Aug 23, 2016 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

The Earrings

It all started with a silly little pair of earrings. Well, let’s be honest. The opposite of little. Perhaps I should explain.

There are different types of jewelry-wearers in the world. Some like it big and bold and don rings on all 18 fingers. Some hold to the style mantra that less is more. Some don’t even bother. I’m more of a Forgetful Jewelry-er myself. Approximately 82 percent of the time, I don’t remember to wear any rings. I don’t own huge necklaces. I keep the same fake diamond studs in my ears for days. I know, I know. They’re supposed to be called “faux.” But these are too cheap for such a fancy French word. They’re just fake.

However, during the span of a few months, I had been admiring some lovely earrings I’d seen on various people’s Instagram posts. They were huge and feathery and pretty and statement-y. And they absolutely were not for me. But a little, tiny part of me wished that they were.

A couple of days ago, I was visiting my sister in Ohio, and we got the chance to spend the weekend hearing some incredible female voices, both in song and in spoken word. And it just so happened that many of these rockstar females wore the Big Earrings. They were a thing. They were gorgeous. They were even for sale after the event. I wanted them. I wanted to be the kind of girl who could pull them off. But I wasn’t.

I went home the first night of the event in raw emotion after all that the music had stirred up in me. I stayed up way past my exhausted-adult-bedtime pondering that I had lived most of my 43 years as an incredibly fearful person. I mean, I could just ask any of my people who have had to drive carrying me as a Very Helpful Warning-Giving Passenger. Or my kids who’ve been required to sit through (and pretend to listen to) my multiple warnings about sharks and bike accidents and ticks and splinters and everything they never imagined could be remotely harmful. It’s ridiculous. It’s exhausting. I don’t want to be that person anymore.

I am afraid, but I don’t want to be.

I’m afraid that my kids won’t “turn out right.” Maybe they won’t. It’s actually neither up to me nor defined by me or by anyone else, for that matter.

I’m afraid my heart will be shattered. It has been. It will again. But I will not live a life without passion in it. It’s not the way any of our hearts were crafted to live.

I’m afraid I will not have enough money. I’ve been there. I might be again. But I will not put my security in money’s transient hands.

I’m afraid of losing someone I love. I have. And I will. But my heart will learn to love in a new, brokenly beautiful way.

I’m afraid of my body giving out on me. It has lately. But it has also given me the breathtaking gifts of my children and of so many years of taken-for-granted health. And so I will fight to keep it strong: Not a fight to be the skinniest or the sexiest,  but a battle to be as strong and as healthy as I can be.

I’m afraid. We all are. But we are doing it anyway. We are doing it afraid and doing it together.

The day after my wonderings, my sister bought me those huge earrings. I wore them today to my umpteenth doctor’s appointment, and I knew. I knew they were just a thing. They didn’t possess magical powers, but I took a silly selfie anyway and sent it to my sweet sis and thanked her for what I’m now calling my “Brave Earrings.” Because, some days, all I can do is start with putting on something that makes me feel bold and brave and brash and beautiful. I can put it on my physical self and my heart and my spirit will follow. I WILL be brave. I WILL kick fear in the face until its teeth fall out and it WILL NOT grip me in its rotten vise any longer. I WILL beg God to give me the bravery I know I’ve never possessed on my own.

Maybe it’s time to get yourself some Brave Earrings. Put them on. Own them. Wear them and the courage will come. Not because of a piece of metal or leather or plastic or stone. But because they remind you that, through the love greater than all of us, we can do things we once never believed we could.  We can hurt and then we can heal. We can forgive and then forge a new forward. We can love and lose and then learn to laugh in the middle of it. We can break and then build and rebuild.

“So long status quo, I think I just let go…The way it always was is no longer good enough. You make me want to be brave.” Nichole Nordeman

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Aug 17, 2016 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Hands

I sat in the coffee shop, clattering away at my computer. Head down, ears full of music, sending out a clear, “Do Not Disturb” message.

And then I looked up. And happened to see the father and son in front of me. The son had the fresh, unlined face of a seventeen-year-old. The dad seemed worn, his cup of coffee un-lidded and ready to be gulped down. But then the dad looked across the table at his son and, reaching his hands out in a gesture of such tenderness, began adjusting the boy’s crooked necktie, helping him straighten the knot and smooth out the collar. And my eyes began to sting.

I thought of our Parenting Hands and how they change throughout the years.

My hands held you for the first time when you were fresh-born. They were hands so full of love, full of promise, but with such great space for fear. My hands cradled you, sure they would break you or drop you, sure I would fail you. And I did. And I will again. But there was love and grace enough for both of us.

My hands were there to hold you up as you began your first stumbling steps into the big, bold world. There was still room for you to fall. And you would. And you did. But there was love and a kiss to soothe the hurt.

My hands held yours as you traced your first inscriptions on the pages and opened a bright new world of letters and words and the magic that began when you went through the wardrobe into the Land of Readers. There was still room for both of us to get frustrated. And we would. And we did. But there was love and a laugh to follow the tears. And, at the end, a book to make everything better.

My hands held yours as we opened the door to loving a new pet. There was joy. And there was heartbreak. And we took the sweetness and the pain. But again there was love and companionship. There was a hand to grasp and a friend to cry with and comfort.

My hands gave you the tools to begin your journey away from me: The keys, the keyboards, the phones and the freedom. There is so much room for fear. That you will get hurt, in so many possible ways. And you will. And my hands will be there to reach out and make things right when I can. And to be still when I can’t or shouldn’t.

There will be days that you can’t stand me.

There will be times that you think I’m too strict.

There will be times that you are sure I am being too easy on others.

There will be days coming quickly, oh much, much too quickly where I won’t be around to get that goodnight hug. Where I won’t even know WHAT YOU’RE EATING FOR DINNER AND DID YOU GET ANY VEGGIES TODAY?

There will be days when you’ll make decisions I won’t agree with. And it will be ok as long as you can know and remember that those choices won’t change my love for you one single, tiny bit.

There will be days when you’ll want my advice. And I’ll be honored to give it, even if you don’t follow it.

The beautiful irony is that, all your life, I’ve thought I held you when, in truth, you’ve held my heart in your hands.

It’s considered a dangerous thing in this brutal world to allow someone such power over your heart. I know that. I have experienced it. I know the shattering a heart can feel. But there is no going back. There is no lessening the love. There is no guarding the gate. Thank you that, while I taught you, you have taught me so much more: How to be weak and strong at the same time, how to be open when I want to shut the door tight, how to hold my hands open: Not merely to let you fly away but also to receive back the soul-changing gifts you have given me.

I am grateful for the exquisite, hard, beautiful  journey. Grateful your hands are mine to hold for a little while longer and that my heart is yours to hold for always.

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Aug 16, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Life According To Plan

Does anyone’s life go exactly according to the plan he or she laid out in 12th grade?

If you can answer yes to that question, I just can’t speak to you right now. Or maybe ever. Oh, I sort of jest.

Here’s the thing. When I was 18 years old, graduating from high school with my 90’s spiral-perm and my “don’t light a match near me” hairsprayed-to-the-ceiling bangs, I had a lovely plan for my life. It looked something like this: Don’t get married young. Or maybe ever. Begin a lucrative career in journalism. If you ever consider having a kid or four, certainly enroll them in the best private schools and never, ever be one of those weirdo granola homeschoolers. Pay cash for your house and car, retire early, and never ever go into debt.

I just have to stop for a minute and sigh at the preciousness of it all.

I am no quitter though. Oh no. The planning gene runs scary-deep in my blood. Lists and charts and calendars and highlighters make me giddy with nerdy joy. Knowing what is ahead of me for the day, the week, the decade? That’s the fast-track to pure happiness right there. So of course while the past school year was still relentlessly grinding us all into dust, I began to formulate my grand and luxurious plan for this summer, a plan that involved multiple book-reading poolside days, weekly laugh-filled board game nights with the kids, and a plethora of sun-dappled bike rides and tasty hot dog roasts. Until my body decided not to cooperate, and the past month became a string of medical tests and many days where I was sure I Just. Could. Not. Do. It. So much for the Instagram-perfection of my plans.

It’s not earth-rattling news to announce that life doesn’t follow the trajectory we think it will.  TODAY hasn’t even gone as I’d hoped, and it’s not even 8:00 am. I would actually prefer to quite justifiably sulk about it, wallow in it, stew in the ways people let me down and hurt me and the ways I failed myself and lost my grasping attempt at plans. And let me be shamelessly honest: Some days, that’s exactly the very mature choice I make. But if I’ve learned a tiny thing or two about goals and ideas and dreams, it is this: It’s still good to have them. It’s sort of like (and this is the anal-retentive English teacher in me coming out) having a thesis sentence for your essay. Like I tell my students, it’s important to know where your paper…or, in this case…where your LIFE is going. Aim that way. Strive that way. Dream that way. Steer that way. And then be open to the detour.

The profound truth that I couldn’t see in my Bon-Jovi-listening-scrunchie-loving youth was that the best gifts in my life often turned out to be BECAUSE of those detours. The change-in-my-plan choice of having a family before taking my turn to have a career? It became the ultimate crucible of killing my selfishness, of humbling my pride, of learning to see my own fault when it was the last thing I wanted to own up to. There is nothing that has brought me to the most heart-achingly-beautiful highs and the most pain-wracked, humbled-upon-my-face lows like parenting and family life. And approximately .00000021 percent of it has gone according to my plan.

I’m still planning. But perhaps, when I’m 60, I’ll look back at my 43 year old self and sigh and shake my head and laugh at the goals and dreams I’m dreaming now. Maybe I’ll find myself naive and silly and simplistic. Yet life is a dry, withered husk without dreams and plans and wishes, so I have to keep choosing not to be afraid of what will happen if those dreams take a sharp left, as they have this summer and over and over again. I hold tight hands with hope, counting on there being a reason…not some nebulous, overly-simplistically-spiritualized reason….but a real, flesh-on, living, actual reason why I will be required to change my direction, change my path. Sometimes it will be up to me, and sometimes I will have nothing to do with it.  I know that the end result will be not necessarily better than my dreams, because I have embarrassingly-slowly learned that my definition of “better” is oh-so-transitive. But it can be richer and deeper only if I allow it to push my roots more richly and deeply into the things that I know to be truth, the truth that yes, it is good to write my thesis statement, to have plans, to have wishes but that, when they don’t happen as I had hoped, to learn the art of acceptance: Not a cynical resignation but a surrender paired with peace.

There’s a line from an ancient Celtic prayer that has become my new mantra these days: “I hold no cherished outcome.”

I hold no cherished outcome. I can plan for one, hope for one, but when it doesn’t happen as I’d wished? I can let go. I can find another way through or around or over.

I am still enjoying my cool new fancy-pants planner though. And I’m buying extra markers for good measure.

Just maybe, this time, the kind that come with an eraser.

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Aug 15, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Required Reading

Maybe you dread them. Maybe they are your joy and delight. Perhaps you’re scared to death of them. Either way, you can’t outrun them. They’re here: The Back to School Days.

In honor of these auspicious moments, I’d like to do my part to further the education of our nation by presenting my list. No, it doesn’t detail how many #2 pencils or which gluten-free Kleenex boxes or what dangerous finger-pinching three ring binders you need to buy. This is a grouping of a different sort. I like to call it my Required Reading Summary List.

Here’s the thing: I graduated from a smallish university many years ago. The name of said university isn’t worth a mention, because when your school symbol is a nautilus? Let’s just say school spirit was not flying high. During my sojourn there, I cheered on my nautilus team for a grand total of zero sporting events. I digress. The point I am meandering toward is that I did happen to score a degree known as a B.A. in English. Future college students of the world, this is also known by the less-commonly used title of A Degree Which Will Cost You Far More Than It Will Ever Earn You. Like, ever (footnote: T Swift).

However, these wasted years (and by wasted, I mean I spent every spare minute studying. Hi, Mom and Dad!) were not a complete loss, because they did give me the lovely opportunity to read every book ever written and then to write exhaustive papers on said books in such great detail that the authors themselves would have been bored to death, if they weren’t already dead. Perhaps, if you’re of a certain age, you have read some of these tomes and now the space they once took up in your brain has been replaced by more valuable details such as your Facebook password or your offspring’s birthdates or your ever-running grocery list. Maybe you have children who are about to embark upon this quest of reading the classics. By the way, the word “classic” comes from the Latin for “someone 246 years ago enjoyed this book and then became appointed as school headmaster and now YOU have to read this book and we can’t, any of us, even remember why anymore.” Whether you are now being introduced or reintroduced to these books again yourself, I hope my university-funded summaries are helpful for you. Here we go:

  1. Wuthering Heights: This novel is for you if you adore reading about locales where it is constantly dreary and gloomy and where the main character is also constantly dreary and gloomy. I myself became completely annoyed with Heathcliff within the first five minutes of meeting him. Yes, yes, yes, we get it. You didn’t end up with Catherine. That’s so sad. But now you’re destroying everyone in ridiculously complex ways which, frankly, are going to take far too long to accomplish and you’ll probably die first. Which, spoiler, you kind of do. Here’s hoping you’re happy in the afterlife with your creepy ghost love. And maybe the sun will actually shine at some point. The end.
  2. The Old Man and the Sea: I do love me some Hemingway. His descriptions of Paris in A Moveable Feast are delicious and delightful. However, this book is simply too much description. I suppose an old man floating about on a skiff is unlikely to engage in a great deal of scintillating dialogue, but for the love of all things, I do not need to know such meticulous detail about the water and the sharks and the sun and the water again. If I were his English teacher, I would cut out great chunks of paragraphs with wild abandon. Also, he uses the phrase (and I quote): ” ‘You think too much, old man.’ ” Ummmm, you said it yourself there, Ernest. Let’s work on that.
  3. The Scarlet Letter: Oooooh, the high school book all about scandal! No, it’s not an unauthorized reality star biography. It’s a novel set in 17th century Boston, and it details the woes of poor Hester Prynne. In summary,  girl meets wrong boy (the preacher) near the wrong people (those picky Puritans) at the wrong time (when her hubby was away on a business trip). It’s all as sad and tragic as you’d expect, but in well-written prose, if that matters to you which, if you’re just trying to pass high school English, probably doesn’t. But mention that prose thing in your papers. English teachers totally dig that stuff.
  4. Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare should have subtitled this one: How Teenagers Make Bad Life Choices and Don’t Live to Tell About It. But he didn’t ask my opinion. I’ll give it anyway: This tale has been acted out and movied-up and retold to death (pun intended). One of its greatest legacies is that it contains phrases we still use in today’s conversation. Ever refer to a “wild goose chase?” You can thank Will for that one, found in Romeo and Juliet’s second act.
  5. And finally, a little dystopia, as represented by 1984: This story makes the 2016 election look like…well, no, the 2016 election is pretty much the stuff of fiction, so scratch that simile. Anyway. It paints a frightening picture of “Big Brother” (just like Shakespeare, Orwell has provided us with terminology we use daily…who knew it wasn’t just the name of a TV show?). Like all good novels, it describes love and betrayal and fear and loyalty. It’s not only still relevant today, it is so relevant that it’s downright eerie.

So there you have it. A brief, quite opinionated, completely subjective look at a few classic tales. Here’s to your 2016-2017 School Required Reading List: May it be short. May it be entertaining. May your research papers be few and your Spark Notes readings fewer. And when you finish a novel and you don’t really care for it? You may wish it, “good riddance!” (William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act II, Scene I).

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Aug 6, 2016 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Here’s To All the Boys and Girls

It’s been a good summer for girls. Really good.

This summer, all of our daughters and nieces and girlfriends and mothers learned that they could save the world (or at least NYC) from ghosts. They could become a presidential nominee. They just now…could. “Could” has blasted the gates wide open, and they aren’t going to close us in again.

All of these progressions have been a long time coming. Far too long. Too many women have waited and worked and absolutely suffered and struggled for these chances. This summer, we took time to stop and happy dance and Girl Power high-five all around for an incredibly overdue celebration.

But in the midst of all the new, encouraging progress happening, I was recently reminded of how things can still remain unchanged. I was doing what moms do approximately 82,000 times a week…driving my kids to an activity…and I pulled over to wait my turn at a stoplight. In front of me, a youngish man in an SUV was also waiting his turn. But while my turn involved sitting, chatting with my kids, picking the next song to play, and staring at the red light, his turn involved sitting, and staring. At me. For a long time. A very long time. The light stayed red and his eyes stayed on me, his face filling his side mirror and his stare and creepy grin never wavering. At first, I was annoyed, trying to figure out how to look anywhere but at him, trying to not let him know That. I. Knew. But as he continued to watch me, my mild annoyance turned into anxiety and anger. I had kids in the car. Couldn’t he see them? Didn’t he care? My heart started to beat uncomfortably fast and my anger grew. How dare he. This was rude. This was unacceptable. This was not some sort of twisted compliment.

After he finally broke his gaze and drove away, I stewed. And fumed. Silently, because as any mom will tell you, we are pretty ninja at pretending everything is fine when little eyes and ears are watching. Inwardly, I went to a place of, “Men are gross, men are perverts, men are blah blah blah.” But later, the moment got me thinking, and, in a strange twist, it got me appreciating.

The contrast between that guy and other men I know became chasm-like, because the truth is not found in that place of exaggeration and blame. The truth is, there happen to be some very, very good men in all of our lives. Men who are trying to get it right.

Men who aren’t perfect and who screw it up just like we women do, but men who keep fighting for us and alongside of us.

Men who celebrate the smart, savvy women in their lives, who aren’t threatened by the success that those women have earned.

Men who scrub the showers and play with the kids and walk the dogs and ask how they can help, not because they’re nagged to, but because they want to.

Men who can happily admit it when the women in their lives are just as clever as they are, just as capable, and sometimes even more so.

Men who love even when it hurts and who don’t leave when it hurts more.

Men who may not be biological dads but who invest in other people’s kids, because they understand that the earth is just one big neighborhood and that we all need each other.

Men who are humble and gentle but who aren’t afraid to crank open a can of whoop-ass when it’s required.

Here’s to you, good men. Thank you for cheering us on as we all run together, not in competition but in teamwork. The battle of the sexes is meant to be fought, not face-to-face, but side-by-side against the injustices and sicknessess of the world. So let’s join hands instead of joining sides. Our sons and our daughters and our nieces and our nephews and all the world’s children will be better for it.

But just for fun, I’ll still race you to the finish line. Bet I can beat you.

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Aug 1, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Always We Begin Again

I love memes. I love the laugh-out-loud-sarcastic ones. I love scrolling through sappy inspirational quotes superimposed upon pictures of trees and puppies and sunsets. But sometimes I’ll be having a Monday and will come across a quote that instructs me to: “Be present! Enjoy the moment! Don’t waste a second of today! Be thankful you have today! Today is amazeballs! Kick some today booty! Change the world today! And look perfect doing it! Today!”

My first instinct is to tell the author that she is NOT the boss of me. Maybe I don’t feel particularly seize-y today, thank you so very much. This feeling is promptly followed by guilt for NOT world-changing and booty-kicking and thoroughly, inspirationally utilizing all of the times and the days and the minutes.

And then I begin the day already exhausted. Thanks a lot, puppies and trees.

What I’m trying to remind myself of each morning is this…

Some days begin with a deep breath before the leap into the waves and the swim against the current of life.

Some days begin with the gentle call of a bird and the bob of the blossoms as the air bends down to brush the petals with its wispy fingers.

Some days begin with everything going wrong.

Some days begin with the sleepless anticipation of the celebration ahead.

Some days begin with the deep-sighing despair that we cannot possibly accomplish all that is laid out before us.

Some days begin with inexplicable confidence and certainty that we will check everything off our list and blaze halfway through tomorrow’s to-dos.

Some days the coffee pot shatters and the traps catch mice and the children are grumpy and there’s a nagging, heavy pressure in the air.

Some days there is a respite from work and a warm walk by the ocean and a soul-filling view before us.

Some days the anger overflows and the traffic builds our rage and the bills weren’t paid on time and we just want to run far, far away.

Some days we deny the feelings of defeat, ignoring them, but those tricky feelings will chase us down like a relentless, questioning toddler, demanding that we look and notice and answer. Some days we downplay the desire, tamping down the joy, shooing away the flitting wings of exhilaration, knowing that all good things are a vapor. Surely they will not last, we say, and in the saying, we let the fear of joy’s certain disappearance tear the good moment from our hands.

Some days are utterly spirit-defeating. Some days are heart-filling. But in the midst of all of the the days, we get to walk out the truth of St. Benedict, who gently reminded us that, “Always we begin again.”

Always we begin again. And again. Imperfectly but gratefully. Failing but held. Without guarantees but with grace.

Again and again and again. Many days I treat this as monotony, as drudgery, but some days, when lives are taken and children are mourning and the whole world seems to be spinning into chaos, I remember. I get to begin again, and while I’ll mess it up, I get to apologize and start anew. Over and over. I get to receive it, not as a dictate to feel guilt-ridden or pressured over, but as a gift to receive with gratitude.

So let us all keep beginning again, in the mornings of our actual days, and in the mornings of our hearts, in the sparkling moments and in the shattering ones, in the pain and in the peace, in the sickness and in the wholeness.

Beginning again today, tired and battle-sore or exhilarated and fresh, but here…here kicking today’s booty or here wanting to tell today goodbye and good riddance. Thank you, St. Benedict, for the reminder. You didn’t even have to be a meme to inspire me.

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Jul 22, 2016 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

The Terrorism of Unkindness

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These past few weeks have not been social media’s finest.

These past few weeks, besides the graphic images and the gasp-inducing stories of the terror and violence happening with horrifying regularity, there has been a new, insidious kind of horror.

These past few days, there have been scores of posts on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and every other hashtag-ridden platform written with sarcasm and snark and assumption of intention and people YELLING AT EACH OTHER TO DO THE RIGHT THING. Yelling at each other to let the refugee in or keep the refugee out or let everyone have a passport or build a freaking wall or I don’t even know any more. Because around post number 1, 232, 468, I had to walk away. Run away, actually. And think. And wonder about this irony:

We put our children in debate classes at school. We teach them that, through well-researched facts and yes, emotional statements, they can convince a judge and an audience to believe their side of the story. We teach them that, through polite discourse and taking turns talking, without interruption or rudeness (in debate class, that is never, ever  allowed), they can learn to formulate an argument and present it, definitively and clearly.

We teach our toddlers that tantrums aren’t an acceptable way to get what they want. We teach our young children to “work it out” without screaming at each other.

We teach our people to be kind.

And now, unkindness has become its own type of terrorism. No, it is not the atrocity of beheading an innocent person and watching his life-blood flow into the ocean, but it does the unseen, internal damage of draining the life-blood of hope out of a person.

It does not detonate a physical, life-ending bomb. But it explodes inside a person and, with that destruction, begins to breed a new kind of person: someone who becomes dark and depressed and cynical and hateful and hopeless.

Let’s pause for just a moment: if we were asked, we could all pull up into our minds unkind and terrible things that were said to us. It would take us about .002 seconds to recall them. Some of those words wounded us for years. Some of them became our actual identities. But today, many of us threw those same unkind words around on social media like they were hand grenades.

Sometimes there are people who don’t deserve gentle treatment. There are appropriate lessons to learn and boundaries to set and yes, wisdom to determine what the way forward is. But, in our conversation and dialogue and speech and daily interaction? Where is the basic humankindness?

Yes, what the terrorists did was unfathomable. Yes, it was unconscionable. No one but another terrorist would deny that. But our very way of life, which flows out of our speech, which, in turn, flows from our very hearts, should require that we do not sink to their level.

We have a long heritage of freedom. Freedom to speak and think and act how we believe. Yet those freedoms do not trample upon another’s dignity as a fellow human. Those freedoms mean that the other person has freedom as well: even the freedom to disagree with us.

Perhaps we should vote for one person. Perhaps we should vote for another. That is a decision for each of us to make: and that decision should involve research, news articles, facts, prayer, and yes, emotion. It’s a solemn undertaking, no matter what we decide. But the point is, No Matter What We Decide, we can do it in Kindness.

Kindness to our fellow Americans.

Kindness to our fellow sufferers on this planet.

Kindness to those we have elected, whether or not we agree with them. And if we don’t agree? Then we have the right and the duty to speak up. But let’s remember those lessons we learned in debate class, or even way back in the dark recesses of kindergarten:

Take turns.

Don’t interrupt.

Be kind.

It matters.

 

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Jul 5, 2016 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

An Ordinary Life

He never made People magazine.

He was never a top story on CNN.

He never even updated a Facebook status about his weekend.

His was a very ordinary life. But to me, he was extraordinary.

He did right by his family. He was just a young boy when his father died in his sleep, and he had eight brothers and sisters who needed him, so his own sleep went by the wayside as he woke up early each morning to pick strawberries and keep the family going.

He did right by his country. He served it well in the War to End All Wars. He wasn’t a York or an Eisenhower or a Churchill, but he accepted his duty and he accomplished it.

He did right by his wife. He might not have taken her to Paris or Rome or even to New York City, but he wrote her love poems on the non-anniversary days, the every-days, the slogging through life days, and she would wake up to find them on her refrigerator door.

He did right by his children. He was from the generation of the Stiff Upper Lip and the generation that didn’t SAY “I love you.” But he showed his love. He sweated hour upon hour upon unimaginably hot roof after roof in the Florida sun and made sure that his own never worried about their daily bread.

He did more than right by his grandchildren. And I was lucky to be one of them. He made sure we knew, by his actions, just how much he loved our grandmother, our parents, us. He bought us junk food as any good grandparent should. He made us feel like our piano recitals/dramatic performances/sports events were worthy of his driving through the night multiple hours just to see them…and us.

He passed away a few weeks before I married, and the last time I saw him, all he could talk about was how he was going to get better and get into his shoes and be on that front row at the ceremony. He never made it there, and I missed him that day, but he had already taught me everything I needed to know about how to love my family well.

When I think about the love I feel for him and how grateful I am that I live in his family line, I realize that he never, ever accomplished what most people would consider to be Great Things. His words never went viral. He never made a fortune. He never changed the world. But he changed me.

And that’s what I want to pass on to my own little corner of the world. I’m tired of the passé, cliché line that is fed to my kids everywhere they look: “You can be anything you want to be.” No. You actually can’t. You are born with certain aptitudes and tendencies, and you can strengthen the places where you are weak, but you have to work hard at that. That is why most people find one section of the SAT much harder than the other. You have a bent. You have a skill. If you’re lucky enough to have people in your life who can recognize and encourage that, then grab it hard and go for it. But I’m tired of being made to feel that everyone is meant to Do Something Great. To CHANGE THE WORLD.

We might never do that. Our kids might never do that. It’s much too great a burden to place upon their still-developing shoulders. Maybe we should help them to know the value of an Ordinary Life lived well. An Ordinary Life spent on the people around them. Yes, an Ordinary Life aware of the world outside its geographical borders, but a life also aware of its limitations and its responsibilities.

There’s a thousands-of-years-old line in the scriptures where we find the simple, complicated things the ancient people were asked to do: “To do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God.” And somehow, I do believe, if we follow that wisdom in our own modern sphere, and seek to reach out past our circle, to know and understand the needs beyond ourselves, we just might change. Unintentionally. Unknowingly. Humbly. Caring only for mercy and justice. Not for praise and recognition and not for proving how very right we are.

Because we might not change the world. Or we might. The results are never up to us. Only the love and the trying.

In the meantime, we can be grateful if we have an example of a flesh and blood Ordinary Life in our own path. Someone who lived a life that was about his family. Her employees. His friends. Her faith. His generous heart. In their very ordinary ways, they changed our worlds. And, following their light, maybe we can change someone else’s, too.

 

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Jun 23, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Summer Survival Skills

If, during these few brief planetary rotations into summer, you are already at your wits’ end, here are some time-tested, veteran-mom-approved suggestions for you:

  1. TBT to 1982. Pretend that the children will survive if they spend more than 2.6 minutes outside without copious applications of sunscreen, Lyme-protective hazmat suits, and a GPS-enabled smartphone. To paraphrase the words of the immortal animated classic we would all like to forget: Let Them Go.
  2. Embrace the community pool. Yes, yes, there are mystery objects floating about. Of course there are used, crusty bandaids brushing up against your legs and better-left-unexplained warm spots to swim through. Take a deep breath (just not underwater, mind you), and recall that this is what chlorine was invented for. Be grateful for the smell of it that will never forever alter the color of your hair and will completely destroy your overpriced mom-appropriate swimsuit. It is saving your lives. Also, sidenote to moms of littles: Take heart! One day you, too, will be one of the Lucky Ones sitting on a lounge chair with a book, periodically counting heads to make sure the twelve year-old life guard hasn’t lost anyone and holding up score cards to acknowledge the skills of your Future Olympic Divers. Assuming they’re even allowed to dive at your pool. Ohhh, America. Bless your overprotective heart.
  3. Abuse your library card. Listen. Listen closely. Our librarians are on a first and middle and nickname basis with us. I’m pretty sure they’re showing up for Thanksgiving Dinner this year. And that’s how it should be. They know what books all of the kids have checked out. They know what genres your people will actually read. They will even….gasp….order books for you upon request. We are all paying approximately 1,256% of our annual income in taxes to cover said library. So celebrate it! Use it! Love it! And just consider that the $10.50 you pay in fines every week for forgetting to return a movie the people never actually watched is a charitable donation toward keeping you sane. It’s so utterly worth it.
  4. The grill is your best friend. There is no limit to the amount of sauces and rubs and sorceries and bacon-wrapping you can do to a slab or two of meat. You pretty much cannot ruin it. And a word to the wise mother: If you slap a veggie on a kabob and grill it, they will come. Moreover, they will not complain. Priceless. Grab the biggest bag of charcoal you can find and pray it lasts the week.
  5. Encourage your kid to be the next Lance Armstrong. Well, minus the doping and drugging and other-such nonsense. Bicycles are summer’s best investment. Slap on the legislatively-required helmet and hit that Tour de Driveway with all you’ve got. Shirt and shoes optional.
  6. Accept Conflict. As a person who immediately begins to scroll through the Suddenly Very Important Emails on her phone when people around her have disagreements, I know how painful this can be. But let it be. They won’t kill each other. They will figure it out. Besides, file this under “conflict resolution skills necessary for life and marriage and navigating social media political minefields.” It also, and perhaps most importantly, accomplishes a vital goal of summertime: Wear them out. At all costs. Wear the people out.
  7. Buy all of the water-related toys your local dollar store has in stock. Pull out everything you can find. Water balloons! Slip n slides! Squirt guns which fire one shot about a centimeter in front of you and then choke! Creepy-Spinny sprinkler heads! Your stockpot! Whatever can and will hold a liquid is fair game, folks. Set them all up in a shiny row, lock the doors, and pour yourself a bubbly beverage. You’ve earned yourself the 3 minutes of peace these items will give you.
  8. Sparklers. Wait. These require supervision. Scratch that.
  9. Youtube. When those rainy days come, and they will, and you shake your fist at the weather gods, settle in with anything you can write off as semi-educational (I’m looking at you, Magic School Bus), and pop some popcorn. Microwaveable is perfectly acceptable. Let’s not get organic-non-GMO-crazy here. Remind yourself that you are providing knowledge and junk/brain food for future generations of policy-makers and world-shakers and it’s ok to be exhausted by such responsibility, so dozing off during the show is certainly justifiable.
  10. Lastly, enjoy your summer days. Popsicles will come and go….let’s be honest, mostly go and mostly go kersplat on your freshly-vacuumed beige carpet, but let’s remember this:

Summertime is for honeysuckle and fireflies, flashes of dipping and soaring insects crowding the skies.

Summertime is for s’mores. Smoky and oozing and gluing your fingers together in the most lickable way.

Summertime is for beaches. Letting the waves beat against you until your body is exhausted.    Weightlessness. Pruney fingers and toes. Climbing out only to let the sun warm your body enough to jump right back in.

Summertime is for travel and friends and barbecues and porch swings and icy drinks and long, sunset-grazed evening strolls.

There will be wads of wet, smelly towels left on the floor that only Mom will have the superpowers to see. There will be more chores forgotten than there should be. There will be sugar crashes and “I’m bored” days and we will all be very ready for routine by the time August’s last days arrive. But until then, we’ll all enjoy the slower, steamier, sweeter pace. And if we don’t enjoy it all, we will at least enjoy some. And we’ll make memories along the whole way. Here’s to your summertime!

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Jun 21, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Grief

Our stomachs are bloated with the arrogant rhetoric of one talking head after another.

Our ears are ringing with the bullets of opinions flying back and forth, opinions which are touted as fact.

Our tongues are singed with the acrid arguing over who is right, who is negligent, who is at fault.

What has become of sitting side-by-side in the silence of sorrow? What has happened to weeping with the wounded-hearted?

When a life has been shattered, our trying to make sense of it, to explain it, to reason it through? It is a slap in the face of that person’s pain.

When a life has been destroyed, our finger pointing and our naming of who is to blame feeds the ravenous anger which in turn feeds the burning, roiling rage, which then becomes a banquet for the beast of bitterness to feast upon.

We cannot decide the terms of someone else’s grief. We cannot determine the length and depth and breadth of his agony. This is not the moment for explanation. There is only sitting. And waiting. And walking alongside a friend or a stranger. There is simple apology. There are tears.

In my own life, when I felt devastating loss and pain, it wasn’t the pithy, oft-repeated cliches of those who tried to “fix” things for me that actually, truly helped. Because there wasn’t any “fixing” it. There was no erasing of the pain or rewriting of the story. Instead, it was the friends who just loved, just showed up, just hugged and let me cry, just held on and didn’t run away that began the slow healing of my heart. And it was the classroom of my own grief that taught me the practice of grieving with my friends when it was their turn.

In these recent weeks, when every day brings a story of new, fresh tragedy and agony, let us not forget the most powerful balm of all: Sitting in solidarity, whether literally or through our technology. Let us remember that, in the pain, offering our presence instead of our politics is the most powerful action we can take. It says, “I am with you. You aren’t alone.”

There is a time when Grief will stand up and start its way down the road of action, down the trail of seeking answers and meaning. But we can’t rush that journey. We can’t ask Grief to walk forward when, for now, all it asks for is a place to rest, an ear to hear, a hand to hold.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

Henri Nouwen

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