the time. My parents told me I was a natural and of course my confidence grew. I practiced and watched ice skating competitions that were broadcast on TV, thinking I had found my niche in life. Then disaster struck. It happened at school one day. For some unknown reason, an ice skating pond had been developed in the middle of the school yard that year. I hadn't brought my skates to school yet, still keeping my secret new love close to my heart. That was something I enjoyed after school, when I returned home.

On the day in question, I was walking along the side of the pond, daydreaming about my future plans, when I heard a teacher holler, "Hey (I can't remember the boy's name) _______, grab Cheri's hand and swing her around on the ice." In this teacher's defense, I'm sure he thought he was doing me a huge favor by helping to pull me out of the shell of shyness that I often retreated into as a child. He meant well, but his suggestion turned into a horrific event in my life.

The boy he had hollered at obediently ran over to where I was standing in shock, grabbed my hand, and pulled me out onto the ice. I was quite small for my age and this rather tall boy was able to swing me around without any problem, until I hit a bad spot in the ice. Needless to say, because of the momentum, I went flying through the air. I'm sure it was spectacular to watch . . . until I landed hard on my face on the ice. That's all I remember. When I came to in the school infirmary, people were running and shouting, and my head felt like it had connected with a brick wall. After things came back into focus, I caught on that the blurry red stuff that was all over the place, was coming from my nose.

My mother was called, and by the time she arrived, it had pretty well been decided that my nose was broken. My new coat was ruined, and I endured a horrible headache that lasted nearly a week.

I didn't ice skate much after that incident. I tried, but memory of my very bad day at school surfaced, and the tiny bit of confidence that I had been developing, slowly faded away. Falling became an every day event on the pond, and after a while, my ice skates mostly hung in my closet, tucked out of sight.

Life is like that. We believe we have things all figured out, and then an unexpected explosion changes everything, like an unwanted health diagnosis, the death of a loved one, unemployment challenges, so on and so forth. We are left standing at the edge of an icy pond, questioning what's really important.

I think that's why it's crucial to have a sure foundation in place. That's what helps us survive  the glitches in our lives. If we've already made the decision to find out who we are, why we're here, and where we're going, we can survive those unexpected bumps in the ice, even if we feel slightly broken for a while. In time we heal, and take baby steps back out onto the ice, until we're ready to glide about with ease. The trick is to never give up, despite the difficulties that arise.

I wish now that I had persevered with the ice skating adventure. I seriously doubt that path would've eventually led to a professional career, but it might have remained a favorite pastime. The old adage, "get back in the saddle," is something to consider when dealing with unexpected challenges . . . unless it is applied to riding Shetland ponies. Then my grandfather's advice is possibly more on the mark: "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, throw a dirt clod at the naughty pony, and walk back to the house with your head held high." ;)

Monday, November 10, 2014

In . . . and Out of the Zone

We all have a comfort zone. It's where we feel loved, accepted, and safe. However, life very rarely lets us stay there. I'm thinking that's part of why we're in mortal mode--it's a challenge we actually thought was a good idea during a certain council meeting we all attended before Earth life began. Because of the decision we made during that time, we are continually presented with situations that force us forward. As such, it probably doesn't behoove us to throw ourselves when change arrives in our lives. (But we tend to do it anyway, eh?)

It takes a certain amount of courage to tamp down our nervousness, and do our best to embrace those growing experiences when they come. I'll admit there are moments (like this past week) when I've been tempted to run screaming the other direction. To borrow a phrase from Cap'n Hook, that is considered "bad form."

This past week, I was sustained in a calling that terrifies me. A lot. I'm totally being pulled out of my comfort zone of working with the youth--and find myself serving adult women. Gulp! I suppose this means that I have to grow up now. ;) It helps that I won't be facing this challenging time alone--I'll be serving with some wonderful women who are already doing a fantastic job. But there are still moments when a bit of fear gnaws at my heart and I tremble as I ponder some of the stretching that will now take place in my life. (Did I mention, GULP?!)

I've been thinking a lot about other times in my life when courage was required. For instance, when I was about nine years old, one of my great challenges involved a feisty rooster. We lived on a small acreage and possessed several animals, including chickens. One of my assigned chores was to gather the eggs each day. I loved finding the eggs--it was like a treasure hunt as I searched the creative places our hens tended to use in the chicken coop--instead of the nice nesting boxes my parents had constructed. I hated that each day I had to face a mean rooster we had named, Doodle. Doodle was a rooster with an attitude problem. He felt it was his duty in life to attack anyone who dared to invade the chicken coop. He was particularly gifted at utilizing the large spurs on his strong legs to share his displeasure each afternoon.

I caught on that it was a good idea to enlist the help of my younger brother with this task. He would stamp around the outside of the fenced chicken yard until Doodle ran out to accept this obvious challenge to his manhood. I would race inside the chicken coop and slide a board over the opening that led out into the yard, effectively locking the rooster out of the coop. Then I could gather the eggs in peace. This system worked well--my first adventure with teamwork. But there were days when my brother couldn't help me. Then I had to come up with a different plan.

One day when I came back to the house bleeding and eggless from one of my daily battles with Doodle, my mother gave me some good advice--speak not so softly and carry a big stick. I didn't like this option as well, but I found that when the ox was in the mire--or Doodle was on the rampage and I had to face him on my own, I could smack him upside his head with the stick and while he wandered around trying to regain his fetchies, I could quickly gather the eggs and leave before he realized what was going on. It took a lot of courage on my part to tackle this version of handling Doodle. When he came charging at me, my instinct for survival kicked in and it was tempting to run the other way screaming. Instead, I had to stand my ground--and bravely face the oncoming fury, praying for help as I wielded my small wooden sword.

We're all facing battles of epic proportions in today's crazy world. It requires a lot of courage to stand our ground, and not give way to the fiery attacks of the adversary. He loves to inspire fear and discouragement anyway that he possibly can. It's up to us to figure out a way to avoid the pitfalls he leaves in our path, and to continue on with our journey, leaving our comfort zones behind. How wonderful that we don't have to make these journeys alone--that we are blessed with the help of others who can bolster us along the way, giving us the added strength we need.

Someday, when we look back on the lives we led in mortal mode, I think it will be those times when we left our comfort zones that will mean the most to us. We will look to those occasions and smile, knowing those were the moments that inspired the most growth, helping us to become who we are meant to be.

P.S. Before I wrote this post, I woke up with Hymn # 243 going through my head. Its title: "Let Us All Press On." ;) Check out the lyrics when you get the chance.