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Being George Bailey

6 Feb

george 2me 2There’s nothing like bopping down the highway when suddenly you are struck with the strangest, yet potentially the truest thought you have ever had.  When pondering a certain dilemma in life, my mind said to myself (We do a lot of talking.), “It’s just like when George Bailey is saving the savings and loan.”  It could have stopped there.  It could have remained a brief moment with a pop culture tie-in, but it didn’t.  While initially my mind drew comparisons between my circumstances and that one scene, it continued and I found myself nodding my head (as I continued to talk to myself) as I considered other moments of poor George’s life I could relate to.  When I had a stunning, and maybe upsetting … or maybe not … I’m not sure … realization that I am George Bailey.

When I say this, I don’t mean to imply that I resemble actor Jimmy Stewart in any way shape or form.  (His hair is definitely shorter than mine.) Rather, I mean that my life’s purpose is running my own variation of the ol’ Bailey’s Savings and Loan.  What instigated this whole train of thought was my mind mulling over how to explain to some participants our program about community.  I frequently have to defend my decision to charge some families less than full price for classes.  I have to explain that not all families, particularly these days, have enough income to provide their children with the opportunity to follow their passions, learn with friends or be a part of a community.  And I’m going to delete the remainder of my rant here …  This is when George Bailey jumps into my head.  I hear him  as he pleads with his depositors when they demand their full balance, threatening to close down the Savings & Loan.  Some insisting on receiving their full balance … Finally he is blessed when in amongst crowd a humble woman approaches asking for a meager amount to make it through.  Even George had a hard time helping people understand community … I can SO relate.

If I had left it there, that would have been a lovely little analogy.  However as I considered George’s life further, I realized that the parallels continued.

George’s family leads a modest life.  Their home is in disrepair, and he is often frustrated with their financial situation.  While he could choose to move on and let the Savings and Loan be consumed by big business (aka Mr. Potter), he doesn’t.  He walks away from opportunities and his dreams to travel the world … He rejects business opportunities that could change his world …He watches as his friends and his family move on and seem to be living the dream.  

It is not a rare occurrence in this house, when I suggest I should get a “real” job that makes money and has a start and end time.  We have broken windows, half lit ceiling lights, leaking plumbing and a dishwasher that has served exclusively as kitchen decor since it stopped working over two years ago.  I tamp the jealousy and envy that seeps up from time to time, as I read about my friends latest adventures or new cars … I remember what it was like when I was a professional that wore suits and “did lunch.”  The ol’ Savings and Loan definitely comes at a price.

While there are these obstacles that George is occasionally confronted with, more often than not, he is blessed by the relationships he has built because he stayed and continued on at the Savings and Loan.  We think of the blessing of Mr. Martini’s home and his ability to be there for Violet when she needs to start over.

I am so blessed to be a part of so many families’ lives.  To know that I make a difference, and that if I chased after the big job or the new car, people wouldn’t have something important is huge!  To be a part of a community and defend the right for all families to have a degree of self-respect and pride.  It is so special to answer a friend’s call; to be able to drop everything if necessary and be there.  I have so many truly dear friends, and have the chance to live an authentic life.

All is not always sunshine and roses for George though.  Even though he has committed himself to the people of Bedford, sometimes the obstacles mount up against him to the point that he is haunted by the possibility of ruin and shame.  This never more evident than when Uncle Billy “loses” the  bank deposit the day that bank examiner arrives.  George crumbles under the weight, thrashing emotionally as he tries to grasp the dire straits he is facing.

All it seems to take is a mismarked decimal, a nonpaying student or an unexpected bill, and I, like George, am reeling crushed under the fear of having the world cave in on me.  I worry that I won’t be able to fulfill my promises, or that I won’t be able to buy groceries.  I imagine my friends, and others, turning on me; angry that I have disappointed them and that I have mismanaged my situation.  I am afraid that my reputation will be ruined, and my teetering financial situation will finally crash and burn and all will be lost.

Before we get to carried away with ourselves, it is important to remember that George has his serious jerk moments.  He reaches a breaking point, and all that has been good in him day to day dissolves.  The same man who ensures the working man has a home of his own … who watches out for poor, lost Violet … who patiently endures Uncle Billy’s flakiness … who sacrifices his dreams for the sake of his brother … who is a friend to everyone … snaps and is cruel and unkind to his family, particularly his children.  He spits venom at them for reasons they don’t understand without any justification.  This man who yearns to make a better world, in one moment undermines it all as he unleashes on his family.

After too many nights of worry, it takes almost nothing to provoke anger in me at home.  I loose patience and act unfairly.  Once I withdraw, I am as despondent as George on the bridge when I consider how much my family sometimes endures.  The fatigue or stress will leave me impatient and unfocused.  I find myself behaving so entirely contrary to the person I yearn to be.  I become frustrated that I seem to be able to be kind and patient with so many people, but sometimes my own family – those I love most of all – suffer as I use up all that I have outside of our home.

When George finally decides he can’t go any further, he can no longer move on.  He is crushed despite all that he has done for his community.  He has reached his breaking point, and can’t find it within himself to endure another day.  It is at this point that God blesses him.  First he is blessed by Clarence the Angel who gives him perspective.  He is able to see the difference he has made.  Then all of those who have been blessed by George through the years come together and embrace him when he needs them most.  It is these moments of grace that save George’s life.

As far as I know, I have never been visited by an angel,but it does seem when I have reached the end of my rope … when I am in a heap on the ground and ready to give up, I will get a call … an email … or a visit where someone will let me know how much I matter.  They will help me see the way that Clarence did for George, that through small (and not very interesting) acts, my efforts have made a difference in the lives of others.  It is also in these moments, when I am crying in the shower because I’m not sure how I am going to be able to pay for a birthday present, or buy gas for the car, or get a kid the new shoes they need … someone will show up at my door with just the right gift.  It is through these affirmations that I feel God’s hand, and feel His encouragement to continue on.

We learn in It’s a Wonderful Life that George Bailey is just and ordinary man.  He doesn’t possess super strengths, and in fact without the help of his family and friends, he would be nothing.  However, his heart is tied to the people in his community.  Despite the obstacles he may face and the opportunities he has to turn away from, his community matters more.  How unlikely it is to suppose that I would be able to relate to this classic movie character that seemingly has nothing in common with me.  However, like him I am ordinary.  There is nothing special or exceptional.  I just have a heart for my community, and because of the support of my family and friends, I continue to live another day.

As a postscript … George Bailey had Mary.  He would have been lost without her.  She kept the world spinning while George was off saving the day … she stood by his side, and never second guessed his purpose.  While he is definitely not Donna Reed (and we are both grateful for that), Jeffrey is the unseen benefactor as he picks up loose pieces and affirms me sometimes daily.  Without him, I would be lost.

I’m sorry to ramble, but tragically (for you) my blogging time falls under the form of stream of consciousness and tends to be revision free … someday when I finally retire from the ol’ Savings & Loan, perhaps I will spend a little more time making my writing consumable.

Perspective is Everything …

31 Jan

I was cleaning up files, and discovered this post from 2012 that some how never got published.  The irony is that the title became even more relevant as I was able to look back at this moment almost two years later.  It was a really rough time, and I am so grateful that I am able to say all is looking up from where we were then.  We still struggle in one way or another.  I suppose we all do.  But, indeed, particularly in hindsight, I understand even better … perspective is everything.

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It would be pretty fair to say that my family has had our fair share of unfortunate events.  We have been hit financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually.  In most worlds this covers just about every front.  Some days it seems like as soon as we get a handle on one problem, another one crops up.  Then again, on other days we don’t even seem to get that chance, and find ourselves juggling a couple of serious issues simultaneously.  These circumstances will occasionally lead me down the road of a self-indulgent pity party, and to be fair I think everybody needs a party sometimes.  More often, however, I am reminded by others how unlucky I am.  Friends will point out the trials our family has endured most indicate that some stars have been seriously knocked out of alignment or some freakish weather front has allowed storm clouds to stalk us like a lunatic fan.  I have to be careful in these instances not to succumb to their perspective.   It is easy when provided an outside perspective to feel incredibly unlucky and question what actions or circumstances have led you to a place that seems so inconsistent with the peace and comfort that so many others enjoy.

I was on the cusp of one of these wallowing moments this morning.  I was chugging down the road in my vehicle that is literally crying out for repairs, discouraged by my morning visit with my mother who is recovering from a several cerebral aneurysm and stroke, overwhelmed with paperwork and taxes that needed done and uncertain about how we would ever be able to pay the bills that were piling up on a newly reduced paycheck.  I had everything in place, and was only missing the beer to kick this party off.  I am not certain how my perspective was altered.  It may have been the sunshine, or maybe the recollection of an encounter with a mentally ill, homeless women earlier in the day.  I think most likely it was the sight of the garden center however.  I know, how strange is that.  Garden centers aren’t normally the source of insight and perspective, but today it served as a reminder.

jeffBecause of my mother’s medical situation we have been unable to maintain our regular household responsibilities.  One of the things that has been neglected is my husband’s garden.  The garden is not only a source of yummy spring and summer produce, but a point of pride and enchantment for him.  This year in particular, because of some of our financial issues, Jeffrey had spent a lot of additional time creating strategies, designing layouts, ordering seeds and making sure that everything was in place for a particularly successful gardening year.  On February 22nd though, much of his planning had to be set aside as we received the call that my mother had suffered a ruptured aneurysm.  Jeff has tried over the last 2 months to make the best of the situation, and has restarted his seedlings several times only to watch them die from neglect.  This morning he discovered that a new set of his seedlings had died in their hot house for lack of water.  With much of his financial resources gone and the calendar indicating that where he had been ahead and prepared, he was now behind and falling short.

On my drive past the garden center it occurred to me that I had a small portion of money in my budget and that I could buy some plants for him to try to cheer him up and bring back some of his gardening delight.  It was in this instant that I was given the perspective necessary to persevere onward.  How incredibly blessed am I to have any money in the bank?  Just this morning a friend met a need I had, saving me at least $70, which better ensured that money could be spent on Jeffrey.  How incredibly blessed am I to have friends that support me?  Jeffrey’s seedlings have died because he has been with me … because he has been helping my mom and dad … because he has picked up the pieces I have dropped while distracted with my own efforts to care for my mom.  How WILDLY blessed am I to have this kind of man in my life?

eggplantWe will still struggle.  I have no expectations of our financially difficulties resolving themselves anytime soon.  I have worries that my mother’s recover will be exceptionally long and question all the time how much better she will get.  My children will continue to present challenges as they move through the stages of life.  Machines will break.  Pets will die.  People will disappoint us.  Jobs will be lost.  But I praise God for all the blessings I have in my life – a family that cares for me, friends that watch after us, parents that are alive and able to love me.  No matter what the weather, I will choose to rejoice in my blessings rather than wallow in my misfortune.

Too Smart …

21 Mar

Growing up, I always imagined myself in a high-power executive position probably either in politics or finance.  I was, while admittedly a distracted and occasionally lack-luster university student, a driven individual with loads of professional ambition.  Even early in my college years I work for the Department of Defense and took initiatives that led to the automation of an entire division within one of the agencies within DoD.  Not to shabby for a 19 or 20-year-old.  Near the end of my college years I became enamored with a political candidate began as an envelope-stuffing volunteer and ended the year as the Chief Procurement Officer working in the national headquarters for a presidential candidate.  While well acquainted with some big names on Capitol Hill and the White House, I began a job as a temp in a mortgage division of a local savings bank.  Within months, I was hired as a permanent, full-time employee and began a career in mortgage banking.  Within 7 years, I had advanced within the field to the point that I had held jobs that put me in the position of rating the quality of portfolios for senior bank officials, working as a high-priced consultant advising bank presidents nationwide, owning my own mortgage consulting position and then ultimately serving as an executive officer for a large bank.  I received my promotion to bank officer by the time I was 30.  Shortly after that I had my third child, and quit.  I was offered some pretty substantial packages to go back to work … salaries and bonuses designed to cover nannies, transportation, meals and clothing.  I never went back.

I mention all of this not to impress or to promote myself, but, I guess, to illustrate or underscore that I am where I am largely by choice.  Where I am today carries a lot fewer accolades and doesn’t play nearly as well at sophisticated social events.  My wardrobe is more welcomed at Target than at Nordstrom’s these days and our family often struggles with financing car repairs and such.  Today, I am essentially a self-employed, stay-at-home, homeschooling, small business owner (VERY small business owner).

People who learn about my background will often question why I am not still pursuing “greatness”.  I occasionally hear from former work friends and they wonder why on earth I live like I do.  I have heard so often how I am too smart, too qualified, too good to be living the life I am living.  Honestly, it always fluffs my ego.  It also always helps me realize that I didn’t stumble and fall to the place I am today, but after considering my options I chose it.

Having grown up during the era of the women’s right movement and ERA, I am so proud of the accomplishments women have made and continue to make in the world.  One of the greatest feats I think we can hold up proudly as a society is our ability to choose as men AND women what our priorities will be without judgement.  I think it is fantastic that we live in a world where women can be today’s captains of industry and men can be seen pushing strollers through the park.  I think, however, we sometimes overlook the power in choosing to accept a more traditional (while I assure completely NOT traditional) role of staying home with children.

I look forward to the days ahead as I enter different seasons of life and my priorities evolve and change.  For today though, I think that I am too smart and too knowledgeable to allow social ambitions or expectations to dictate my choices.  The experience and skills I have gained over the last 11 years of staying home have enriched my life so tremendously and have offered my such a great depth of understanding of who I am – While I could have continued on a successful career track, I doubt I would have the ability to obtain the level of contentment I enjoy right now.  Life isn’t always what I want it to be.  I have dreams of new things in my future.

I hope to always be strong enough … ambitious enough … smart enough … to choose my own path in life.  I hope you are too …

 

The Eagle Has Landed!

8 Jul

Ok, I will be honest with you, I was preparing to write about something completely different and frankly not all that flattering about one of my children.  I’m sorry but sometimes you just have to vent.  But God must be looking for me to be more positive so just as I was looking up something in preparation, my son walks in to announce he has nearly finished a book.  Did you hear that FINISHED…honestly, this is a first. 

Some folks who don’t know me must be quite thrilled at this point, envisioning an adorable five-year old struggle over a copy of Dick and Jane or Biscuit.  Sorry to annihilate your Norman Rockwell vision, but this is my eleven year old completing one of the Nate the Great early chapter books.  Now those of you who do know me, know that this is indeed a momentous occasion – as non-Norman Rockwellish as it may be.  Despite the fact that he is reading the same books my older son read in first grade or so, this will be first book he has ever read independently in his lifetime.

As early as preschool his teacher suspected that he had issues with attention-deficit disorder.  At six years old, when my oldest was reading beginning chapter books, Jon could not identify the letters in the alphabet, count past twelve or even sing the alphabet song correctly.  He was nine when he finally chilled enough to learn his birthdate, where he lived and his telephone number.  It was about this time he was officially diagnosed with attention deficit- hyperactivity disorder.  We dabbled in medicine, but it tended to result in a non-Jon sort of kid living with us.  Jon from the time he was a toddler has gregarious and outgoing and makes friends easily.  However between medication and the hits to his confidence, he was slowly becoming a sullen and introverted guy.  More than his inability to read or maintain other information, loosing the kid I knew devastating.  it was at this point that we elected to reconsider our own perspectives on “normal”.

Jon was what primarily instigated my decision to homeschool.  While I very much felt God called me to homeschool, I also felt that my sweet boy would be devoured in label heavy world of public school.  Despite this, I had always measured his performance against what I perceived to be “normal” based on his brother and sister’s accomplishments.  It  wasn’t until a few years into things that I was advised that they were significantly academically accelerated.  Even though I worked hard not to make direct comparisons, daily the structure of his lessons were structured in such a way as to “catch him up”.  However, after seeing the impact of his constant sense of failure, we reworked normal and I began to educate myself more fully.  I became aware of other very intelligent children who were very late readers.  (Beginning to read between 10 and 13 years old.)  I also became aware of the concept of “Right Brained Learners”.  After examining the information I had discovered, it seemed to me that Jon was not behind, he was simply on a completely different track.  Jon excelled in art and art appreciation – his favorite artist is Chagall.  He has a natural aptitude for math, and can do quite well when he does his homework.  His memory is remarkable.  He can recite strings of dates and details from documentaries he has watched on the History and Discovery channels.  He just wasn’t reading.

I’ll acknowledge some days this “different track” concept felt more like an excuse not to push him harder, not to drill more, not to seek professional help.  There have been several instances where I have had to rework opportunities for him because he couldn’t read like other children his age, or I have had to hold him back.  Frequently I would feel anxious when he was friends, especially his non-homeschooled friends.  I would worry that he would be made fun of or called stupid if reading came up.  Jon’s pretty amazing because rarely did he have any issues, partly because it was never a worry of his and he always handled it matter a factly.  Despite my insecurities and my second guessing, after several periodic new “learn to read now” approaches I took, we would settle back into being patient and waiting.

This summer I stubbornly decided that he would earn a free book through the bookstores reading program.  Every year we get the forms and every year he accomplishes nothing.  As I was cleaning out my school room and reorganizing our books I came across our old collection of Nate the Great books and decided that Jon could give these a go.  They are simple, boy oriented and not too “babyish”.  Once again, just with every other new “reading initiative” I introduced to him, Jon slumped his shoulders, kicked a the ground and begrudgingly conceded.

Yesterday the first signs of a change began to emerge.  When he said he had read his book – he actually had.  He could tell me what happened, characters names and when I suggested that he should read a little more before he was done for the day he didn’t argue.  Moments ago, many years of struggle, angst, discouragement, anger and all things negative finally were overcome.  Jon announced he was only a few pages away from the end of the book and then mentioned that he noticed that were additional books in the series.  “Yep”, I told him.  “In fact”, I said, “We have five more.”  He said, “Cool.”  Not cool like “whatever” but more cool – nifty keen.  Jon will finish this book within a few minutes and has asked if he can start a new one right after.  I am trying to keep my elatedness in check and be careful not to jump into “Let’s catch up” mode.  But this is the single greatest day in Jon’s schooling – ever.

Now do you suppose there’s hope for a clean room?