I recently finished The Hunger Games trilogy. I know I’m late to the party, but I always am when it comes to new Young Adult book series. I don’t know if it’s my inner, snobby professor, or my loyalty to The Little House on the Prairie series of my youth. Perhaps some part of me hasn’t wanted to betray the Ingalls family by falling in love with the Potters, the Cullens, or even Katniss Everdeen.

But alas, I gave in. I usually do.

For those of you who haven’t yet succumbed, let me set the stage. The Hunger Games are an annual, reality TV show set in Panem, a futuristic North America. Think Survivor gone dark – very, very dark. There are alliances, betrayals, and back stabbings (literally in this case). Twenty-four “contestants,” children between the ages of 12 and 18, battle to be the sole survivor. Everyone else must die. In the wealthy Capitol of Panem, the citizens watch on big screen TVs and cheer as one child after another is murdered.

In the books, a Mockingjay is a songbird, which becomes a symbol of rebellion – against The Games, against oppression, against the tyranny of The Capitol itself. When a song fascinates a Mockingjay, it will repeat it perfectly, even after hearing it only once. Other Mockingjays join in and the song, begun by one lone human being, is spread everywhere.

In the Districts, the poorer outlying areas of Panem, the Mockingjay is useful. In District 11, it sings the song of ‘quitting time,’ the end of the workday for the beleaguered population. In District 12, its songs bring some measure of joy and beauty to the grey-faced inhabitants of the coal-mining province. In the contest arena of The Hunger Games, the Mockingjay helps the heroine and her allies find one another, a way of saying, “I’m okay. Are you?” When words are not safe, the Mockingjay sings for desperate humans, communicating things they cannot say. Ultimately the Capitol cannot silence Mockingjays.

Panem is a fictional America, but there are some striking and uncomfortable similarities to our culture today. In the affluent Capitol (which may be more like Hollywood, than Washington DC), the citizens are obsessed with cosmetic surgery and reality TV. They overeat and purge, while others starve. They rely on their high tech gadgets and silent laborers for just about everything and have little to no compassion for their fellow men and women. Above all, they are characterized by their smug superiority, their certainty that this is the way of the world, the natural order of things, simply the way it is supposed to be.  If we are brutally honest, we might see versions of ourselves in the citizens of The Capitol. I am sure that was Suzanne Collins’ intention.

But I live near a canyon, and as I woke to the sound of dozens of songbirds out my window this morning, I thought of something else as well.

What if we are called to be Mockingjays?

Not The Mockingjay, the violent, desperate, rebel whom Katniss Everdeen, the hero, becomes.

I am talking about the songbirds, the ones who hear a beautiful melody and repeat it, taking the simple notes far and wide, sometimes for themselves, sometimes simply for the benefit of another soul, in need of hope.

Can we be Mockingjays? Do we have the courage to confront The Capitol voices in our heads? The ones that tell us how to look and behave, what to believe and treasure? The ones that tell us that the way things are, are simply the way they should be?

Is there another note being sounded in our lives, however faintly?

Can we sing a song of hope?

Of beauty?

Of peaceful rebellion against authoritarian voices?

What if others are waiting to hear our song, so they can join us and repeat it, so others can hear it too?

I felt a little foolish writing this blog about a teen novel, but then I thought, Go on! Be the Mockingjay you imagine. And all I can do is encourage you to do the same.

When you hear a song of truth, beauty, hope, love, or peace, repeat it.

Repeat it beautifully.

Repeat it as many times as you can throughout your life, until your song is heard by someone who will sing it with you.

Don’t think it’s someone else’s job. Don’t think another Mockingjay will do it better. Don’t think that you weren’t made to do it.

Its not Suzanne Collins’ job as a writer; or Bob Dylan’s as a singer; or even Billy Graham’s as a preacher.

It’s ours.

It’s yours. It’s mine.

We can all be Mockingjays.

I had quite a few friends and readers wondering how my Mother’s Day turned out, so I thought I’d write a follow up post to let you know – not only what I got, but also what I learned.

First, let me say that I had a wonderful Mother’s Day. My family did a beautiful job of making me feel loved and appreciated. I didn’t get my ‘latte,’ but I did get a trip to Pipes Café in Cardiff with my kids in tow, which was even better. Here are the pictures of the best faces they could give me. (Finn was trying to be funny, though he didn’t quite pull it off.)

Mother’s Day breakfast at Pipes, 2012

I also received a new set of ear buds for my cell phone, so I can drive hands-free, as well as a Brixton fedora to keep the sun off my face. “Killer,” I thought, “They must love me if they want to save me from tickets, and melanoma!” I also received two handmade cards and a hand painted flowerpot. I have to admit, I was wrong. Handprints are still totally cute! Well, fingerprints are anyway. See for yourself.

"Hand-made" butterflies, caterpillars and butterflies, oh my!

The flowerpot was just the beginning of Molly’s gift. Tim calls her “The Ringer.” As long as Molly’s around, my Mother’s Day (or birthday, or Christmas) is going to be just fine. She made me a card, calling me The Best Spirital (sic)Writer Ever and quoting some of my own work back to me. She also brought me home a piece of coral that she had found at the beach to add to my nature collection of rocks and sticks from my canyon walks. Molly said it reminded her of me, because of all the holes. Apparently I “fill up all the holes in her heart with kindness.” Are you kidding me? She’s totally got my number. Thank goodness I hadn’t put on my make-up yet.

Molly's metaphor

Finn, “The Artist,” made me a card in his own unique style. His thoughtful gift, which some might think irreverent, was a perfect combination of what I love and what he loves to do. It too was added to my bedside table.

Finally, Keara, “The Silent One,” wrapped my ear buds in pink tissue paper with a white bow and handed it to me on our way out the door. Despite reading my last post, it was the best she could do. That’s okay. Deep down, I know she loves me.

Tim, as always, stepped up and told me how much he loves and appreciates me.

All in all, it was a pretty special day and I learned something too.

Glennon Melton, who I adore, had this to say about Mother’s Day. It was too late to take back my words, but that’s okay. I don’t think what I said was untrue, just maybe not broad enough in it’s perspective. On her Momastery blog, Glennon wrote,

I want to try to explain my evolving definition of the word Mother. I am starting to understand that the word works better for me as a verb than a noun. Mothering is a choice we make, like loving is a choice.  We do not need to have given birth or to have signed adoption papers to Mother. To Mother, to me, means to nurture. To heal, to help grow, to give. And so anyone and everyone who is involved in the healing of the world is a Mother.  Anyone who tends to a child, or friend, or stranger, or animal or garden is a Mother. Anyone who tends to Life is a Mother. Tomorrow is a celebration of all the healers and hopers and lovers and givers and tend-ers.  In other words- tomorrow is for every single one of you.

So I hope that yesterday, you mothered and were mothered. I hope you not only loved and healed and gave, but were also loved and tended and received. I hope you laughed and cried, because all of life is a celebration.

Happy Mother’s Day – every day – and thanks for reading.

In honor of my mother, who deserves a tribute today, but gets this blog instead.

My friend T and I were discussing Mother’s Day traditions last night – what we were doing on Sunday, what our kids, or husbands had planned, what we hoped for. We were definitely on the same page. We don’t need them to do something big; we don’t need them to do something fancy. We just need them to do something.

I definitely have friends who take the martyr approach, who are of the “It’s no big deal” variety – moms who are happy to overlook a lack of effort, sincerity, time, or money spent. I am not one of them, and as a result, there have been some rocky Mother’s Days around our home.

Before that second Sunday in May, I’d like to my kids know that:

You know, there is such a thing as gratitude. There is such a thing as acknowledging the fact that each and every day, I serve you. I cook for you, clean for you, drive for you. I entertain you, love you, tuck you in at night, take care of you when you are sick, celebrate your accomplishments and mourn your defeats. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE doing this and I love you. I will continue to do this, whether or not I get anything special on Mother’s Day, Christmas, or my birthday. I will tell myself that deep down, you really do appreciate me and deep down, I really do believe it’s true.

However, I think Mother’s Day is a nice opportunity for my husband to reinforce the messages we try to teach our kids all year long: the art of acknowledgement, the joy of gift-giving, the impact of making an effort.

When they were all in elementary school, he had it easier. The teachers would help the kids make little balls of crepe paper flowers, signs of love, or traced handprints with poems written to melt a mama’s heart. Those were the good old days. I’ve only got the baby left I that demographic, and even her handprints aren’t that cute any more.

So now the onus is all on Tim. Somehow, he has to inspire the troops to really love on their mom. How will it turn out this year? It’s questionable – because they’re growing up and bought into the hype that it’s no big deal, that Mother’s Day is just another Hallmark holiday, that a hug and a kiss and a mumbled “Happy Mother’s Day” is good enough.

Sorry mister, it’s really not.

I’d like Tim to know that:

I know you are busy. I know the kids are lukewarm about shopping. I know you detest it. But I’d really like to get something from someplace other than Hallmark, Rite Aid and Starbucks, the three shops in a row at the strip mall a mile away from our home. I like to think my perfect Mother’s Day is pretty easy. A morning latte and blueberry scone, a trip to the beach, a plate of buffalo wings and a pitcher of dark beer for dinner, while we watch an NBA playoff game. You’ve said before that my Mother’s Day is a surfing man’s dream.

Tim might like to remind me at this point that I am not all that easy. That I forgot about wanting to go to church as a family, which always involves arguments about showers, clothing and shoe-choices. G**- Forbid, Molly has to wear something besides her slip-on, checkered Vans with a hole in the toe. Since it’s Mother’s Day, he has to do all the arguing. He might also mention that my morning latte is actually a “grande, two-pump, extra-hot, non-fat, vanilla latte,” which he can never order right since he only gets it for me once a year, and then despite his effort and embarrassment at ordering such a ridiculous thing, he has to see me be almost satisfied, instead of completely so. Finally, he doesn’t like dark beer, or buffalo wings, but I order them and he eats them, because after all, it is Mother’s Day. 

Now, if anyone is getting defensive on my poor family’s behalf, let me just say again that a gift doesn’t need to be big. It doesn’t need to be expensive. It doesn’t even have to be a bouquet of over-priced flowers. It just needs to speak my love language, which means it needs to come from the heart. And if their hearts are blank, if they come up empty when it comes to me, well then, that’s a story for another day. But I am going to pretend like that’s not the case. I am going to hope that they just need a little bit of encouragement to dig deep, take some time and put down on paper a little bit of mom-love. Is that too much to ask? Colored markers speak volumes.

Tim might also like to jump in here and point out that for his birthday last week I failed miserably at this very challenge. Only two out of three of our kids mustered up the energy to make him a birthday card and his gifts consisted of two gift cards from that same strip mall I was just complaining about.

In my defense, he always says we don’t need to get him anything. I never say that! But okay, I’m humbled, but that’s not the point. The point is the ideal we are shooting for here people!

So what do you think, moms? Is Mother’s Day a big deal, or not? Does your family step up, or is it just another Hallmark-holiday to you? And what do you do to honor your mom, and your mother-in-law, and your sisters and all the other mothers you know and love and your own role in your family all in the same day?

P.S. As I finished writing, I looked up and saw this. It was my one of my best Mother’s Day presents ever. I actually have it hanging next to my bed to help me remember who I am.

Molly's Mother's Day Creation

Occasionally on my morning walks I run into my friend M.  We tend meet at the same place every time, at the top of a very long hill, finishing up our “work out” routines. I’ve walked; she’s run. I’m about to go down; she’s made her way up.

Usually, I’ve just come out of the canyon wearing my Ugg boots and beanie with an empty coffee cup in my hand. My heart rate probably hasn’t surpassed 90 bpm. In contrast, she’s just run several miles up and down the hills of our neighborhood and stands there – a 6 foot tall, glistening, blonde goddess.

It’s lovely to see her, to give good mornings smiles and high fives, but sometimes, I sigh as I continue to walk down the hill. She’s just so beautiful, and fast, and disciplined, with her boys and her husband, her job, her schooling, and her fitness. Whew! I know she would never want me to feel that way, but sometimes, I just can’t help it.

But most of the time, I know this is true: if I didn’t go slow. I wouldn’t see this.

Rock 1 Or this.

Rock 2

Or this.

Rock 3

And if I didn’t see those things, I wouldn’t be be able to share them with M on Facebook, or a text message, or on my blog.

And if I didn’t tell M about them, she might not see those things.

And if she didn’t see those things, she wouldn’t be able to say nice things like this.

“Wow Ali you are awesome!!! Thanks for the reminder. I don’t think I tell you enough what a blessing it has been to read your blogs.”

And this.

“I love your writing. I hope your book will get written soon. I’ll be first in line to buy it:)”

And if she didn’t say things like that, then I might not see things like this:

It’s okay to go slow.

To find Presence takes a certain kind of discipline as well.

That in our weakness, others find strength.

Everyone has their own path and their own gift, their own way of finding meaning in their lives. And the best we can do is share those gifts with one another and say thank you when they are shared.

Thank you, M, for making my day.

For some reason, this was my theme song as I walked in the canyon today.

Enjoy!

Dedication: To all the living saints I know, and to the rest of us who try. 

Growing up in a fairly traditional Roman Catholic home, I had access to the stories of the saints. I could even tell you a few of those stories to this day, but I was never obsessed with them like some kids were. Saints were interesting, but never all that inspiring. Even as a young child, I knew that I was far too human, and far too flawed to ever be like one of those women, or men. I couldn’t see myself kissing the wounds of a leper, or praying to receive the stigmata. Yuck! I certainly couldn’t see myself opting for a violent death if given a choice. Even as I got older and Pope John Paul II began the beatification of “everyday” people who lived holy lives, I still wasn’t that interested in who made the cut and who didn’t.

It wasn’t until much later in life that I came across a definition of a saint that I could relate to. According to Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, author and theologian, a saint is a person “who can will the one thing.” This actually felt like something I could aspire to, a version of sainthood that had nothing to do with personal morality, righteousness, or miracles. In my mind, it had everything to do with finding the purpose for which you were made, embracing that purpose and living it out as best you could. By the time I discovered Kierkegaard, I had already found my “one thing.” For ten solid years, I “willed the one thing.” I willed the heck out of it.

My purpose was to love my family, not in a la-di-da, “Isn’t it sweet, she loves her family so much” sort of way, but in a real, concrete, “007, this is your mission” sort of way. Yes, it encompassed the physical care of my family: the cooking, the cleaning, the driving, and the disinfecting, but it also included the soft sciences as well. To this day, it still includes the touching, the loving, the praising, the presence, the balance and my focused attention. Every day, as I spend time with my kids and my husband, I try to look them in the eye and ask myself, “Who is this person? Who do they want to be, and how can I help them get there?”

If being a saint is “to will the one thing,” then five years ago, I thought canonization was mine for the taking, if I could just die tomorrow.  Well, obviously, that didn’t happen and thank goodness. I’d rather be a saint, who lost her title in heaven, than leave my purpose here on earth unfinished. I am still alive and well, but something unforeseen happened. I lost my opportunity “to will the one thing.” No, nothing tragic happened. I haven’t lost my kids, or my husband, or even my purpose. But what I have lost is the oneness of it all. As I have approached middle age, as the economy has stalled, as my children have gotten older, I have been asked to will not ‘one thing,’ but many things. Now, some of you may scoff at that and I will allow you to do so without defensiveness or judgment.  I know that it was a privilege to be home with my kids and to have such a single focus for so long.

But my new reality is that my life is asking me to will many things, in addition to the “one thing” I really love. I am not just talking about having more obligations on my plate, though that is a part of it. I am talking about tasks that require real passion and effort, focus and sacrifice on my part and the part of my family. And I have to admit that at first, it felt like a betrayal of my “saintly” calling to extend my will beyond the one thing. I have spent many nights asking the same questions about myself that I’ve asked countless times about my children. “Who is this person? Who does she want to be, and how I can I help her get there?” While I don’t have any precise answers to those questions yet, reading The Gift of the Red Bird by Paula D’Arcy introduced me to a new definition of a saint, one I liked even better than Kierkegaard.

D’Arcy quotes Keith Miller who said that saints “were not people with the greatest education or even the largest results. But what they said correlated almost 100 percent with who they were and what they did… An amazing and invisible power may be released when a person’s words and her inner life match.” I read that line and it stopped me in my tracks. That’s a saint I would like to know, someone unconcerned with personal perfection and holiness, not limited by an adherence to “the one thing,” but fully, genuinely, authentically themselves.

Do you know those kinds of people, the ones who say they believe in something and then actually try to carry it out in all aspects of their daily life? The kinds of people who make you believe that if they’re nice to your face, they’re also going to be nice to you behind your back? The kinds of people whose very presence makes it easier for you to be a better person? When I think of the people I have most admired in my lifetime, they were saints in Miller’s sense of the word, and only a handful of them were religious. They are people of integrity and authenticity. They are people who nurture, who love and who open their hearts to seemingly everyone. These are people who give 100% of themselves to whatever they are doing at any time.

This is the kind of saint I would like to be, but it’s a very tall order, even greater than the other two, I think. By historical precedent, the first “requires” you to follow a set of rules, strictly, almost fanatically. The second seems to be manageable if you really focus on the ‘one thing’ to the exclusion of everything else, and as much as I enjoyed that time of life, I know the purpose I chose was too limiting. God wasn’t going to let me off that easy; taking care of 4 people (even if you do it well) is not all that He asks of anyone. This third definition though cannot take place without a complete transformation of self over the course of a lifetime. In this definition of saintliness, there is no perfection expected, or even possible. We all make mistakes, slip up, and growl like a junkyard dog on occasion. We all roll our eyes in annoyance, or get stuck in the morass of self-pity when things seem to stack up against us.

We are human, but we can be saintly humans.

I want to be a person of integrity. I want people to be able to believe in me and the promises I make. When I smile at you, I want you to know that I am smiling for real, on the inside. When I work for you, write for you, speak with you, I want you to have the real me and hear the real me, because that is best I have to offer.

I want to be a saintly blogger, a saintly mother, a saintly wife, friend and volunteer.

I want desperately to be this kind of saint, but when I see all the ways I fall short, it’s easy to get discouraged. However, there is hope. Just last week, I heard another definition of a saint. It doesn’t detract from the other three, but rather increases the odds of getting there. My good friend Nancy Corran said, “A saint is just a sinner who got back up.”  Well, amen to that.

That is one kind of saint I know I can be.

And I hope you know one and know that you can be one too.

Last week I went to Ventura to speak to a group of women. My cousin Megan had invited me. This was not a difficult audience; I felt like we were all part of the same tribe – women, wives and mothers. Easy-peasy, I thought. However any time I am going to get up in front of an audience, I like to collect my thoughts before I go on. I usually excuse myself for a last minute trip to the bathroom, so no one sees me closing my eyes and centering myself. If they see a random woman in the audience doing some deep breathing, that’s one thing. If that random woman, suddenly becomes the “expert” they are supposed to be listening to, I think it affects my credibility.

So before she introduced me, Megan led me to the little bathroom in the back of the meeting room and left me to my own devices. And as I took my first deep breath, it hit me.

This isn’t hard.

I am not saying that public speaking isn’t challenging, or that I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to say and how I’m going to say it, because I do.

But on the day before this day, this day when I was crouched in a bathroom, trying to do deep breathing exercises (while not gagging on the smell of cleaning fluids), I had received an email that a mother I know, a mother I call a friend, a mother of 4 children, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

So when I went to center myself, I was immediately thrown off-center by the realization that my friend may be off-center for a very long time to come, that she was probably in the furthest orbit she had ever been in from her center in her entire life. That when you receive a cancer diagnosis as a mother of 4 children, still at home, who still consider you the center of their entire existence, your own center pretty much looks like a nuclear bomb just went off.

Obviously I’m just guessing here. I’ve not faced it myself, but I do have a little bit of history with mothers, with mothers of four children, with mothers of four children and a cancer diagnosis.

When I was 15 years old, my own mother was diagnosed with cancer, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, to be exact.  I was the second eldest of her four children, ranging in age from 16 to 6 years old. She was 39 years old and it was not looking good. One day our mom was home and the next day, she was gone, not to return for almost 4 months. Chemo, radiation, isolation and a bone marrow transplant, fifty miles away from home, were on the docket.

She survived; we all survived. In fact, we thrived.

Our center was still there; it was just in a “geographically undesirable” location – on the 11th floor of the UCLA hospital. Instead of gravitating home after school, we gravitated up the 405 Freeway. Instead of relying on her to center us all the time, we centered each other. We also became the center of our school, church and community. My older brother Charlie became the family chauffer. I became the homework helper and babysitter. Tim and Amy, 9 and 6 respectively, became amazingly adaptable and compliant, endearingly so. There was nothing we wouldn’t have done for them. And there was nothing that people wouldn’t do for us, if we simply asked and frequently when we didn’t. At that time in our lives, nothing seemed impossible, if we stuck together.

And when our Mom got home, our center moved to the family room couch and slept and drank Ensure and got stronger every day for a year, until finally she was up and around and dancing and skiing and cooking burned chicken again – just like she used to.

So on that morning last week, before I stepped up in front of 40 women, I was extremely grateful for that new perspective. This isn’t hard. It’s my new motto. What my friend has to do is hard. What my mom had to do was hard. What sick women and men and children all over the world do every day is hard.

Fighting cancer is hard.

Since that morning, any time something uncomfortable, or painful, or challenging comes up, I think of my friend. I remember, This isn’t hard, and I go on and I do it – better, braver, and more happily. Glennon Melton always reminds her readers that We Can Do Hard Things, but I think it’s even easier when we remember what the hard things really are.

So to my friend, and to all the women and men and children out there who are fighting against a diagnosis you do not want, a disease you cannot control, a tragedy that has thrown you off-center, know how much you are loved, how much we respect your fight and your process. Know that we are here to help. I believe with all my heart and soul that you are held lovingly by The Center of the universe and if you can trust in that, you will find your own center once again. Until that time, we will keep you at the center of our prayers, our love and support and hope it helps.

I’ve been working out at the local YMCA for several years now. I take virtually all the classes, except Zumba (takes too much coordination), TRX (hurts my shoulder), ­Yoga (actually kinda boring), Pilates (grossed out by the heavy breathing), Kickboxing (see Zumba), Spinning (no way! I actually like being able to sit down). Okay, maybe I don’t take all the classes, but I have my favorites and I show up faithfully.

In the beginning, it was hard to get myself to go there – mentally and physically. It seemed to take so long to see any progress at all and I was left with a constant stream of aches and pains, discouragement and self-doubt. But ultimately, I wanted to move through the world with more confidence and grace, so I put my head down and kept going back for more.

Lately, I’ve been experiencing déjà vu when it comes to the aches and pains of working out a new muscle and it’s funny, because I haven’t changed my workout routine at all, except for one small thing.  As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve begun walking slowly around my block and it shouldn’t hurt a bit.

But it does.

It hurts terribly and sometimes it takes everything I’ve got to get back out there and walk the next day. I’m strengthening a muscle that I’ve neglected to use properly, despite all my exercise and hard work. The muscle I’m talking about is, of course, my heart. It turns out I’ve been relying on another body part to do the heavy lifting of day-to-day operations.

Modern psychology tells us that we operate out of one of our three centers: our Head, our Heart or our Gut. In my own, very simplified language, this is how they work.

Head people think first, before they decide how to act.

Heart people feel things deeply and allow their emotions to guide them.

Gut people seem to live by the adage that it is far easier to seek forgiveness than ask permission. They trust their instincts to jump right in to any and every situation.

Can you identify with one of those centers? In a new situation, what do you listen to first? Your head, your heart or your gut?

For a long time, due to my incorrigible optimism, I assumed I was a heart person, because I felt happy so much of the time. But alas, I’ve discovered I am not a heart person. I’m sure that’s no surprise to anyone who truly is a heart person. No one in touch with their actual feelings is happy all the time. Heart-centered people experience real emotions, like joy and sadness, agony and ecstasy, not just bland hopefulness.

I am also not a gut person. Given the advice to “trust my instincts,” I break out in a cold sweat. The “Act first. Think later” philosophy of gut-centered people makes me cringe. How do you know if what you are doing is right or wrong? It seems to me you don’t and that you must be wrong almost as often as you’re right. However, it sure does save a lot of time on front-end decision making.

Through the process of elimination, you’ve probably figured out that I am a head person, but perhaps you knew that all along. I suspect that my previous blogs have revealed that I spend a lot of time thinking about things. My cranium is my comfort zone. To me, only the brain can be trusted. A heart will betray you; emotions change far too often to be relied upon and following your gut will get you into trouble; your tag line might as well be “frequently wrong, but never in doubt.”

But a brain? Well, a brain is a beautiful thing – it’s rational, logical, dependable, except when it’s not. It can also be paranoid, delusional and let’s face it, the epicenter of mental illness. I haven’t gone down that path, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the limitations of my control center. Basically, I’m a brain walking around on two feet and that is not what we were meant to look like.

So I recently sought the advice of a wise woman I know about how to find more balance in my life. I wanted to know how to get what I know in my head to move into my heart, how to make my gut instincts feel like something more than morning sickness. She laughed, and thought I was joking, but when she saw my face (and the notepad and pen in my hand), she got serious. She gently removed the pen from my grip and said in essence that my heart and gut probably don’t speak anymore, because my brain just shouts them down. I could just imagine my overzealous mind berating the centers “beneath” her, “Quiet down, you two! I’m in charge here, so don’t try to confuse the issue with your mucked up feelings and half-cocked instincts. Who do you think you are? Me?”

This wise woman challenged me to step away from everything my mind loves for at least an hour a day: the computer, books, work, writing, plans. For one hour a day, I’m just supposed to feel things. My instinct that this would be difficult was right on, but after I threw up, I was able to accept the challenge.

And so I began to walk – with mixed results. When I demoted my mind, my heart began to speak up. I hear whispers of things long forgotten, pangs of real emotion, vague sensations in my gut. I try to go home and act on them, before my mind has a chance to talk me out of it. Some days, it just doesn’t work out and my head remains firmly in control.

I have no doubt that this process of “re-centering” myself will make me healthier in the long run, but in the meantime, I ache. These new sensations are frequently uncomfortable, and I long to ‘quit the gym’ so to speak. But then I remember my early workouts at the YMCA and why I kept going – to move through this world with more confidence and grace.

So on these walks, I keep my head up and my heart open, because I know we will always be our most graceful when we are balanced – head, heart and gut.

Ruler CollectionThe most precious eight feet in the world (to me anyway) can be found in my home on any given day.

No, it’s not the width of the king-sized bed I share with my darling husband, (no matter how much joy and satisfaction I find there).

No, it’s not the length of my lovely Pottery Barn sectional where I get cozy with my kids and watch reruns of Happy Days and The Cosby Show, (even though I love having them next to me like a pile of puppies, each of them vying for a snuggle, or a gentle hand on the back of their neck).

It’s not even the depth of my backyard pool where I go to sink and stay as long as I can on hot, summer afternoons when I don’t want anyone to find me. (That’s where my training as a lifeguard really comes in handy. I can hold my breath for a looong time.)

Rather, the most precious eight feet I know are usually smelly, and frequently in need of washing. I rarely find all eight lined up together and when I do, six of them are usually kicking at each other.The most precious eight feet I know belong to Tim and our three kids, the four humans I love most in this world.

I know this is an odd topic, but I hope you’ll bear with me. I don’t have a foot fetish, but there is one day a year, when I celebrate these eight feet. I plan for this day with great care. I look forward to holding the ticklish flesh and bone in my hands and bestowing a little time, love and attention on each one and by extension, to their owners.

Now if this sounds intimate, and a little creepy, you’re might be right. Even as I write, it sounds a little weird to me too. But I am sure, when Jesus stripped to the waist in front of all his friends, it might have been a little awkward and creepy for them as well. On that Thursday night, their teacher, spiritual leader, and best friend all rolled into one got semi-naked and insisted on washing their feet. They didn’t want to let him do it. It was uncomfortable and unheard of and yet, since he set his mind to it, inevitable. They argued. They pleaded, but eventually, they gave in. Thankfully, my family did too.

On the Thursday before Easter, I settle them into an easy chair one at a time and use my favorite soap (Bliss Lemon & Sage – It’s the only day of the year I share!) to wash each foot from toe to heel. I cascade jugs of warm water down their shins and let it splash over the sides of the bowl. (My friend Patty frowns with displeasure.) While my hands are busy, I remind them why I love them. I recall stories of the good things they’ve done this past year, and the challenges they’ve overcome. I play a song that I’ve picked out just for them, one that speaks to what I see in them, want for them, or wish they knew. I ask them to forgive me for the ways I’ve let them down: for the lost patience, broken promises, and unreasonable expectations.  I dry their feet gently, massage them with lotion (more Bliss!), and kiss them before I send them on their way and invite my next two feet to come over and sit down.

Even though I was raised in a traditional Catholic home, Holy Thursday has never meant as much to me as it has in the last few years since I started washing the feet of my family. I cannot transform bread and wine into anything more than a simple meal. I have not performed miracles and I do not expect to rise from the dead. The closest I may ever get to following in the footsteps of the son of God is washing the feet of the ones I love. It may not be much, but I will take the similarities where I can find them.

I know this ritual is not for everyone and I don’t think it will be for us for all time. I expect my kids will eventually get too old and put their feet down, literally and figuratively. But for as long as they will let me, I will celebrate the only day of the year when those precious eight feet belong to me, at least for a few minutes.

After my early morning experience with the nature of Love, or Love in nature, I’ve started taking morning walks, trading in one form of meditation for another. I no longer wake up and write. Instead, I lace up my shoes, pour a cup of coffee and head out the door.

The purpose of the walk is twofold.

I go to find solitude and to go slowly.

Going slow may not seem like much of a purpose; in fact, to most of fitness-conscious Southern California, it sounds like the anti-purpose of walking. But I’ve come to see that I go fast enough already, all day long. Going slow is an anathema to me, which is all the more reason to learn how to do it. It’s not easy. In fact, that’s why I bring the coffee: to remind me to sip and savor my surroundings, to literally stop and smell my neighbor’s roses.

But what I thought would be the hardest part, going slow, is not as hard as the harder part: finding solitude.

Somehow, an old friend, let’s call her Patty, has found out I’m walking and has decided to join me on these early morning strolls.

Actually I wouldn’t call her a friend. She’s more like a nemesis. Though I try to evade her, by the time I get a few houses away, there she is, keeping step with me, ready to chatter away about her plans for the day and gossip, filling my head with negative energy. I’ve tried sending her away, saying politely, but firmly that this is my time, for peace and quiet, to not think about all the things she’s obsessing over, but she’s very persistent. If I really press her, she might fall silent, or walk on the other side of the street for a while. But she’s usually back, the very next day, ready to keep me company again. Apparently, she thinks I would get lost without her.

Now if you’re wondering why I don’t just get rid of her, the fact of the matter is that I can’t.

Patty is me.

Patty is my conscious self, my ego, my mind,. And no matter how hard I try to leave her at home, she always tags along.

She is just full of ideas.

She tries to get me to multi-task: “If you’re walking, you might as well walk faster and get your exercise in.”

She tries to get me to plan: “If you get home by 6:30, that will give you 15 minutes to write and then 10 minutes to make lunches and then 5 minutes to …”

She tries to get me to worry: “Keara has a Spanish test today and a math test too. Did she study hard enough? Did the Lad finish his math homework? Will Molly ever grow?”

Patty tries to get me to stick with her, but the whole point of the walk is to find some measure of stillness, away from my busy mind. The point of the walk is to discover the truth of what I know, apart from words and plans and the power they hold.

I want to be clear about something. Patty is not a bad person. I need Patty. She keeps me on track during my day, directs me about my tasks and makes sure that my family and work life run smoothly. Sometimes, Patty can be quiet. Sometimes, she sleeps; sometimes, she’s distracted, and on occasion, she is actually satisfied with what we’ve accomplished during our day.

It’s been several weeks now and I’ve realized that Patty is coming on these walks with me whether I like it or not. It was a naïve fantasy that she would remain home in bed while I was up and about in the world. So I’ve learned these walks are really about teaching Patty to be silent, to remember she isn’t the only one in this relationship. And so far, I think it’s been good for us – me, myself and I.

If you recall from my post “The Big 4-0,” I decided to give up worrying for 40 days and believe it or not, it has gone well, really well. Almost, I was tempted to think, too well. But never fear, that nirvana came to an end, thank goodness. There’s no humor in “too well,” and no growth either.

A couple of times over the last few weeks, I found myself thinking, “Why aren’t you worrying about that?” The “that” in question could be anything from a big presentation, to a deadline at work, the Lad’s lost basketball game, or an encounter with a cranky teen. Normally, these are things I would worry about: “How am I doing? How did I do? How did they do? Why are they doing that? What should I do about it?”  Honestly, these are the thoughts that can dominate my mind on a stressful day. But I had been enjoying my worry-free state.

However, the other morning I woke at 4:30 am, with a familiar ringing in my ear. No, it wasn’t a phone call. It wasn’t my alarm clock, or the smoke detector. It was simply a voice I had been avoiding. It was the siren call of worry and no matter how deeply I buried my head in my pillow, no matter how many times I tossed and turned, no matter how many deep breaths I took, worry had a hold of me. The details are inconsequential, but thankfully, I had a new perspective to manage it.

The first thing I did differently was not worry about how I was failing in my quest to not worry. I forgave myself for having these emotions and for not being able to talk myself out of them. That may not sound like much, but it’s a huge first step for a struggling perfectionist like myself. The second thing I did was resign myself to being awake at 4:30 am. I knew that staying in bed was a recipe for more worry. Instead, I decided that distraction was an appropriate alternative, so I caught up on the latest Project Runway episode. (So long, Jerrell!) And when the dawn finally brightened the night sky around 5:30 am, I went on a walk.

Over the last few weeks, any time worry looms on the horizon my technique has been to visualize myself in the river of Love. Worrying, I stand on the shore, fighting with the Universe to make things go my way.  When I am in the river of Love, I am surrounded by a rush of water, of current, of the inevitability of things. I become aware of my stance, my posture. I lean into Love and watch it sweep away the barnacles of worry that cling to me.

So on this early morning walk, I thought about Love and what a powerful antidote it can be to worry and how I wished that I could remember to love and to be in love more. I started singing a line from one of my favorite U2 songs that “Perfect love drives out all fear.”  (I know that Bono is quoting scripture, but it sounds so much cooler when he says it.) While I walked, I saw a yellow leaf on the ground and I had to take a second look. It was a heart, sort of, from a certain angle and I found myself thinking, “Wow, you almost had me there, Universe. Almost, but not quite. Nice try.” I kept walking, wishing I had seen a sign of Love as concrete as the sidewalks I was treading.

And then it happened. Looking down at my feet, I saw it. A real sign. A real heart. The Universe was going to get me after all.

If I disdained the first message of Love I was given, as not being perfect enough (Ugh! That is so not my favorite part of myself), Love would try again. I still had to be paying attention, but there it was, Love at my feet, written in stone.

I stopped. I sat. I laughed and then I cried. I must have looked like a lunatic, but I got the message loud and clear.

Love is here. Love wants me. Love is as present to me as my worry is, if I will but open my eyes and see.

And now that I’ve seen it once, I’ve begun to see it everywhere. I see it in leaves and trees and rocks and sand. I see it in shells and dirt and even in places I hate, like the dimples on my thighs. Apparently, it was here all along.

What is worry, but fear with lots of scary details?

And if I trust Bono, and I usually do, then I will keep seeking my entry point into that river of perfect Love that casts out all fear.