Ski Bum Sagacity

ski bumYou’ve likely heard this before, or something similar. That you cannot always choose your circumstance, but you can choose how to respond to your circumstance. Of course, this is eye-rollingly trite in the face of earth shaking circumstances such chronic health issues or imbalanced brain chemistry. But it’s still something I need to pay more attention to if I truly desire to live with more joy versus wallowing in complaints and discontent.

I was reminded of this recently when the hubs, the kids and I made a trek to Colorado for a ski weekend. (Another blog post is forthcoming about the importance of taking vacations.)

This trip was our second family adventure to a mountain resort, and like the first, we wanted to tie in a visit with the hub’s brother and his family who live in Denver. Last time, we stopped at their home for a visit, a meal and an overnight stay. This time, our schedule and anticipated holiday weekend traffic meant we would only connect with extended family if they ventured up the mountain road to get to us. They agreed and we all looked forward to a dinner out in Keystone, CO.

I’ll jump to the end of the story and say it worked out really well. The eight of us, who see each other only once or twice a year, had a terrific evening. We enjoyed a great meal while catching up and sharing stories.

But before it went well, it didn’t, at least for my brother-in-law. Picture this. He lives in Colorado but doesn’t downhill ski. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy skiing. He just doesn’t enjoy the bumper-to-bumper traffic on roads leading to local ski resorts each weekend. And he’s not a fan of typical tourist shenanigans.

Now to be fair, most locals living in any tourist destination have a love/hate relationship with tourists. I get that. But here’s the thing. His mood was less than, shall we say, cheerful when he first arrived on our doorstep. He’d encountered people driving poorly, larger crowds than normal and inadequate signage that led to a bit of a parking lot fiasco. Frustration rattled him. We’ve all been there.

Over dinner and a few beers, we laughed about his experience. I recall saying something like, “Since you live here and know there will be traffic and crowds because it’s a holiday weekend, you could prepare yourself for these aggravations by deciding in advance to remain calm, relaxed and patient. Or, because you know there will be traffic and crowds, you could choose to be angry before you even leave your house, and then get even angrier once you encounter what you already knew you would.”

He laughed and said, “Obviously, I chose option B.”

Now, I’m super glad it all worked out and that we had a great visit. But I can’t help but wonder how often we all choose option B. When we know something is going to be difficult or distasteful, why do we choose in advance to respond negatively? Or is it sometimes possible to visualize those things that might make us uncomfortable and try to prep our attitudes in a more positive direction? I think this is part of a bigger issue–our relentless desire for control–even when it comes to circumstances we cannot change or improve. When we can’t change it, we get angry about it, as if our anger has any power over the universe.

Now forgive me if I sound as if I’m babbling some psychoanalytical self-help mumbo-jumbo. It’s just that many of us already know what our triggers are. Mine typically include tardiness, rudeness, lack of sleep, lack of coffee, being too cold, being too hot, being too scheduled and sometimes feeling like I don’t have anything to wear.

And yet, we willingly turn over our joy by getting riled up in anticipation of our discomfort-thus tripping our own triggers on frustration, stress and anger. This is nothing less than self destruction. And when you’re married or around other people–mutual destruction. Gah!

There must be a better way. Maybe one better way looks a little like a Colorado ski bum even if saying this will surely make my brother-in-law cringe. I’m not talking about recreational indulgence of the Colorado variety. But I am talking about taking more deep breaths. Look around. Most of what we get cranked up about either isn’t as important as we think or is beyond our control anyway. Ski bums by definition are actively choosing a lifestyle of joy, eschewing negativity and being open to adventure instead of insisting upon control. I’m hoping to bring a bit of that Colorado ski bum attitude back with me into daily life. Although my days may look different than a ski bum–what with children, a job and a more stereotypical suburban existence, I’m still hopeful that with a little practice, prayer and patience, I can choose better reactions to stressful situations.

It is my prayer that you (and my brother-in-law) can get better at this too.

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Let There be More Rejoicing in Heaven

Ash-WednesdaySometimes I talk about where I grew up and the circumstances. Flint, Michigan–the child of a single parent. My mother is fantastic. She worked hard, provided for our needs and didn’t bring crisis into our home. You know, those common crises often associated with single moms living in financial, emotional or spiritual desperation. I got a pass on most of that.

But her provision and stability didn’t always compensate for her absence. I was a typical unsupervised, fatherless girl searching for affection and approval in most of the wrong places. I made terrible choices and really put myself at risk. Fortunately, I came to my senses. Call it self-preservation. Call it having people in my life who believed I could do better. Or call it divine providence.

Whatever you call it, my life turned out so much better than it could have had I not figured some things out. Part of that was saying yes to the right man after saying yes to too many of the wrong ones. I’m married 20 years to an incredibly Godly and decent man whom I still love dearly. We have two children who attend high quality public schools. And we live in a lovely home out here on Minnesota’s suburban tundra. A house 3x the size of the one I grew up in.

Once when my mother visited us, we took her to the local July fourth fireworks display at a nearby park. We sat on blankets while our then small kids romped in the grass. She looked around amazed. This city has enough money to pay people to empty trashcans at the park. And residents here have leisure time and enough energy to go to the park. “And look at all of the two-parent families,” she said in awe. The hubs and I were shocked by what shocked her. How had I come to take any of this for granted?

I recently finished reading This is The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. It’s an excellent collection of essays, many of which I’d like to pluck out individually and send to friends I think would appreciate them. But a particular line in her essay titled, The Sacrament of Divorce still stands out to me.

“There can be something cruel about those who have had good fortune. They equate it with personal goodness.”

Wow. I must admit that sometimes I actually believe my own good fortune–my rescue from a life more marred by poor decision-making–is somehow the result of my personal goodness. Other times I’m a bit wiser.

Once when I was lecturing my children about how good we have it here compared to other places or to those living in more difficult circumstances or those daily influenced by poorly educated and desperate people, my son asked me, “Why do you think you made it out?”

In my motherly wisdom, I said something like, “I don’t entirely know. But I believe that for some reason God chose me and gave me a second chance. And I don’t want to blow it or waste it. I want SO MUCH to show my gratitude to God by living a good and useful life and giving you every opportunity to live a good and useful life.”

I still believe this but have come to realize that I was only partly right. Because when I shared this story with someone wiser than me, she said, “God chooses everybody.”

Please let that sink in. Know that no matter your circumstance, no matter how badly you’ve screwed things up, God chooses EVERYBODY. There is no limit to His grace, forgiveness and restoration. But sadly, not all choose to respond to God’s grace.

Now I am not silly enough to believe that I will live out my days bathed in good fortune. Patchett has already reminded me that this has little or nothing to do with my personal goodness or striving. (Read the book of Job if you need more insight on the matter.) Only God knows how long good fortune will last. But I do know this, I will go to the house of the Lord today, Ash Wednesday, and I will be reminded of the fragility and shortness of this life. I will be reminded that I come from dust and will one day return to dust. That my good fortune does not equate to my personal goodness and that I should never be cruel to others based on their circumstance or my perception of their personal goodness.

I will be reminded today and throughout the season of Lent that a Holy and Loving God chose me, one lost lamb. And I will keep trying not to blow it but to honor God with my life no matter my circumstance.

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Today I’m a Guest Blogger at WLCYouth@Home…

Words by Angela is not primarily a parenting blog. But I occasionally have some things to say about parenting:

And this is also not primarily a Christian blog. But I occasionally have some things to say about that as well:

And sometimes I’m asked to speak on these combined topics. Today, I’ve done just that as a guest blogger over at WLCYouth@home. I was asked how the hubs and I instill our faith values in our children. I invite you to click over there and read what I had to say and maybe even add your own insight on the matter. Surely you could gain some wisdom or share some. As always, thanks for reading.

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