These four faces made me a mother: the first by birth, the second by fire, the third by boy, and the fourth by grace. Every step I’ve taken in health and growth, spiritually, physically and mentally, has been to make me a better mother to them.
They gave me the question of my life: “How can I love better, bigger, and more fully?”
The answers have often surprised me and almost always cost me something I didn’t expect, but it has been worth it every time.
When they were small, I gave up my body, my time, my work, my sense of autonomy, and even some of my dreams. As they grew, I gave up thinking I always knew what was best, right, or even true for them.
Instead I just tried to love them well and set them free to be whoever God made them to be. In return, I’ve received the privilege of their presence, intelligence, humor, curiosity, compassion and company and I also received the gift of that question, the one that animates my life and keeps leading me down new paths and to new discoveries.
“How can I love better, bigger, and more fully?”
So Happy Mother’s Day to the kids who made a mom of me!
I’ve always loved newsletters, but I must be in the minority, since they seem to have gone the way of magazine subscriptions, to be replaced by tweets, status updates and email “blasts,” whenever something noteworthy happens. But I love the reflective tone of a newsletter, its way of looking back at the last month or quarter and assessing what was actually significant, successful, or transformative, instead of just “advertising” about it in real time.
In that vein, I thought I’d offer a “Newsletter from a Fool” as the month of February comes to a close. (I’ll get to the “fool” part a little later.)
February was a big month for our family.
Keara Moses turned 21 on the 18th and happened to be in town on her birthday, so we took her to the Station Tavern in Southpark, one of her favorite restaurants. She started with a coffee stout and after a veggie burger and tater tots, she finished up with two mixed drinks. She didn’t even seem buzzed, which is strange since they were her first drinks ever (I’m pretty sure). But we all had a good time and raised our glasses of beer, lemonade and Dr. Pepper to the woman we love, who challenges us and makes us laugh and wonder and worry all at the same time, which is pretty much the job description of a 21-year-old college student, as far as I’m concerned.
In other news, Molly Grace celebrated the one year anniversary of her spinal surgery on February 22. Though she had begged to take the day off school, we sent her anyway, since we had taken a three-day snowboarding break in Mammoth earlier in the month. But she was greeted that afternoon with flowers, went thrifting with me at the Buffalo Exchange, enjoyed a hot tub session at the YMCA, a sushi dinner out and finally was surprised at Dairy Queen by her two best friends and their families, who have been with her every step of the way for the past fifteen years. This past month, we reflected on her amazing recovery and how she has finally done everything post-surgery that she did pre-surgery. Grateful doesn’t even begin to cut it.
On a sadder note, we lost a wonderful woman and friend, Gretchen Kelly, to cancer this past month. Tim had known Gretchen for over thirty years; our kids thought of her as their local grandma, calling her “Nana Gretch” all their lives. We loved her homemade carrot cake, her “Sunday ‘do,” her full-bodied hugs and full-throated laughter. She was a legend and her memorial service was a testament to that. Friends from all generations and family from all over the country gathered to honor a woman who lived her life with passion, generosity, loyalty and faith. Gretchen is truly an example of how open-hearted living and loving extends the circle of connection and compassion, making the world a better place. Gretchen is seated on the far right in these photos, which hold pride of place in our kitchen, right next to my mother-in-law Ruth and their friend Patsy.
I found this poem by Mary Oliver on the day of Gretchen’s service and I think it could have been written just for her.
Finally, on a more foolish note…
I always think of February as the month of Love and try to do something a little special for my family. Since there are so many miles between us this year, I had to get a little creative, which wasn’t a problem, because I have discovered SNAPCHAT and my kids created a FAMILY GROUP, so now I can torture them all hours of the day and night while endlessly entertaining myself. Instead of love notes on their pillow, they received a daily love song.
I’m going to admit it: filters are my friend. Stickers speak to my soul. Bitmojis are totally bitchin’ and voice changers are game changers for people like me who don’t have musical talent.
Am I sounding foolish enough yet? Is your respect for me leaking away, slowly but surely?
Stay tuned. There’s more.
I was inspired to take my foolishness to this next level by my church community’s theme for Lent: “Holy Fools for Love, Holy Fools for Christ.” I don’t know how many times I have shown up as the latter, but the former? Any day of the week! I’m your gal, especially when it comes to my kids.
As I’ve dug into this theme, proposed first by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians and later practiced by my favorite saint of all time, Francis of Assisi, I’m more convinced than ever that foolishness is something to be cultivated and cherished, not condemned. I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill stupidity, immaturity, or thoughtlessness. I’m talking about the foolishness on the other side of seriousness, or as Rob Bell likes to say, the simplicity on the other side of complexity.
My family knows how much I love them and they know that my light-hearted singing is not an expression of the depths of my love, but of the lightness of my love. It is the aspect of my Love that wants to lift them up “higher and higher” in the words of Jackie Wilson. We have been to the depths together and have come out the other side: heartbreaks, betrayals, depressions, medical interventions, coming out, moving out, standing up for justice and kneeling down to ask forgiveness. We’ve gained some wisdom during our twenty-five + years of loving each other, so I gave myself the permission and pleasure of being a fool for Love this February. If you’re not familiar with Snapchat and all the good times that can be had with it, here is some evidence.
(I ask that you watch with generosity! This is amateur hour. I am fully aware I have no musical, filming, or editing ability. The talent may be weak, but the spirit of Love is strong.)
Have you ever been a fool for the sake of someone you love, not because you were weak, but because you had the strength to offer them your own vulnerability? When or where have you chosen to lose, even though you could have won? Who, or what inspires you to fall to your knees, instead of standing tall? These acts of radical foolishness are so rare. We cultivate an image, a “brand,” a level of seriousness, beauty and respect, which we vigilantly guard, but unless we are unprotected, we will not be connected.
There are so many things that keep us from “fooling” around: pride, efficiency, fear of ridicule, loss of standing, lack of practice, cultural expectations. The list goes on and on, but it doesn’t have to. We can stop it anytime, simply by looking at each of those pre-conditions and seeing if it is more important in any given situation than communicating Love, connection, humor, tenderness, grace.
Is there room to “fool” around right now, right here?
I know the answer won’t always be yes, but it isn’t always no either.
Finally, because poetry is often the language of fools, especially the wise and holy ones, here’s a final offering from Mary Oliver.
I Don’t Want to be Demure or Respectable
I don’t want to be demure or respectable.
I was that way, asleep, for years.
That way, you forget too many important things.
How the little stones, even if you can’t hear them, are singing.
How the river can’t wait to get to the ocean and the sky,
it’s been there before.
What traveling is that?
It is a joy to imagine such distances.
I could skip sleep for the next hundred years.
There is a fire in the lashes of my eyes.
It doesn’t matter where I am, it could be a small room.
The glimmer of gold BÖhme saw on the kitchen pot
Was missed by everyone else in the house.
Maybe the fire in my lashes is a reflection of that.
Why do I have so many thoughts, they are driving me crazy.
Why am I always going anywhere, instead of somewhere?
About a year ago, my friend Paul, host of the Contemplify podcast, emailed me and said: I think you should start a podcast.
No, was my obvious answer.
He knew I was going to say that, so he had an alternative for me:
Record a podcast series. I’ll produce it and put it on Contemplify. Easy-peasy.
He believed in my blog, my stories and my content that much. We could all use more friends like Paul in our lives – the ones who think that the world would be a better place if more of YOU were in it, the ones who not only encourage you, but support you with repeated follow-up messaging and put their own resources at your disposal.
So after a lot of back and forth, a fair amount of technical difficulty on my part, and then actually screwing up the courage to listen to the sound of my own voice with all my “ums” and “you knows” and other verbal idiosyncrasies, I share with you Episode One of “Practice Without Preaching”. It was released on January 18, with additional episodes being released, one per day for the next five days.
Depending on when you tune in, you may be able to access all five hours of content at one time. Is it binge-worthy? Who knows? You’ll have to decide that for yourself, but I hope you’ll give it a listen, beginning with the first episode where Paul puts me through the Contemplify paces, normally reserved for the rarefied air of published authors, eminent PhDs and theologians, world travelers, poets, filmmakers and the like. I have to admit; I felt a little intimidated going in. My primary job title for the last twenty years has been “mom,” but as Paul kindly points out in his bio on me, I wear a lot of other hats too, (including “an Ambassador of Love,” which just might be my favorite title ever.)
You might be wondering what the series is about. Why should you give up so much of your time (even though it can be down-time, driving time, gym time, etc) to a podcast on family spirituality? If you read, #Signs of Love, you’ve got an inkling of what’s coming. I talk about family, faith, fidelity and all the ways I (we) can fail to Love, but I also get out of my comfort zone and actually get prescriptive instead of just descriptive.
I tell stories, but I also offer some serious “how-tos” when it comes to offering kids a sense of faith and values outside traditional church settings. I challenge parents to intentionally honor their own truths, but also to consider the triggers that keep them from being the people and parents they want to be. I talk about the importance of finding a place to worship with integrity, not just convenience, or cultural acceptance. None of this is easy stuff, but I long for families to develop a healthy spirituality, one that honors the questions, the journey and the dignity of each of its members.
Here’s why I’m hoping you’ll tune in.
If you’re a twenty-something spiritual-seeker, I hope you’ll find that God is with you along every road you travel and all the way home.
If you’re a thirty-something parent with young kids, I hope you’ll find comfort in finding someone a little further down the road, who can help you map the terrain ahead.
If you’re in your forties or fifties and have teens, or young adults on their way out the door (like me!), I hope you’ll find the language to have some important conversations about who they want to be and how they want to show up the world.
And if you’re a grandparent whose kids have left the church, maybe this podcast will open up a dialogue about how the signs of your faith might be made manifest in future generations, whether they share your theology, or not.
Anyway, that’s what I hope for this project someday. In my mind, this series is just the beginning of a conversation I’d love to have with you, so stay in touch. Ask a question; post a comment; offer a constructive critique, and let the journey continue.
Start HERE on Contemplify. Paul will offer you all the links to all the places the podcast can be found, including iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play.
Knowing the podcast on family spirituality was coming out, I asked the kids to take an updated photo. Polished and perfect? Not by a long shot. Perfectly ourselves? Amen.
I’ve been itching to write something for a week in order to get my #Me Too post off the front page of my website. Instinctively, I wanted to hide what I revealed there behind something brighter and more beautiful. But I was mindful of why I was in such a hurry, so I forced myself to wait until it didn’t bother me anymore to see that part of my past laid bare. While I can’t say that’s entirely true, I want to talk about the other side of that coin –a positive reflection on what it’s means to be a woman.
When I was visiting with my mom last week, she handed me a folder.
It was a biography project I had completed for a Girl Scout award at the end of 8th grade. I laughed at the cover. For the life of me, I can’t recall why I put a picture of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator on it. Most of the project was pretty boring, but there were a few pages that were surprisingly accurate.
Today is my mother’s 70th birthday and although I could think of a few things she’d like more, I’m hoping the gift of words will be enough for now. Her favorite gift will come in a week’s time when our whole family – all 20+ of us – will gather in my sister’s backyard for dinner and drinks and dancing. Cutting a rug with her grandbabies, sons, daughters and in-laws is her idea of heaven!
A few months back, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They renewed their vows in front of family and friends with a big celebratory dinner. At one point in the evening, my siblings and I, along with our spouses, each shared a few words about what their marriage has taught us.
How had we grown and benefitted from their love and commitment to each other and to our family?
As you can imagine, we talked about love, loyalty, commitment, hard work, inclusion and integrity. You don’t make it fifty years without knowing a thing or two about those qualities. It was hard for me to decide what to speak on, because I wanted to talk about ALL THE THINGS. (No surprise there, I’m sure.) But what I landed on was faith, and that brief reflection is probably one of my mom’s favorite things I have ever written. So, in honor of the woman who raised me, I’m sharing it here today with all of you.
If you ask my mom, her family is the best thing she’s ever done, and if you ask any of us, we’d probably agree. Our mom taught us that Love was never just a feeling. You had to live it out too through service, loyalty, and sacrifice. She embodies the art of “showing up,” sticking to your guns, speaking the truth (as you see it), and then releasing the outcome, because she loves you so damn much. My mom lives by the motto that with God, and with her, you get “forever tries.”
Normally, we’d have a family dinner and I’d get to tell you ALL THE THINGS.
All the things…
About how to be brave and kind and helpful.
About how to give your teachers a chance.
About how to say hi to a kid who looks lonely.
About how NOT to gossip, or believe the things other people tell you.
About how to work hard and expect the unexpected and do your best.
Normally, we’d have a family dinner and I’d get to hold your hands while we say grace and I’d close with my favorite reminder that our hands create a circle of Love and how that makes us pretty darn lucky and so the least we can do is spread some of that Love around.
Normally, I’d get to kiss and hug you goodnight and make sure there were Lucky Charms in the pantry (our traditional good luck breakfast). I’d get to wake up early and pack your lunches and make you take a picture with the neighbor kids as we have for the past fifteen years.
But tomorrow isn’t normal, because two of the three of you aren’t here to do them!
Tomorrow is your first day of school at COLLEGE and you aren’t living here anymore. Molly alone will suffer through (or bask in) all my attention. Molly alone in the morning pictures. Molly alone with a big box of marshmallow goodness.
Will she survive? Will I?
It’s all good, just weird, which is probably why I’m writing. It’s how I work out what’s weird at any given time.
So, here’s a rundown of your mom’s past week.
Wednesday, Finn and I drove up the coast and started moving him in.
Thursday, we visited Keara at Cal State Long Beach.
Friday, we played.
Saturday, I left.
And I’m not going to lie, I cried. I held Finn in my arms for one giant last hug and I felt my heart ache, just like it did when your dad and I left Keara at college for the first time.
Why? I thought. Why is something so exciting, so natural, and so good, so hard to do? What is it about that final moment that tears me apart?
I listened to sad music for a while on my drive home, but it was getting hard (and dangerous) to see through the tears, so I put on one of my favorite episodes of On Being – the one with Richard Rohr. (I know, I know, kids! Big surprise!) But this time, I heard him explain those final moments we shared and why they were so surreal.
“In the Greek, in the New Testament, there’s two words for time. Chronos is chronological time, time as duration, one moment after another, and that’s what most of us think of as time.”
Chronos: Those were my first eighteen years with you guys – day in and day out. The chronos of diaper changes and playgroups and skinned knees and teacher conferences. The chronos of school days and carpools, casseroles and soccer teams. The chronos of homework and dishes and bed-making. The chronos of the lives we’ve shared.
And then he goes on to say:
“But there was another word in Greek, kairos. And kairos was deep time. It was when you have those moments where you say, “Oh my god, this is it. I get it,” or, “This is as perfect as it can be,” or, “It doesn’t get any better than this,” or, “This moment is summing up the last five years of my life,” things like that where time comes to a fullness, and the dots connect, when we can learn how to more easily go back to those kind of moments or to live in that kind of space.”
I listened and I thought, Kairos. That’s it, Keara and Finn! That’s why hugging you goodbye was such an out of body experience for me. That day, even up until that very moment, was chronos – the final touches on your new room, the twenty dollars snuck into your wallet, the walking out to the car. It was sad, but normal, until it wasn’t.
In our final embrace, my heart touched yours and then I time-traveled into kairos. I felt the “summing up” of our last eighteen years together, from the moment I first held you in my arms until the very moment when I symbolically let you go. If it were a movie, it would have flashed on your sandy blonde hair, your chubby cheeks and gap-toothed grins, the way you would both squeeze me tight each night and beg for one more hug, story, or song. It would have covered the slammed doors and raised voices and moments of tearful reconciliation. It would have covered your moments of greatest bliss and greatest heartache, when your dad and I were the first ones you looked to for assurance, because we were the way you made sense of the world.
So many years have passed since those things were true. Chronos marched on, but kairos preserved it in my memory and gave it to me as a gift when we left you. And that’s the thing about kairos. It has to be recognized and welcomed, when we’d rather let it pass us by. We’re rational, cynical, linear people. The shift feels disconcerting and uncomfortable, and you can’t shut it down. You have to get past that before it can work its magic.
Kairos whispers to us: Take it all. Take the Love and the hurt, the hopes and the fears, the reality and the possibility. Experience it and then let it change your chronos, the way you live and love and look at your people day after day after day.
I don’t mean to say that this is the only kairos moment I’ve ever had, or will have with you. College drop-off isn’t the end-all-be-all by any means. It’s just an opportunity, but milestones of all sorts abound. Moments of deep joy and deep sadness are woven throughout our lives. Trust me, you will experience it, perhaps with me, but certainly with other people you will come to know and love. We often make a big fuss about the event itself, but maybe, just maybe, it’s really about the shift in time and the chance to experience the totality of Love.
So one last thing, kiddos. Here’s the piece of advice I wanted to share. It’s from an IG poet called Atticus.
Imagine me calling you to the family room tonight. You’d come out of your rooms complaining, itching to get back to your phones, or Netflix, or closets where you were deciding what to wear tomorrow. But you’d come, because you always do. You’re good sports that way.
About this time two years ago, Tim and I took our eldest child, Keara, to college for the first time. It was a tough day for all of us, and it brought back a lot of memories of another “leaving day” that I had experienced twenty-five years earlier. You can read about it here. Even when we heal, there are parts of a broken heart that will always be more tender. But two weeks ago, on a midweek morning, with no fanfare, Keara packed up a car and headed back to her third year at CSULB. What a difference 700 (or so) days make! With the day already at 90+ degrees, even a long hug was out of the question, so I stood in the street and waved goodbye as she drove away with David Bowie blasting out the car window
But that doesn’t mean this Fall will be easy. In a few days, child #2 is moving out and heading to college about 100 miles away. This time, it feels just the same and totally different. The same part is that it’s a portion of my heart walking out the door and setting up residence in another jurisdiction. You learn to function that way, but you walk with a limp for a while. The different part is that it’s Finn. If you don’t know what I mean, check out my post from June. The house will be quieter, less fun-loving and jokey, but just less loving too. When Finn’s been out of the house at dinner time this past year, Tim, Molly and I have kind of looked at each other sideways across the table, each of us thinking, “Just the three of us, huh?”
Molly probably feels the most anxious about the 40% population drop, a little ripped off by her change of circumstance. I was the “big sister” in my family and never experienced the sense of abandonment that the younger ones must go through as siblings move out on their own, one after another. However, Molly is thrilled with Finn’s decision to move in with my parents and attend junior college for two years before transferring to San Luis Obispo. For one thing, it’s 200 miles closer; for another, he can’t dictate (exactly) when she can and cannot visit him. She’s got her own key to Grandma’s house! She adores her big brother and some of the most tender moments in the hospital this last Spring were when he sat by her bedside. No matter how she felt, Finn always got a smile.
A mama knows that the fabric of her family will eventually be stretched by time and distance (and other things), so she spends the first decades of her kids’ lives stitching them together, so that when the bonds are tested, the Love of her family will stay strong. Undoubtedly, some of the threads will come loose and the edges will fray, but she prays the integrity of what she’s woven will hold.
With that in mind, I approached this summer with the goal of creating as many opportunities as I could for the five of us to be together, tightening the threads, and stockpiling enough hugs and laughter to last us for the months (or weeks) that might pass before we are together again. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t, but there were beach days, dinners out, movie nights, evening body surfing sessions, Scrabble games, Slurpee runs to 7-11, conversations across the table, sing-a-longs in the car, and Snapchat videos shared.
Every once in a while, I would find myself wondering – a little anxiously if I’m honest – “Has it been enough? Have I been enough? Have I done enough before I let them go? Will our fabric hold?” It takes a lifetime for those answers to unfold, but I was getting all teary-eyed thinking about how my time of biggest impact was coming to a close.
And then Keara left.
And then the date of Finn’s departure neared.
And then Charlottesville (and our President) happened.
And then my tears dried up.
I’ve got nothing to cry about.
(I’m not saying I won’t cry, or that there’s anything wrong with crying about our kids leaving, but it gave me some serious perspective.)
My son is going to be just fine, and there are so many things in our world that are not fine at all.
I’ve raised a white, middle-class, soon-to-be college-educated young man in a two-parent American, “Christian” home. He has been privileged in every way his whole life. Of course he’s worked hard and honed his skills, but every door has been opened for him, except the ones we couldn’t afford (but those were few and far between and he didn’t need them anyway). Every step of the way, from parents to teachers, coaches to employers, police to waiters, he has been given the benefit of the doubt, not just because of the color of his skin, but because of the smile on his face, the kindness and confidence he exudes, the vocabulary he’s developed (in part from having two parents with multiple college degrees between them).
All of it comes “naturally” to him and that’s a form of privilege.
So is that fact that he can wear clothes from Goodwill, and loiter in the local park with his friends all hours of the day and night without “concerned” neighbors calling the cops. So is the fact that he can go to school for the next two years without taking out a loan. So is the fact that when he needs a job, we can call upon dozens of professional connections to help him get a foot in the door. So is the fact that he can “follow his heart” and pursue a career in photography. If it all goes belly up, he’s got some money in the bank and many, many places to land.
To be sure, he isn’t guaranteed a damn thing. He is going to have to bust his ass to make his dreams come true. He may fail many times, but this kid has multiple choices and multiple chances to succeed. Anything he accomplishes will be based, not just on his own talent, grit, hard work and luck, but also because the world welcomes him with open arms as a straight, white man and that’s privilege.
Last week, when everything in Charlottesville went down, Tim and I had Finn to ourselves on a 20+ hour road back from Montana. It was a gift to have so much time with him, right before he leaves the nest. We talked race, religion, politics, enneagram, technology, social media, national parks and the environment, our dreams, fears and failures. We offered our takes and heard his and I have to say, I am less worried about him than ever. I believe in him – his talent, skills, vision and work ethic, but most especially, his heart.
I haven’t posted anything about Charlottesville, because I didn’t want to add my voice to the fray. There were so many good, and important things being said by people who were there and people who have wrestled with these issues their whole lives, people like Brené Brown and Brian McLaren and Ruby Sales, among countless others.
But I do want to highlight two voices I came across that were kind of hidden away, but are every bit as worthy of wide-scale attention.
The first is a bit of parenting advice from Brian Vincent from Farmville, Virginia, a born and bred Southerner, who contributed to a forum on BitterSoutherner.com.
“As I looked at my girls this morning, I remembered that I have the most potent weapon against this kind of ugliness, right at my fingertips. We can Raise Warriors. We can raise children who speak out in defense of love, and denounce hate at every turn. We can combat a long history of calculated disparagement of ‘others’ by educating and reminding our children of this country’s history, while emphatically celebrating its diversity.
Step your game up. Engage in the uncomfortable waters of contentious conversation. Fight back with sharp intellect, and a heart filled with fierce morality. Teach your children that this war will not be won with physical combat, but with a spiritual warrior’s discipline and adherence to love. Be bold.”
The second is from the Native American award-winning poet, and author, Sherman Alexie. His brilliant poem, HYMN, was written just days ago. You can find the whole thing here, and I hope you’ll take the time to read it, but here is an excerpt to get you started.
It’s too easy to keep a domestic score.
This world demands more love than that. More.
So let me ask demanding questions: Will you be
Eyes for the blind? Will you become the feet
For the wounded? Will you protect the poor?
Will you welcome the lost to your shore?
Will you battle the blood-thieves
And rescue the powerless from their teeth?
Who will you be? Who will I become
As we gather in this terrible kingdom?
My friends, I’m not quite sure what I should do.
I’m as angry and afraid and disillusioned as you.
But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist.
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist
To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.
I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.
I will sing honor songs for the unfamiliar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.
I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.
I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.
And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.
I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.
We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.
We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.
Finn gets it. He knows he’s got a head start and that to judge, dismiss, divide and denigrate others is a bullshit way to make it in the world. What do the gospels say? “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from him who has been entrusted with much, even more will be demanded.” We have been given so freakin’ much, we’ve got to start giving back, somehow, in some way. Maybe Finn won’t in big ways for a while, but the fact that he gave me the “okay” to publish this is a start. He’s just a kid after all, but I’m the adult and I’ve got to step up my game.
Welcome to the world, Class of 2017.
I’ve known some of you since the day you were born and I’ve watched you grow up, go to school, play sports and skateboard in my front yard. I’ve surfed and studied and supped with you. I’ve watched you float and falter like all kids do. I have fallen in love with your hearts and witnessed your potential to change the world, so get to school; get to work; get to learning how to Love. We’re counting on you.
The Lad graduates from high school today and I wanted to find some way to commemorate this day for him and for myself. Finn’s graduation feels different from Keara’s in 2015, in part because she was our oldest and we’d never experienced the milestone before. However, it also feels different because Finn is different. Keara took graduation seriously; it felt momentous to her. Finn, on the other hand, is LIGHT, completely nonplussed by any of the pomp and circumstance.
LIGHT is one of the best words I have to describe him, but I don’t mean that he is lightweight, or shallow by any means. He is graduating with honors, was accepted to Cal Poly SLO, and loves to converse with people of all ages and interests. It just means that if given an option, Finn is going to choose a smile, a silliness, or a not-so-subtle gesture to add levity to any situation (at least for himself). For a couple years in his early teens, his mischievous grin went MIA, but over the last eighteen months, we’ve seen it flourish in ever new ways, as evidenced by the photographs at the end of this note.
Anytime I find myself shaking my head at his exploits, which I admittedly find embarrassing sometimes, a friend, or family member will gently remind me, “It’s Finn,” as if that explains everything. And in some ways it does. Who he was at two with his chubby cheeks and impish grin is who he has become again, albeit with more facial hair. Finn “coming out to play” is sure to make your burdens a little lighter and your day a little brighter. And that’s true in our home as well. In good times and bad, Finn is usually the elixir for whatever ails his sisters.
So, today is a day for laughter, courtesy of the Sufi poet Hafiz.
What is laughter? What is laughter?
It is God waking up! O it is God waking up!
It is the sun poking its sweet head out
From behind a cloud
You have been carrying too long,
Veiling your eyes and heart.
It is Light breaking ground for a great Structure
That is your Real body – called Truth.
It is happiness applauding itself and then taking flight
To embrace everyone and everything in this world.
Laughter is the polestar
Held in the sky by our Beloved,
Who eternally says,
“Yes, dear ones, come this way,
Come this way toward Me and Love!
Come with your tender mouths moving
And your beautiful tongues conducting songs
And with your movements – your magic movements
Of hands and feet and glands and cells – Dancing!
Know that to God’s Eye,
All movement is a Wondrous Language,
And Music – such exquisite, wild Music!”
O what is laughter, Hafiz?
What is this precious love and laughter
Budding in our hearts?
It is the glorious sound
Of a soul waking up!
This poem and note are a love letter to my son on this special day and a word of wisdom as well: Laughter is the glorious sound of your Soul waking up! When your pleasure in the present moment cannot be contained, laughter is what spills out and when you create opportunities for others to laugh, it will give even deeper purpose to your Joy. As long as it is not at someone else’s expense, laughter is a sign of your soul expanding; it is the sound of God rejoicing in and through you and all of creation.
Finn, you don’t need to be a clown, but keep being one of God’s Holy Fools, reminding the rest of us to wake up and look at this beautiful world with the childlike wonder and gratitude that comes so easily to you.
Things are getting weird around our place, (as if they aren’t strange enough on a regular basis.) And to be honest, “weird” is just a euphemism for weepy and fraught and emotional.
Two weeks ago, Molly turned fifteen and finally got out of her back brace after three months. She’s moving and grooving, surfing, running and hitting hockey balls with her buddies. We were even able to capture one of her very first waves.
Last week, Keara moved home from her second year of college, which prompted us to (finally) paint over the walls of our eighteen-year-old nursery, complete with ladybugs and flowers. The kids’ pencil-marked heights are lost to us forever, but the baby books and toys are packed away within reach.
And finally, last night the lad had his senior prom to be followed quickly by finals and graduation in the next week. He took it upon himself to create his own announcement, which, like this prom picture, captures his personality perfectly.
I think my favorite moment as he showed me his design was the quote he chose to go on the back, which he had attributed to Anonymous: “The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.” I made him look it up and to our surprise, it was written by Thomas Merton, one of the greatest spiritual teachers I’ve ever read and apparently, on the way to being one of Finn’s as well. We had to laugh at that one.
All of these moments have brought me up short with emotion. For years, it felt like we were captains of a ship on a relatively calm ocean. We managed the tides and even the occasional storm by paying attention and adjusting our sails. We were in familiar territory. Now it feels like every season brings a radical new swell, pushing us in disorienting directions. People are jumping ship (as they should) and then crawling back on board. It can be hard to navigate these waters, which makes me so grateful for my co-captain in all of this.
Together, we are trying to keep our eyes focused on the North Star of Love. Here is something he shared on WMD this week, his own creative outlet on Instagram and Facebook.
“Getting Touchy Feely with Ulysses”
“Trouble has beset my ways, and wicked winds have blown Sirens call my name, they say they’ll ease my pain, then break me on the stones But true love is the burden that will carry me back home Carry me with the memories of the beauty I have known
I’m sailing home to you I wont be long By the light of moon I will press on”
This song is brutal. And it’s beautiful. Just like life. The title refers to the main character in The Odyssey by Homer. ulysses was far away when he started his long journey home, a journey which took him ten years and included lots of drama and challenges, including angry gods, life-threatening storms, the Cyclops, and some tempting sirens to name a few. I suspect that the song is auto-biographical as well. Last summer, Ali and I saw Josh Garrels play at The Belly Up Tavern and he intro’d the song with a story about life the road as a musician, with his wife and their young kids back home. He gave the impression (if memory serves) that he needed to embark on a similar journey to get back “home.” Back to his family…back to the man he used to be… back to the man he wanted to be again.
I can definitely relate. When Ali and I first got married, we lived at the beach and had what felt like a three-year honeymoon. Then kids happened. First Keara (according to plan) then Finn (not according to plan) much sooner than expected. Honeymoon definitely over. I did not handle the stresses and sacrifices that came along with these additional humans with much grace or maturity. While I did not do anything rash, like retreat to a man-cave, spend all of my evenings out with “the boys,” or have an affair, even though I was present to my family, it wasn’t the right kind of presence. I was there, but I wasn’t who I wanted to be… I wasn’t who they needed me to be. So, like Ulysses and Josh Garrels and countless other people through time, I embarked on a journey towards home, one that was made possible by the responsibility I felt, as well as the memory of our relationship before we had kids.
“But true love is the burden that will carry me back home
Carry me with the memories of the beauty I have known”
I’m including this line again because it’s that good. It’s about as good as it gets, in my opinion. Love often gets a bad (cheesy) rap. We’ve made it too sweet & fluffy, and happily-ever-after. But Love is so much more than that. Love is a freaking bad-ass, when it has to be. Like this past spring, when Molly spent ten days in the hospital recovering from back surgery, Ali spent every night there with her, and then about two more weeks at home on the floor in her room, waking her up to take her medicine and helping her in and out of bed to go to the bathroom. There’s nothing more bad-ass than a mother’s love.
Before I heard this song, I would have never thought of Love as a burden, but it absolutely is. And not in a negative way, but in a way that compels you to ACT and to move TOWARDS relationship and TOWARDS compassion.
Josh Garrels is a poet and an incredible songwriter. And this particular song is my favorite. It kills me every time I hear it. It makes me sad for letting my wife and kids down in those early years, and it makes me happy because it reminds me that wherever we find ourselves in a particular moment does not have to be our final destination. There are no guarantees, and there are plenty of forces that try to knock us off course. (Occasionally it’s high winds & Cyclopes, but mostly it’s our own stubbornness and lack of vision), but there is light, and there is hope, and there is Love. And Love is a bad-ass, and it always leads the way.
“I’m sailing home to you
I won’t be long
By the light of moon
I will press on.
So tie me to the mast of this old ship and point me home
Before I lose the one I love,
before my chance is gone
I want to hold, her in my arms.”
Note: In case you’re wondering, I did, in fact, make it home, and it didn’t take me nearly as long as it took Ulysses. Also, my wife and kids were there waiting for me, and they welcomed me with open arms.
Our family will not be together in the same ship for much longer, but we all know how to navigate by the North Star of Love. We know Love is a blessing, a burden, a compass, a communion and commitment. It will navigate us through the rough waters of these next few weeks and months and I pray it will always bring us home to ourselves and to each other, no matter how far apart we may be.
On Saturday morning, I sat down to meditate for the first time in a long time and for the first time in an even longer time, I wanted to sit down and write.
Since Molly’s surgery for scoliosis on February 22, there has been a lot of doing, but not a lot of “sitting,” thinking, writing or anything else really. I have been “in the moment,” instead of worrying about it. And in that way, almost a month had flown by and I found myself wondering where it had gone.
It seems like it just went.
It went into the maze-like halls of the hospital with its fluorescent lighting, and the beeps, whirs and humming sounds that create an otherworldly time and space.
It went into hours of doing simple things that under normal circumstances take only minutes, things like showering, or eating a meal, or going to bed (by which I mean how one spends the night-time hours, not that you actually stay in bed).
It went into days on end of holding hands with a child, who was trying to lose herself in mindless TV, so she wouldn’t have to be present to the pain and anxiety that was present in her body.
It went into afternoons of reading out loud, coloring pictures, telling family stories, listening to music, or imagining the adventure we will go on when all this was over – somewhere warm and sunny and on the water.
In other words, this last month went by just loving Molly Grace.
But finally last Saturday morning, I sat alone, quietly and gratefully, for a full thirty minutes. The house was still asleep; there were no pills to organize, or meals to prepare. There was no place to be. There was just me and a Divine invitation to “be still.”
I sank into my favorite chair with a cup of coffee. From years of habit, my sacred phrase welled up from deep within.
“I am Yours,” my heart sighed and along with it came the reminder, “So is she.”
That was the phrase that came to me, during the long days and nights in the hospital, when I could not stop Molly’s pain, her vomiting, her hot flashes, or her tears. There was no time for formal meditation, but I would find myself sitting at her bedside, breathing deeply and intentionally.
Without a conscious thought, “I am Yours” became “She is Yours.” I would inhale and exhale those words, over and over again: “She is Yours. She is Yours. She is Yours,” a rhythmic prayer of Love and surrender, belonging and grace.
She is not (just) mine. She is not (in any way) alone. She belongs to God and God was holding her more closely in Love than I ever could. But in that prayer of letting go, I also recognized how intimately I was getting to hold on.
My hands were the ones washing her face, spooning her ice chips, adjusting her pillows. My lips were the ones kissing her forehead as she slept. My voice was the one lulling her to sleep, telling her it was all going to be okay. My heart was the one beating next to hers. What a privilege it was to just be there, Loving her, however the need manifested itself. Though sometimes tired, or scared, or frustrated, my overwhelming emotion was deep, deep gratitude.
We would walk the halls and see children who would be there for weeks and months on end, whose injuries and illnesses were not some temporary disruption from their normal life; it was their normal life. I was grateful we were in the right place for a while and that soon enough, the right place would be home. I was grateful we had such compassionate, gentle nurses there with us and such loving and generous friends and family supporting us nearby.
I can’t tell you how many people were praying for Molly, but I can tell you how much we felt the power of their prayers. We might not have gotten what they asked, or hoped for, but we got exactly what we needed. We felt loved; we felt brave; we had the energy to face the challenges of each day and when we didn’t, we had a soft place to land and a shoulder to cry on. Though we saw only a handful of people in those weeks, we were never alone.
At a difficult time in my life, “I am Yours,” began as a plea to God to not forget me, but it has become a reminder to myself of who and whose I am. When distractions and difficulties arise during my sit (or in my life), “I am Yours” sets me free to return my attention to what I was made for – what we are all made for –to be in Loving relationship.¹ “She is Yours” became my prayer for Molly this past month, but “We are Yours” is my prayer for all of us, not because God has forgotten, but because we have.
While I was finishing this blog, I heard about the attack in London and it brought to mind the wise words of Mother Theresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
We are Yours, God, and we are each other’s. Help us to remember.
My favorite book about the Trinity and how the Divine relationship is the model for all relationship is The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell. It’s insightful, accessible and I highly recommend it!