“Why are you starting a blog, Stephanie?” he asked me.
The question took me aback. Why am I indeed? The simple and immediate answer was to add more beauty, positivity, and light into the world–which is absolutely true. Yet, I have been pondering that question ever since it was posed to me. Then, after writing the following column for the Lawrence Herald section of The Herald Dispatch (Huntington, WV newspaper), I realized that I had, more or less, answered the question. Therefore, I share this with you now, Dear Reader. I hope you will continue to follow along with me as I attempt to provide an alternative, albeit simple, narrative and musing regarding a few of the positive sides of life.
To be certain, what I offer in my writing are my lessons to learn and my inner truths; however, it is my hope that a few of these pieces will resonate with you, my Dear Readers. For it what is a writer and her writings, without a reader? As I develop this website/blog, I hope you will decide to follow along as I learn and grow in the many lessons life offers me. Further, I welcome your feedback, comments, and your observations on all of the simple truths abounding around us as we are all spiritual beings sharing this earthly experience called life.
“Sometimes you’re too busy looking down that you forget to focus on where you’re going.”—Unknown
“My life is full of mistakes. They’re like pebbles that make a good road.”—Beatrice Wood
“Mommy, Mommy,” her doleful voice implored me out of a deep sleep.
At the time, my daughter, Madelyn, was a mere five years of age and had nearly completed her first year of Kindergarten. Throwing back my covers and walking into her room, there sat my tiny daughter on her knees in the middle of her bed, donned in pink, silky-like pajamas, blonde hair tousled about her head like the blue bird’s nest just recently crafted near our barn. Tears streamed down her impish red face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as I took her in my arms.
“My test, my test. Mrs. Miller is going to be mad at me. I missed two questions.” She described with great solemnity two questions on the end-of-the-school year standardized test she was certain she had missed. I did not realize it at the time, but this was my daughter’s first real anxiety attack. I’m not sure how I should have handled it even now as I reflect back to that night. I simply tried to assure her that I was positive Mrs. Miller, her Kindergarten teacher, would not be upset with her; however, Maddie would not be consoled for the longest time period. Her young child’s heart was overflowing with grief.
When I spoke to Mrs. Miller the next day, she confirmed that Maddie had indeed missed the exact two questions she vividly described to me during the previous night. However, Mrs. Miller further added that she was fairly certain that Maddie had also earned the highest score in the class. Further, Mrs. Miller added she would try to help Maddie change the narrative in her head from, “I made a mistake,” to “Look how many questions I answered correctly.”
This story often enters my mind for a number of reasons—not the least of which is wondering if I could have prevented what Maddie would later come to name as her “worries.” Did I do something, or not do enough of something, to cause her anxiety. Where did I fall short as mom? Then, just like long-ago Maddie, I lose sight of all of the ways in which I loved and parented well; and instead, focus on all of my mistakes.
Recently, my husband, John and I were hiking a beautiful trail in Virginia. This wooded path followed, and even crossed over, a meandering shallow, rocky river. Along the path were ethereal butterflies, dainty wildflowers, and the orchestral sound of waterfalls.
About half a mile or so into this peaceful hike, John and I encountered two other hikers. They were affable and engaging. After a few exchanges of pleasantries, they warned us of a snake sighting they had just experienced on the trail. Five or so minutes later, I realized the whole dynamic of our hike had changed—at least for me. Instead of taking in all of God’s wonders around me, my head was continually down as I searched for snakes. I even initiated a discussion with John about how well snakes camouflage into their surroundings, acknowledging that what often looks like a stick or twig could be a snake.
Both of these stories are such a metaphor for life, especially given our current cultural climate. How easy it is to become wrapped up in negative sound bites, trivialities, and short-lived dramas just as Maddie focused on questions missed, rather than questions answered correctly; and, I began searching for snakes, ignoring all the bountiful beauty along the mountainous, river trail. It often seems that our human nature has a tendency to overlook the numerous positives in life for which to be grateful, and instead, we drill down on the distraught, dire, and/or dreadful occurrences.
God created us in His image. Further, he fashioned this beautiful planet, brimming with abundant resources, magnificent sights, and numerous good people. Yes, indeed, there is evil in the world—just as there was in the story of the Garden of Eden. While identifying good from evil is an important skill, we must not forget the goal of our ultimate heavenly journey, and willingly lead others to this same light.
Therefore, it is my belief (although it remains very much a practice of which I must continually remind myself), that we have a choice. We can focus on what we perceive as personal mistakes; such as, so-called flaws of self, loved ones, and friends; or, perceived errors at a local/national/global level; or, we can be the flashlight for others, and ourselves—shining a beam on all the good that has been produced and can be accomplished. Each person can choose to fall into the trap of drama; or, instead, create an alternative narrative—not only for you, but also for others, just as Mrs. Miller attempted to do for my dear, distraught daughter all those years ago.
I recently read a quote stated, “In today’s world of accelerating change and challenge, those who know how to pray must teach those who need to.” These words symbolically resonated within me—not that we need to literally go around offering to teach others how to pray (Although, perhaps, that might not be a bad thing.)—Rather, I believe those of us who can, should limit the amount of time focusing on the “wrongs” in the world; and instead, refocus on how we can create a positive impact.
From forgiving yourself for so-called past mistakes, to appreciating the lesson(s) they taught you; from smiling and conversing with the poorly paid cashier at the local grocery store, to offering a prayer for that same person later in private; from taking time to listen to an anxiety-ridden friend fighting an incurable illness, to initiating or participating in a campaign to help fund research for that illness; from sending an, “I’m thinking of you,” text to a friend or family member, to writing a positive letter of “thanks” on social media regarding a business, school, local church, or even community leader that “got it right”—there are copious ways to offer an optimistic story. Just as a spotlight directs the audience’s focus in a dark theater, so too, can we offer light in an often dark world.