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!
Yesterday was a day for writing love letters, which was convenient, since today is Valentine’s Day. But I don’t mean I was writing obligatory cards. Rather, my heart was just full – full of love and gratitude for a bunch of people in my life. Some of them probably expected to get a card from me, but I imagine at least a half dozen didn’t. I hadn’t written to them before and I don’t know if I will again, but this year, for some reason, I just thought, “I Love them,” so I went ahead and did it.
I think it’s because of the big Love I’m feeling these days for my youngest daughter Molly Grace. In about a week’s time, she will be having surgery to treat scoliosis with a procedure called “spinal tethering.” It’s a couple days in the hospital, followed by a couple weeks at home, followed by a couple months in a back brace. Though it was a difficult decision, we are confident it’s the right plan and that we have the right doctor. Still, as the date approaches, a low-grade anxiety is permeating our home. And when that happens, whenever Fear appears, I try to double down on Love.
Which is why I am so grateful I encountered this yesterday in the center of a book on my nightstand:
I don’t remember where I got the card, but I’m glad I kept it. It surfaces every once in a while, seemingly just when I need to be reminded of the Love I need to give or receive myself. In this case, it’s both. I need to help Molly feel ultimately protected, and safe “in the hollow” of my arms, but I also need to trust that I am being held in the same way. We cannot offer to others what we do not have ourselves. So each morning, as I sit in Centering Prayer, I return my attention over and over again to Love, the ultimate source of my existence. I get up knowing that it is the ultimate action I can take, however it manifests itself that day.
It’s pretty easy to know how to Love on Valentine’s Day, a card, a heart, a bunch of flowers, but on other days, those answers aren’t so clear. How can we act in Love when we’re afraid of (and for) the people we encounter, the decisions we make and outcomes that are beyond our control? But today and every day, I try to come back to this:
Fear does not get to have the final word.
Next week, when I watch my girl go into surgery, I know I will be afraid. Fear will be sitting in the waiting room with me, making small talk with Tim and pacing the halls. But I also know we offered ourselves the antidote to that fear when we named her fifteen years ago: Molly Grace.
Outpouring Love. Undeserved forgiveness. Divine presence and strength. Inner beauty.
Love stronger than Fear.
Today, Love in a way that is easy and light, but tomorrow, try to Love into a place that has been dominated by fear. You don’t know where it will take you, but I promise it will be better than where you are.
The first week of January, Brene Brown posted this image.
This year, she said, she’s committing a whole lot of her energy to focusing “on how we raise courageous children and build messy, beautiful, wholehearted families.”
Emboldened by the fact that Brene and I have the same thing on our minds to start the new year, I’m going to stay on the parenting topic for another week or two. I hope you don’t mind.
The day after Christmas, I headed up to Mammoth Mountain to go snowboarding with Finn and Molly, Maddie and Nick, my niece and nephew, as well as Jack and JT, two of Finn’s friends I’ve known almost since birth. That’s right – me and six teenagers for four long days – and it was awesome.
On one of those beautiful days, we piled into the gondola and headed to the top. The sun was shining; the snow was light and our spirits were high, right up until a skier, a man in his late fifties, joined our car. He looked around at all of his snowboarding companions and asked, “How high can a snowboarder count?” Without waiting for an answer, he shouted out, “Two, since that’s all that ever get on a chair lift together!” He chuckled to himself – the joke being that snowboarders are stupid.
No one else laughed, but I gave him a small smile anyway, just to be polite.
Apparently it was enough, because he plowed on.
“I’ve got the best story for you,” he said, looking directly at me.
“I was riding on a chair with this couple on snowboards and they told me that they had two kids. These parents taught their kids to ski when they were small, but when the kids were ten or so, they wanted to learn to snowboard. After a couple years, the parents thought it looked like a blast. They learned to snowboard too, so they could hang out with their kids, but as soon as the parents learned, the kids went back to skiing! They wanted nothing to do with the old folks! Anything to get away from the parents, right?” He laughed and repeated again, “Isn’t that the best story?”
I looked at him, and around the car at my own six teenage companions, and said, “Oh, I don’t know about that. I kinda think it’s the best when your kids want to hang out with you. It’s a lot more fun that way.”
That kind of killed the conversation, but we were almost at the top anyway. After enjoying the view, our crew strapped on our boards and were off, hooting and hollering our way down the peak.
But his story stayed with me and got me thinking. Why do people cling to the negative stereotypes about teenagers? Why do they relish stories about dysfunctional relationships between parents and kids? Why do so many people find those narratives satisfying, instead of sad, which is how they always come across to me?
My experience is that teenagers – my own and others – are like everyone else going through a difficult time. They are sensitive and emotional, prone to exuberant highs and tragic lows; they seek support and solace wherever they can find it. Hormonal, social and cultural changes hit teens full force, along with a morass of competing agendas and advice. They have to navigate those transitions mostly on their own. They only have the skills we’ve given them (for good and bad) and the support we offer. But if we haven’t earned their trust, they aren’t going to seek those out very often. Instead, they are going to turn to other sources like their peers, social media and celebrity culture and that just exacerbates the bum rap “kids these days” get.
Here’s another example. A couple weeks ago, Tim told me about a video that many of his friends had shared on Facebook about workplace behavior, and smartphone etiquette and personal relationships. When he asked if I had seen it, I wondered if it was a big rag on Millennials, because that was the video firing up my Facebook feed. No, he said, it’s not bagging on them. It’s about them, but it’s about all of us, really.
Here are the different ways that the video was presented. Guess which one was going to have a greater appeal to my gondola companion?
I had refused to watch the video on the right, though it had popped up on repeatedly, because the title was so insulting to the generation behind me. When Tim showed me the “clean” version on the left, I was glad I watched it, but why do we have to throw kids under the bus to make ourselves feel better?
When I heard that story about those parents, I didn’t know what troubled me more – that their children wanted nothing to do with them, or that the skier thought the story was “the best,” a qualifier he repeated at least six times in the telling. Later that night when I was talking to my dad about it, he mused, “We have no idea the depth of people’s injuries and how it shapes their world view. The sadder part is that they don’t know it either. They think it’s normal.” When separation and rejection are the models you’ve been given for family conflict, stories like that make you gleeful. They confirm your deepest suspicions about what a crock love and family really are. You can’t imagine that disagreements and hurts can be solved with grace, or that forgiveness and generosity really are assets in any situation.
But that woundedness doesn’t stop with family life. No matter what the subject is – relationships, religion, economics, politics, education – few of us can admit that our deepest assumptions about life and human nature might be flawed, a result of our own limited experiences. It’s painful to concede that a different approach might lead to a better outcome. It’s even more painful to consider that by clinging to those assumptions, instead of shedding them for healthier perspectives, we’ve created much of the pain in our own lives.
I wish that man hadn’t gotten into the gondola with us that day. Before he hopped in, there was laughter, storytelling and selfie-taking. After his clueless contributions, there was awkwardness and impatience, but he did teach me a lesson, (besides reminding me to read my audience better.) When I am feeling cynical about a group of people, or unhappy with a set of circumstances, I need to check my assumptions, and look for the bigger picture. Who am I judging and do I know the whole story? What part have I played in creating the mess? And besides critiquing it, how can I make it better?
Which brings me right back to parenting, especially parenting teens and my last blog. I took it as a huge compliment that all those kids spent all that time with me, but I think it goes back to what I talked about in the Contemplify podcast about being conscious of your own projections and expectations. If you haven’t been able to give it a listen, I hope you will.
In these early days of January, most of us have made resolutions for the year ahead. Some will last weeks or months, while others have petered out already. But every once in a while, we make a resolution that lasts a lifetime. However, those changes don’t usually start on January 1. Those types of transformations require a clarity and conviction rarely available to us in our post-holiday haze.
More often, it is in moments of crisis (though sometimes just out of the blue) that we have a vision of how things might be different, how we ourselves might be different, and how that difference just might change everything. And suddenly, more than anything, we want that change. We want to be that change. Suddenly, that resolution isn’t something we have to do anymore; it’s something we can’t help but do. We are resolved, no matter how difficult it is, or what the task asks of us. We change our habits and our way of operating in the world. We fail repeatedly, but we don’t give up. The vision of what’s possible holds us fast, because it really is that good.
In the course of my life, only a few resolutions have taken hold of me in this way, but I’m grateful for each and every one of them.
There was the resolve to become a birth mother, 26 years ago this month.
Marrying Tim, 23 years ago.
Becoming a Weight Watcher, 6 years, 2 kids and 20 pounds later.
Joining the YMCA, 10 years ago.
Writing as a spiritual practice and starting this blog, 9 and 5 years ago respectively.
Last month, I had a chance to talk about one of these resolutions (or “course-corrections” as I think of them) on the podcast Contemplify. Paul Swanson, the host, asked me to reflect on a book that had significantly impacted my spiritual journey. I immediately went to my list of “greats” – Merton, Rohr, D’Arcy, Keating, Bell, Bourgeault – the people I have read over and over again. But no one book had inspired the type of metanoia, or complete and total shift that I was looking for. Though they have re-shaped the contours of my heart, their influence has been steady and incremental, more than seismic.
And then I remembered the last big resolution I made and the book that inspired it. In the spring of 2013, I came across The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali Tsabary. Keara had just turned sixteen years old and I was so far from the being the mom I wanted (and she needed me) to be. For all my spiritual work, my daily disciplines and practices, I had been blind to how I was failing to truly love the person (and all the little people in my home) who needed my love the most. I was loving them to the best of my ability, which is to say, not nearly enough. In that moment, I resolved to love them better, more fully and consciously.
It is a resolution I am still committed to, though I fail to keep it each and every day. My hope is that my kids see me trying and that the effort itself will inspire the grace and forgiveness we’ll need to grow old together in love.
That’s all I’ll say here about the resolution, because I hope you’ll tune in to the podcast. If you’re a parent, grandparent, or even have a few “parent issues” you’re still working out, I think you’ll find the podcast interesting and maybe even inspire you to check out the book!
You can download the episode on Itunes. It can be found under Contemplify, Epidsode 17.
In the middle of last week, I felt a sudden and overwhelming urge to see my family. They all live 100 miles away or so and have busy lives, with jobs, kids and hectic social calendars. It had only been a month or so, but I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t send out an S.O.S., or even a guilt trip. I simply sent out an invitation via text message:
I am missing my family something fierce these days. Is anyone free to come meet me in San Clemente this weekend? Saturday or Sunday?
They had early morning soccer games and late night concert tickets, home projects and volunteering commitments, but miraculously, they all said yes. Sunday morning they were willing to drive forty miles to see me and my family. The only ones missing would be Keara, away at college, and my parents, who are currently crossing the Atlantic on a Disney cruise. Since we were going to be near some of our best friends, I texted them the invitation as well. I immediately heard back:
We are around all day. We will join you wherever you guys end up. Just let me know! Yippee!
Well, that’s awesome, I thought and I went through the rest of my week with a smile on my face, knowing that Sunday would be a good day. But as the week went on, the thought of Sunday started to lag. Our family was out late Friday and Saturday nights; I was speaking at our church on Sunday evening and nightly school, work and social events are lined up for the next six days. I didn’t need an additional hundred-mile roundtrip, beach extravaganza to be happy.
What was I thinking? I asked myself as the alarm went off on Sunday morning. (Alarms should never go off on Sunday mornings!) But we loaded up the truck with surfboards, wetsuits, fins and frisbees and headed up the coast to meet our crew.
Of course, the day was fabulous and worth every ounce of effort. The sun never really came out, but as you can see, it didn’t slow us, or our fun down.
As we piled in the car to head home, I pulled out my phone to send a birthday text message to a very special person.
Twenty-five years ago yesterday on September 18, 1991, I gave birth to Sarah Moses, my first-born daughter and twenty-five years ago today, I gave her up for adoption. She had been on my mind all week as this milestone birthday approached. I had already sent off a birthday card and made plans to meet up with her mom, Dee. Sarah is finishing up grad school in Los Angeles, so getting to see her is always a challenging proposition!
I could have called, but instead I wrote:
Happy Birthday darling girl! I can’t believe you are 25 today. I am thinking of you, love you and spent the morning with my brothers and sisters who all held you the day you were born and loved on you. My best friend Laura sends her love. She was there that day as well and she gave me a big hug for you. You are always in my heart Sarah Moses and I hope you feel my love over the miles.
I hit send and then I laughed.
What had I done? Somehow, unconsciously, without ever making the connection, I had gathered around me the very people who had been present to me on that beautiful and heartbreaking day, a quarter century ago.
On that day, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, in love with my newborn daughter and letting her go. I had told my mom in advance that I wanted my family to come meet her. Even though she wouldn’t be a part of our lives, I wanted us to celebrate her birth together. It was a school day, so my dad drove my 14 and 11-year-old siblings, Tim and Amy, a hundred miles through rush hour traffic to be there. Charlie, my older brother, was at school at USD just around the corner, and he brought his then-girlfriend, Laura, with him to lend support.
When we got home from the beach, I pulled out my photo album from the day of Sarah’s birth and found the family photo that included the baby girl who celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday yesterday.
I sent it to her with the caption: Your birth family on your birth day!
I also discovered pictures of moments I had forgotten, showing the tenderness with which she and I were both held that day.
In The Alchemist, Paolo Coelho writes: “When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.” Though I loved the book, I never really believed the message. There are too many examples from my own life and those of others that seem to refute it, but yesterday, my experience was undeniable.
The universe conspired to bring me something I wanted, even though I didn’t know why I wanted it. I put it out there, an invitation, and twenty-five years later to the very day, I was again surrounded and held with tenderness and love, in joy and celebration of being a family.
Last night, I looked through all the photos I took at the beach yesterday, of my siblings and Laura (yes, the then-girlfriend, but still dear friend), and their spouses and children, and I saw the Universe conspiring again.
Before we packed up, I made some of the kids pause for a picture. They did and then they started to pose themselves. They were laughing and falling, clamoring for the shot before they dropped their friend or cousin or sibling on the ground. I stared in disbelief at the photos last night at what I didn’t see when I was taking them. They were holding one another, like babies in their mother’s arms, like each of their parents had held Sarah on the day she was born.
Last night as I lay in bed with Tim, I almost wept in surprised gratitude for the way it all came together, the way life unfolded and encircled upon itself, all in one day and in one fell swoop. I am so glad the Universe responded, even though I was blessedly unaware of the reason for my call.
I think that’s how the Universe conspires. It doesn’t necessarily bring us what we want to be happy, but it brings us what we need to be whole. It doesn’t respond to the dreams we broadcast out loud, but listens instead to the whispered longings of our soul. And when it shows up, whatever “it” is, we have to be open to it. We have to let go of what we think we need to be happy, so we can be present to the healing that’s possible in that moment, through the seemingly random confluence of people and places, songs and situations that filter through our days. Call it synchronicity, or quantum entanglement. Call it Love, or call it God, but no matter what, call It to you and then look for it to come.
As complete and beautiful as yesterday was, I wish Keara Moses, the daughter named in honor of, but NOT as a replacement for, her older sister, could have been there with us. I also wish my mom and dad could have been present. To see all of us together brings them such joy. Pam Kantrud, is another significant person from my life at that time. She was the mother of the family I lived with while I was pregnant, and she was there on Sarah’s birth day too, counting my breaths, rubbing my back, and cooing over the beauty of my newborn baby girl.
And Sarah? Do I wish she was there too? Of course I do, but that’s a story for another time. In all things related to her, I work to find the delicate balance between loving her as my daughter and knowing she is someone else’s pride and joy, of calling her family, but respecting that she has her own. My own family, large and small, has all been able to spend time with her and I hope there will be ever more opportunities for that.
And finally, Tim. As I’ve mentioned before, he was there that day and every day since, holding my life in a tender embrace.