In honor of my first-born child turning thirteen TODAY, I decided to compose for her a list of rules to live by, should she so choose. Some are for fun, some are for real–I’ll let her (and you!) decide which are which!
1. Eat the heels of a loaf of bread. Their only difference from the rest of the slices is in their appearance. Sometimes we are too quick in our judgment of things as no good or not worthy of our time (or our peanut butter) based only on what they look like, and we simply throw them away. In doing so, we miss out on all kinds of goodness. Besides that, it’s just wasteful.
2. Give thanks always. All the time. In all circumstances. There is always something for which to be grateful. Sometimes you have to look harder than other times to find it, but there is always something–if only that you are alive to be looking for it. But there’s usually something else, too.
3. Don’t keep score. If you’re playing volleyball on a competitive team, that’s different–keep score or don’t play. But if you’re doing a favor for a friend, or helping out a family member, or accepting a sincere apology for the 23rd time from the same person for the same offense, don’t keep track. There’s a natural give-and-take in the Universe; just be a part of it and let it happen, and all shall be well in the end.
4. Make time to stop moving, be still, and be quiet. This is not good advice if your house is on fire or if you see someone who is about to be hit on the head by a falling piano. In normal, everyday living, however, it’s important. It’s good to do good, it’s good to be productive, and there’s nothing wrong with getting lots done. But stopping once in a while, and allowing the world to carry on without your guidance and participation, helps you to remember not only that the world will, in fact, carry on without your guidance and participation, but also that your worth is not dependent on what you do. This is an easy thing to forget, but an essential thing to remember–you are valued regardless of what you do or how much of it you get done!
5. Make sure both of your dirty socks go into the dirty clothes hamper when you take them off. Only in recent years have I discovered the importance of this one. Who knows how many mate-less socks I’ve had to throw away and replace over the years because I threw them haphazardly, in the general direction of the dirty clothes basket?? Now I am careful to make sure they both go in together, folding the top of one over the top of the other after I take them off and before I toss them. This has not only saved me aggravation and puzzlement, but I can only imagine the savings in dollars that I have not spent on new socks!
6. Make your grocery list from the bottom of the pad, going up line by line as needed. If you are using a magnetic notepad on your refrigerator to keep your grocery list, which I have found to be a very useful thing to do, you can save paper and make the notepad last longer by starting your list at the bottom of the pad and writing up rather than starting at the top of the pad and writing down, as is much more common. At least until my idea catches on. Starting your list from the bottom allows you to tear the paper off where you need to, leaving whatever part of the sheet that’s still unused. still attached to the notepad and usable next time!
7. Trust in a bigger reality than you can see. I cannot see China from where I stand, and yet I know it’s there. I cannot see my breath, and yet I know I am breathing. Simply not seeing something does not mean it does not exist. I cannot see any Reese’s Peanut Butter cups at this moment, but I have not fallen into despair because I am quite convinced there are more out there. Likewise, I have seen things that have come from China; I know people who have been to China. I see the effect my breath has on a balloon as I blow it up, and on the forty-five candles on my birthday cake as I blow…and blow…and blow to put them all out. There is a reality all around us that is bigger and deeper and more complex and more beautiful than what we can see, a reality–I believe–that originates in God, a reality in which the things that confuse us make sense and the things that hurt us serve a greater good and the random coincidences that we and others experience aren’t random at all. I’ve seen things that have come from that reality–things like hope and peace and courage; I know people who have been there–and consequently were able to let go of fear and hate and selfishness; and I have seen its effect in my own life and in the lives of many others, in moments of generosity and compassion, in expressions of forgiveness and healing and love. Perhaps you can’t see it, but it’s there. Choose to dwell in that reality as much, as often, as you can. I don’t know of any better place to be. Other than maybe northern New Mexico….
8. Laugh! Learn a few good jokes, and tell them at parties. Here’s one to get you started: “Why did the football coach go to the bank?” “To get his quarterback!” You may be able to do better than that, but at least you’ve got one to tuck away. Watch silly movies with your friends and silly TV shows with your family. Laugh at yourself when you do something klutzy, and if anyone else is lucky enough to see it, invite them to laugh along with you. Remember, if you’re going to laugh about it later, you might as well laugh about it now! (Think: my experience with the oh-so-nice Marabou Crane….!!)
9. Always wear your seat belt. This one seems like a no-brainer. Which is what you might be if you ever decide to not to wear your seat belt, depending on how car rolls and how far you’re thrown from it. That seat belt is keeping some pretty precious cargo safe. Let it do its job!
10. Look for opportunities to be of service to others. Hold the door open for the person coming in behind you. Open the door for the person in front of you. Clear the table without being asked. Set the table without being asked. Heck, make dinner without being asked! Spend time playing with a younger child–and yes, playing with one of your brothers counts, especially if you don’t really want to do what he wants to do but you do it anyway, with a smile on your face. Spend time listening to an older person–and no, listening to me babble on doesn’t count! Share some of your allowance money with someone who needs it more than you do. Share some of your stuffies with someone who has fewer than you do. Share some of yourself with anyone who needs a smile. Don’t let serving others be a series of acts you do so that you will look noble on your college application; let it simply be the attitude with which you live your life, an expression of who you are.
11. Work hard to discover who you were made to be, and work even harder to be that person. Maybe you will grow up and find a cure for cancer, or discover a new planet, or design a car that runs on garbage. Maybe you will spend your life teaching young students, or healing sick animals, or seeking new ways to cook pasta. Maybe you’ll be a marine biologist, or a librarian, or a race car driver. Maybe you will be world-renowned, requiring that anyone who wants to see you make an appointment to do so–including me!–or maybe you will live a quiet, ordinary life, just down the street from me, dropping in for coffee unannounced and making my day. Whatever you do and whoever you become, make sure it’s you. Not the you that the world says is you, not the you that your friends say is you, not the you that even your parents say is you, but the you that you know is you, the you that God created and gave to the world thirteen years ago. That’s the only you there is, and that’s the only you you need to be!
12. Embrace the gray. Except when it’s the color of your bathtub. Or your hair. If your bathtub is gray, for goodness’ sake, clean it. If it’s your hair…and your only in your 40’s…by all means, color it But in many other matters of life, there will be gray, and that’s okay. Black and white looks great on zebras, penguins, panda bears, and even skunks. It looks less attractive on most people, when it comes out as judgment toward others. In my experience, people are very rarely either all good or all bad, always nice or mean all the time, courageous in every circumstance or cowardly to the depths of their soul. All of us have all of that in us–the mean kid at school, the saintly lady at church, you, me. Own it. Embrace it. Don’t be a skunk. Be human. Be forgiving. Be real. And know that gray is okay.
13. Never, ever, ever forget how deeply you are loved. Never. Don’t ever forget it. You are more deeply loved than you’ll ever be able to comprehend. Yes, you. And every other person on the planet. Every. Other. Person. And you. Deeply, deeply, unconditionally, irrationally, passionately, unendingly LOVED. Keep that written on your heart, imprinted on your mind, etched into your cells, and embedded in your soul. In your life, you will make mistakes–you are still loved. You will try, and fail–you are loved no less. You will try, and succeed–you are loved no more. You will laugh, and you will cry; you will be brave, and you will be fearful; you will be happy, and you will be miserable. You will have just enough money, and you will have more than enough money; you will feel pain, and you will cause pain; you will feel joy, and you will feel sadness. Through it all, never wavering for a moment, you will be loved. Never, ever, ever forget how deeply you are loved.
And that, my daughter–following those thirteen simple “rules to live by”–is the secret to a life well-lived!
In my humble opinion. For now. Well, at least for today. 🙂
Happy Birthday, Sarah! I love you!