A Meditation on Leaving for College

candles_B&W

Today is the day Keara moves out.

Yesterday, we blessed her on her way.

My eldest daughter is not a big one for blessings, or prayers. She is not a big one for the subject of God in general. She is somewhere on the agnostic/atheist spectrum – at times willing to throw down the gauntlet that there is no God at all, but other times, unwilling to go that far. I’m okay with it; I know it is her journey, but I am sad for her.  My belief in God and Love in all its manifestations are the focus of my studies, my practice and my way of life and so I used to see Keara’s rejection of God as a rejection of me and all I have tried to give her.

Now, I simply see it as a reflection of her own life experience, her natural tendency towards skepticism and a posture of protection. But every once in a while I see a glimpse of a girl who wants to believe, a girl who opens her heart and allows Love in. Ultimately, my hope is that the seed has been planted, the seed of love, protection, openness, vulnerability – that it is okay to be soft, to let the ones who love you love you in the name of something greater than they are. Ultimately, I hope her life yields an abundant harvest of Love and relationship.

I love to ritualize moments in my family’s life,  and so we often do blessings and prayers as people hit certain milestones, but last night, I decided to try something different. I didn’t want “god-language” to get in the way of Keara’s hearing what we had to say.

I played a short guided Metta meditation by the Buddhist teacher, Sylvia Boorstein, with her husky voice and New York accent. It is a gentle introduction to the Buddhist practice of blessing, which involves the simple repetition of these four lines, beginning with yourself and radiating out to others.

May you feel safe. May you feel content. May you feel strong. May you live your life at ease.

That’s it and yet, it says almost everything. In safety, we do not act out of fear and all the negative consequences it brings. In contentedness, we are not greedy, grasping, envious, or backstabbing. When we are strong, we protect the weak, not just ourselves. To live at ease does not mean we live without suffering, but rather, that the end of the story is already assured.

We sat through the guided meditation as a family, each of us in silence, and in our own space and then we gathered around our daughter and sister, the one who is leaving our shared space, and we blessed her with the following words.


May you feel safe. May you feel content. May you feel strong. May you live your life at ease.

And in those moments when you cannot feel safe, content, strong and at ease, then may you take a deep breath, center yourself and draw on the resources you’ve been given.

Remember your gifts, your talents, your deepest desires and what you are working towards.

Remember your history, what you have accomplished and the obstacles you’ve overcome.

Remember your family and friends whose Love will never waver and whose support you can always count on.

Remember that Love is your birthright, the place you came from and the place you will find your home.

For it is there that you will find the freedom to become most fully yourself, and committed to your future,

Where you will find the courage to embrace hard work, to overcome setbacks, to process your confusion and disappointments and learn from them.

May you always come home – to yourself and who you truly are – gloriously Keara Moses Kirkpatrick, a creative, passionate, determined soul, who is a gift we call our own.

Amen.


Amen, Keara. That is our wish and our blessing for you as you move into your own space in the world, physically, spiritually, and professionally. You know where to find us whenever you want to come home.

What’s Better? Bigger or Smaller?

I grew up in a big church community and by big, I mean really big – something like 3,000 families – and Catholic families at that, with a minimum of three kids, but more likely four or five, or an occasional eight. The church sat over a thousand people and most of the services were standing room only. There were a dozen communion stations and a hundred pews. There was big music and an even bigger Jesus behind the altar. In my young mind, everything about that church shouted, “Alleluia.”

On any given Sunday, there were babies crying and toddlers whining, old folks coughing and parents shushing, but it didn’t matter. A thousand voices raised in song, a thousand voices saying, “Amen,” a thousand pairs of knees hitting the ground in unison drowned the distractions out.

That church community was a second home to me. For eight years, I went to school in the shadow of the church steeple and on Sunday mornings, I was back under it for mass and then over to the school gym for doughnuts. You don’t spend that much time in a place without it leaving its mark on you, for better or worse. Thankfully, in my case, it was virtually all for better, but there were a few things I had to unlearn and a few I am still unlearning to this day. The biggest of those was that size matters.

Because my church was big, I developed an unspoken belief that bigger was better, at least as far as faith communities go. Why pray alone when you could pray with 30 classmates, 300 schoolmates, or 3,000 other parishioners? Why sing solo if there is a choir to sing with you? Why go your own way when you could join a parade already in progress? If one was good, two was better and it grew exponentially from there. For someone who struggled to fit in, I liked the safety of being one little piece of a very big pie. I felt like I was part of the in-crowd, part of something powerful, universal and true.

When it comes to community and solidarity, there is power in numbers. A big church means you are doing something right, doesn’t it? The prevailing wisdom is that if you are getting people in the door, contributing and singing along, you must be preaching a mighty fine gospel.

When I grew up and left my hometown, I spent many years trying to duplicate my childhood experience. I wanted big and loud and joyful and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a part of who I am and what I like best in just about everything from church services to family dinners to birthday parties. But looking back on it now, I see that what I really wanted was to be a part of a church that was part of a scene and I cringe to think how I scorned small churches, with their cassette-tape choirs and single-service schedules. Surely, I thought, they should just give up.

So it is with great irony (which I often think is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work) that our family has found ourselves drawn to a small church community and by small, I mean really small. There are only a few rows of pews, a tiny, but valiant choir and a single service each weekend. But from the time we first walked in the door, Tim and I felt like we were home. The message is loud, the personalities are big and the spirit is joyful. The mission is Love, inclusion, equality and service. It has moved us towards greater humility, compassion, social justice and a lived experience of gospel values. Over time, this community has taught me that size doesn’t matter as much as I thought, but I’ve never quite shaken the feeling that my kids were missing out on a crucial experience of being a part of something big. There is no “safety in numbers” for my kids at this church. Keara and Finn are the only two teens in regular attendance and Molly is one of a half-dozen elementary schoolers. The saving grace is that everyone there knows their names and that is something you just can’t get in a big community.

But I witnessed something at church last Sunday that helped me see in a new light why bigger isn’t always better. It was the First Communion for five of our young members, which is about half of all the children who attend the church. It was exactly like my First Communion and yet totally different. Each child was dressed in her, or his finest. They were surrounded by parents and godparents, aunts, uncles and friends. They walked to the altar timidly, but eagerly. Cameras flashed, videotape rolled and the priests smiled, but that is where the similarities ended. When I received my first communion, I went to the altar with 70 of my classmates. I was one member of a big, white, satiny army and besides my family and friends, hardly any one there could have picked me out of the crowd.

Not so for the little ones this past weekend. The priests blessed each child by name and praised them individually in front of the community for their hard work and unique gifts. Each child was welcomed to the table as a beloved child of God, which we were reminded, we all are. Each child received a gift from the community that reflected their greatest passion, which we hope they will use in the service of others. There was no safety in numbers, no anonymity for these children. Instead, as I looked around at our community, I saw love and gratitude in every visage for the precious gift of these children and my eyes filled with tears and I thought, This is what smaller can do.

Smaller makes us more aware of each and every person and more grateful for each and every gift. It makes us more cognizant of what we have to lose and the part we play in the outcome of everything. It’s hard to remain anonymous in small.

So although I long for my kids to experience what it feels like to get swept up in the movement of a youth group, or a mass of two thousand, I know they are getting something else that is valuable. They are getting called by name. Their unique presence is cherished. They are both receiving and being a blessing each and every time they show up.

Our culture likes to super-size everything – from movie franchises to mega-churches. If some is good, then more is better. I know I always go for the 42 oz Diet Coke instead of a 12 oz can. I love my weekly trip to Costco. More for less? Sign me up! But the last few years have taught me that although bigger is sometimes better, smaller can also be sweeter. There is a beauty in both that I can appreciate more now than ever before. And if at some point, our budget, or time, or church community ever gets expansive again, I won’t be totally relieved to lose the intimacy I have known in these smaller spaces.

Holy Thursday on a Wednesday

Last year, I wrote about one of my favorite annual traditions: washing my family’s feet on Holy Thursday. It resonated with many of you and some even said they were adopting it as their own this year. For those of you who missed it, I am linking to it here, but I have to be honest, it almost didn’t happen this year.

baby-feet

We are leaving for Mammoth today, so any foot-washing was going to have to happen a day early. It takes quite a bit of effort to create the experience and as of yesterday morning, I hadn’t done a lick of it yet. No songs, no letters, no time set aside. I started to rationalize: the kids are probably getting too old; they are so excited to go to Mammoth they will probably forget anyway; they would understand if I skipped it. But deep down, I knew. Nothing I needed to do was more important than creating this sacrament of love.

I was right.

Keara soaked up the moments, then hugged me tight.

Molly got tears in her eyes as we belted out her favorite song together.

Finn could hardly suppress his grin, saying “This is one of my favorite things you do.”

The Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, said that of all the things the Catholic Church made into sacraments, he can’t believe they left this one out and I’ve got to agree. I hope that at least once in your life, you experience having your feet washed as a loving gesture, instead of a paid service, but I also hope you have the privilege of holding someone else’s feet in your hands and blessing them as Jesus did. It is a gift to both giver and receiver to be so vulnerable and to experience such intimacy and grace. This is sacred space. 

The Goat Rodeo

Goat Rodeo: about the most polite term used by aviation people (and others in higher risk situations) to describe a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right at once if you intend to walk away from it. http://www.urbandictionary.com

Most mornings with Kiko feel like I’m at a Goat Rodeo. Today was no exception and unfortunately, no one walked away from it completely unscathed. She stormed out of the house to wait in the misty rain for her carpool; I went to check my computer. This is what I saw on Facebook:

Oh, if I had only known! But wait a minute. I did know. Though I hadn’t seen her midnight post (I go to bed around ten), I could tell from the moment she woke up that today was not a good day. It was her father who didn’t know and who brought this morning to such an unhappy conclusion.

Kiko has never been a morning person; adolescence has done nothing to improve the situation. The challenging curriculum at her all-girls prep school has only made it worse. She does homework until eleven or so and then takes an hour or two to unwind. Her alarm goes off (for the first of several times) at 6:30 AM.

Though I am a morning person, I’ve learned to adjust my expectations. I speak to her minimally. I am helpful when possible. I appreciate her good mornings, using those days to sneak in an extra hug, or kiss and chat about life. On bad days, I avoid her. I pack her lunch, pat her on the head and try to never, under any circumstances, overreact to her snide comments, deep sighs and tragicomical complaints.

Tim has no such compunction. I don’t know what got into him this morning, but as Keara lay on the couch, soaking up her last moments in a horizontal position before the incessant verticality of her day, he would not leave her alone. As the youngest child in his family, his internal switch is permanently set to “tease.” As the father in this home, he has a reasonable expectation for respect and response. While neither of these things are bad in and of themselves, (I appreciate them most of the time), they are not great in combination with an overly tired, teenage girl. I didn’t hear the details of their exchange, but he made one crack after another, which she either ignored, or “cracked” back, until she stormed out of the house.

Exasperated, I looked at him and he said, “I don’t know how you don’t engage when she is acting like that.” I started straightening couch cushions. “Don’t you think she’s being unreasonable?” I folded throw blankets. “Seriously, when someone is being such a donkey, how do you not try to get them to stop?” I began to rearrange the trinkets on the entryway table. He finally got it. “Oh, you do it just like you are doing it to me right now,” he said as he turned and stalked up the stairs.

Ugh. He caught me and I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I was frustrated at him for messing with Kiko, but I didn’t have to ignore him as if he were a cranky, petulant teen. I could have engaged in conversation with him about his concerns. I could have empathized with his pain and his desire to connect with her. I could have recognized that he only wanted to be a good dad, to make her laugh, to start her day on a better note.

But instead of acknowledging any of that, I was smug and if there is one thing I hate being, that’s it. Cathleen Falsani wrote one of my favorite blogs of 2012, called “Deliver Us From Smugness.” If you have time, you should read the whole thing, but one line in particular has stayed with me on an almost daily basis. She writes,

“The opposite of love is smug.”

She goes on to explain that “To be smug is to be excessively proud of your achievements and successes. Conceited. Arrogant. Complacently self-satisfied.”

This morning I was smug with the man I love. I was excessively proud of how I wrangle the Goat Rodeo that is Kiko and her morning routine, instead of humbly grateful that I have crashed and burned enough times to know when and how to walk away.

So Tim, I hope you’ll forgive my smugness. It is the opposite of Love and Love is the one thing I want to be, every day, in every way possible.

 

As per our family agreement, this blog was read and approved by both parties involved in this morning’s Goat Rodeo. 

Shady Intentions on a Soccer Saturday

Just as I was sitting down to write this blog, I happened to check Facebook and find a post by one of my favorite bloggers in the world, Glennon Melton, and I almost stopped writing RIGHT THERE, as in RIGHT NOW, as in FOREVER, because Glennon has a way of writing that makes me think, “Why do I even bother? Glennon says everything I want to say, but she says it so much better!” Now, if you go to Glennon’s post from today, you might possibly wonder why I would want to say that and today, I don’t, but there are lots of other times when she does, like here and here.

But then I remembered something that Glennon said last month as she was reading a book by Cheryl Strayed,

Dear God, she’s amazing. And I felt myself start to panic a little. OH MY GOD. SHE’S SAYING ALL THE THINGS I WANT TO SAY, BUT BETTER.  I actually thought about CLOSING her book and NOT reading anymore because my heart was panicking and shriveling a bit.

Sometimes, that’s honestly how I feel when I read Glennon, or Anne Lamott, or Paula D’Arcy, but then they go on and on about grace and abundance and then I breathe deeply, and then G (the Big G upstairs) reminds me that I am enough and that I believe in Love and then I can finally try to write again.

So I’m back and ready to tell you a story about my weekend.

It was a hot weekend here in San Diego, like hot hot, like “Texas-hot,” as my kids like to say. They’ve only been there a handful of times, but boy, do they remember. We are also in the midst of soccer season, which means our family had four games in two days. Tim is the manager of The Lad’s team, so we got to set up goals once, take down goals twice, pay the refs, and turn in the scores. Along with all the other parents, we also got to cheer on the sidelines.

Those sidelines were a mass of brightly-colored umbrellas, beach chairs, water bottles and spray fans. There were canopies and sunshades and baseball hats – anything and everything that could provide some relief for the humanity that was slow-roasting in the heat. A friend of mine turned to me and said, “Surely, there is a blog in here somewhere.” And so I looked around to see what I could see.

I saw kids, and I saw parents. I saw players running, kicking and heading. I saw goalies diving, missing, and saving. I saw coaches coaching, cheering and scolding. I saw it all, but nothing that you wouldn’t expect on any given “Soccer Saturday in the Suburbs,” as Tim likes to call it.

So I kept watching Finn’s game, until I was distracted by a commotion happening behind my chair.

As you can imagine, making shade on a weekend like this is serious business. The fans want to be comfortable, but we also want to provide some protection for our players as well. I’m not talking about the players on the field, who were out competing in the sun; I’m talking about the guys on the sidelines, the subs who were resting up to get into, or back into the game.

These 13 and 14 year old young men WOULD NOT STAY IN THE SHADE and it was comical to watch the parents do everything they could to make them, without actually making them.

When the boys were smaller, keeping them in the shade was an easy thing to do. Someone would bring a pop-up tent and someone else would bring a blanket and the team mom would tell them to sit on it and they would. Job done. But as they got older, they wanted to be up on their feet, standing by their coach, or sitting on a chair, and our job got a little harder, but we could shoo them back under the canopy and there they would stay.

But now these boys are young men and we can’t shoo them anywhere. They stand where they want to stand, where their coach asks them, tells them, or allows them to stand. It is no longer our place to tell them where to stay anymore. Their autonomy certainly doesn’t keep us from wanting to protect, however and that is where it gets comical. Each time the subs would move, a parent would move an umbrella with them. It is no easy task to get an umbrella stake into hard-packed dirt, so a mom, or dad would spend a couple minutes twisting, stomping and pushing the sun-protection into the ground. The players would stay put for about 30 seconds and then move on. Parents would wait a minute or two, hoping the players would realize their mistake and come back to the shade. They rarely did, but if they came back, it was instinctively, or by accident, never by conscious choice. Eventually, another parent would jump up and move the umbrella to the new spot and get it settled and then the boys would move on again. This went on for a good 30 minutes, or so before we finally just gave up and followed them up and down the field, like little rajas, holding the shade over them, because really, WE JUST COULDN’T LET GO.

This was the life lesson I was waiting for.

As parents, we want to protect our children. When they’re small, we know what’s best for them, and we can provide it, whether it’s shade on the soccer field, or restrictions on the television. We put a jacket on them when it’s cold, and sunscreen when it’s hot. But as they get older, we think we know what’s best for them and we struggle to provide it, whether they want it or not. The older they get, the more often they are going to step out of the shade we provide. We can twist and push and stomp all we want, but that doesn’t mean they are going to stay put. Our wisdom and support only serve a purpose when our children choose to stand under it.

I cannot follow my almost-grown children up and down the sidelines of their lives, trying to “protect” them from every element that might sap their strength, or burn them a little bit. (Thank goodness I still have Molly to shoo back under the canopy.) Keara and Finn need to be able to move freely, mix it up, and hear what’s happening on the field. They don’t need to be hampered by their well-intentioned mother, telling them to back up, sit down and take it easy. Champions are made in the full light of sun and I need to be brave enough to let them take their place in it.

P.S. We saw a lot of soccer this weekend and a lot of parents, who took great pains to keep their children cool and hydrated on a hot day. Kudos to you. I am not speaking of any one team, or parent. The only parent I am calling out is myself!

Project Runway Life Lessons

There are not many programs on television that I like to watch and even fewer that I’ll watch with my children. With a wide range of interests and maturity levels, finding common ground is difficult, but there is one program we never miss: Project Runway.

(If you aren’t familiar with the show, you can check it out here, but it’s basically a cross between Survivor and American Idol for up-and-coming fashion designers.)

My mother has always been a little concerned about our Project Runway viewing. To her dismay, it’s inspired Keara, her eldest granddaughter, to dream of a career in fashion. To her dismay, her eldest grandson, Finn, has watched it religiously since he was 6 years old, (To be honest, at 13, Finn has backed away from claiming it’s one of his favorite shows.) To her great dismay, little Molly does killer imitations of any and all of the most flamboyant contestants.

My mother has had all this dismay and has never once seen the show. She just saw the impact it had on our family culture and wasn’t so keen on it. And then, Season 10 began and somehow my mother saw it and then the real dismay began. She couldn’t believe I let my children watch. It was chaotic and cruel and the people were crazy and no one was nice. What in the world was I thinking? (Tim has given up asking that question, but he thinks it all the time as well. He is not a fan of Project Runway.)

But Episode 3 of this season gave me the perfect way to explain “what I’m thinking” by allowing my kids to watch the show.

In that week’s challenge, designers were randomly paired up to create a red carpet, runway ‘look.’ Enter Elena and Buffy, two of the most unlikely partners you will ever find. Elena is angry and high-strung. Buffy is a friendly, jovial sort. Elena wears her dark hair in severe French braids and scowls at the camera, while Buffy flashes one smile after another. Buffy even has pink hair, accented with a multi-colored, cheetah patch shaved into the side. Elena designs would fit in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo collection. Buffy could design for the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun boutique.

Their time together went about as well as you can imagine, with Elena bossing, criticizing, and sniping at her partner and Buffy keeping her head down, too afraid to say anything for fear of having her head bitten off. As I watched it with Molly, I thought how we might cover the basic Project Runway Life Lessons – again.

What kind of person do you want to be? A nice one.

How should you treat people? With respect.

Who do we root for? The good guy with the most talent, of course.

Those are the standard conversations Project Runway delivers to our home on a weekly basis.

But then it happened, that little moment where a whole new conversation unfolds.

In a cutaway interview, Elena defended her actions,

“Being from where I am, you need a toughness to survive. If you go to Ukraine, no one is going to say please and thank you and blah, blah, blah. To just survive and eat every day, people really have to hustle. You have to be very strong. The weak ones don’t survive.”

Suddenly her strident behavior made sense. She comes from a place of scarcity and even though she has lived in the States for almost 20 years, the fear of not having enough has never subsided. I imagine that fear gives rise to the aggression and arrogance that Elena displays, not just toward Buffy, but also toward everyone on the show, from contestants to judges to the grandfatherly host.

I recently read a passage from a book and I immediately thought of Elena. The author said, “Where does arrogance come from? The answer, I think, is fear. The more insecure I feel, the more arrogant I tend to become and the most arrogant people I know are also the most insecure. The arrogant ego… is fearful of losing its status if it loses the battle at hand.” In a world of scarcity, to lose a single battle is to risk losing everything.

In contrast to Elena, it’s clear that Buffy comes from a place of abundance, a place where it’s easy to say “Please” and “Thank you” and wait your turn, because there is always enough. (We thought she was from England, but it turns out she was raised in Dubai.) When you are assured of your place in life and in line, you can sacrifice your ego once in a while for the sake of peace and the well-being of the other. You know there is always another opportunity around the corner.

After Elena’s comments, I paused the show and Molly and I talked about scarcity and abundance, about communism and capitalism, and about how our childhood experiences shape us. Was Elena really talking just about food? What else might have been scarce? Maybe kindness and compassion, love, or respect? Even if they were present in her home life, they obviously weren’t abundant in her culture. To this day, their lack affects her perception of the world and therefore the audience’s perception of her.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that Elena is currently listed as the “Fan Favorite” on the official website by a wide margin. What does that say about the typical viewer of the show? Nothing good I’m afraid, but clearly, we are not the typical viewer. Buffy is Molly’s favorite contestant and I asked her to think about what Buffy had in abundance as a child. Probably everything, we agreed. When you think of Buffy as a girl, you think of art supplies, dance lessons, and face painting, but Molly thought she probably had lots of love and patience, hugs and kisses too and maybe even a really funny dad. When you have an abundance of joy, it’s easy to share with others. I guess the same goes for pain too.

Molly and I wrapped up our “talking timeout” by naming some of the “abundance” people we know and how much we enjoy their company, but we also thought about the “Elenas” in our life, who might need a little more empathy the next time we encounter them on the playground, or in life. Scarcity is no fun and it’s scars run deep.

I never imagined I would be having this conversation with my 10 year old on a Saturday morning, but that’s the magic of Project Runway. Under the guise of fun and fashion, it allows me to talk with my kids about everything from politics to economics, morality to spirituality. You aren’t going to get that in 60-minutes or less anywhere else.