Housemother

I’ve been itching to write something for a week in order to get my #Me Too post off the front page of my website. Instinctively, I wanted to hide what I revealed there behind something brighter and more beautiful.  But I was mindful of why I was in such a hurry, so I forced myself to wait until it didn’t bother me anymore to see that part of my past laid bare. While I can’t say that’s entirely true, I want to talk about the other side of that coin –a positive reflection on what it’s means to be a woman.

When I was visiting with my mom last week, she handed me a folder.

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It was a biography project I had completed for a Girl Scout award at the end of 8th grade.  I laughed at the cover. For the life of me, I can’t recall why I put a picture of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator on it. Most of the project was pretty boring, but there were a few pages that were surprisingly accurate.

At the age of thirteen, I had called my shot.

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My Funny Valentine

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:

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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.

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.

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Molly Grace and I at her final water polo game last week. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parenting Teens – It’s Not as Bad as You Think!

The first week of January, Brene Brown posted this image.

 

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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.

Contemplify: Episode 17: Alison Kirkpatrick on Conscious Parenting and Mark Longhurst on The Brothers Karamazov 

Just today, as I was working on this post, Jen Hatmaker, author, speaker and extraordinary mother, posted this status update on Facebook.

Amen, sister!

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Resolved to Love: Becoming a More Conscious Parent

 

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.

screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-8-40-57-amLast 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.

Or listen at Contemplify.com.

Episode 17: Voicemails – Alison Kirkpatrick on The Conscious Parent

Few of you have had a chance to listen to my voice, or seen me speak in person, so I hope you’ll enjoy the alternate experience!

 

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Raising a Feminist Son

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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.

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Colby and Kate, on a date

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!

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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.


 

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Do these ladies look excited, or what? 

As I was writing this post, news broke that Pope Francis will put together a commission on studying the restoration of the deaconate to women. The liberation begins!

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

All in good time, my son, all in good time.

 

 

 

IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY

 

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Any day now, many of my friends here in California will be getting some big news. The UC acceptance and rejection letters go out in the next week and the ensuing cheers and tears will be heard across Tierrasanta and the state. I imagine it’s just the beginning as the private universities send their letters in the weeks that follow. We got to be a party to the big reveal last year and next year will bring another round for us, but as the nerves build over the next week, this is what I would like to say to all the parents who are waiting…

IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY.

No matter where your kids go to school next fall, IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY.

But I’ll admit, it’s really easy to forget that.

When Keara was figuring out where she would go to school, I had so many hang ups. I was disappointed that we couldn’t afford to send her where she really wanted to go. I felt like I was limiting the potential trajectory of her life by putting parameters on her applications. I felt like a failure as a mom for our financial limitations. I second-guessed every free-thinking decision we had ever made. Maybe some of you will agree with my self-assessment, but Tim didn’t. He reminded me that there is little connection between where you start the fall of your freshman year and where you end up in life! There are no guarantees. I just have to look at my own life to be reminded of that fact.

When Keara began the college search process, I wanted to give her exactly what I had – every opportunity – academically, socially, financially – to go to the school she wanted. My parents said, “Pick out a school and go!” so I picked out a great school and I went, but within a year and a half, I was homesick and partying and pregnant. The “best” school simply turned out to be the “best” place for me to learn some really hard lessons about who I was and how I wanted to be in the world. I still finished my degree in four years by attending summer school, intercession and every semester I could, at five different universities. I graduated at 21, was in grad school at 22 and carried on to get my dream job at a local university as an adjunct professor before 25. But you know what? That didn’t turn out to be “the best thing” for me either.

Ultimately, I have found the “best” place within myself by integrating my body, mind and soul. I ended up in the “best” place of my life, through trial and error, love and commitment, through facing hard things with all the courage I could muster and the skills I had at the time. I created the “best” place I could by surrounding myself with people I could trust and striving to be that for them as well. My “best” place continues to be wherever I find myself fully engaged in meaningful work, surrounded by people I care about.

Friends, this isn’t just my story. It’s your story too. Look at the life you’ve created! Your college experience was a part of it, but only one part. You might have great memories of those years, but you probably could have created them at ten different campuses across the country, or even a hundred. They are specific in details, but not content. You might have gone to one school or three. It might have taken you four years or seven. You might have had starts and stops, dramas and things that derailed you for a while. You probably changed course, at least a couple times and IT’S OKAY. That’s life!

No life is protected, or perfect. We know that, so let’s be clear with our kids about what we most appreciate about our own lives. It might help them know what to aim for.

Aim for wholeness. Aim for goodness. Aim for meaning, purpose and impact. Aim for independence, in the context of loving, healthy relationships. Aim for respect and wisdom. Aim to learn continually and to use that knowledge compassionately and effectively.

Moms and dads, I know you are nervous; I know you are anxious for your kids. I know you feel like you have a lot riding on the decisions these schools make and that a lot is riding on the decisions you make. I know your kiddos have put a lot of time and effort into these applications and into their last twelve years of school. But no matter what happens, no matter where your child goes to school in the fall…

IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY.

I keep writing IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY in ALL CAPS, over and over again, because that’s how I reminded myself to believe it last year, as Keara worked her way through the application process. It’s how I am preparing myself for next year when Finn is waiting for the news. But just because I have to remind myself of something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Our fears (especially those we share culturally) can sometimes outweigh the facts, make us reactive and get in the way of good decision-making. (Look no further than the success of Donald Trump to see the truth of that.)

At 18, our kids are in process – they are figuring out who they are, what they want to do and what they are capable of. We need to let them figure that out and remember that they can and will figure those things out virtually anywhere. What we’ve given them over the last 18 years of their life is a far greater indicator of their future success than the name on their college degree.

P.S. Whatever happens next fall, CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve successfully raised decent, well-educated, productive members of society, who have a strong desire to continue their education and contribute the world in a significant way.  That is truly good news!

P.P. S. Keara ultimately ended up in an excellent program for her major at CSULB, a school about 100 miles away from home. She loves it and has admitted that although she longed to go back east, she doesn’t think she would have lasted for that long that far away from home. Despite my anxiety, it really has turned out even better than OKAY.

College, Gelassenheit and The Law of Three

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A casual friend asked me recently how Keara was doing. Though she doesn’t know Kiko personally, she’s a reader of the blog and loved how we blessed K on her way to college last month. Though I had considered writing about how it went, I thought it might be too late. She assured me it wasn’t. On the hope she’s not the only one, I thought I’d follow up.

On Friday, the morning after the blessing, we packed up the car to drive from San Diego to Long Beach. I noticed some butterflies in my stomach, nothing too distracting, just an occasional flutter, a hint that today was not an average day.

On Saturday, her move-in day, I woke with a nagging sensation that something was wrong. I took a shower, asked Tim to bring me a cup of coffee and sat down to write and pray. Here is an excerpt from my prayer journal that morning:

We move Keara into her dorm this morning and it is very clear to me that I have two choices: I can write, or I can cry. Since I’ve already done my makeup and I am determined not to scare her, I’m writing to you God. All I keep saying, over and over again – even during my sit as I tried to return to my sacred word – is, “May you be safe. May you be content. May you be strong. May you live your life at ease.” I am praying that blessing for Keara and myself, over and over again.

I pulled myself together; we drove up the coast and created a semblance of a home in a 15×15 dorm room. I was so bewildered that day. I kept looking at all the parents and their eighteen-year-old children. What had seemed like such a good idea in the previous months suddenly seemed like bad idea, one of the worst really. I felt like I had Tourette syndrome. It took everything I had to not start shouting, “Does anyone else think this is a terrible idea? Take your children and go home. All of you!” Obviously, I didn’t do it, but Tim, perhaps sensing my need for solidarity, kept squeezing my hand and giving me appropriately concerned smiles. Before I knew it, it was 5 o’clock and Kiko was racing out to dinner with her new roommates, saying she’d see us in the morning for breakfast.

Sunday morning dawned and I found myself , unable, or possibly just unwilling, to get out of bed. I was physically nauseous, dreading the day ahead. Eventually I persevered, but only with Tim’s help and on his insistence. We picked Kiko up from campus and did one more Target run, one more cup of coffee, one more hug goodbye and that’s when it got ugly. I held her in my arms and whispered my morning’s blessing to her one more time, and then she started to cry and I started to cry and Tim started to cry. We let her go, got in the car and drove away.

And before we were even out of the parking lot, Tim asked me, “What are you feeling right now?” as if he didn’t know. But sad didn’t even begin to cover it, so I took a deep breath and told him.

“I know this is going to sound really weird, but it feels like the morning I left Sarah in the hospital. It’s that same sense of being hollowed out, of leaving half my heart in the high-rise behind me and driving away, ON PURPOSE, and knowing that things are never going to be the same again. She’s never going to be mine again…. And don’t turn on the radio, because God help me, if Lionel Richie is playing, I just might not be able to do it. I don’t care if you’re crying; DON’T STOP THE CAR! We can’t stop, because if we stop, I don’t think I can start again. If we just keep moving, I can do this. I know how to do this, but if there is one second when I can turn around and take it all back, I just might and that would be the worst thing ever! So please, just keep going….”  As I trailed off into sobs. *

And so he did. We turned left out of the parking lot, found the 405 freeway and traveled south at seventy miles an hour, silently, in our pain and grief. We couldn’t talk about it, or listen to music, because we’d both start crying and Tim’s so responsible that he won’t cry and drive. He said the tears messed with his visibility and we still had two kids at home to raise, so instead we talked about stupid, silly things – work and politics and the weather. We made it home, went to church and out to dinner that night and the new normal began.

And it was okay.

Like the day after I left Sarah Moses and gave her up for adoption, twenty-four years ago this week, I woke up and took deep breaths. I listened quietly for the beating of a heart I thought was broken. I found a routine I could live by and if I lost track of time intermittently throughout the day, thinking about my baby girl somewhere far away, that was okay too. I knew she was safe; I knew she was content; I knew she was strong; I prayed she would live her life at ease, but I also knew the ease would come more easily if she was living apart from me. It’s the reason I let them both go, my two Moses girls. Love, my love anyways, would never be all they needed to become all they were meant to be.

I guess I didn’t share this story earlier, because it hurt so much and I couldn’t make sense of it. I didn’t have the right language to explain how, or why doing something that you know is so right can feel so wrong. And for me, sense-making is an important part of the healing process. Now, I may not have it all figured out yet, but I’m getting closer, with some help from my friends in the Living School.

A couple weeks after we dropped Keara off, I went on my annual pilgrimage to Albuquerque, NM and spent time with the faculty and my fellow students. We listened and learned and talked late into the night. We laughed and cried and fell in love with the world and each other a little more. It helped with my healing process, especially something called the Law of Three and ternary metaphysics. Basically, the Law of Three holds the premise that “three-ness,” like that we see in the Holy Trinity, is the basis of creation for the whole universe. Nothing new comes into being with out the dynamic interweaving of three distinct, but inseparable forces.

According to 17th century German mystic, Jacob Boehme, at first, there is a yearning, a desire for something. Then, there is the frustration of the desire; the will cannot get what it wants. As long as there are only two, there will be anguish. They will endlessly go back and forth, pushing and pulling without reconciling, or changing anything. (Think of U.S. politics.) If one is much greater than the other, it may “win,” but nothing new will come of it, because it is the friction, the pain itself, which is the “ground of motion.” It is only when a third force enters the equation that the two can be transformed and something new can be born. Frequently, this third force is gelassenheit, what we might call equanimity, the “letting-be-ness” of the surrendered will. In her commentary on it, Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “Will, desire, and pain are not obstacles to spiritual perfection, but rather the raw materials out of which something yet more wondrous will be fashioned.  Thus, these things are not to be feared, denied, or eradicated; they are to be transformed.” **

Don’t worry, I’ll stop there with the dry stuff. If you’re anything like Tim, you’re about to check out anyways. Here’s what it means to me personally.

Although I didn’t have the language of ternary metaphysics at nineteen, I knew what Boehme was talking about. Here is my simpler formula:

Desire + Will = Pain + Surrender = Transformation < A New Being 

When I was nineteen and got pregnant with Sarah, there was so much pain (SO MUCH PAIN) as I held the tension between the desire to raise her and my will to give her the best possible life, which I believed meant not being raised by me as a single teenage mother. Only through surrendering to the process was I transformed. I became someone new on the other side of that experience, someone who knew that it was possible to have your desire and your will completely at odds with each other emotionally and energetically and yet completely aligned in terms of their purpose. It was in the alignment that the resolution was found.

I had that same sensation as we left Keara on her college campus. My will was for her to become independent and find her place in the world. My desire was to have her place in the world be next to me, in my arms and the shelter of my home. Those two forces created enormous anguish in me – as they have done, I imagine, in virtually all parents across time and space. But it is only by letting that pain be what it is, neither clinging to it (by over-involving and inserting myself into this phase of her life), nor rejecting it (by denying my pain, or shutting myself off from feeling it) that she and I, and our relationship, actually have a chance to become something new. I have no idea what that new thing might look like, but in faith, based on evidence, I’m not worried.

Here’s how I look at it. I think we are screwed, or blessed either way, or perhaps more exactly, we feel screwed in the moment and are blessed in the long run. But I think the blessing only comes if we believe it will come and live as if it will come. If we refuse to surrender and choose to stick with the pain, then we will view our path as either an inevitable frustration of our desire, or of our will, and then it will become thus – simply frustration, not transformation. If there is no surrender, no faith in a new arising as yet unknown and undefined, then there will be nothing new under the sun.

The process of giving Sarah up burned into my body, heart and mind, the lesson that you do not stop wrestling with the angel of God (who comes disguised as every moment of your life) until you receive the blessing. When something unknowable, but potentially precious is placed in your life, you have to grasp it, embrace it fully, know it intimately, see what it has to teach you. Don’t bury it in the desert and walk away too soon. Find some way, however small, to allow it to bless you before you let it go. You may always walk with a limp, scarred in some way, but you will be wiser and better for it and you take that wisdom out into the world with you. ***

Stephen Colbert has said recently in many interviews promoting the new Late Show that he can never be glad for the death of his father and brothers and yet, the very curse of their death has become his greatest blessing. He admits, “I love the thing that I most wish had not happened” and he has found a way to embrace the paradox. His life, his work, his humor, compassion and drive all stem from the wisdom he gained in the struggle. He has surrendered both his desire for it to be different and his human inability to make it so.

We all have wisdom to share with one another, hard fought wisdom and the accompanying Love, compassion, joy and empathy that goes with it. If you’ve wrestled with an angel, don’t be afraid to show us your scars. It’s the only reason I’m here. My writing is the best proof I have of my ever-broken and ever-mending heart.

*If you don’t get my Lionel Richie reference, click here, or on his name, and it will take you to the original story.

**All the notes in this paragraph are from Chapter Seven of The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three  by Cynthia Bourgeault.

***The language around this lesson was taught to me beautifully by Rob Bell with an assist from Paula D’Arcy.

A Meditation on Leaving for College

candles_B&W

Today is the day Keara moves out.

Yesterday, we blessed her on her way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.


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

A Graduation Letter to My Daughter

Keara walks down the aisle after graduation.
Keara walks down the aisle after graduation.

This is a post that has been begging to be written for weeks now, but it’s something I’ve been putting off, perhaps because writing about it makes it far too real.

Two weeks ago today, my sweet Kiko, known to the world as Keara Moses Kirkpatrick, graduated from The Academy of Our Lady of Peace. In just over two months, she will be going away to college. As individuals and as a family, we are in a time of transition. There is joy and sadness, eagerness and anxiety, hope and nostalgia for all that has been and all that will be.

We attended a beautiful ceremony at her school, but I am a big believer in rituals, so we couldn’t leave it at that. While both ceremonies and rituals use words and actions to mark the significant events in our lives, they operate on different plains. Ceremonies signify the outer experience; they are the stuff of photo opportunities and awards, for public consumption on a large scale. Rituals take place in more intimate spaces, sometimes with no more than one, or two present. Ideally, they speak to the interior processes that the ceremony celebrates. Rituals can be sacramental, in the broadest sense of the word: personal, grace-filled moments that transcend our every day experiences. Ceremonies can be organized by anyone; rituals are best experienced by those we love.

One of my favorite rituals is to write my kids letters, annually on Holy Thursday, but also for significant events in their lives. It offers me an opportunity to look back at what they’ve done and who they’ve been, as well as dream about who are they are becoming and what they might do. Sharing those letters with my kids, out loud and sometimes in the presence of others, is always a sacred experience. In case they had forgotten in the course of their daily lives, they are reminded of the power and possibility of their own story.

At Keara’s graduation party, with our family and close friends gathered around us, I toasted her with the following speech. I am posting it here, not only to share my own pride and joy, but also perhaps to inspire you to find a way to “ritualize” the next milestone in the life of someone you love. You don’t need to worry about being particularly eloquent, or using a lot of words. They don’t even have to be your own. Your favorite poet, or songwriter might know just what to say. If you’re nervous, allow them to do so. The important thing is to find some special way to connect what has occurred on the outside with what is happening on the inside. An expression of your Love and perspective may be the very thing that propels them forward with greater joy, confidence and determination.

Graduation toast, given on May 30, 2015

A couple weeks ago, Keara went on retreat with her senior class at OLP and they asked her parents to write her a letter. I thought today might be a perfect day to share some of my thoughts from that letter with all of you, her family and friends, who love and support her and have watched her grow over the years.

While I was writing the letter, I was listening to “Never Grow Up” by Taylor Swift and reminiscing about all the stages and ages she’s been through over the last eighteen years. She is on the verge of going to college, moving out on her own, for a while at least, and maybe forever.

The first age Swift talks about is infanthood, with “your little hands wrapped around my finger…” I still remember those days, when I held her in my arms ALL THE TIME. She was only happy being held in my arms or Tim’s, and even then not always. But she quickly became a happy baby, big smiles, big love all around. As all of you know, Keara was a priceless gift to me – my daughter, the one I got to keep and raise and hold and love and dress and play with. Keara, even though I had your dad, until I became your mom, there was a little bit of an emptiness in me. But your presence filled me up and gave my life more meaning and purpose and great, great joy.

Taylor Swift goes on in her chorus to say,

“Oh darling don’t you ever grow up, don’t you ever grow up, just stay this little. Oh darling don’t you ever grow up, don’t you ever grow up, it could stay this simple. I won’t let nobody hurt you. Won’t let noone break your heart. No, no one will desert you. Just try to never grow up. Never grow up.”

Though the teeniest part of me sang along with Ms. Swift, I’ve never clung to the chorus, or the meaning of her song with you, or Finn, or Molly. Even when you were just toddling around, I couldn’t wait to see who you would become and what you would do with your life.

The possibility of you has always been endlessly fascinating to me.

You have become all I hoped for and more. In elementary school, it became clear how smart you were, how disciplined, how engaged, how fun-loving. Your teachers all loved you and you had good friends. Some of them moved away and some friendships faded and my heart broke a little to see your confusion and sadness at the loss of relationships you had invested in. You didn’t want to talk about it, but I knew and tried to support you with love and encouragement. And you always managed to find new friendships that were even better, because you have such a good heart, imagination and willingness to engage with people.

I know that pattern has repeated itself in high school as well and I hope you know it’s okay. Although it’s not the way friendships are “supposed to go,” according to Hollywood and TV shows, it’s actually true of most people’s life experiences. Friends come and go. If you are changing – and I hope you are always changing – then friendships will change too. People grow in different directions. When something dies, even relationships, it becomes the soil from which something new, something richer can be born. (I will stop with my usual lecture theme now. I can feel you rolling your eyes!)

When you went to middle school, I watched you step into your individuality even more, or at least try to find it. Like T Swift, I would have liked to say to you, “Don’t lose the way that you dance around in your pjs getting ready for school.” You did lose it for a little bit, but through the last four years of high school, that joyful, funny, smart, playful soul has resurfaced and you will dance around in your pjs (or anything else), at any time of day or night. It makes me so happy when I see the little girl you once were, in your smile and laughter as you move.

I wish that I could say that, like Ms. Swift claims that “No one’s ever burned you; Nothing’s ever left you scarred,” but I know that’s not true. I’ve seen you hurt, but I’ve also seen you rise again, every time. You know how to cry, but you also know how to start over. You know how to pick yourself up, put on your lipstick (the feminine sword and shield) and go back out there to be an even stronger, more resilient, and confident woman.

I hope I’ve earned your trust and that you will allow me to stand by you forever, as your mother and as the woman who loves you most in the world, as someone who will always encourage you and lift you up in Love.

I will always, we, this family, will always, always, always lift you up in Love. We will always be loyal to Keara Moses, who we fell in love with before she was born and will love beyond this life.

There are things I think you are and will be forever, Keara. The young woman I know, Love and respect is independent, funny, creative, talented, compassionate, smart, passionate and fiery. I could also include your inner strength, confidence, individuality, determination, independence, and ability to stand out in that list of qualities. None of those gifts came easily to you and I recognize the work you’ve done to become the person you want to be, the kind of woman you admire. You also have interests that I love to watch you involved in, like baking, sewing, music, costumes, makeup, hair, fashion, acting, dancing and the list goes on…

Let me just say that these lists are incomplete, for your life is only beginning. The first eighteen years of life are formative and fun and filled with memories that shape who you will become. But the next sixty and seventy years ahead are also those things. Life is incredible raw material for meaning, purpose, passion and happiness and I’ve seen what you do with raw materials: You create beauty! It’s unique, a little dark around the edges, but fantastically powerful. You’ve done it in all sorts of mediums and so I have total confidence that you will do it with your very self and the life you’ve been given.

“Never Grow Up” ends like this:

“Take pictures in your mind of your childhood room. Memorize what it sounded like when your dad gets home. Remember the footsteps; remember the words said, and all your little brother’s favorite songs…”

Take your memories with you throughout life Keara and I hope they are more good than bad, but don’t look back with longing or regret. Your future holds so much promise and joy. I could not be prouder of the daughter we’ve raised and I know you will continue to do great work. We believe in you and are here for you, always.

Cheers!

In this time of graduations and weddings, “Cheers!” says something, but your Love can say a lot more. Don’t be afraid to speak up. We need to. We assume our loved ones know how we feel about them, but they don’t, not really, unless we told them yesterday.

All of us, not just our children, long to be seen, in our joy and pain, to have our triumphs applauded and our struggles encouraged. A kiss on the cheek, a hug on the way out the door, a mumbled, “I love you,” can’t possibly communicate the depth of our feelings for the complex, beautiful people we live with and among. So when the next occasion arises, or perhaps for no occasion at all, find a way to say more than comes easily and make the moment a sacred one.

A Mother’s Day Bouquet, Weeds Included

A Mother's Love Letter to Herself
A Mother’s Love Letter to Herself

Mother’s day is approaching. It’s hard to forget it if you are on social media, as sentimental posts about the glory of moms flood the news feeds. Ostensibly, these images were created by men and women for their mothers, but obviously, they were created by moms for themselves. More than anything, they are a reflection of how we hope our kids feel about us. We share them as a tribute to our mamas, but really, we are just sending them as love letters to ourselves. A mother-child relationship is infinitely more complex. It’s a wonderfully complicated combination of love, devotion, and gratitude, with a healthy dose of resentment, and old wounds mixed in. If you don’t have mixed emotions about your mom, then you’ve done a lot of inner work, or you’re in total denial.

I know that traditional Mother’s Day offerings are flowers, brunches and pretty cards, but is there space for a little bit of honesty too? A bit of gentle teasing about all the things your mama really taught you?

The first things that come to mind about my mom can’t be romanticized, though they can be appreciated. She taught me how to burn chicken, go to church, play Scrabble and clip coupons. She taught me to love the beach, dancing and the Jackson Five. She taught me to prioritize travel, education and physical activity. She taught me self-discipline, thriftiness and that reading is a wonderful way to spend your time. I’ve used all those skills and they have served me well. If you want lessons, I will give you her number.

But there were some things my mother couldn’t teach me, because she didn’t know how to do them herself. My mother does not snuggle, except with babies. Her hugs are all shoulders and hipbones, even for those she loves deeply. Handholding is inefficient and slightly uncomfortable. Strong emotions are suspect, to be squashed if possible. Tears are dehydrating. Poetic language beyond her. If she feels something, you might know it, but probably not because she told you herself. Risk-taking is synonymous with irresponsibility, as is following your instincts and eating out too often.

Though they aren’t my favorite qualities, I understand where they came from. They are part of a family legacy, passed on to her from devout, depression-era parents, who raised eight children, making sure everyone got some, but no one got more than enough. That was true of candy bars, soda pop and probably even love.

While those are the easiest things to rattle off about my mom, they certainly aren’t the whole picture, so I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you a little more. It is Mother’s Day after all.

This is my Mother’s Day card for Sylvia.

mom's day card

For better and for worse, I am my mother’s daughter. I have learned and unlearned a thousand things from her, but these are the ones that I hope to carry on.

She is fiercely loyal to her family and friends. She shows up to every event on time and she does not gossip. Sylvia’s got your back. She is deeply faithful to her God and her husband. You do not make mass every Sunday and stay married for forty-eight years without saying to yourself, every day, “I’m in this for long haul.” She shows up where she’s needed. There is no task too big, or too small. From rocking a baby, to mopping the floor, to organizing charity events, Sylvia is on the job. Her home is open and so is the kitchen. Children, grandchildren, friends, friends of family, and friends of friends from foreign countries have all found a warm, clean bed and a full fridge in her house, just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean. No checkout fee required, only the hope of a good conversation.

Finally, my mother loves her children deeply, though she rarely says so. Words are not Sylvia’s forte, but ironically, they are mine. I need things spelled out for me and so for years I mistook her acts of love and service as her children’s inevitable due. I thought that sacrificing a career and personal creativity, making meals, driving carpools, and planning family activities was just what moms did. I thought it was their job. I know better now.

It was a choice and it’s a choice she continues to make for all of us. Her job is even bigger now that we are all married with kids of our own. Instead of the four she started with, she now has four daughters, four sons, and twelve grandchildren. She makes sure everyone has some, and hopes that it’s enough. But I have to admit, she set our expectations pretty high and though she won’t say so, she probably feels stretched thin, meeting the “needs” of her ever-growing family.

So Mom, here is my Mother’s Day “gift” to you today. I’m sorry it’s in my native language of words, expressing perhaps too much honesty and emotion. Tomorrow, I will try to show my love for you in your native tongue of action. When I see you, I will give you a sideways hug, play a game of Scrabble, and clear a table. We can do some dancing, cuddle some babies and walk on the beach. Together, we can show our family how we love them.

P.S. If you think I’m being hard on my Mom, whom I love and respect dearly, I write this knowing full well my own children will have a laundry list a mile long of the things they need to unlearn from me and my “love.” It will probably include an overemphasis on deep breathing, inspirational quotes, and self-awareness, as well as an obsession with laundry day routines, repetitive menus and the reapplication of sunscreen.