An “Old Soul”

Are you fluent in the languages of love? | Psychologies

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My daughter was in the 8th grade when someone had first referred to her as an “old soul”. It was her social studies teacher who was also an assistant coach of her field hockey team. I stood in the parent-teacher conference slightly annoyed at his remark.

About a month later, someone else made the same comment.

The word “old” was not fitting for a vibrant, beautiful young teenager with long hair and a terrific laugh. A strong athlete with a quick-wit was anything but “old”.

The word “soul”? Well, that word was right on.

I was viewing the word “old” negatively as if these adults were making her less-than. Really what they were trying to do was locate a word to describe a teenager who was anything but typical. The teachers in particular always wanted to share stories with me about how my youngest not only befriended the special needs students but went out of her way to check in with them daily, saying “hello” and “how are you?” that perhaps meant more to the observant teachers than the children.

On the last day of eighth grade, she emerged from the traditional end-of-year award ceremonies empty-handed. “Mama, what I’m good at is not valued at school. It’s not graded.” I nearly died from heartbreak in the school hallway. Her eyes were quizzical as she too attempted to locate words to describe herself.

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It was a curious mix back in her youth: a sweet, gentle spirit who would be readily labeled very friendly but not boisterous, on the quiet-side, but also spoke up loudly when another was being belittled or ridiculed. Athletic and captain of her teams, she demonstrated tremendous ability to lead but sat back in group settings, allowing others to be “first”. I suppose the only term that came to the teachers’ minds was “old soul”.

This memory recently came back to me and so I researched a few minutes regarding what the term ‘old soul’ means. There were a wide array of contradicting definitions. Most didn’t resemble my child at all. However, one repetitive noun was “empath”. “An empath is someone who understands the mental or emotional states of others in a way that defies conventional science and psychology. Empaths have the ability to sense the feelings, the thoughts of people.” (Urban Dictionary) Essentially, feeling and thus expressing far more empathy than a normal human.  i feel your pain - GapingvoidWhen my youngest was 12 years young, she learned of the diagnosis of a 5-year old boy with terminal cancer. We did not know this family personally but were praying for the boy. I watched my daughter pray, carefully follow his treatment over the few short months he had remaining on this side of heaven, and observed her emotional collapse when he left to be with the Lord. As she lay crying on the couch, she choked through her tears to me, “I don’t want you thinking I’m crying for my own sadness. I’m devastated for the parents…they will never get over this.” She was 12.

My baby girl is now a senior at a university she loves and thrives at. She’s known and loved by her friend group, has a wonderful boyfriend and professors gush over her public speaking skills. If you met her today, your first thought would definitely not be “public speaker” but the moment she takes the front of the room, she brings it to life and commands attention. She’s gentle in spirit, she listens when you speak-regardless of how important you may or may not be in the world-and she loves Jesus. She sees people in a world where most of us are sincerely invisible.

While finishing the decorating of my daughter’s room in her new apartment at school, I was frustrated because the little sunflower lights weren’t yet exactly how I wanted them. I was likely huffing and adjusting them when my youngest’s hand suddenly appeared, and laid ever so gently upon mine. I looked up from my crouched position on the floor at her smiling face. With her hand gently tapping mine she very softly said, “patience my little grasshopper”. I laughed out loud at her adaptation of the famous quote, which was far sweeter with “my little”.

Most actual definitions of old soul don’t fit my daughter, but the few consistent attributes of an empath were reminders for me. While this little jaunt down memory lane turned into a Mom-post, God used the fleeting memory and my quick internet searches to draw attention to the desensitization I’ve been experiencing lately. Normally a highly empathetic person myself, I realized that reviewing nearly 40 cases highlighting man’s worst depravities (see previous post/I’ve been serving on a grand jury for several weeks), my initial disgust has transitioned into desensitivity. We’ve been told that we’ve seen more horrific cases than many juries in past years. The fallout from the presidential election and the claims from those who “say that evil is good and good is evil; that dark is light and that light is dark” (Isaiah 5:20) has additionally increased my guardedness. This is not good when I’m usually quite approachable.

How good it will be to have a day this week purely devoted to gratitude, family, games and delicious food. The timing of Thanksgiving amidst the serious unrest across our Covid-globe and in our hearts…my heart…is much-needed. Perhaps I’m not alone in recognizing the need for renewing empathy and being more sensitive toward others. 

image above: studywithfriends.org/wp-content/uploads(fruit of the spirit image)

 

 

Empty and Barren. Full and Bountiful.

During a recent walk at the park, I stopped to stare at these trees, contemplating how the two different trees reflect people’s lives. Or, at least resemble differing seasons in their lives.

One person can be the empty, impoverished, stark tree – yet, they work, travel, parent and operate in the world alongside other trees whose lives are abounding in growth, bursting with color and fullness. Sometimes we are the depleted, defeated one…other times, we are full, complete, abundantly blessed.

Why do some lives flourish more than others? 

Similar to the photo below, I also considered how siblings on the same original “branch” veer off as twigs in different directions – one blossoming and succeeding, the other empty and dry.

While God is Sovereign and guides our lives, He gives us enough free will to create or destroy-grow or become stagnant-give up or persevere. Yet, there are those who devote just as much positive effort as the next person but hit concrete walls at every turn. Their circumstances are real and it’s discouraging.

I was standing at my kitchen island last week, across from a beloved person in my life. Our relationship is a curious one as he is the husband of my oldest step-sister. I refer to him as my brother-in-law, because he feels more like family than my blood relatives. He and my husband have become deep friends over the years, bonding over muscle cars (which someday I’ll have to post on this site). He loves to talk, is very relational and covers a variety of topics, including politics. We all love him.

He is battling serious cancer and yet, refuses to bemoan his circumstances. He’s not in denial but he is unlike anyone I’ve ever seen walk through this. He chooses to redirect his thoughts away from the non-stop challenges including his limp, pain, inability to taste or even eat much. I can’t adequately convey the heart-wrenching injustice of this homicidal disease. It rips the person’s dignity away when they are the most vulnerable… they want to be seen as whole when all people see are the physical signs of their illness.

As we caught up on each other’s week, my three 20-something kids gathered around the kitchen island with us. They began bantering with me, pulling food out, asking him questions, and then began a series of everyday, regular chit chat with each other. I looked over at my brother-in-law and saw his eyes following the kids. His eyes spoke before his words emerged, he again reminding me how blessed I am to have these three. Reminding me that our parenting challenges over the years were really nothing. Years ago, I might have thought catching one of them in a lie was Armageddon (strong indicator of how I am as a Mom), but looking back, my parenting-teen troubles were indeed little ones.

His only son has been battling addiction since he was a young teenager. He’s 30. Legal fees drained their savings more times than I can recall. My brother-in-law speaks more openly now than ever before, and I have glimpsed their parental sufferings in new ways. They too set out to be strong parents, worked hard to give their child a positive life and my heart is broken for their plagued family history. Through this barren land they have walked, they have built treasures in heaven. Despite their own parenting difficulties, they took in three different adolescent children over the years when the biological parents had issues. There was sacrifice involved that made my husband and I admire them. They gave up their own comfort to bless others – even those who may never appreciate the level of sacrifice to their daily life, marriage and finances. 

We used to flip pages of magazines once a month and wonder why the glossy good fortune, perfect genetics and posh vacations laid before us couldn’t be ours. We had 30 days in between deliveries to get over ourselves. Now, we scroll. Hourly for some. Every 2 minutes for most. Social media makes it easy to assume that others’ trees are flourishing while ours are not. People tend to indulge in the ‘what if’s’ or ‘if only’s’ as they scroll. For those of us at mid-life and beyond, we are better at laughing now than coveting. We’ve been through some life and know the reality vs. the fantasy. Most importantly, we trust that the depleting times are usually followed by new abundance. Perhaps not in the same ways we were previously accustomed to abundance, but blessed nonetheless.

If we are going through an empty, stark, unproductive or sad season, let us persevere as best we can in our weakened state-allowing God to be our strength. If we are presently experiencing ease, comfort and few worries, let’s count ourselves deeply blessed to possess a free, uncluttered mind for as long as it may last.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Remote Work

Unless there is another extension here in New York, we’re expected to return to the physical premises of work on May 18th. While I have enjoyed many blessings during this time working from home, it will be good to return to the office. This is quite a statement because 1) I’m a Mama-domestic-type person at heart so I love all things home and family; and, 2) the small company I work for is an extremely stressful environment. I plan to leave in the near future.

Some things that I love are also on the hate list…just in a strange reversal in how I view these things!

See the source imageWhat I love about working from home…

  • Hands down, the best part of this bizarre historical time we have been chosen to live out is having a full nest. We all work together in the house, play so many card and board games, cook, bake and eat together like it’s been an extended Christmas vacation (where we also happen to be working). Ironically as I type this, it is snowing out my dining room window (yes, in May), so it really does continue to feel like Christmas vacation.
  • Working 20′ from the kitchen. I snack all day and drink as much water as I want without worrying who is noticing how many trips I make to the rest room!
  • Working the first hour or two in my pajamas, then switching to yoga pants and cozy, cotton tops.
  • No jewelry. No makeup. No hair coiffing.
  • No heels!
  • No nail polish.
  • The lack of a hard, set schedule.
  • The time I have saved by not primping myself, cleaning snow off my car and driving back and forth dealing with traffic is truly priceless.
  • The time I have saved by being able to avoid complainers has increased my productivity. At work, staff wander in and out of my office all day.

See the source image

What I hate about working from home…

  • I was one of the wiser ones at my place of employment who did not permit the owners to contact me after hours – until COVID. Now, the highly tense, always-anxious founders along with a variety of employees contact me not only throughout the work days, but at night and on the weekends. One of the Directors called me on Easter Sunday night!
  • I’m 20′ from the kitchen and I’ve gained 7 pounds. This truth has not stopped me from eating chocolate. Nor has the reality that in a week I need to be back in dress pants.
  • Most rooms have “the office” lingering from one or all of us. Papers, laptops, iPads, pens, notebooks and binders are ever-present throughout the house. We all tend to roam about, trying to get a different view during the day, then leave office remnants on tables and sofas. The decorative vases, photos and candles have all been removed or pushed aside throughout the house.
  • No defined schedule with a clearly marked beginning and end to work hours. I’ve worked more since shelter-in-place than I ever would at the office. The rest of my fam has it much easier with their employers and I thank God every day for that! (And that we have been blessed to remain employed-we are truly grateful.)

As we begin to find our way out of our homes, stepping into this new world, I’m likely not alone when I say that I’m happy to return to a few things from our former existence. At the top of my list is a boundary line between work and home. Yet, this time has also given most people a perspective that has changed us, even if only a little. For those of us still on this side of heaven, we’ve lived through something historic. Praise God.