Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why I Want to Believe Mickey

Last week my family and I spent two days at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. We're not particularly Disney crazy around here. My son knows who some of the characters are, but that's about it. However, when presented with two free days worth of tickets, parking and stroller rentals, how could we turn it down? So, covered in sunblock, backpacks full of water, we ventured into the insane and stagnant heat of Orlando in June.

The first thing we were faced with, besides massive crowds of people and a thrilling monorail ride which, I think, would've fulfilled my son's every dream had we only stayed on that all day, was the huge Disney castle and the Disney characters performing a show that I can only assume was called "Dreams Really Do Come True" based on the sheer number of times that phrase was repeated throughout its duration. Mickey and the gang, along with Peter Pan and a myriad of princesses (who had all the little girls in the crowd practically freaking out with glee) talked and sang about, basically, the American Dream. How we can have anything we want, how we should reach for the stars and dream big and that all our dreams do come true. Now,it seems that Disney has capitalized on this theme to draw millions of people to its parks every year with the promise that our dreams actually will come true while at the amusement park. Bravo, marketing department.

The thing was, as I listened to Cinderella sing about her dreams and watched everyone rag on Donald for being the pessimist in the group, I wanted to believe every word. I wanted to buy into this idea that utter happiness can be achieved by getting exactly what I want. That my dreams are "just the beginning" and if I can "reach down into my heart" I will achieve anything.

So, as we made our way through the park, driving racecars, hugging Mickey, letting Josh ride his first roller coaster, eating ice cream, I began to wonder if some of my dreams were coming true. If I would truly be a happier person for having visited this crazy park, where every worker is eternally cheerful and every street is so clean you could eat off of it. My subconscious started to buy into this. I couldn't have identified a single "dream" to speak of, but I found myself hoping, wondering what new and exciting dream would come true in my life. I don't know how much their marketing guys are getting paid, but it appears to be well worth it.

I want to believe in the American dream. I want to feel like if I just achieve my dreams, whatever they are, if I have the house I want, the perfect number of kids, the good marriage, the stable life, that somehow I will have arrived. And wouldn't it just be easier if that were true? Then I could just work towards something, find it and be done.

There are some preachers out there who preach that if we obey God and follow him well, that we'll have the things we want and our life will be free of trouble. I think Disney is preaching the same thing, although packaged in the world of fairies and princesses. It's not any less harmful. It still teaches us to trust in our own ability to make things happen and to measure our worth by what we can achieve. And it still creates massive disappointment when we realize that no matter what we have, disappointment, hurt, pain, and sickness will still inevitably be a part of our lives. There's no real arrivals in life, only the journey. but Mickey would have me believe that I have a set of dreams that need to empirically come true and that once they do, it will mean happily ever after.

I'm thankful that we left that Disney park. We had two great days of fun, there's no denying it. But I'm thankful that my son will not grow up in the shadow of that Castle. I want him to understand that he can have big dreams, that he can desire to become something when he grows up, but that we are never promised perfection or happiness in this life and that our dreams can't define us. We are given this journey to find out who God is, draw closer to Him and, consequently, know ourselves and love others better, hopefully in a way that is characterized by hope and contentedness, not to live happily ever after.

Now, if there are sprinkles of happiness in the midst of it all, then all the better. But happiness is not the goal, it never has been. Knowing God is the only way that I can learn to experience real joy, not fleeting feelings of happiness, a joy that comes from having my identity firmly rooted in who God says I am, unchanging in the face of circumstances. A joy that will remain even when those Disney moments fade, when dreams don't come true, when trouble finds us. And a joy that will enrich those moments when good gifts do come, because I know the Giver all the more.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

If you were born in the late 70's or early 80's, chances are you remember the theme song to "Cheers." You may have never even seen the actual show, but if you hear those first few notes you know what's coming and can eagerly sing those sweet words..."you wanna go where everybody knows your name, do do do do do!" It's a song I've thought about a lot, especially over this past year, as I've navigated being in a location where very few people actually know my name and fewer still know what makes up who I actually am.

So, as I found myself hurtling north on 95 this past weekend toward my annual college roommate reunion, I found myself more eager than I think I've ever been before to see these women, and that's saying a lot. Just to be somewhere for one whole weekend with a group of people who essentially grew up with me in college, who know my thoughts, my hopes, my fears, who can make me laugh so hard I think my face is going to fall off...to really be a place where I am truly known. And to know that even as I am truly known in all my good and in all those places of mine still at work, that I am recklessly loved. It felt like coming home.

You see, I've really been blessed in my life. I have amazing friends from growing up, friends who I still see and talk to and who are still in my business on a regular basis. I have incredible friends from college, who when we get together don't just reminisce about the old times but continue to make new, priceless memories together. God, in his infinite and beautiful wisdom, knows how much I need other people. Why? So that I'm not alone when I laugh and so that there's always a shoulder on which to cry. So that when I'm crazy and overwhelmed there are people to talk me down and when I am weary they are there to carry me through. To give me the opportunity to love fiercely and well and to take myself less seriously than I often do.

So, here's to my wonderful hoohah ladies Caitlin, Norah, Samantha and Rachel. To seven amazing hoohah weekends filled with crepes, laughter, wide-brimmed pink hats and consequent bold stares from passersby, long walks, dance parties, road trips, festivals, awesome cities, tears, beautiful green parks and long talks while sitting in them, aging aches and pains, 80's music, homemade oreos, too many pictures to count, spooning, Dr. Caitlin's diagnoses, multiple crazy and sweet babies who've come along for the ride and been officially inducted into the hoohah fray, understanding husbands who know how important this weekend this and, secretly, wish they could be a part of it and, most of all, to many more weekends filled with memories.

I am so thankful to have that place where everybody knows my name. To know and be known is one of the greatest gifts of life. Thanks ladies.

May the hoohah live forever. Amen.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Several times in my life I've undergone an intervention of sorts. A good friend from home visited me shortly after we graduated from college and was appalled to see that my wardrobe basically consisted of everything she'd seen me wear in high school for four years. Even the tshirts that boldly proclaimed dates like 1991 on them. And yes, this was 2003. She begged me, practically commanded me, to ditch the wardrobe and start over. At the time I couldn't as I was living on $700 a month with a car payment, rent and everything else you need to survive in the budget. Clothes didn't make the cut.

I think my personal delight in fashion peaked in high school. Mid-90's, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., etc. No makeup, huge plaid button down shirts over white tshirts. Baggy jeans and hiking boots. I guess it was sort of a clean grunge. Hands down, it was the most comfortable period of my life. I held on to it through college(which was ok bc at least most of my college career was still technically in the 90's) but was firmly told it had to go in the new millennium. Sigh.

I know I'm not gifted in this area and I'm ok with that. I was recently reminded of this when I wandered into an Ann Taylor Loft store with a gift certificate and, apparently, a clueless look on my face. Don't get me wrong- since Daniela's intervention in 2003(which was later followed by a shopping spree courtesy of multiple gift cards at Christmas and dictated by hers truly) I have attempted to occasionally buy myself new things to wear and I like Ann Taylor Loft. Things fit, I usually don't feel completely out of my element and I can often find a good sale. The thing is, when I shop alone, I ALWAYS buy the same thing. Tshirts and jeans. And maybe they are more stylish tshirts and jeans than I used to wear, but I am a creature of habit.

So, when I found myself in this store, thumbing through a rack of shirts, I was a little nonplussed when a young woman walked up to me, rather overexuberantly in my opinion, asking if she could help me. I barely had time to say, "No thanks, I'm just looking" before the following conversation happened.

Girl: "Wait...I've got the perfect thing for you."
Me: "Um."
Girl: "OK, this looks like your size. (Holds up something in a color and style I'm not sure I even knew existed). What do you think?"
Girl: "OK, I'll just start a dressing room. I have a few other things that would be just presh."
Me: "Presh?"
Girl: "Presh."

After this, I proceeded to mutely follow this young woman around the store as she piled a billion things onto her arms, every once in awhile detouring to drop it off in the dressing room. Not once was I able to muster up any sort of intelligible defense, though I knew I could probably afford one or maybe two of the things in her enormous and optimistic pile.

After a while, she put together a bunch of outfits, made me try them on and model them for her. Yes, by the way, I was feeling about 5 years old and incredibly self-conscious at this point and still could not utter anything. Knowing that I'm fashion-challenged often gets me tongue-tied in these types of situations, much like when an overly zealous hairstylist starts talking to me about highlights and sulfates and other stylistic words I've never heard. You throw in the word presh, which it took me several minutes to decipher as slang for precious, and I'm completely befuddled. All my tomboy kicks in and I once again feel like the girl who'd rather wear anything but a dress to school and would prefer to spend her recess running races against the boys.

40 minutes later, I found myself leaving the store with a bag of clothes I would never have picked out for myself. Each item that I've worn since has gotten comments from people I've run into. Usually those comments have a touch of disbelief- "Oh, Carolyn, that's nice. Did YOU buy it?" I just kind of smile and nod. I don't know how to take fashion compliments as these are relatively new in my life.

The funny thing is, every time I walk past this store now, I wonder if this young woman is inside. I wonder if she's cornered some other hapless out-of-date shopper and is busy attempting to transform her wardrobe as well. This girl loved her job and man was she good at it.

So, while I'm eagerly awaiting the time when clean grunge will make it's reappearance (and have resolutely refused to trash ALL my flannel shirts), I appreciate the people in my life out there who are committed to helping me look like I understand that we're in a new millennium. I will also resolutely refuse to ever use the word "presh" in a conversation. But I can't help but think to myself, when I look in the mirror wearing anything that woman picked out, that I do, indeed, look presh. Whatever that means.