Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Why I Love This is Us

Last night I watched the season finale of the new NBC drama, "This is Us."  For the first time in, oh, forever, I'm actually watching a show in real-time.  That never happens.  Never.  Even the handful of reality shows I watch are watched on demand.  Yet this show captivated me so much I don't want to miss it as soon as it airs.  And, I watch the episode again, maybe more than once, because I love it so much.  

I'm not the only one in love with this show. My social media feed fills up on Tuesday nights when this show is on.  It's been a long time since a drama like this one has drawn so many people into its fold.  It's this observation that made me examine why I love this show so much.  

There are a lot of things to point out - the acceptance of an interracial adoption at a time when it wasn't so much the norm, a woman battling weight issues, the challenges of the every day life of a normal American family, the realism found within this family.  But I can narrow it down to one major thing.  The men on the show. Specifically Jack Pearson, played by Milo Ventimiglia. If you haven't watched the show and intend to, spoiler alert ahead.

Jack is the father of the children who star in the show.  In this first season, we've seen the birth - and adoption - of his children, the love he has for his wife, the struggle with alcohol that is becoming more evident, and the way he parents his children.  In the season finale, we learned even more about his family background that was hinted to before. The refreshing thing about Jack is the writers aren't portraying him - or any of the men for that matter - as weak, meager men like most dramas and sitcoms do these days.  Jack is strong.  He fights for his family.  He fights for his marriage.  Yes, he has his faults, but he admits to them.  He's not perfect. And we know that Jack has passed on, though we don't know details.  

We've seen Jack proclaim he doesn't want to be like his father, who was abusive to his mother.  We learn in the season finale that he was a Vietnam Veteran and didn't come back angry at the world and his country.  And we see how his parenting is being played out in the lives of his children.  So many touching scenes to represent that, but one comes to mind.  His son, Randall, suffered from panic attacks, and Jack knew how to calm him down in a way no one else could.  Now in adulthood, with his father gone, Randall's brother, Kevin, comes to the rescue of Randall's latest breakdown.  Just like his father, Jack, would.  There are some many more examples, but are beautifully written in a tapestry-like way that make the most impact when watched on the screen.  This is one of the most exquisitely-written shows I've watched in a long time.

Thank you, NBC, for allowing a show where men are portrayed in a way we rarely see in today's television shows.  Thank you, Hollywood, for producing a show that doesn't push agendas every week.  I'm worn out over everyone - on both sides - pushing agendas in my face.  You've brought a show to the screen that is so well written and pricks the heart of the viewer in a way few shows do.  We need more of those kinds of shows.  And more Jack Pearsons in our lives.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Table Topic: Childhood Playtime

I recently began reading the book, "The Measure of Success" by Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank.  This book provides a biblical perspective on work and what that means for women.  Carolyn is a never-married single woman and Nora is a married mom who works.  So far, this has been a very insightful book, affirming my love of career.  

Would I rather be CEO of a home and raising a family?  Sure, but that isn't where God has me.  This book helps me see what Scripture says about the importance of working - inside and outside the home - for women.  It's freeing to dig into this topic since, on some days, being a single woman can be discouraging.  All women, no matter where they work, have important roles.  Carolyn shared an interesting story about her childhood that has stayed with me.  She never played house.  Looking back on that realization made her evaluate where she is in her life and if that was by design in some way.  I found that tidbit fascinating!  

Reflecting on my childhood, I played house in church nursery (probably) and in kindergarten....at least until Jimmie Walker made me mad and I quit playing.  But when I was home playing, I played one of three things - teacher, store owner, or prairie woman.  I would sit up my stuffed animals and teach them, and make up stories.  I had a cash register from Fisher Price that I LOVED and would play general store all.the.time.  And, when I'd play outside (when I wasn't swinging so high my swing set almost overturned) I'd play "Little Woman on the Prairie" trying to survive.  I would collect leaves and nuts and decide how I was feeding myself.  

Granted, I was an only child, so I played a lot by myself, but I could have just as easily played house (I had a kitchen set) as the next girl.  But, I'd grow weary of that and head to my cash register.  Could that have been my desires playing out (pun intended) of where my strengths would lie?  Maybe.  

That brings us to today's Table Topic:  What did you love to play as a child and is it a reflection of what you enjoy doing today?

Ready, Set, Play!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Lessons Learned for a Lifetime

The recent appointment of a new Department of Education head and the move of the governor of my state to research the public school system in my county has caused me to think much about my education.  I have a lot of friends who are public school teachers and friends who teach at private schools and even at higher educational institutions.  It's not an easy job but every teacher is shaping the future of every student they teach.  Heavy weight to carry around for one person.  

As I've ruminated on this, I've come up with five teachers throughout my educational career that have impacted me for a lifetime.  Let me say there have been many more, but these were the first to come to mind, and span my education from kindergarten to MBA.  Most of them don't know the impact they made and some are no longer on this earth for me to tell them.  But I hope this post encourages you to share with a former teacher of yours the impact they've made.  Or, if you are a teacher, you'll read this and say "You know, this day stinks, but I may have just changed a life today."  Without further ado, here is my five featured teachers...

Mrs. Juanita Gass - Mrs. Gass was one of my Kindergarten teachers along with Mrs. Jacobson.  You really do learn a lot in Kindergarten and I have to admit, I did.  I remember distinctly on election day going into a cardboard voting booth to vote for what Kool-Aid flavor we'd have for snack time and my flavor won! (It was grape)  It instilled in me that my vote really does count!  The lesson learned from Mrs. Gass was unconditional love and how she wouldn't keep any child from being included.  It wasn't until I was 28 that I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, but even as a 5-year-old, I would wear out after walking a distance.  One day we took a field trip to the Zoo and I couldn't walk the entire way.  Mrs. Gass carried me on her shoulders the remainder of the Zoo trip.  She didn't have to do that, but she did.  I'll never forget that.

Mrs. Lily Kruetzman - Mrs. Kruetzman was my 3rd grade teacher.  She was one of the most jovial people I knew.  She'd laugh and we always had fun in her class.  One day, I came to school and my jacket's zipper was stuck.  I couldn't get out of my coat.  Mrs. Kruetzman saw me struggling and being the independent soul I wouldn't ask for help.  She came over and said, "I can get you out of that jacket!"  She quickly pulled it over my head, which clearly I hadn't thought of.  Her next phrase was, "There's more than one way to skin a cat."  She taught me that when you can't do something, or are in a pickle, there is always a way to get out of it, or make it work.

Miss Kathy Leonard - Miss Leonard was my 7th and 8th grade Core teacher.  In Junior High, Core Class was where you spent a good chunk of your day and I was thrilled to spend it with Miss Leonard!  I almost lost it when I found out I had her again in 8th grade!  Miss Leonard was another fun-loving teacher and was single.  I thought she was the coolest.  In 8th grade, she was working on additional education and used us as her guinea pigs for creative teaching techniques.  We did some of the most innovative activities to teach concepts.  We even held our own courtroom one day.  The lesson I learned from Miss Leonard is that you can do anything and don't have to be married to do it.  I don't think this was her main intent, and I didn't realize that lesson until I was older.  And even today as I'm still single and a career woman, I think of Miss Leonard and her inspiration of having fun and being successful being single.  

Mr. Lance Springs - Mr. Springs was my Junior English teacher.  During that year, we had to write a pretty extensive research paper - 25-30 pages on a topic of our choice, but we had to use 3 book references, 20 periodicals, and 1 special source, such as a newspaper or personal interview.  Now, keep in mind this was WAY before the Internet, so this was no easy task.  I presented him my topic choice, which was the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.  He said to me, "I'll approve this, but I doubt you'll be able to find the adequate sources."  You never tell me "can't" and I was on a mission.  Not only did I keep that topic, I received a 96 on the paper.  During my Senior year, I was his Teacher's Aide, so I felt like I reached a new level by proving my abilities to him.  The lesson I learned from him was "you can do anything you really put your mind to."  I don't know if that was his intent in his comment to me, but somehow I think he knew my personality and knew I would put forth my best work when challenged.  To this day, I still take a challenge as serious as I did that research paper.

Dr. Karen Rush - Dr Rush was my last professor during my MBA studies.  She was the professor of my last class before graduation - the capstone class.  Our biggest assignment was an analysis of a company using everything we'd learned in our MBA studies.  When I got my paper back, she said, "Have you ever considered getting your PhD?  This is great work and you'd do well in PhD studies."  Now, my PhD friend, Paige, is praying me in that direction, but for now, pursuing my PhD isn't on my radar.  But hearing those words encourage me to never close the door on any possibility.  I said at one time I'd never get my MBA and - boom - I have it.  I'd love to teach as an adjunct one day to see if it's something I'd enjoy and Dr. Rush has offered to help me in any way she can.  

I'm thankful for my education and for all the teachers who invested in me.  Hug a teacher today.  You are where you are, in part, because of them.  

Monday, January 30, 2017

The One That Got Away

As we traverse through life, we always seem to reflect back and wonder "what would life be like if things had taken a different path?"  Or, "what if I had married that person instead of the one I'm married to now?"  It's human nature to ask these questions.  I don't often spend time ruminating on things like this because I believe in the sovereignty of God, so what happens is His Plan A for my life.  Even if that Plan isn't the plan I'd have chosen.

Spoiler alert:  If you haven't seen La La Land, I'd suggest you stop reading now if you plan to see it, as spoilers are to come.  

On Saturday, I saw La La Land as part of my annual Oscar challenge to see as many of the nominees as possible.  I'm behind this year because at the time of the nominees' announcement, I'd only seen one of the Best Picture nominees.  I had seen three at that point last year.  I've got a lot of ground to make up and not much available time to do it, but I'm Type A, so off I go.  

I went into watching this movie thinking it was a new take on the old movie musicals, like Singin' in the Rain, with a modern-day twist.  But, it wasn't that at all.  Oh, there's music and dancing, but the plot is interestingly different and "heavy" causing much contemplation.  

Mia, played by Emma Stone, and Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, meet in the strangest of ways and you follow their relationship for a full year.  After that year is over, it appears their paths may go in different directions, and the movie picks up five years later.  I won't get into details on what happens, but let's just say the path you expected, didn't happen.  Then, you get a complete flashback of an alternate path chosen, wondering, "did this happen?"  And then, realize what you saw originally was reality.  These two people had dreams become reality, dreams they encouraged each other to achieve, but didn't get to reap the benefits together.  

I've thought about this movie a lot since Saturday.  I've gone from contemplative, to melancholy to bittersweet.  Maybe because this hit too close to home for me.  I've had people in my life that encouraged my dreams and though I may be living them now, they aren't part of my life to enjoy the benefits.  But maybe that's the point.  People are in your life for a season...and for a reason.  And they aren't in your life for the long haul.  

The one that got away maybe really didn't get away at all.  Maybe they were in your life to make you reach for your dreams, affirm you where you felt like you were lacking and you both are now living the life always meant to happen.  If you saw La La Land, I'd love your perspective.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2017: Renewal

Each year I chose a word to focus on throughout the year.  I'm not a fan of resolutions - because I break them in about 30 days - nor am I the best goal setter in the world.  I'm an extreme Type A perfectionist, which means if I'm going to set goals, I best complete them, and in record time.

Last year's word was contentment and I can say that the year really proved out as a great learning ground for that word, especially the last three months.  As I prayed and thought about what my 2017 word would be, I decided upon the word Renewal.  The definition that rung true to me for this choice was "the replacing or repair of something that is run-down, worn out or broken."  See the last three months of 2016.  That was me.

Life is always busy, and with my full-time job, ministry roles at my church, and maintaining some semblance of a social life, this introvert gets a bit overwhelmed and overstimulated.  The word Renewal seemed to be the perfect word to focus on for 2017.  I need time to renew myself spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally.  If I don't do these things, then I'm of no good in all those roles I outlined at the beginning of this paragraph.

How would I accomplish this?  One of the things I've learned over time is saying "no" when it's hard and I want to say "yes."  Even when something is a good thing, it may not be the best thing for me.  I can easily get overextended and over-committed of my own doing.  When I was getting my MBA, I did a much better job of saying "no" because I set boundaries to be able to continue my life as normal as possible and still do school.  Now that I don't have an educational degree to help me keep that boundary, I've lost it.  In 2017, if I tell you "no" don't take it personal.  Remember that I'm looking to recharge and renew myself.

The other thing I wanted to do was declare a day of renewal each month.  I'd choose a day - preferably not one when I'm working my full-time job - where I'd only do things that renew my spirit.  I would also fast from all social media that day.  I have done this for January and may I say it was an absolutely glorious day.  I started the day off having breakfast with a sweet friend, Martha, who I adore.  Any time with her fills my heart with joy, so this in itself was a time of renewal.  The remainder of the day I listened to podcasts, colored (I'm an adult coloring book fan), read, and watched Netflix.  I started The Crown on Netflix and had no idea how much I'd love that series. I may need to write a post on that at a later date.  All the while, no matter what I did that day, my phone was used only to play podcasts, make/receive calls, and receive/respond to texts.  

What were the results of that day of renewal?  It was good to listen to sermons, and other spiritually-focused podcasts to refresh me.  Pulling away from social media honestly wasn't hard.  What I discovered was social media doesn't keep me focused on my here and now, but divides my attention to include others' goings on.  I may take daily social media breaks more often for the benefit it provided.  

I'm already excited about scheduling my day of renewal in February and looking forward to what God is going to teach me this year.  God can use a broken person, but He doesn't want us to be so broken down we're no good to others or ourselves.