Blessed are Those Who Aren’t #Blessed

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Be careful, friends.

We are entering the #blessed season.

Social media will be flooded with happy family pictures: adorable cherubic children opening presents with big red bows… golden brown turkeys with impossible holiday spreads–enough food to feed a third world country… kissing couples… tiny tots with their eyes all aglow.

All followed by the ridiculous #blessed.

Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing your “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments. Your “Grandma’s Gingerbread Cookie” recipes. Your fireplace pics.

But please, please—don’t do the #blessed thing.

Why? Am I a Grinch? Do I hate the holidays? AM I A CHRISTIAN AT ALL?

I’m thrilled that you just found out you’re pregnant with your second baby… that you were just promoted… that you made that offer on your dream house and will have the title by Christmas Day. Truly, I am.

But leave off the #blessed.

Why?

You may not know this, but someone reading your post just received divorce papers.

Just learned their house will be foreclosed upon.

Miscarried baby #4.

Learned that they have cancer.

Here is my point:

If you are blessed by God, then what are they?

Jf we agree that some people are chosen by God to receive his blessings, the good things, then the other side of the coin is that others, who are suffering, for whatever reason, are not the target of God’s blessings. That they are undeserving. That they … are less, somehow. That they are forgotten by God Himself, or worse…they deserve their pain.

It’s not wrong to thank God for good things. This is not what I’m implying.

But let’s just practice a bit of compassion and avoid the hashtag, in honor of those who are suffering.

It’s a really simple way to love our friends, and to exhibit the compassion the holidays encourage. You never know what people are experiencing unless they choose to share.

Blessed are those who are not #blessed.

 

On “Passing” as Educated: The New Impostor Syndrome

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I grew up working class poor. My parents moved to Springdale, Arkansas in 1980, and our house only cost around $14,000. I knew my family had less money than my peers, but it was only when a friend of mine asked to go home from a slumber party because she didn’t like my house that I truly realized how being poor made one an outsider.

My parents worked long hours to provide for us. My mother grew up in Springdale too, in the 1950s, and dropped out of school in the eighth grade. She didn’t drop out because she hated school; she quit to find a job to help my grandmother feed her nine siblings.

My grandfather couldn’t read. I don’t even know how much schooling he had; he was a hard, calloused man, and I was afraid to talk to him much. My grandparents lived in a broken-down trailer in the country that smelled of cooking grease and cigarettes and rot. My grandmother read the bible a great deal, and wrote letters. This is mostly what I remember about her. She looked so old for her age, and I don’t remember her smiling very much. I remember her as a serious woman. Then again, getting married at fifteen and having ten children would be cause for seriousness. I believe that poverty and struggle smothered out any remains of youth or joy. Her life was hard from the moment she entered this world, and she found joy where she could, in the smiles of her children.

My mom always wanted to earn her GED, but she was too intimidated, so her job options were always limited. As a kid, I remember worked in a lot of restaurants. In Arkansas, she worked for a while in an insulation plant, and her last job ever was working in a freezer in Tyson Foods. Working those long hours broke down her body, and by 2003, she simply couldn’t physically do the work anymore.

My dad, a high school gradute and military veteran, also worked in factories most of his life. I remember him working for Bama Pie in Tulsa, in the warehouse. Once, I was able to go in with him, and I still remember the fragrance of cinnamon and clove, clinging to him like a second skin.

He worked for Glad Manufacturing, which sold to Clorox, for over 20 years. That job was everything to him. When he was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 57, and was told he couldn’t work anymore, a part of him died right there in the doctor’s office. He loved his job, but I belive that job killed him. Twenty years of inhaling plastic fumes and glue residue sealed to his kidneys like cement. He didn’t have a chance of beating the cancer. The tumor was nine millimeters in diameter when they found it. He died two years later.

Even though my parents worked more than forty hours a week, it wasn’t enough. Our family of five had food and a house, but just barely. Mom and Dad fought constantly. Sometimes, after work, Mom would pull up in the driveway and just sit in her truck chainsmoking. She didn’t want to come inside.

When we moved into that house, it only had two bedrooms and one bath, and it had a curious smell, like mothballs. It didn’t have central heat or air, only a gas stove that cracked and popped, heating a small circumference of the living room.

My parents remodeled the attic into two bedrooms for my sister and me. There were no closets in the house, so my dad built them. The floor in the attic was porus, and light shone right through. I remember tin cans were smashed into the floor  in an attempt to plug up the holes. Dad and mom replaced the floor and put in drywall. They opened up the walls to put in insulation, and there were newspapers inside from the 1920s. There was also a giant scythe, like the one you see illustrations of Death holding, inside the wall. I couldn’t sleep for weeks thinking about why that sythe was in there. My ten-year old imagination went wild. I pictured a lone serial killer, hiding his weapon of choice in the walls. Honestly, it still freaks me out a bit.

My husband and I were married months after graduation. I tried college, but was unprepared for the rigor, the cost, or the time. I dropped out. We had three kids, and we were also poor. We worked dead end jobs and never had enough.

My husband decided to go to college first. I thought he was crazy at first. We could barely pay our bills. We were my parents. But, he insisted education was our way out. I wasn’t sure. He worked full time at night and attended class during the day. It took him five years, but he earned his BS in Chemical Engineering, and it changed our lives. We moved to Texas, and his salary doubled. We felt like celebrites.

It took me a while to decide to go to college. I flirted with higher education for a few years before I committed. I earned my AA at a junior college, and every single day I attended, I felt out of place, until I found writing. Writing helped me feel a bit more like I was part of things.

When I transferred to a four-year university, I never quite felt that I fit in. For one thing, I was fifteen years older than most of my peers. I struggled quite a bit with assignments. I was working night shift, full-time at a hospital, and most of the time exhausted. I constantly felt guilt for not spending enough time with my husband and kids.  I fought introversion and did not want to ask for help, or to spend any more time than necessary with other students. Luckily, I made friends in spite of all these factors, and I had very supportive professors. In the back of my mind, I worried incessantly that I’d fail. I always felt like an outsider, in spite of everything. I didn’t belong.

Once, I mentioned this to one of my favorite professors. She said, “Oh, that’s called “Imposter Syndrome.” It’s very real.”

I began reading everything I could find on the topic.

I ended up graduating with honors, and I was the President of our school’s chapter of  Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society. I won awards for my writing, and was published. My college featured me in their magazine. The local paper did a story on me. I was interviewed by the local news channel. I still did not feel like I belonged. I felt like a fake.

When I walked across the stage with my diploma, I felt an enormous relief. I was the first in my family to ever graduate. Until I held my diploma in my hands, I worried (just a bit) that there had been a mistake.

I began teaching right away. I realized I wanted to teach college, and that required a master’s degree.

I still remember the first time I logged onto Blackboard as a graduate student. I had no idea what anyone was talking about. I had to look up terms right and left. I felt that most of my time was spent trying to cover up my ignorance. Any moment, I thought, they will find out I don’t really know anything. Any day, everyone will see what a fraud I am.

I did earn my master’s, and I’m working on my doctorate. My dissertation is exploring the intersection of academia and working class studies. I have been reading everything I can find on these topics, and I’m obsessed.

In an article entitled “Social Class and Belonging: Implications for College Adjustment” (Ostrove & Long, 2007),  the authors cited daunting statistics regarding retention numbers of low-income students. Citing a New York Times study (2005), “Class Matters,” the authors focused on students feeling alienated among their peers as a factor hindering adjustment to college life and persistence.

Using the NY Times study as a springboard for their study, Ostrove and Long evaluated social class as a primary factor regarding the feeling of belonging among first-generation, working class students, specifically focusing on  how alienation to others within a shared college experience (whether perceived or factual) might be related to student retention/success.

The authors found their hypothesis to be true in that class background was indeed a dominating factor to a student’s sense of belonging and adjustment to college;  it was not as significant to their overall experience of adjustment to college life.

The most significant correlation noted in regards of student GPA was the mother’s education level, but mostly only among female students. Mom’s education matters to their daughters.

Perceptions of students’ family class status was noted as significant to feelings of belonging or exclusion from peers.  Family status was not found as significant to adjustment to college, but remained important to a student’s sense of belonging.

Admittedly, Ostrove and Long recognized the study’s limitations in the demographics studied in a small liberal arts college that often had more upper-class or upper-middle class students factored into an increase in alienation among low-income or middle class students. However, the authors did note it “critical” that readers understand  the importance of social class background and its substantial influence on belonging, which directly impacted student success and retention.

I’m very glad my daughters are both college graduates. My son is a current student. They have seen the importance of education. They lived it.

I published two books, magazine articles, poetry, and editorials. The feeling of “passing” as educated will probably never leave. It’s stamped like an internal tattoo, completely self-inflicted. In my mind’s eye, I am always the little girl in the poor neighborhood, the one in the old house that has a bit of a funny smell. I’m not ashamed of where I came from–I’m proud of my roots. But I will always be an impostor in my mind’s eye.

The Introvert in Your Church: I’m Not Antisocial!

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Photo by Ashley Elena on Pexels.com

 

Here’s the thing: I actually love church services. I love hearing the pastor’s interpretation of scripture and arguing about it afterward on the way home. I love the worship (mostly). Throw in a pipe organ and I’m yours for life! I’ll never forget the time Lee and I snuck into a service at Notre Dame cathedral and the rich, vibrant music from pipe organ seemed to hit the high beams of the soaring rafters, into the very ears of God Himself.

I love seeing little kids in cute outfits sitting in their grandparents’ laps. I even love bulletins with lines on them for my notes.

It’s just…the people.

It’s not that I hate people. I’m a teacher. I have a family. I’m aware there are people in the world, and that there are more of them every day.

Hello, I’m Tina, and I’m an introvert.

Being an introvert doesn’t mean I’m “antisocial.” People misuse this term all the time. Did you know that to be truly antisocial means to have a mental disorder? According to Dictionary.com, “Antisocial [is] a personality disorder, beginning early in life, characterized by chronic and continuous antisocial behavior in which the rights of others are violated, as by lying, stealing, or aggressive sexual behavior.” So no, this doesn’t describe me. The dictionary further explains that an antisocial person is “antagonistic, hostile, or unfriendly toward others; menacing, threatening an antisocial act” or ” opposed or detrimental to social order or the principles on which society is constituted.”

So no, I’m not a deviant. But, to be introverted is more than being shy.

The meet and greet portion of nearly every service makes me break out into a cold sweat. I know it only lasts two minutes. But to me, it seems as if I’m in some strange space-time continuum where one minute equals an eternity. Some people, in an effort to be friendly, ask really personal questions on the spot. I just want to tell them, “Look, we just met. Can I maybe discuss childhood traumas with you another time?”

It doesn’t take long, in most churches, before the pressure to join a small group pops up. People can get really pushy about this. They insist you “plug in.” I’m not a toaster. I don’t want to. Granted, my actual experience with small group has been largely positive. Except for the time we were appointed small group leaders by some leadership and they didn’t ask the Small Group Leader first and we were told, awkwardly, that we weren’t really his first choice but since everyone knew about it they would just hope for the best. What are we, Satanic cult members? Are we incapable of holding a bible study once a week? Was there some worry we’d pollute the Sheep?

Then, we did start leading the small group, and I found it to be so much work. I’d spend Sunday cleaning the house as if a Marine in white gloves was going to come by and inspect. Sorry, Sargent. I didn’t see that M&M behind the toilet. I don’t know how it got there. How many pushups?

There was also the question of the meal. It seemed as if I ended up cooking for the 15-20 people who may or may not show up. A lot of times the group contribution was chips. I’d make pasta; they’d bring chips. I’d make burritos; they’d bring chips. When we stopped offering meals, instead of having coffee and dessert almost everyone stopped coming.  But we still saw them in church every Sunday. They just stopped talking to us.

These are just a few of the reasons why I find it difficult to begin the search for a new church. It can be daunting. Churches are full of people, and people are imperfect. I’m included in this description, no question. But this is just one reason why as an introvert I find church heartbreaking. Sometimes, it seems those who call themselves Christian can be the mean girls in town.

That day in Notre Dame was unforgettable. I’ll never forget it. My hubby and I listened to the sermon (though we don’t speak French, so for all I know, the priest was selling us a condo), took communion, and spent a few minutes in the undeniable presence of God.

Shockingly, nobody brought chips.

College Pantry Essentials: Preparing for Your Rodeo

 

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Tina Bausinger lives and works in Tyler, Texas. She teaches high school English, and has been published in multiple venues, including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Five, In Magazine, the Tyler Paper, and the Northwest Arkansas Times. Tina holds a MA in English from the University of Texas at Tyler, and is working on her doctorate in Higher Education Leadership at Texas A&M Commerce. Her novel, War Eagle Women, was mentioned in USA Today, and her book Cold Coffee and Speed Limits: Encouragement for Mamas of Teens, spent several days on Amazon’s Hot New Releases. She blogs about teaching, cooking and being (everyone’s) mama on http://www.tinabausinger.com

 

 

Aunt Sandi’s Best Baked Beans: A Known Cure for Depression

Tina Bausinger

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I’m not gonna lie. It’s possible that just SMELLING these beans can add ten pounds to my butt. It’s so worth it, though. Sizzling bacon, spicy garlic and dark brown sugar blend to make a delicious dish that people would sell their souls for. Ok, maybe not that far, but almost. Aunt Sandi made these for us and we have never loved her more. We’re really loyal people, especially when you cook for us.

Aunt Sandi’s Best Baked Beans

One pound thick cut bacon
2 large cans Busch’s Baked Beans
1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. dried mustard
1 cup ketchup
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350. Slice the bacon into small strips. I use kitchen scissors. In a giant skillet—the biggest one you have–brown the bacon, onion and garlic together.
This smells heavenly.

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A Letter to My Son on Your 18th Birthday

 

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This picture basically sums up our relationship.

Dear Son,

 You’re 18, officially an adult, with all its privileges and heartache.

It seems like just yesterday, you were riding your bike (with the training wheels) around James Street, wearing your superhero cape I made you (that lighted up) as well as a giant sombrero I brought you back from Mexico, wearing that giant grin–so much fun.

No, I don’t have documentation of this moment. I have so many regrets.

Confession: I never thought that tooth was coming in.

On the day that you turn 18, I want to tell you:

18 doesn’t change who you are overnight. You are still you.

Your life spreads out before you like an open road. It’s just that now, the training wheels are gone.

Now that you are a “real” grownup,  here are some things you are allowed to do:

You can move out legally. You can vote. You can take responsibility for your own decisions, your own body, even your own life (or someone else’s, if you become a husband and dad).

You can get married, or divorced.

You can join the Marines. I remember when you toyed with the idea of this, and even visited a recruiter. Do you remember your dad’s advice when he said, “It’s a man’s decision with a man’s consequence?”

As are so many things.

You can apply for a credit card. You can sign a will, or donate your organs. You can serve on a jury of your peers, potentially taking the life of another human being into your own hands.

You can file a lawsuit against someone, and you can be sued.You can take a trip without my permission. You can make terrible decisions, and feel the painful consequences. You can make wonderful decisions, and reap the rewards.

All. Of. The. Things.

Here are some other things you can do, no matter your age:

You can be kind, even when kindness is not returned.

You can help others, even when they cannot or will not help you back.

You can love with your whole heart, or reserve a bit of your heart out of fear.

You can make promises or break them.

You can take responsibility or blame others.

You can be truthful or be a liar.

You can give 100% of your mind, body and soul, or you can halfheartedly commit.

You can be someone others can count on.

You can give to someone in need, even if they cannot pay you back.

The choices are yours to make.

 

I don’t have any doubts you can do this: live this life you’ve been given to the fullest. You’ve always been good at tackling the hard stuff.

Only sometimes, the hard stuff will try to break you.

At some point:

You will be severely disappointed. You will feel crushed, humiliated, defeated.

People will gossip about you.

At some point, you will love and not be loved in return.

Someday, you will work hard, sweating and climbing, and cutting your hands on the side of the mountain. Sometimes, even though your desire is strong, things don’t work out.

You will lose, and it will sting.

There’s a temptation to give up. To stay home and hide. To say, “This isn’t worth it.”

Please, please don’t let it. Don’t give up. Step into the sunshine. Trust again, even if it’s a risk. Do the hard things, because difficulty shapes you. Don’t quit, even if others try to discourage you. Determination carves your character and teaches you that those who take shortcuts will only short themselves. Sometimes, the only reason the man on top of the mountain is there is because somebody else gave up first. Sometimes, showing up when you don’t want to is half the battle.

But you know what else?

You will also experience great joy–times of such success and pride, you’ll wish the moment lasts forever.

You will love — and be loved in return.

You will work hard–blood, and sweat, and tears–and you will complete your task. You’ll stand on top–experiencing the view you have earned–and you’ll bask in the moment.

You’ll do a job well, and know you gave your all.

You’ll face the life-changing moment, and you’ll nearly kill yourself with effort, and when you’re finished you’ll know you’re a bit tougher. You’ll stretch yourself to the very limit of your endurance, and you’ll push through.

But again, you’ve got to make the choice to keep going, even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.

In other words, put on that sombrero and Superman cape and take care of business. And that cape of yours will float on the wind.

And you will know that you have lived.

Love Always,

Mom

P.S.: I’m really glad that tooth finally grew in.

A Letter to My Son on His Graduation Day: On Being a Good Man

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Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind”

Dear Son,

Didn’t we both think this day was never going to come? But here it is, and I am entirely unprepared for all the feelings.

Of course, we both know your graduation means the end of an era.

It’s the end of sack lunches and marching band.

It’s the end of school dances and football games.

It’s the end of me signing your report cards.

It’s the end of my making you eat your vegetables.

(Side note: it’s also the end of my paying for your car insurance. I’ve been meaning to tell you).

It’s also a marvelous beginning.

I am so very proud of you, not just because of your academic accomplishments, but your character. You are kind, sometimes to a fault, and you’re always the first to ask how you can help someone.

This is rare, not just for your generation, but for the world we live in.

We live in a world that says:

“Me first.”

“How can I get what’s coming to me?”

“I deserve the best.”

“Look at me! Here I am, being awesome again!”

It’s difficult to rise above these urges.

As you leave high school behind and move to greater things, don’t for a second underestimate your power in this world.

Power begins with choices.

You’ll be making your own decisions about your career, your love life, and what kind of person you want to become. Yes, I know you think you’re all finished growing up, but believe me when I tell you, this is only the beginning.

Because you’ve managed to overcome much of this “me first” mentality, many will try to take advantage. Please don’t let them. It’s difficult to balance kindness and self-respect, but it must be mastered. It is part of loving yourself and embracing maturity.

Another part of maturity is responsibility. We hear so much about what it means to “be a man.” Many inflate masculinity to the point it becomes vulgar: a caricature of itself. They point to their conquests as a mark of manhood. They brag about pushups and athletic prowess over intelligence and sensitivity.

I’ve known many weak men, many selfish men, many corrupt and vulgar men, and a few truly good men.

Do your best to fall into that last category.

I know your dad has been a positive role model to you, and you are fortunate to have him. You were also lucky enough to have known your Papa, my daddy, for a few short years (not nearly, nearly enough). You’ve also been fortunate to have met good men in the form of family, teachers, coaches, and pastors. But, before you leave my nest, I want to make sure you hear this from a woman’s perspective.

On Being a Good Man

A good man knows when to apologize. He knows when to own up to his mistakes. He knows when to dig in, and when to let go.

A good man also knows how to treat a lady. It’s not just opening doors, although that is a good start. He is a good listener, even when the topic is not personally interesting. He knows how to be authentic, true. He loves when she is unlovable. He takes up for her even when she doesn’t deserve it. He is on her side.

He is intelligent enough to listen to other’s opinions, understanding how and when  to disagree respectfully and without insult, but he is also able to not internalize the negativity.

A good man knows how to help others, not just when he will receive accolades, but even when he knows helping will not benefit his own agenda. He helps others when they are too proud to ask. He helps others who don’t know how to ask. He does not expect or demand to be “paid back.”

A good man lets his moral code guide him. He listens to his conscience. He doesn’t cheat others or himself. He doesn’t lie to others or himself. He never steals from others; he only takes what he earns or is given freely. This goes for money, time, or love.

Speaking of love: a good man doesn’t force his intentions, agenda, or affections on anyone else. A good man doesn’t have to try too hard to be loved. He knows what “no” means, and he respects the word and the connotations behind it. He never pushes his advantage. In this way, he earns love and loyalty. When you become a husband, your heart becomes one with another. If you treat your wife as if she is part of you, most of the time you will do the right thing, though nobody is perfect.

When you are on your own in this world, you will be tempted in every way. A good man knows when he is in over his head, and when to look away or walk away. He knows when he’s crossed the line and when to ask for forgiveness. He’s not too proud to admit he’s failed, and he’s not afraid to dust himself off after falling.

A good man is not afraid to love with his whole heart. He understands to love this way is to open his heart for potential pain. He will almost certainly suffer, because it’s difficult to go against the grain of this world. He doesn’t let the hurt scar him, because he sees the good in others and gravitates toward this goodness. To display courage doesn’t mean you haven’t been wounded. It just means you have determined to not allow these wounds to  be fatal.

Not all good men will be fathers. Although I hope this gift comes to you when you are ready; it might not. Nature makes no sense regarding who she lets father a child.

Some men want to be dads more than anything, and for whatever cosmic reason cannot.

Some men father children who should not be allowed to take care of a houseplant.

Many men are given charge of children but don’t know (or choose not to) to guide them. It’s really not that difficult to be a good father. You just need to show up and take care of business. You love with your whole heart. You do what it takes to pay the bills and put food on the table. Nobody is perfect; you will make many mistakes, but if you love your kids that is what they will remember. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

In a few days, you’ll walk across that stage, and you’ll move the tassel, signifying the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. You’ll leave childhood behind and take on adult responsibilities. You will make mistakes. you’ll fall and get up again. You will encounter great joy and indescribable pain. You will love.  You will lose: sometimes big and sometimes small. Some losses will be devastating–people you love. This, my son, is enough to make us want to give up.

I wish I could protect you from this, but I cannot.

I know you. You will, as Maya Angelou says, rise. You will stumble, and maybe fall again. But when you stand–you will run. You will fly.

You will not just fly–you will soar.

You’ll make your mark on this world.

The world has been changed by many men, both good and evil.

You will strive for the good, the pure, the authentic.

And you will be a good man.