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.
Many of my friends and readers have children leaving for their first year of college in the next week, or two. My heart is with them. Just last fall, we sent Keara, our oldest daughter, off to school. It may have been only 120 miles away, but it was far enough to create a distance and level of vulnerability that was difficult for us to accept.
One of the ways we managed to honor our emotions, but empower her was to “bless” her on her way. It was a really moving experience for all of us, including her younger brother and sister, who felt her absence as keenly as we did. It’s a tradition we will continue this year as she packs her bags at the end of this week and again heads north.
If you are looking for a way to “let go” in Love, here’s the blessing we used, but I want to affirm that what is in your heart and mind, what is authentic to your family’s language and experience, will always work best. Too often, we are afraid to articulate the Love and the deep truths that reside in our hearts. We hold back out of fear that we will stumble, sound silly, or maudlin.
What if we cry ? Maybe we will!
Will our emotions make us look weak, or scare our kids? Maybe they will!
Who knows? Who cares?
They can handle it! Showing our vulnerability is actually a sign of great strength. If you don’t believe me, check out the brilliant research of Dr. Brené Brown.
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, 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.
Good luck friends as you send your children on their way towards greater freedom and responsibility. The risks are greater, but so too is the reward.
Tim and Finn got up early this Father’s Day morning and headed out to do some father-son bonding, which allowed us girls to do our favorite things. Keara slept; Molly watched Friends and Hawaii Five-O; I cleaned. Now, cleaning isn’t my very favorite thing, but having a clean house is, so it ultimately worked out. It’s eleven a.m. and I’m done, except for some piles of laundry sitting on the garage floor.
I also had a chance to read an article about the inception of Father’s Day and what a rough road it faced to garner acceptance. The first Father’s Day occurred in 1908, the same year as Mother’s Day, but unlike Mother’s Day, it was decades before it was made official by Congress. Honoring father’s was considered a joke – in part because the men in charge seemed to think it was “sissy” to be thanked and honored by women and children. The second reason so many people resisted the holiday was the cultural image and expectations we had of fathers. For millennia, until the last half century, fathers were thought of as “providers” (first of sperm, then of sustenance) and little else. If a father made sure their offspring didn’t die, then they had done their job. It was the mothers who mattered.
Well, a lot has changed in the last fifty years. We know fathers matter now. The statistics have shown how much better kids with present, active, engaged fathers perform – scholastically, socially, psychologically, emotionally. It doesn’t mean kids without dads are doomed; it just means the kids who have them are privileged in some pretty significant ways. I know I was and I know Tim wasn’t.
But our kids have the privilege of being raised by Tim, who has turned out to be a pretty amazing dad. While most young men are driven at that time in their life by monetary goals and career success, Tim was driven by one thing: he wanted to be a good husband and a present father. As twenty-year-olds, when we dreamed about our life together, it was always about how we could be there for our kids’ soccer practices and sick days, how we could take time off to spend to spend at the beach, or go to the mountains, how we could show up for each other, each and every day.
Tim was a great provider – of both sperm and sustenance – but he provides so much more. He provides humor and a calming influence; he provides the voice of reason and the safety regulations; he provides theLove and pride, encouragement and wisdom we need to become all we are meant to be. Having a good father in the house is good for me too.
For all those men out there, who provide so much more than the basics, thank you. This is your day.
And to my own father, thanks for providing so much more.
For the record, feminism by definition is: ‘The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.'”
– Emma Watson in her speech at the UN in September 2014
A couple weeks ago, I read an essay by Courtney Martin, an author, activist and mother to two daughters. It was called “The Limitless Potential of Men to Transform Manhood.” In the essay, she commented that her husband, John, is relieved to be raising daughters. John is definitely male, but not an alpha. He doesn’t identify with the masculine stereotypes of yesteryear, so daughters seem like a more comfortable fit. He knows the message he wants to deliver – Be strong; be yourself; transcend your limitations, etc. John’s lucky; he also married a ringer of a role model– a super intelligent, strong wife, who wears the pants in the family, just like he does.
Sons? John’s not so sure what he would say to them. It’s confusing enough to be a young man in today’s world, much less raise one. (He’s right; it’s way easier to teach someone to step into their power, than to temper it.) Being a journalist, Courtney ran a little informal poll and found lots of men who felt the same way. Whew! I’ve got girls. I know the message I want to convey: empowerment, strength, personal freedom. It’s disappointing they don’t feel like they could give boys those same messages, but I get why. The implication for a boy, based on historical evidence, is that male empowerment, strength and freedom comes at a cost, usually to everyone else. Patriarchy flourished over the past millennia on the backs of the “other,” namely women, the weak and the poor.
Feminism of the sixties and seventies started down the path of trying to beat men at their own game, by being even stronger and more aggressive. (We just have to look at the fashion of the eighties to know it’s true.) But many women of my generation disavowed feminism for that very reason. We got sick of trying to “out alpha” the men, so we quit playing, which really angers some long-time feminists.
But this isn’t a case of young women taking our ball and going home. It’s NOT because we were losing; it’s because we woke up to the fact that the game’s not worth playing! We never got a vote about it in the first place! We didn’t help make the rules; we didn’t get to pick the venue, or the referee. We didn’t get any input on how the points were scored, or what determined the winner. It was handed to us, with men favored at every turn. The second-wave feminists were just so determined to get on the field that they were willing to get their teeth kicked in over and over again, just for the privilege of playing the game. It may have been a necessary step, but a new generation of feminists is calling bullshit on the whole system. They are sick and tired of having to compete, succeed, and perform on every level: personally, professionally, physically, civically, spiritually, organically, etc. and then face criticism if they don’t meet some pre-determined standard.
Young women are ‘leaning in,’ but not to the patriarchal, “winner and take all” game. Even if it means never getting their turn in the big arenas (coincidentally, the ones men built), young feminists, of both genders, are trying to invent a new game – one where everyone can play to their own strengths. Everyone is invited to the conversation, to take leading and supporting roles, to find their niche in a system that honors all of who they are – the masculine and the feminine – the parts of themselves previous generations had to deny when they were locked into the essentialism of their gender at birth. (Essentialism is just a fancy word for the false belief that men are THIS and women are THAT – biologically and entirely, with no exceptions.)
Now, I know that oversimplification might ruffle a lot of feathers in the blogosphere, but in broad strokes, I think there is something to it. We want more parity, but not just according to the old paradigms. (Change happens on the margins, so if you want to see more examples of where this happening, look no further than the young women flocking to the Bernie Sanders movement over Hillary Clinton’s campaign, or the huge emphasis on the T and the Q in the LGBTQ community. Gender non-binaries are where it’s at!)
So what does all this have to do with raising a feminist son?
After I read Courtney’s article, I sent it to Tim, who I thought might understand where her husband was coming from, but in fact, Tim was super disappointed in John’s perspective. In his email back to me (and my mellow brother-in-law, Nathan, who is raising three girls), he wrote:
“I feel the opposite. I’m happy to raise strong women, but I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise a son that isn’t a typical alpha-male. The world needs less of those, so I’m glad I get to play a part in moving things forward rather than backward. But whoever we are raising, I think that we need to raise them with less gender constraints and more humanity.”
Hot damn! Is it any wonder I love that man?
I just wish his perspective was more common among Courtney’s husband and their peers. If any of them have sons, I know they will step up to the plate, but I wish they were more excited about the prospect. We need to change the narrative about parenting. We can’t change our daughters’ futures unless we change our sons’ as well! We can’t leave our sons in the dark, while we lift our daughters into the light. It is going to take the evolution of BOTH genders to bring about real gender equality.
But I know Tim and I aren’t alone on this belief. In our circle of friends, we know a ton of boys who are being raised to see girls as their equal, and to treat them with the respect due a peer, not a princess. Some of these young men are even willing to be vulnerable, to have conversations with each other about their dreams and disappointments. They are intentional about who they are and how they want to be in the world. Finn and his friends give me a lot of hope for the future and so do a couple of other people out there in the wider world.
One of them is Glennon Doyle Melton. She’s on the other side of the country in Florida, but I share a lot of her work on Facebook and sometimes link to her through my blog. About a year ago, she wrote something about her son Chase that she reposted recently. I think it’s a perfect model for how to raise a feminist son. She wrote:
When Chase was eight, a woman approached us at the grocery store and said, “What a handsome boy! What do you plan to be when you grow up, young man?” Chase looked at her and said, “I plan to be kind and brave, ma’am.”
Chase wants to be a human being who is kind and brave and he is already that. He knows that his “success” does not depend upon whether he lands some job or not. He knows he’ll be a success if he continues to practice kindness and courage wherever and with whomever he finds himself. Today he is a kind and brave sixth grader and one day he’ll be a kind a brave high schooler and one day maybe he’ll be a kind and brave teacher or artist or father or carpenter or friend. His roles will change but his character will remain. He is already who he wants to be. So he can just go about being himself forever. Following his curiosity. One Next Right Thing at a time.
Glennon and her husband Craig are not raising their son to play the old-school game, of winners and losers. If you are yourself, if you are a person of character, if you are conscious and compassionate, YOU WIN! This kid is going to be a feminist, but not just because he is growing up in a home with sisters who are his equals, and a strong mom. Perhaps most importantly, he has a strong dad, a man who doesn’t derive his power from dominance, or by diminishing the ideas and gifts of those around him.
The second example is a little closer to home. Here in San Diego, there is a little church called Sojourn Grace Collective. It was founded about two years ago by a couple, who pastor together: Colby Martin and Kate Christensen Martin. We’ve stopped by a few times and we love what the church is about. But what I love especially is that Kate is on fire for feminism and Colby is on fire for Kate (duh, who wouldn’t be?), but for reasons beyond the obvious ones. Like Kate, he is all about changing the rules of the old-school game, even though, as an educated, straight white man, he could have won big time by playing for the patriarchy. He has a book, Unclobber, coming out in the fall about the full inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the church and society; he writes blog posts about why #BlackLivesMatter and he is just wrapping up a sermon series on Liberation Theology and how it changed everything for him. Kate preached her own liberation sermon Mother’s Day. You can check it out here.
But there is one more thing about Kate and Colby that is pretty special. They have four sons! They get to reverse engineer this whole feminism thing for the next twenty years by lifting up their sons! I want them to write a book about that next! Parents who are wondering how to raise boys in our ever-changing world could probably use it!
So, how do you raise a feminist son?
I think there are a thousand ways and more, but it has to start with wanting to. It has to start with realizing that feminism isn’t just about the empowerment of women and girls to be all they can be. It is about the liberation of men and boys from outdated cultural models that force them to be less than who they fully are. We have to free our children from the belief that masculinity is synonymous with material success and stoicism and that strength and forthrightness are not feminine. We have to honor them for ALL they are and encourage them to “lean in” to that above all else.
But first, we have to wake up ourselves to the fact that this “war” between the sexes is not a zero sum game; we are not actually on different sides. We are winners and losers together. Feminism is the path we need to embrace for now to get on the same team, but true liberation for both genders is about so much more. It is about the fullest expression of who we are as individuals and a collective humanity. It will always be a dance between freedom and responsibility, strength and vulnerability, struggle and victory. It’s about equality for all and we have to be willing to get into the new game ourselves, showing up humbly and authentically, ready to play.
Also, one of my favorite podcasters, Mike McHargue, is a super smart and super spiritual guy, who also proudly claims to be a feminist. Unfortunately in my opinion, he is raising only daughters. Sigh…So is his incredible podcast partner, Michael Gungor. Check them out at The Liturgists sometime. You won’t be disappointed!
Finally, let me be clear as I end this post:
Finn has never claimed the title “feminist” for himself, but when I showed him the definition of feminism above, he looked at me with a “Duh? Who doesn’t believe in that?” kind of look. “I believe in feminism,” he said, “but I wouldn’t call myself one.”