Viewing entries tagged
love

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

When the World Seems Unloveable

Artwork by Kathleen Hodges

Artwork by Kathleen Hodges

In the last few years or so, after a devastating event takes place in the world, I see a lot of calls to love. Love more. Love harder. Be love. Let love in. Love Wins! And as the news sinks in and I resolve to love more, within minutes my kids start arguing. I wonder how I could ever expect the world to be a more loving place when I can't even manage to make my own kitchen a more loving place?

I decided to research love. I've been on the hunt for insight and guidance on how to love more in a world that sometimes seems unloveable. There is unending evidence that points to love as the antidote to hate, to fear, and to misunderstanding. Beyond a doubt, love is our most potent medicine.

Today it occurred to me that it's not love that I need to better understand. We are made of love. We were made to love. Love is at the very center of our beings. It's who we are. We are born little baby bodies of solid love. Love comes easily until we are hardened by our surroundings, but no matter what happens, we can always return to love.

So, what is it that we need to make more space for if it isn't just love?

The answer may surprise you.

the answer is anger. The answer is sadness. The answer is grief.

This is more obvious than ever in my lifetime as I witness the aftermath of Tuesday's election. I have seen more expressions of fear, hate, anger, and sadness than I've ever really experienced all at once. I don't think I need to describe it. I think you know what I'm talking about. The one thing I've noticed across the board is that this election riled something up in just about everyone. It's not just the people who voted one way or another, EVERYONE is feeling SOMETHING.

Many people are expressing those feelings. It's making many more people uncomfortable. Some of us are telling others to get over it. To move on. To just love more. Some of us are saying "You can be mad or sad, but keep it to yourself". Some of us are suggesting that others' feelings aren't valid. Some of us are just fine, but mostly we are all over the place. We are in a raging storm of emotions.

So, yes, let's love more.

AND, let's make more space for our anger and our sadness. Let's make space for this grief.

I know, it's uncomfortable. I know it's hard. I know most of us weren't taught to do that.

Nobody enjoys seeing others in pain. In American culture especially, we don't like it and we don't want to see it.

In fact, the only place where it actually seems acceptable for people to fully express their emotions is at a sporting event. For the most part, it's okay to let it all out there. We rage, we yell, we scream, we clap and stomp, and cheer. Some of us even wet our pants. It's all good.

But after you leave the stadium or turn off the TV, you better pull yourself together. And if we're being honest, I think this one place where we get a free pass for expressing ourselves mostly benefits men. And even then, only men who watch sports. I love you men and I'm glad you have this place because God knows you receive very little support for expressing yourselves emotionally, and at the same time I envy you.

For lack of better space to express ourselves, we turn to social media. Witnessing the outpouring of emotions on Facebook this week, can take a girl down. It has made me want to crawl under my covers and stay in bed indefinitely. What is the world coming to when even the people suggesting love and prayer are even getting shushed? I get it though.

Each of us is processing what is happening in the world around us in our own unique ways. 

And like it or not, it is all okay.

It is in service to no one to try to suppress your anger or your sadness. Emotions left unexpressed fester inside us. These emotions can and do manifest in stress, anxiety, depression, illness, and disease. Quite frankly, they are deadly.

We need to let each other be fully expressed, no matter how hard it is to watch. Fortunately, nobody is forcing us to watch. If we don't like it, we can turn the other way. Yes, let's take responsibility for how our expressions may impact those who see them. But let's not censor each other. Especially not now.

To meet other people right where they're at and to allow them the space to say what they need to say, that is love. If we want to love more, let's start by doing that. Love doesn't make judgments or have expectations of others. Love can hold space for whatever comes up.

Love yourself and let yourself feel every last bit of it. Expect cycles, waves, and spirals of emotion. Scream, cry, and let it all out. There is no timeline. There is no right way to do this. The only way out is through. Know that love surrounds you.

Love others and let them do what they need to do. Have compassion for their feelings and their need to express them (even in your kitchen).

Trust that by making space for anger, sadness, and all that is grief, we are also making space for more love in our hearts.

And the best part? Transformation. True change can only come when we get it all out on the table. No holding back. When we've assembled piles of all the pieces, we can rebuild. We will rebuild.

Until then, peace. xo

 

Some Thoughts on Pain and Suffering (with love)

There are many stories I want to share about the surgery I had on July 27, but they aren't ready to be told. Among them though is this new, unexpected, sister story that I really do want to share. Now. Even though it may not be ready either.

It started a couple weeks after my surgery. Everything went well with the surgery and initially I felt great. Then my body (specifically my skin) moved ahead with its own agenda. 


I quickly developed wounds where my skin refused to cooperate. Two weeks ago I had a second procedure. My skin is stubborn. So now, this is how it goes once, usually twice each day: I work up the courage to change my dressings. I peel back the existing dressing on one side of my body. I peel back the existing dressing on the other side. I apply ointment to non-adhering transparent gauze and then place that gauze, ever so tenderly, over my wounds. I cover that with regular white gauze and adhere it to my body with surgical tape. Finally, I adhere a surgical pad over the gauze with more tape. I am very well padded.


There is wincing. And often tears. There is curiosity, wonder, doubt, fear, and occasionally regret.

I have restrictions. I cannot do the things I want or need to do and I've grown weary from asking other people to do them for me. I am walking a fine line between sustaining the strength I know I need to sustain to properly care for myself and withdrawing into my warm, cozy bed. Indefinitely. I cry a lot lately.

I miss the things I can't do now. The things that normally bring me comfort and joy. Bear hugs, bubble baths, and yoga to name a few. Believe it or not, I even miss my ability to do laundry - to carry heavy things.

And every single day I think about the other people. The people who have been doing something just like this for weeks, months or even years. For themselves or for someone they love dearly. I think about how those daily rituals affect these other people. I wonder how they keep going? If they keep going?

I often think about what goes on under our cleverly cloaked faces and bodies. The pain that resides beneath the surface is no stranger to me. I carry it frequently. I know anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and grief from all of it. It creeps up when I am not expecting it. I wonder who is in it with me - at the grocery store, at my son's soccer game, on Facebook. I know there are others. I feel for them.

And now I have a new understanding of another kind of pain that nobody can see. Wounds that are dressed and then dressed again for protection - and hiding. The wounds we don't discuss when we see friends around town. The wounds we carry all by ourselves. 

In these moments I think about the way we treat each other on this planet. I think about the ways we can be so quick to criticize one another. I think about the ways we so carelessly inflict pain on each other - with words, with our bodies, and with weapons. In our own homes, on the playground, in the board room, on the field, and all around town, we hurt each other. Often. It is usually on the defense. We want to protect ourselves from each other's choices, actions, and beliefs. We hope none of it is contagious. We don't want our kids to catch it. We lash out. And we have no clue about how the other person came to these choices, these actions, or these beliefs. And we don't even care. We lash out anyway.

These thoughts have been lurking in my head for days. I write to process things. These thoughts and this experience are things that need to be processed. I kinda don't want to process them though. They aren't easy for me to face. They are heavy. So why would I share them? Why today? Because this morning I woke up to learn that today is World Suicide Prevention Day. And I thought about all those people I know are out there suffering in silence and I wanted to tell them (you... us...) something...

You are not your experience. I am not mine. I am not my wounds, my pain, or my suffering and either are you. I don't care who you vote for or whether you vote at all. I don't care who you pray to or whether you pray at all. I don't care if you kneel before altars in churches or build your own altars on the beach or at home. I don't care if you use your when you mean you're. I don't care where you went to school, where you work, or where you live. I don't care what kind of car you drive or if you even drive at all. I don't care if you swear like a sailor or speak with the eloquence of the Dali Lama. I don't care if your body is covered in tattoos or moisturizer. None of that matters to me (although some of it is really interesting to me and I might want to talk more about it later... Without judgment.). The only thing I do care about is that you don't hurt yourself because of the stories - the lies - you've come to believe about your situation. And, I ask, please do not hurt others.

Ask for help, even if it is hard and you think you might have worn out your welcome.

I will too.

Sit with what you need to for as long as you need to, but please don't suffer alone in silence. It's not necessary.

I love you. God loves you. The Universe loves you. Mama Earth loves you. You are lovable and worthy of all the love you can imagine. It's true.

Heading to the doctor now... letting the tears flow. I'll be the one with the runny mascara. 

xoxo


Be gentle with yourself. 
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. 
In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. 
- Max Ehrmann


an old favorite


 

Holiday Grace


May we all have compassion for ourselves, and for those around us.

That is what I pray for this time of year - compassion for myself and compassion for others. Over and over. It is actually more of a mantra than a prayer.

This time of year is so tricky for me, and I suspect it is tricky for a lot of other people too. Okay, I know it is tricky. It is so easy to fall prey to expectations - those that come from others and our own - of what we "should" be doing. What we should be planning, cooking, baking, eating, decorating, buying, selling, and how we should be doing it - gracefully, effortlessly, joyfully, gratefully, and with ease. Surrounded by loved ones.

I struggle enough with day to day life when it is not the holiday season. There is a pile of papers on my kitchen counter that is so tall, it could be dangerous. I don't know what to do with it so I move it from one place to another. I'm tempted to throw it all away. It overwhelms me. In the past several months I have missed appointments that I never thought I'd miss and forgotten to respond to a zillion different requests. My voice mailbox is full. I owe people money. My bedroom is a disaster. And, I have no idea what we're having for dinner.

I'm weary. It's only Monday. And, it's GO time. No rest for the weary here. On Thursday we're having Thanksgiving dinner at our house and Pierogi Day on Friday. Two days of crazy, busy, super messy fun.

These are fun days for sure, but they are exhausting days too, and in as much as it makes me happy to spend this time with my family during the holidays, it also makes me sad. When I look around the room at all the faces of those I love most, I am hyper-aware that certain other loved ones are missing. Their absence hits me when I least expect it. One minute I could be helping my husband whip the mashed potatoes and the next minute I am longing to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers because my dad isn't here to play his guitar and sing Amazing Grace before dinner.

You know the woman who just stole your parking spot? She might be grieving.

The man who cut in front of you in line at the grocery store? He might be wondering how he will pay his bill.

The friend who seems to be ignoring you? She might be fighting for her marriage.

That flaky mom from school who won't return your call? She could be waiting… waiting for test results… wondering what the future holds.

We just cannot know what is on another person's heart or mind. We cannot know what keeps her up at night or what keeps her from wanting to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes we wonder, and yet we don't really need to know. Do we? Couldn't we all just drop the inquiry? What if we stopped speculating, comparing, and judging? What if we decided not to take things personally? What if we decided to take responsibility for ourselves, and to trust that others can do the same?

What if we stepped out of our own heads and hearts for just a moment to let love in - to make space for compassion?

What if we just loved each other? I think that would be so amazing.


Because this time of year is so very tricky and our hearts are tender and our minds are over-stressed, maybe we could start with a bit more compassion right now and give it a go through the end of December? Let's just try it. Shall we? What have we got to lose? We have so much to gain. So much.

I'll keep praying… I know you will too.

May we all have compassion for ourselves, and for those around us.
May we trust that we are all doing our best.
May we release judgment.
And, may we make way for love.
And so it is. Amen. Aho! xoxo

Happy Thanksgiving!

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