The Gift of Silence

Yesterday I completely lost my voice.  I can communicate by whisper only.  I don’t mind.  However, this realization didn’t stop me from trying to sing along to Christmas songs on my 6 hour drive home from Minnesota yesterday.  I would whisper-sing, my voice would occasionally squeak from the effort, and then whisper-laugh at myself.

Actually, I’ve been finding people are better listeners and make better eye contact with me because they have to concentrate on what I’m saying.

I also find it ironic that the day my Haley doesn’t whine during the duration of a car ride is the day I can’t raise my voice at her.  It got me wondering that maybe her crying is partially due to the fact that I am not paying attention to her.  Yesterday, instead of talking to her every time she car surfed on center console (it’s what I call it when either of my dogs balance themselves on the front seat elbow rest and the back seat so they can see out the windshield), I would simply rub and snuggle her.  She didn’t make a peep.  Then this got me thinking that it is all too often we jump to using words when really an action, or simple silence would be best.

I am on day two of my forced silence and am still oddly thankful for the experience.

Advertisements

Happy Father’s Day!

My “question of the day” surrounding Father’s Day was “what is one of the best things your dad taught you?”  I was about to reply to my own thread when I realized my dad’s lessons deserved more than just a one word blip on Facebook.

First, meet my dad, a 6′ 2″ mass of muscle with a booming voice.  Growing up, my friends were typically immediately intimated by my dad… especially the boys.  But to me he was the world’s biggest softy.  My dad was more likely to use his 6′ 2″ arm span to wrap me up in a hug, his brawn to build me things like a lofted bed and a bunny hutch, and his booming voice most frequently took the form of a hysterically contagious laugh.

My favorite things about my dad are his smile wrinkles (I always say that having wrinkles like my dad’s is my goal), his crazy smile just before he bursts into laughter, his piercing blue eyes, and the things he’s taught me through his unconditional love for me and his own convictions and idiosyncrasies.  As for the things I’ve learned from my dad, those that stand out are patience, contentment, money management, the love of nature, “I love you,” humility, and committment.

To seek patience is one of the most important things in life but to seek patience in the face of parenting is, perhaps, the most crucial time to seek it.  My dad taught me patience simply because of his pace of life.  He’s always been tediously slow but this tendency, I think, is much more of a benefit to him than it is a hinderance.  He does things slowly but he does them right.  There is no rushing through something with him and, since it is in a rush that stress finds you, because of that he has managed to steer clear of that kind of stress.  He was the first to teach me that by giving yourself time on any given thing you free yourself from the burden of a deadline.

My dad’s gift of contentment coincides with his level of patience.  Often times the root of true patience is finding contentment where you are.  This can be as simple as accepting your fate to be late to work if you did not leave the house early enough rather than trying to make a race out of it and, in turn, endangering yourself and others while you make the attempt.  But it can be as complicated as not simply accepting your difficult season in life but making the best out of it.  I’ve always looked at my dad and seen someone who is not always looking to the next thing; instead, I see someone who is making his present the best he possibly can and letting the future take care of itself.  Contentment does not come naturally to me, but periodically I find myself refocusing on the present because I’ve been thinking about my dad or simply realize I’ve been fixing my eyes on the future.  Truth is, the future will come whether I am watching it or not – if I focus my attention ahead of me how am I supposed to see the blessings right in front of me?

I can’t remember how old I was or where we were or if it was a one time occurrence or if my dad’s money management quip was a frequent reminder… all I know is there was at least one time I heard my dad say, “Kaia, do you need that?”  I remember I was looking at some toy that I thought I really wanted and I had allowance money with me.  But I found myself asking my dad if I should buy it – I suppose I figured that if he thought I should buy it that I definitely should, but I think I already knew his answer and was actually seeking his opinion to get myself to put the toy down.  He said, “Kaia, do you need that?”  And I knew I didn’t need it so I put it back and didn’t think twice about that plastic piece of fun-making.  This simple phrase follows me into any and every store even today.  I believe that this is also one of the driving forces behind my creativity because instead of buying things as I think of them, I more often find myself answering “no” to that question and seeking to come up with a solution by either repurposing something I already have, making it myself, or by asking friends and family if they have what I am looking for and if they are looking to get rid of it.  If those things don’t provide me with the item in question and I do actually need it, only then can I bring myself to dish out the cash to buy it.

Ok, so a love for nature comes naturally to me but my dad equipped me with the skills to enjoy it to the full.  My dad taught me how to care for several kinds of animals, how to pitch a tent, when to go night crawler hunting, how to identify many breeds of birds, and all sorts of other random biological wonders.  My dad is a biology teacher and he is perhaps the only other person I know who loves God’s creation the way I do.  There is a wonder we can share whenever we get to spend time outside together.  Instead of hunting for the frog croaking or examining animal droppings all by myself, I find I have another curious partner in crime whenever my dad is around.  In those moments I am also struck by how curiously strange the pair of us are but I would be lying if I didn’t say I liked it.

Ever since I was little my dad has been adamant about saying “I love you.”  Before the time of love languages I knew this form of love expression didn’t impact me much.  My dad would say, “have I told you how much I love you lately?” I would reply, “Dad I know you love me.”  And then he would say something like, “well I’ll say it anyway, I love you.”  I knew my dad loved me because of the way he looked at me, how he attended every function I was a part of (which is a lot to keep up with when you’re daughter has to be involved in everything), how he would drop anything he was doing if he knew I wanted to hang out, how he would go for walks out in the rain with me… he simply oozed his love all over me.  That being said though, his intentionality about telling me on top of obviously showing me he loved me didn’t go unnoticed.  His telling me frequently at least taught me that not only to other people need to hear it but I actually do every now and then too.  Little did I know that his lesson would become one of the most important come time for me to get married because those three words are essential to ensuring my husband feels secure in my love.

My dad taught me how to drop my pride and admit when I am wrong.  I remember the biggest argument we ever had, I don’t remember what it was about but I do remember I was in high school.  In the middle of the argument my dad said he was going to walk away to cool down and I was furious to have our battle interrupted by good sense.  I stormed into my room, shut the door, and fumed silently.  Before long there was a light rap on my door and my dad asked if he could come in.  Before I could resume our war he simply apologized and asked for my forgiveness.  I was completely disarmed.  I will never forget that moment and the impact that act of humility had on us.  My dad won my wholehearted respect in that moment and there was a sudden unbreakable bond formed between us.  Humility is far from a natural thing for me.  Before I can ever ask for forgiveness or admit that I was wrong there is a battle that rages inside me so fierce I feel like my insides are working themselves into knots.  Even at 24-years-old I can only manage to begrudgingly spit the words out.  I feel like I’m literally pulling them out of my throat like I’m playing a tug of war game against the strongest of opponents.  I can only hope that with a lot more time and patience from people like my dad and husband that I can not only drop my pride quicker but that humility becomes easy.

The last lesson I share today is perhaps the most important.  Imagine a blonde-haired, athletic teenage girl involved in every area of extracurriculars and social click.  That girl was me.  I was also a girl who not only started something but finished it, until my senior year of high school.  I decided to play for the school soccer team instead of the school volleyball team.  I made varsity but never made it off the bench.  My coach was mostly mean-spirited towards me and all I really wanted was some ball time.  I remember going to my dad and asking if I could quit the team.  In this moment I felt just like I did when I asked my dad about buying that toy several years earlier, and like every other time I asked my dad a question I already knew the answer to.  My dad placed extremely high importance on commitment, but unlike his value of not spending frivolously it didn’t come with a phrase or adage.  In this conversation I remember sharing my concerns with him.  I described how nasty my coach was to me and how all I really wanted was ball time.  What I appreciate most about my dad is that every time I came to him with concerns, even if my concerns were leading me against values he was trying to teach me, he not only listened but he talked me through it.  There was never a “because I said so” or upper handed moment, my dad leveled with me.  I remember him telling me that he completely understood why I would want to throw in the towel and that he would understand if I chose to do so, but he challenged me to finish out my commitment to the soccer team by finishing the year with them.  He then encouraged me to make the best out of my circumstance and see if I couldn’t also play for the JV team and that, if I was condemned to the varsity bench, to serve my teammates and to to be their biggest cheerleader.  In the end, my soccer dreams came true because of my dad’s advice.  We made delicious lemonade out of the lemons I’d been handed.  The next game I played with the JV team.  I not only got field time with them but so much so that I only stepped off that field if I asked to grab a quick drink.  They loved me on JV and I was on fire!  After the JV game I jumped right over to the varsity game and for some reason Andy put me in.  Because of my confidence and warm muscles carrying over from the JV game I tore up that field and Andy even left me in for most of that game.  My dad was so proud of me and I remember running over for a big bear hug with him at the end of the varsity game.  In this moment I learned not only to stick to my commitments but that if the going got tough to do what I could to make the best of it.  In an age when premarital sex and divorce are more common than healthy marriages this lesson has given mine and Josh’s marriage the greatest gift.  My unbreakable value on commitment means I will never abandon him or let our love fall apart.

Dad, you are one of the strongest, most loving people I know.  Thank you for taking painstaking care in loving and raising me.  I know I would not even be close to the person I am today if I didn’t have you!  Love you dad!

Puppy Love

I don’t get out much.  I am a self-employed photographer in the middle of the slow season with a husband on the road.  This means I rarely leave the house.  In here, it’s just me and the dogs.

I adore my dogs.  They are everything this hermit girl needs:  they get me outside, they make me laugh, they snuggle me while I sleep (and simultaneously keep me warm), they love on me, and they give me someone to love on.

A lot of people say getting a dog is like practicing to have children.  I don’t know if it’s that adage or my desire to learn as much as I can out of everything but I’ve learned a lot from these two kiddos.

7Sunday-2

Nothing else on Earth loves as unconditionally as a dog.

My dogs’ life goal is to love me.  Oh, and to eat, sleep, and pee on the whole world.  But the loving part really is their primary goal when they aren’t hungry or crossing their legs.  I don’t know how else to explain it… I am their whole world.  As I work at my desk all day long, I get visits from each of them, just to say hi and snuggle for a minute. Every time I leave the house without them they act as if I’m never coming back.  Every time I come home it’s the best day of their life.  To be loved like this brings warmth and life to my bones.

Even if they SOOOOO deserve to be yelled at it doesn’t do either of us any good.

When we first got Haley, and for about a year after that, she developed a terrible habit of pooping in the same corner of our living room several times a week.  A couple of times I was beside myself with fury.  One time in particular I really boiled over.  She’d pooped in that corner one too many times and was busy looking pathetic about it when I got home.  I started shouting things like… “If you’re so ashamed maybe you shouldn’t do it!” “Do you even love me at all!” “Haley you’re so dumb!” Then I got an idea.  It was raining outside.  Haley hates the rain.  I put Haley on her leash.  I put my shoes on.  I dragged Haley through the rain.  I made it just past the end of the driveway when I paused and looked at her.  She wore the most pitiful expression I’ve ever seen on a dog and my heart warmed with compassion.  I brought her straight inside after that.  In fact, we ran in.  To repair her sadness, I shot loving words her way and soon she was joyfully skipping beside me.

I love that Haley is so sensitive.  Josh and I had far from mastered arguing well when we got her and she became the reason we learned sooner rather than later.  If he and I so much as raise our voices Haley runs out of the room and shivers in a corner until we stop the anger and snuggle her.  She has also taught me to be gentle and kind to her and others, no matter how wronged I feel.

Sam angers me like that rainy day with Haley on a weekly basis.  He’s a charming little bugger, but I now figure that the more charming you are the more evil you are as well.  He’s simply obstinate.  With Sam I tried everything.  I tried kindly dealing with him like I do Haley, I tried shaking him by the scruff, I’ve pinned him to the floor and glared in his eyes until he went limp and looked away, and I’ve gone completely bonkers on the fur ball.  I’ve learned that if Sam does something wrong I have to tell him to sit.  If I make to grab him before that or tell him to come he runs and hides.  And I’ve learned that if I want Sam to come, just in general, I have to crouch down and open my arms to him… then I can call him over – I have to do this about half the time, sometimes he actually does listen with a simple “come” command.  I’ve learned these two things, for the naughty and the coming, almost daily.

I love that Sam is such a goofball, even if it means obstinate behavior on occasion.  Sam makes me laugh more than anything else in my life.  He even makes me laugh when I’m trying to discipline him.  I’ve learned a lot about patience with Sam and because of that I’ve learned how to be more patient with people and life in general.  With Sam I’ve learned that no matter how angry he makes me I can’t possibly teach him a lesson until I’ve calmed down enough to get him to stay put – this means I’ve learned how to cool my anger quickly and discipline with my brain instead of my emotions.  Because of this I’ve learned how to be a better punching bag for Josh in times when he’s outraged and to not take it personally.  After all, everyone needs to vent sometimes and it certainly doesn’t help if it becomes an argument because the ventee gets defensive and vocal.

Laughter is good for the soul.

Haley makes me laugh.  Sam makes me laugh more.  Sam even makes me laugh at Haley more.  It’s hard to stay mad at Haley because she gets so pathetic looking about it.  It’s hard to stay mad at Sam because the way he reacts to my anger makes me laugh.  It’s hard to stay mad at the world with Haley’s pretty and knowing face sympathizing with me and Sam’s fluffy and blank face provoking me to laugh.  Fact is, if you laugh you can’t be mad.  Laughter chases the anger out of the heart.

The best parenting happens when both parents are on the same page.

When Josh and I adopted Haley she was a mess of issues stemming from abandonment.  We had her home for a couple of weeks when I noticed Josh was whistling for Haley different from me.  I thought that would be too much newness for our emotionally disheveled dog so we agreed on one whistle to use to call her.  That was our first parenting lesson on “mommy and daddy are a team.”  Since then we’ve agreed on discipline styles for every circumstance so that we both treat her the same way.  This way, no one is the bad guy.

Every kid is so unique in the way they need to receive love.

If you can’t tell already, my dogs have a lot of personality! I understood Haley right from the beginning.  I suppose that means she’s more like me than Sam is.  And on the other hand, Sam is still a daily learning experience but I’ve actually come to welcome it.  Since the main lesson he teaches me is patience and kindness I suppose those are the areas I’m severely lacking.  So thank God for Sam.

Thanks for reading my puppy love life lessons!  Maybe I’ll have more to offer on another rainy day 😉