Viewing entries tagged
family

What If?

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What if there was no Us vs. Them?

What if there were no Democrats vs. Republicans?

What if there were no sides to take?

What if we were all just humans trying our best to live satisfying lives? What if we were one?

There isn't. There aren't. Nope, we're all on the same side. And we are all humans. We are one.

Right now, these times and the way I'm feeling as a human living through them, remind me so much of almost 15 years ago when I first became a mother. I didn't babysit much when I was young and I wasn't someone who spent hours dreaming about becoming a mom someday. But when I became pregnant with my first child, I was thrilled. I immediately began to envision all the possibilities, all the adventures ahead, and all the love that my husband and I would shower upon our child.

A huge part of that vision was the inner knowing that I would become a mom. I would join the ranks of my ancestors and my friends who were also becoming mothers and reporting back that it was a downright brilliant experience.

Meeting my nephew. Loving my sister.

Meeting my nephew. Loving my sister.

And then my baby was born. And then I became not just a mom, but a nursing mom. A stay-at-home mom. A disposable diaper mom. A mom who would eventually feed her kid hot dogs and fruit snacks and may even let him try ice cream before milk was recommended by the ADA. In the process, the narrative being built around me pitted me against the formula moms. The working moms. The cloth diaper moms. The moms who held true to their preconceived notions of the very best ways to feed their children.

The lists grew and I kept thinking, "But WAIT! WE ARE ALL MOMS!!!" I didn't understand why we were fighting against each other over very personal choices we were making for our families when we could have been talking about the real fights we were facing together as moms. The fights for sleep. For our marriages and relationships. For our children. For a shower. 

The stories we are fed about what it means to be a mom are parallel to the stories we hear about what it means to be a democrat, a republican, a feminist, and a woman in America. The people feeding us these stories rely on us to believe them. They take it for granted that we will believe them. They profit from us believing the stories. They keep power over us with these stories. They assume we will always believe and uphold these stories.

It is time for us, especially those of us who identify as women - all women, not just any one kind of woman - to write new stories.

We are the ones who get to define what it means to be a woman.

The definition is not likely to be the same for each of us. That's okay.

As individuals, we have the power to define womanhood, motherhood, fatherhood, marriage, and family for ourselves. That's it. We don't have the power to define it for anyone else. That's not our job. We're off the hook.

When we let go of the need to be "right" or on the "right side" of an argument. When we allow each other to speak and when we listen to each other while each of us is speaking, we will move mountains, as the saying goes.

We need to stop fighting against each other and instead stand alongside each other.

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We need to look each other in the eyes and see each other as humans. Let's also acknowledge that a woman of color's experience as a woman in America is influenced by the color of her skin and as such, the challenges she faces are not the same as those a white woman faces. We must acknowledge that. We must acknowledge that those with wealth, with access to resources, and with privilege move through their lives with much more ease than those who are struggling to eat, to keep a roof over their heads, and even to survive. Let's open our hearts to the reality that being a Muslim woman is not the same as being a Christian woman in America. We must do that. Let's honor the fact that marriage equality isn't a mountain that heterosexual women are asked to climb. Let's listen to the stories of transgendered women whose everyday lives are complicated by the ways in which most places are set up to accommodate cisgendered women. There are so many incredible women with stories to share. I know there is a much longer list of ways women identify and I apologize for not mentioning every single kind of woman. We're missing out on these women and their stories - here and in the broader dialogue happening in our country.

In the midst of all these arguments, I wonder what are we really fighting about? Do we even know the people we're trying to defend? Do we even know what we're talking about? So much has been called to question. 

I do know that beneath our desire to "win" an argument, most of us have the capacity for infinite compassion. I know there is so much more love than there is hate in the world. I know if we focus on that love for each other as humans, we will want nothing more than to help each other. We won't care how any of us voted or who we sleep with or what we feed ourselves or our children. We won't care who we pray to. We will realize how beautiful it is to be united as one human family.

Yes, I am an idealist. I can be naive. I tend to hope for the best. That said, this is not an airy fairy forecast for an impossible Utopian future. This is all possible.

Unity is possible.

Love is possible.

It starts with each of us getting real clear on who we are, what we prioritize, and how we're willing to show up for each other.

Then, we open our hearts and minds to new ways of understanding our fellow humans. No judgment. No expectations. No need to negate another human's experience. We just listen.

As we listen (truly listen, not the kind of listening where you're thinking about what to say next or what to make for dinner), we soften. We acknowledge and honor the ways we are different and we start working from the places where we are the same. Humans. Deserving of love, justice, and freedom. All of us.

The we write new stories. Our own stories. From our own hearts. We shape the narrative. We share the profits. We share the power. We share the love.

Let's get started.

xo

Three Gifts Grief Gave Me

On the first anniversary of my dad's death we celebrated him

Six years ago today, at this time, I was running errands around town. I had cramps. That evening my dad came to take my son James to his guitar lesson, and when he brought him home again, I probably said, "Bye Dad! Love you!" A few hours after that, I stood in my dad's shed with my mom, a couple police officers, and an EMS guy or two. My dad sat there too, hunched over his work bench. He had slipped away. That is what the police officer in my parents' driveway told me when I arrived. Lights flashing on the ambulance in the road. Me hoping the quiet that greeted me meant everything was okay - no rushing, no emergency here.

How can it be that something that has been true for six years still seems like such a shock sometimes? So unreal. So NOT true?

Grief is full of surprises. It hasn't been shy about sharing its tricks with me. It also brought many gifts.

First, grief doesn't go away. There is no "getting over it". Grief beats in my chest like my heart. It is always there, even when I'm not aware of it. Sometimes, I am tuned in to my grief. On days like today, I deliberately, mindfully tap into it. I take its pulse. I listen in, wondering how powerful it is now - is it moving forcefully? Gently? Most of the time, I'm not thinking about it. I'm so used to my grief at this point that it is like any other part of me. My eyes, my nose, my grief. The truth is - it has always been there. I've been losing and grieving those losses since I first claimed anything as mine. My dad's death forced me to feel grief in ways I had never let myself feel before. And now, I cannot unknow my grief. I am grateful for its presence and the way it has allowed me to feel deeply, intensely, without censorship, judgment, or expectations that it will go away some day. It's so much less intimidating now. We work together.

Second, "until death do us part" is mere poetry. Love lives on, way past the time the body holding it expires. And the Spirit was never really contained to begin with. My dad's love is a constant, like grief, moving in me, around me, and through all the people and places my dad touched. And, also, through the people and places that touched my dad. It is in my children even if their Papaw is but a faint memory. It gives me so much comfort to know in every morsel of my being that even in the absence of his body, my dad's Spirit lives on. Eternally. Not that doesn't keep me from wanting one last hug. I'd still love to see his face. Hear his voice. And, at the same time, I feel his Spirit. I relish in the cardinals he sends to check in, the guitar picks he leaves in random places, and the pennies he sends us from heaven. He is all around.

And finally, I was wrong in the hours, days, months, and years I spent feeling all alone in the world. Feeling damaged and broken, unworthy. I was always wondering, waiting, needing, and wanting confirmation that I was being held in some way, by some one. I didn't know it but, I was (good) enough all along. I was wise. I was whole. I was loved from the moment I became but a twinkle in my mother's eye. I have never been alone. Nope. By virtue of my humanity, I am deeply rooted in Creation. Connected to the Source - our Creator - and all living things. I am of the dirt, the sun, the stars, the moon, the lakes, and the seas. I am in the wind and the rain. My ancestors who came before me hold me still. We are all part of a Collective. We are one. And as the Earth spins on its axis, so do I, a magnificent microcosm of all that is, was, or ever will be. What a relief. I am not alone. I am whole. I carry all I need to know within me. I always have. I always will. And, the same is true for you.

There's more. Grief gives its gifts freely. It has taught me at least 100 other lessons in these six years. And, there's still more to learn. There always will be. In all ways. On all levels. The learning never ends.

And so, I thank Grief for what it came to teach me. I still wish it had been another way, and I know that was never a possibility. My dad's death was an important part of his journey, his contract. I am forever grateful for his legacy and for his love, which remains in our midst.

Peace to all the grieving hearts, aware of the losses, that devastate and leave us wondering why. Peace to the grief that lives within us, teaching us what it means to feel. Peace to all. xo


My dad, my sister Sarah, and me

My parents and their grandchildren, except little Aedan who arrived later

One of my favorite photos of my dad

My dad's work boots, bandana, and gloves

You Are Held. For real.




On Gratitude



This is my second try at this post. I wanted to share how I got here - to November 3, 2014 in relation to gratitude - and how my commitment to a daily gratitude practice has evolved over time. That seemed important to me. I was being defensive. Defending something I started years ago as a way of healing and holding on to hope, when I really only wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there through the holiday season. Something that a few of my Facebook friends were finding trite over time, and decided to complain about and tease in their own status updates… I thought I needed to clarify, to defend, and to justify why I think November is a great month for people to express gratitude on their own and in public.

I don't want to do any of that.

A few months ago I began reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. On page 58 of her book, Voskamp says the following: 

"I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I've seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives. Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world. When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us? The clouds open when we mouth thanks."

That is why I do what I do and why I want to do it (THANK YOU ANN VOSKAMP!). I want to embrace joy, to be brave, to focus on all thing good and beautiful and true. I want to give thanks for all things, even the small things because I want to bring the fullest Light to all the world.

I don't care if it makes other people uncomfortable. In fact, I -kind-of like that it makes some people uncomfortable. I would invite you to explore the discomfort if and when it bothers you to witness another's expression of joy. That discomfort will tell you more about you than it does about the other person. Go there.

In the past, I have used an art journal as a means to capture my gratitude each day. I have been on  a mission to figure out the easiest, least expensive way to make an art journal because I LOVE art journaling, and find it to be healing and hopeful and fun. This is what I've come up with so far…

Junk Mail Art Journal

I took a catalog I received in the mail (it was a Williams-Sonoma Fall catalog). I glued 2-3 pages together throughout the catalog with a glue stick, to form a series of new, thicker pages. I used plain old cheap craft acrylic paint to cover each page. I glued tissue paper to the covers of the catalog - I used two pieces to completely cover the catalog cover. Some of the words and images from the catalog show through the paint, and I love that. It was so easy to make and it was virtually free because the catalog was junk mail and I had the paint on hand.

Each day this month, my family and I will choose one word to express that for which we are most grateful that day. We will record the words on a piece of paper and at the end of the month we will have a special journal filled with our gratitude. I look forward to seeing how this evolves.

Our first page. 
I stamped part of the quote from Ann Voskamp on the first page, and left the
Williams Sonoma Thanksgiving table, rather than painting it.
I love how the quote turned out.
My sister made a Junk Mail journal too! I love it!

Each and every day, in every minute even, we have a choice about whether to "deepen the wound of the world" with our voices and actions or "bring fullest Light to all the world." Hands down, I choose light. It is absolutely a choice. It is not always easy, but I make it because I believe it makes a difference to me, my children, my husband, and our community.  I make it because I want to experience joy while I'm here on Earth - to balance out the pain.

Gratitude manifests joy. It's been proven time and again. Try it - big or small, in whatever way works for you. Share what you find.

With love and gratitude. Especially to Ann Voskamp. I don't know her, but I LOVE her and her beautiful words. xoxo

Hope in the Holes

Looking Up

I was in eighth grade when I first considered suicide. I decided on pills. That is as far as I got. In the space between knowing without a doubt that the people in my life would be better off without me, and swallowing pills, I found the holes in my story. I saw hope in those holes.

There have been times since then when I have imagined dying. About four years ago, after my dad died and all the pain I had stuffed deep down inside came rushing out and over me, I wanted to disappear. I thought about how the people I love most in the world would go on without me. I knew they would be happier. They would have less to worry about. Their lives would be more peaceful. They could move on. I imagined being shot. Getting hit by a car. Having a heart attack on the treadmill. These were times where I felt hopeless. Helpless. I knew I had to snap out of it - suck it up and get on with my life, and I didn't know how to keep going.

Can you imagine being that desperate? In so much pain that I would even consider welcoming the possibility of leaving this behind?

My people.

It is an infinite amount of pain.

It is painful thinking about it now. I cannot even imagine being in such a dark place now, and yet I have been there. Sitting here in this moment, I am at a loss for words to describe my gratitude for the people I love. I am grateful for every second I spend with them. I know they love me. I know I am blessed. 

In my darkest moments, I still lose sight of the beauty that surrounds me. It is truly unimaginable now - when I am grateful and at peace - sitting in the sunshine. In the darkness, I feel lost. Hopeless. Helpless. Worthless. I lose faith.

There are numerous triggers - things that happen that can send me down a dark path. I run anxious and I always have. In an average day any of the seemingly small things that a person faces can stress me out. Things like social situations, having to make small talk, returning items to the store, driving in heavy traffic… Depending on what else is happening in my life, I might fall into depression.

Mostly, looking back over my life, my depression occurs when I believe I am falling short. It comes from the belief that I am not enough. It comes from my certainty that other people also believe that I am not enough. All the lists of the reasons that I am not enough compiled in my head are the impetus for shame. As I grew older, and especially since I've become a wife and a mother, there was guilt. There is always something to feel guilty about.

With a lot of soul searching and some anti-anxiety medication, with time and yoga and writing and art, with therapy and life coaching, and the support of my husband, I cleared space to come up for air. For the most part, anything that was ever a source of shame is now just a piece of me and my story. It has been rendered powerless. In retrospect it is usually an opportunity to transform into something meaningful. Something beautiful.

I try not to stuff the pain anymore. I don't like to let it fester. I sit with it. I feel it. I look for lessons in it. I thank it. I let it go.

None of this is easy for me. I am not always good at it. It is messy. It can be really ugly. The process of working through it though makes all the sweetness waiting on the other side even sweeter. The beauty is more beautiful. The glory is more glorious. I can appreciate all the goodness in a much richer way now that I allow myself to experience and move through the pain. I am grateful I can say I know what it's like on the other side of the pain. I am grateful for the courage and support required to look up, to move on and out of it.

I haven't solved anything. I'm not cured. Living and working through my depression is a process. Life is a process for me. It is a practice. With practice and knowledge and support, I get stronger. I bounce back more quickly. Things don't look quite as bleak as they used to. I have faith that there is something bigger than me at work in the world, and that I can be of service to that force. I know I am loved. I try to keep my blessings in focus - when I acknowledge those blessings it is harder to fall down the rabbit hole.

This, obviously, comes in the wake of the death of Robin Williams, another great talent gone too soon. He was one of my favorites. I'm taking this opportunity to share a bit of what I know to be true. That even when things look fine on the outside, it can be a facade. Behind the scenes there might be turmoil. 

This is a truth that more of us are coming to accept as we see past the misconception of neat packages, nice clothes, good hair, pretty faces, hot bodies, successful careers, power, money, big houses, and fast cars. Behind it all, we are just people doing the best we can. 

A lot of us are encouraging those who suffer with depression to seek help. I think that is sound counsel. And, I also invite each of us to be a little kinder to each other. To be more compassionate. To search for the beauty and the love and the sweetness in the bramble of the berry patch that is life. The good is in there and there is a lot of it - enough for everyone.

Suicide is not a selfish act. It can feel that way to those of us left behind. Suicide is a desperate act. Of course, it isn't something that can really be generalized. And yet, I feel confident in saying that a person who takes his or her own life is not doing it for selfish reasons. I believe suicide occurs when the victim thinks the world would be a better place without them.

It is an infinite amount of pain.

It us up to each of us to prove to one another that we are each here for a reason - to enjoy the uniqueness of one other and the beautiful experiences that life has to offer. The world is a better place because of us, not in spite of us. That is our challenge actually - to accept that it is better because of us, and to keep working to make it even better. And better. And better.

It would be fun if we did it together.

************

My sister is a social worker who works with Veterans at the VA Hospital in Ann, Arbor, Michigan. I asked her to share some of what she and her colleagues use as a safety plan for clients with suicidal ideation. While seeking professional help is the very best option for those who need it, I thought this might be of use too:

Very General Components for A Safety Plan

  1. These are the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that describe how I am experiencing...
  2. These are things I can do to feel better, or to distract myself from these thoughts…
  3. These are people I can talk to when I'm feeling down (make sure to have contact information handy)…
  4. These are the professionals I can reach out to… Include the National Suicide Prevention Line, and keep in mind that loved ones can call support lines for help too: 1-800-273-8255 (also include 911)
  5. What can I do to make my environment safe...
  6. How will you ensure you use this plan? (where will you keep it, etc.)

Consider signing it to seal the contract.

XOXOXOXO

It's Worth Celebrating

I was so shy when I was a child that I used to hide behind my dad's legs when he introduced me to someone new.

I wanted nothing more than to stay hidden in the safety of what I knew.

A little over four years ago my dad died, and everything I thought I knew was called to question. I didn't feel safe. Nothing helped me to feel safe.

I had friends who had lost loved ones and yet we rarely talked about it. I always knew that someday when I experienced a similar loss it would be awful, but I never knew how awful. Until it happened. Even knowing that there were others like me, I imagined I was all alone.

This is a truth about grief - that even though there are many of us trying to make sense of the world after a significant loss, we still feel so alone, and we don't talk about it. Each of us will experience loss in a different way - in our own unique way, and at the same time we can relate to each other. I have experienced that understanding - the connection that comes from acknowledging a shared story between two - and while there is some comfort in knowing that I am not alone, instead of feeling better, I usually end up feeling sorry for both of us.

After my dad's death I wrote a lot to help me try to make sense of it all - of life and loss and what comes next for both the living and the lost. Writing about things is the way I've always tried to make sense of them. As I wrote and made discoveries, I felt called to share what I found along the way. That is how I came to this place in my life - a place of creating and sharing. Sharing is rarely easy for me, but I keep doing it because I know there is a chance that something I say or write or make could help someone else feel less alone. As much as I would have liked to stay hidden, I had to come out from behind my dad's legs...

As soon as my dad departed and the funeral had passed and our friends and family went back to their everyday lives, I was left wondering "WHAT THE HELL? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW?" As I continue to move away from my dad's departure there are still no answers to my questions. There is no way to know whether it is normal to get pissed four years after a loss because all of a sudden I remember that my dad isn't coming back.

After a life altering incident, you hear a lot about the "new normal" and for some people maybe that makes sense. Maybe the promise of a new normal is comforting to them. Some of us, however, were okay with the previous version of normal. We dig our heels in and refuse to accept this new version of life as normal. It will never be "normal". What I now know is that there is no normal - new or otherwise. The unexpected surges of grief, the anger, the sadness, the joy in memories that come to mind - none of it is normal or abnormal, it just is.

I try to deal with whatever comes up as it surfaces. The gift in that is that I get to decide what to do with it. I can write my own guide book on a daily basis.

My parents would have celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary today. My mom and I are together with my family in northern Michigan and we talked a bit about whether a widow could still celebrate her anniversary, even though her husband has passed. We decided she can. And, she should.

She dipped her feet in a fountain…



We toasted love and its legacy over a beautiful lunch with our sweet friend Suzanne...


We did some shopping, and my mom even picked out a beautiful turquoise ring as an anniversary gift! Here she is pointing to our location on a map of Michigan…



And we topped it all off with some ice cream…


Isn't she the cutest?!?! Look at her beautiful new ring!

I have actually come to love the fact that so few of the answers I sought were available to me after my dad's death. It gave me an opportunity to look within, and to decide what was true for me and what was not. As I trusted in my own authority, I was liberated - bound only by my own self-imposed limitations. 

My mom and I could have decided that it isn't necessary for a widow to celebrate her anniversary once her husband has passed, and that would have been fine too. Even without my dad though, June 30, 1972 marked the beginning of something that continues to be worth celebrating. I am so grateful we chose to celebrate it.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! Cheers! xoxo