Monday, January 31, 2011

Fortune Cookies

I've been thinking a lot lately about certain tidbits of wisdom that have "gotten me through" in the last few years.  Some are profound, intellectual, and complicated.  Some you'd expect to see written on the bumper sticker of a 17-year-old high schooler's Oldsmobile station wagon.  But all of them have been important to me at one time or another.

So I give Fortune Cookie Collection of Words of Wisdom from the Century's Collection of Wise Words from Fortune Cookies!!! (Or something like that).

#1 - "Everything worth doing is worth doing poorly." 
This was told to me by a dear professor, Rick McPeak, and this sentiment is single-handedly responsible for multiple pieces of artwork, difficult research papers, original songs, life-changing letters, and most importantly, my ITEP proposal (basically, the crux of my college career and the reason I was able to graduate in 4 years with a major I love instead of in 5 years with a major I hate).  Simply, these words give me courage.  I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to art, music, academics, and anything that has to do with creating something out of nothing.  More times than I am proud to mention, I simply decide not to do something because I fear not being able to do it perfectly.  What if I paint a picture and I mess it up?  What if I compose a song and it's not honest?  What if I write something and no one can resonate with it?  Rick would say, it's better to give it a try and make it 80% of the way than never to try at all.  And when I obey his words, I am usually surprised by how well things go. 

#2 - Fill in the blanks: "This _____ won't ______ itself." 
This laundry won't wash itself.  This paper won't write itself.  These dishes won't wash themselves.  This dinner won't cook itself.  I'm not sure where I first heard it, but this phrase helps me reconcile the things I have to do with the age old problem of pure procrastination.  If there is something I'm not looking forward to doing, I can put it off and put it off as long as I want.  But the ultimate truth is, at some point, I'm going to have to sit down and do the thing.  So wouldn't I rather do it now and get it over with than have it hanging over my head for the next three days, and then still not enjoy doing it any more or less than if I would have done it right away?

#3 - "The raft is not the shore." 
An old Buddhist proverb.  Strangely enough, even though this advice was first given by Buddha, it has helped me overcome more Christian theological humps than almost any Christian proverb out there.  Religion classes in college got me into a (sometimes bad) habit of questioning elements of my faith and asking myself, "Why do I believe this" and "Should I even believe this?"  Unfortunately, I am very much a throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bath-water kind of girl, so the moment I realized there was a discrepency between one verse in Matthew and the corresponding verse in the three other gospels, my immediate reaction was to completely discredit Matthew's entire book.  However, when I remember the words of Buddha, I can satisfy the ugly urge I have to immediately run to the nearest shelter of logical common sense, abandoning all faith and mystery.  Instead, I can take a deep breath, remember that it's okay to not know all of the answers, and be happy just floating on the faith of my childhood until I can come to an adequately satisfying resting place of an "answer".  In the same way, when I do finally settle on an "answer" to whatever theological question I am wrestling with at the moment, this phrase helps me remember that what I think might be the safest conclusion may be only the raft that gets me to the shore of truth.

#4 - "Who of you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?"
Jesus said this during His sermon on the mount, right around the time he talked about the birds not being afraid of starving and the flowers not being afraid of going naked, because God knows their needs, and He provides for them.  Whenever I find myself in a downward mental spiral of worst case scenarios and what if's, I try to remind myself of these precious words from One I love.  Some time ago, I was thinking about having a child and how awful it would be if someday my son or daughter were climbing a tree and they fell and broke a leg or an arm.  My mind flashed through all of these terrible images of a screaming, scared, 7-year old in the emergency room, of a really bad fracture that would require surgery, of a doctor messing up during surgery, damaging a nerve, cutting a critical artery, handicapping my child for the rest of his or her life, having to have all of this weird medical equipment crowding our home, enduring curious stares from passers-by, and so on and so forth.  When I realized what a terrible fantasy I was putting myself through, I paused and thought of these words - how can worrying about something and imagining all of this help anything?  Part of my mind wants to justify worry and tell myself that if I think through every possible scenario, then I will be more prepared for something if it ever does actually happen.  But the truth is, bad things could happen.  And no matter how "prepared" I think I am, those bad things are still going to be really hard.  So is the answer to never let my children climb trees?  No.  The answer is to pray protection and safety over my family, to practice common sense, and to leave it all up to God's will.  To believe that He will take care of me and work everything, EVERYTHING, out for the best just as He always has done.

Those are just a few of the many life proverbs that have been helpful to me.  I would love to hear some of yours!

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