Monday, September 24, 2018

A Dose of Humility or Two

Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, 
"If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me, but the One who sent me."
Mk 9:35-37

Today at Mass, one of our deacons, Deacon Gene, gave the homily. He started off by asking, "If I asked you to raise your hand if you are a humble person...," he paused as everyone began laughing. The irony was clear. Would anyone raise their hand? Would anyone truly humble raise their hand? The gospel story that we Catholic Christians around the world read today was the story about the disciples arguing about who was the greatest and who were then told that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Deacon Gene gave some beautiful examples in his life where he felt humbled.

I actually have been dwelling lately on how I can do a better job at being humble. It has been on my mind quite a bit.  How is it, that we achieve true humility?  It seems there can be a difficult balance be humble instead of arrogant, yet still maintaining self confidence, but also recognizing that being humble does not mean lacking self confidence or thinking self-destructively.   Arrogance is obviously the opposite of the goal we wish to achieve in humility and not the quality we want to possess or  demonstrate.  On the other hand, does being humble mean that we should think of ourselves as nothing or unimportant? This can present a challenge. How do we show self confidence, yet, come across to others as humble? I think this is especially challenging when we are conversing through social media, emails, texts and other forms of technology where we lack the tone of voice, the inflection and facial expressions. It is something I am far from mastering.

As I was sitting there with my children at St. Francis, listening to Deacon Gene, I recalled two life experiences that really humbled me. I thought they were worth remembering.

Humility Lesson Number 1
The first lesson begins back in my treasured days of marching band. I have wonderful memories of that time.  I remember the first year I began marching when we were outside in the beginning of August during summer band. We spent the early morning and late evening out there doing marching practice. It was hard work, and despite being out there during the cooler times of the day, it was hot, but the work out and the challenge felt good. We were tired, but we were making progress! We were doing great! Not like the flute players, who were periodically going to sit down because they had head aches or were feeling overheated.  Look at the flutes, we would mutter to each other. Sitting down again. What is up with that? I mean, I know they have to hold up an arm and all to play while marching but really, is it that bad? We assumed we were just tougher. That was when I was a clarinet player. I later switched to percussion and was proud that I could carry a drum and still succeed in marching. And without sitting down in practice!

Flash forward a few years later to my senior year of college. I was working on my bachelors in music therapy. One of my required classes was woodwinds. I was excited. I had really wanted to learn learn how to play other woodwinds instruments. We would get to learn three different ones. I already had experience playing clarinet so I got to learn Oboe, Saxophone and Flute. The first two were not too difficult to pick up since I had the experience with another reed instrument. I really enjoyed learning them.

Towards the end of the semester though it was time to switch to flute. We excitedly got our new assigned instruments, took them out of the cases, got a few instructions on embouchure, and began to try them out. After getting the hang of it on just the mouth piece, we put them together with the full instrument. I blew into the silver pipe, trying to make a sound. I continued several tries more as I finally started to figure out how to make that air into a flute sound. I took a breath and then quickly sat back as I was overcome with light headedness. Oh my word was it hard. I tried again and again with the same result of having to sit back and wait until my head cleared. I continued throughout that class struggling still, periodically sitting back in my chair to rest.  This continued into the next few classes!  The instructor piped up (no pun intended) at some point and said, "Oh yes, the resistance of a flute is equal to that of a tuba."  Well that explains it. Seriously? This was tough! And then I remembered the flutes in the marching band. Oh man, were we hard on them. The difficulties of making beautiful sounds on a flute paired with a marching workout plus the summer heat. Had I been a flute player, I may have likely been sitting out with them. Oh boy. A little lesson in humility right there. Had I sought to understand before speaking, maybe we would have been a little more compassionate.

Humility Lesson Number 2
My next example of humility is my experience learning to parent our children. Before I had my own children, I was under the assumption that in the nurture vs nature debate, kids personality and behavior was more heavily weighed by nurture. We talked a lot about that in my psychology classes in college. I had figured that like 20ish % was nature. Maybe less.

And then I had kids.

I started babysitting when I was about 12 and I worked in our church nursery in college. I also got to watch family members raise their own kids. That and my cognitive behavioral studies in music therapy led me to my original belief.

I'm not even sure where to begin with my change of heart. First kid, Zac, I discovered that I couldn't force him to like a particular activity no matter how much or early I exposed him to it. Some of that maybe helped influence a little but not over all. 2nd kid, Adelyn was just different from Zac in so many ways of course, physically, and in her personality. They picked up different skills at different rates and responded to behavior modification differently. Zac was in time out quite a bit as a young pre-schooler and Adelyn only occasionally. She was quicker to admit mistakes or just responded to a hug.  Zac didn't like to play by himself that much but Adelyn could entertain herself for quite a while. Zac picked up sports in no time at all and Adelyn took a little longer to get the hang of them. Zac could follow his morning routine on his own, getting himself ready and making his own lunch by 2nd grade. Adelyn was distracted and still needed help from me and her velcro charts at that age.

So at this point my mind had changed. Maybe I increased the nature percentage to...oh, say 30-35%

Aside from the nurture vs nature, after having 2 kids, I had my opinions on the best methods for this, that, and the other. Sleeping, removing unwanted behaviors, getting kids to sit in the shopping carts etc.

Cue, 3rd kid Lincoln

Lincoln is a sweet boy who loves physical touch. He always wants to be attached to me somehow. He often drags his chair right next to mine at the table so that our chairs are connected. He would always hold on to my hair as a baby and toddler for comfort. Now he just asks, "Mommy, can I touch your hair?" 

He is also a very stubborn boy. And I thought my first one was stubborn. Let's start with sleep.

In the hospital, I decided I needed sleep so he came in the bed with me after I did my best to make the bed as safe as possible for him. Some people are quick to think that the problems after that were a result. I'm telling you. He had problems to begin with and that's why he ended up in the bed.

As a newborn when he moved into a deeper sleep he would twitch as often we do as humans, but he would jerk himself awake as that happened! As I observed this I was freaking out in my mind. How would he learn to put himself to sleep? I knew anxiety was present. Fortunately, I just had to lay my hands on him until he moved into deeper sleep. But he also, was struggling to put himself to sleep or go to sleep quickly once he was past 2 months old when our doc said babies could developmentally learn to go to sleep on their own in their bed. The Baby Whisperer technique of patting his back and making sushing sounds worked for 7 months.  I would roll him on his side and shush and pat his back and then lay him on his back when he was asleep. The book they couldn't hold more than 2 thoughts in their head at the same time. Once he started crawling and gaining more and more control over body movements, that didn't work anymore. I had every other mom I talked to hint to me that he just needed to cry it out. Well, crying for over an hour and not going to sleep wasn't going to fly with me. He worked himself up so much it took almost as long to calm his anxiety down after. I didn't try that anymore after a few times. The other kids would whine 20 or 30 minutes tops and go to sleep. Not this guy. This kid not only would not go to sleep on his own, he took forever to go to sleep if I rocked him. At least 30 minutes. I was never ever an advocate of sleeping in the bed with us but the he ended up with us a lot. I spend a lot of my life putting this kid to bed for almost 2 years.

My sweet boy, was indeed sweet, but his stubbornness spilled over at the grocery store too. I taught the other kids to sit in the cart around 7 or 8 months. Lincoln? Nope. Tears tears tears. Grabbing mommy all shopping trip long. And it never got better. Fine, I would wear him. I would at least try each time to sit him in the cart as he got older. I tried to involve him in the shopping trip like the other kids. That wore off past the produce and then he would wiggle out of the straps on the tightest setting and launch himself onto me. This included rides in the car cart. I think that worked for 1 or 2 trips. And then it was history. He would want one every time we would go and then not even halfway through he wanted me to hold him. Really? Well, can I ride in the car cart?

I wore him in the Ergo until he was almost 2 and then said, "I can't carry you anymore." He wanted to walk or ride on the side. And then halfway through the trip he wanted me to carry him. At some point, a mom is exhausted and the customers don't want to hear your toddler crying through half the store just because you want him to learn that he can't have his way. He eventually got better and would follow instructions, holding onto the cart while he walked. Now the challenge is teaching him to stay by the cart and hold on. Buddy bucks at HEB are a reward for following directions but that is still a struggle besides all reward and positive praise efforts.

Those are just two examples. And even with those two alone, I look at what I believed about myself and children and I am indeed, very humbled. Lincoln was a gift to me because he is my son, but God had a lesson for me there. I needed a little humility in my life. To anyone that I may have given my opinions before, I owe many apologies. We should be quick to understand, listen, and imagine a place in their shoes before we assume and speak. That seems obvious, but it is much harder to put in to practice.

So I don't know what my belief is on the nurture vs nature debate exactly now. But I do know, that nature plays an enormous part in a child's personality. As he knit us in our mother's womb, he knitted some traits that are a part of us throughout our life. We shouldn't say that we can't become a better person or fix mistakes.  We can use gifts like stubbornness to do great things. I'm hoping some stubborn parents can help us get more recess for the kids. :)

Deacon Gene shared a story about truly seeing Jesus in a kid with cerebral palsy in central America as he was serving on a Food For the Poor team.  He had almost nothing in the home he was in, but he looked at this child who was laying on the floor to get some exercise out of his bed and he smiled an amazing, genuine smile at Deacon Gene as he talked to him.

Those stories make me stop and pause. Life is too short to be prideful. We want to be appreciated but we can strive to receive that in humility. Our Lady, was the greatest women in the world and yet, she graciously stood in the background, humble.

Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.
James 3:16