I remember the point of exhaustion in my junior year of college at the University of Montana. I was balancing a full class load heavy in mathematics and science without the benefit of self believe that I was gifted or talented with the overwhelming task of raising three small children under 5 years old. A high school guidance counselor prepared me to go a different way with an enlightening 'talk'. “Your grade point average is only 2.5, you can expect your GPA to drop a full grade point in college level courses. Perhaps you might consider other options.” I defied her, and took the ACT but without any idea of what the scoring system was, I thought I failed it with a score of 24. I thought that it was on the 100% scale, that she was correct, and I was not qualified to be in college.
It was with a lot of determination and tenacity that I did finish my degree's. I sacrificed myself. I tried to give at least 80% to every other aspect of my life. My children were already the center focus of my life, my personal health and relationships took a backseat to their needs, yet coursework still consumed hours of each day. However, failure was not an option, so each semester was filled with anxiety about getting to class on time, preparing for exams, and revising each research paper and written report competing with Christmas recitals, birthday parties and Easter egg hunts for my time and attention.
After completing college, I went to work for a brief period but discovered that work continuously conflicted with my natural propensity to put my children first. I just never could seem to master the juggling of school negotiations for my special needs children, the physical, speech and occupational therapy sessions seems to always take the front seat on my life. I always expected that if I could just get through the next crisis, complete the next hurdle, my life would slow down and I could rest and recoup.
First it was just get my daughters through high school. Then it was just get through a wedding, or get this grand baby through the first year in one piece. Get that daughter through her first military deployment while her husband was serving overseas. Get this son through scout rank requirements or through the latest swim team season. Each milestone was never a finish line though, and I never had a moment when all was settled, well, and I was done.
I returned to my High School 20th reunion with some trepidation. High school was never a pleasant memory, a fond experience, mostly it is like a really bad movie cliché. So it was pleasant to see that 90% of the students had done some considerable growing up and were significantly more pleasant than they had been in the halls and cafeteria two decades previously. However, that being said, I did feel a sense of disappointment in my own life to learn that at least one of 1200 students went on to a distinguished military career in Washington, D.C., (why had I not done that?) and at least one had gone on to work and live in London, England (why had I not done that?) and several had explored Ireland, Tibet, and a yet, here I was once proud of my passport with 6 stamps, was not as well traveled as I had previously thought.
What had I done with my life? A brilliant career? No, that was not what I had to show for it all. I had not conquered the world after all. I never seemed to live up to my own expectations. I have had many goals in life, but finishing any project was usually an accident. What could I say about my career? Memories of Little League, Soccer, and providing hospice for my family when my grandfather passed away from cancer highlighted with family trips to Great Smokey Mountains and Mardi Gras in New Orleans flash in my mind. Spending hours teaching my children how to fix a leaky toilet or how to grout a tile floor, mixed with cross country road trips through Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore and visits to the family farm in Wisconsin are interspersed with getting to the parking lot at 5 am for church camp retreats at Utmost or driving to Painted Rocks Reservoir to help the girls pitch a tent when I was 7 month pregnant. Days spent at Silverwood Park, fishing and water skiing are dotted with lunches in the cafeteria, and long walks with talks, and heart to heart interventions in the walk in closet. Signing off community service hours for friends of my kids after they made bad choices, and the laughable joke of Scouting being just one hour a week, honestly, it is more like 10.
My first mission statement 25 years ago, “When you love someone, you help them, whether it is convenient or not” is still true and yet, today "making a difference" has been my consistent mantra. Each difficult choice has been, can I make a difference here? Will volunteering 200 hours in one month, have a far reaching benefit to someone in lieu of the sacrifice to my family and myself. Even if it is not now, but 10 years from now?
Life is Like a Cup of Coffee
Spiritual Story by Unknown
A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.
Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups - porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite - telling them to help themselves to the coffee.
When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: "If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups have been taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress.
Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups... And then you began eyeing each other's cups.
Now consider this: Life is the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of life we live.
Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee. Savor the coffee, not the cups! The happiest people don't have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything. Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.
I do not have the big pretentious house, the two cars, or a comfortable bank account that I expected would give me happiness and a sense of accomplishment. When I have dinner with rich and successful people I feel outclassed, even with a college education, there is always going to be a barrier because of my own perceived self worth. That limitation is most likely why I never achieved anything of noteworthy recognition.
When I enrolled in college, it was to save the environment. Today I teach cub scouts about Leave No Trace and Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Years ago I took an photography elective in college, it was to have fun, today it is how I not only chronology my own family's history, but I provide a service in my community for other families as well. Now as I virtual school my two youngest and virtual tutor my two oldest in college, I think back to my own college education, I am sharing my knowledge with at least 4 of my children. As a scout leader, I am influencing young men, what will the ripple effect be from that? Will there ever be the point of recognition within myself or from those that I have had an impact on, that I achieved greatness if only by 'being there' in a time of need when no one knew that they would need help?