Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore...

I was an above average softball player. Not Olympic caliber, but Division I scholarship caliber. I was a pitcher, a slapper, and a good teammate, and (I think) a pretty good leader. There were probably only a handful of teammates who didn't care for me. I had no patience for laziness and complaining, and I didn't hold my tongue when I felt someone was being either. There were two coaches who hated me. One had no power over me, the other I granted extensive power.

I needn't explain that the only power a person has over you is exactly the amount of power that you give them.

But this story isn't about her, it's about me. I wanted everyone to believe that I was having the time of my life - in truth, I was barely sleeping. I wanted my parents, who were 2000 miles away, to believe thier daughter was in good hands - in truth, I could barely speak to them, afraid that, in a moment of weakness, would tell them what was really happening to me. The times I would speak to them I would lie, lie, lie. Deny, deny, deny. When I would hang up the phone I would cry like a baby. I wanted desperately for them to swoop in and rescue me.

I have this irrational desire to wrap my life up in pretty boxes with bows. Every piece of it. Even the ugly parts. I want everyone to look at each package of my life and say, "How pretty! How perfect! How clever!" I care far too much about how others perceive me, and my life. It is VANITY, friends. Pure and simple, ugly and sad. Vanity masking insecurity , of course. Always.

And you know what? We will always be judged. Always.

By our loved ones, by our enemies, by ourselves. We WILL be judged. And we will fail. We will fail each other. Fail to live up to the expectations. Fail to reach deadlines. Fail to quiet the gossip. We will fail to be the best version of ourselves. Quitting the softball team felt like a failure to me. Even with my parents' full support. Sometimes even now it feels like a failure. It was also, oddly enough, one of the prouder moments of my life. I had spent months twisting myself into a snivelling, cowering shadow of my mother's daughter. I don't think my family would've recognized me. I certainly didn't.

The night before I quit the team I had many visitors. The entire team then just the team captain, all wishing I would stay, all understanding that I needed to leave, all loving me through whatever choice I made. Late in the night came one last timid knock at my door. It was our assistant coach.

She was in tears.

We had a long conversation that night. The bottom line was this. She took full responsibility for what had happened to me. She said that she should've protected me, but was afraid. So she chose to protect herself instead of standing up for me. She told me that leaving was the best thing for me, and that she would be by my side when the time came to tell the coach. Then she asked for my forgiveness. I can't remember very many interactions with the head coach Judy Favor, but I remember our assistant coach clearly. I felt strengthened by the love and support I had received. And the next day when I finally faced our coach she sat by my side, as promised.

She pleaded with me to stay.
When that didn't work, she told me the team would hate me for leaving.
When that didn't work, she insulted my ability as an athlete.
When that didn't work, she insulted my parents.
That didn't work either. :)

That day, I put that woman in her place. 6 months later, Wichita State University kicked her out of their place.

The lessons we learn in life don't often come out of our successes. When life goes as planned, there is little reason for reflection. We are enriched and humbled in our failures, just as we are encouraged and motivated in our successes. The people who love us love the ugly, broken pieces just as much as the pretty boxes and ornate bows. The people who don't love us, don't know us. And they will always find ways to cut us down and talk about our failures.

As my dear friend, and by friend I mean we don't actually know each other, Angie Smith puts it:

"We are supposed to be a city on a hill, friends. And snuffing out other people's lights only serves to dim the whole town."

May all of our lights shine bright!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

He was there...

When I was young, I often imagined my wedding. I imagined the flowers, the dress, my dad offering his arm - calm, cool, and collected as ever (no small feat for a man living in a house of women), I imagined my mom at the end of that long, petal (or in my case - leaf) covered aisle smiling at me with tears in her eyes, and my sisters just beyond her grinning back at me. Seldom, however, did I imagine the man who would be standing opposite my sisters. He was always a blur, a stranger even when I would dream of the day.

I don't remember the exact moment I met Ricardo, I wish I could! I was a new student at a large school and probably met 50 people that day. I just remember knowing him. He was there, a smiling familiar face in a hallway full of strangers. He was there, waiting on a bench for me after school. He was there, picking me up for our Slurpee runs. He was there, four sleeping bags away at a Senior sleepover. He was there, by my side throughout our Senior party. It wasn't love at first sight, "but it was something" as Ricardo puts it. Something kept us together, kept us in each other's lives through the time and miles and changes that the next few years would present.

I always love telling the story of the first time my mom met Ricardo. We were still in high school and he came to the house with a group of people to pick me up. Once everyone had come in to meet my family, they all loaded back up in their car and waited for me to say goodbye to my parents. Before I could say a word my mother said these exact words to me, "Oh my gosh, he is just the all-American boy, isn't he? You are going to marry that boy one day!" I'm sure I brushed her off. I actually had forgotten all about it until, on a particularly emotional day I cried to my mom about how sad I was that my grandma never got to meet Ricardo. She reminded me of that day because my Grandma had been sitting by her side smiling at me as my mother teased me about my future husband. It was a collision of past, present, and future that I would not learn to appreciate for a few years. Now, it is a most cherished memory.

I have a point. I think.

Fantasizing about my wedding was a joy to me. If I had known what I know now, I would've spent so much more time daydreaming about the days after the wedding. The days of marriage are what I have learned to cherish. Marriage, my friends, makes wedding planning sound like torture! Ricardo and I were lucky enough to be involved in something called Engaged Encounter. The concept of Engaged Encounter is for engaged couples to take a weekend away from wedding planning in order to spend some time marriage planning. DUH, right? It seems simple, but it was so easy to get wrapped up in the music and the dress and the flowers, it's easy to see the groom starting to blur a little.

The experience of Engaged Encounter did two AMAZING things for me. To me, faith is the most intimate thing you can share with a person. My faith, and my husband's faith, are paramount to our story. I read somewhere that the greatest love story ever told, is your own. And our God has been intricately interwoven into our story. On the day that it all nearly came apart, He was there. On the day Ricardo asked me to spend my life with him, He was there. And on the day where I held my future husband's hands, with twenty other tearful couples holding on to each other in a candle-lit room, and swore to him that I would always be his and that we would always be a marriage of three, He was there.

The second blessing came to me more subtly. The days that followed brought on new daydreams of our wedding day, not unlike the ones when I was a little girl. Only this time, I could see the dresses my sisters wore as they waited for me, I could see the sunset calla lilies in my bouquet and the one pinned to my dad's lapel. I could see the leaves gathered around the pews in the old St. Joe's Chapel.

This time, when I looked up, past my mom and my sisters, he was there.

And so was He.