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These four faces made me a mother: the first by birth, the second by fire, the third by boy, and the fourth by grace. Every step I’ve taken in health and growth, spiritually, physically and mentally, has been to make me a better mother to them.

They gave me the question of my life: “How can I love better, bigger, and more fully?”

The answers have often surprised me and almost always cost me something I didn’t expect,  but it has been worth it every time.

When they were small, I gave up my body, my time, my work, my sense of autonomy, and even some of my dreams. As they grew, I gave up thinking I always knew what was best, right, or even true for them.

Instead I just tried to love them well and set them free to be whoever God made them to be. In return, I’ve received the privilege of their presence, intelligence, humor, curiosity, compassion and company and I also received the gift of that question, the one that animates my life and keeps leading me down new paths and to new discoveries.

“How can I love better, bigger, and more fully?”

So Happy Mother’s Day to the kids who made a mom of me!

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March 1, 2018

Dear Readers,

I’ve always loved newsletters, but I must be in the minority, since they seem to have gone the way of magazine subscriptions, to be replaced by tweets, status updates and email “blasts,” whenever something noteworthy happens. But I love the reflective tone of a newsletter, its way of looking back at the last month or quarter and assessing what was actually significant, successful, or transformative, instead of just “advertising” about it in real time.

In that vein, I thought I’d offer a “Newsletter from a Fool” as the month of February comes to a close. (I’ll get to the “fool” part a little later.)

February was a big month for our family.

Keara Moses turned 21 on the 18th and happened to be in town on her birthday, so we took her to the Station Tavern in Southpark, one of her favorite restaurants. She started with a coffee stout and after a veggie burger and tater tots, she finished up with two mixed drinks.  She didn’t even seem buzzed, which is strange since they were her first drinks ever (I’m pretty sure). But we all had a good time and raised our glasses of beer, lemonade and Dr. Pepper to the woman we love, who challenges us and makes us laugh and wonder and worry all at the same time, which is pretty much the job description of a 21-year-old college student, as far as I’m concerned.

 

In other news, Molly Grace celebrated the one year anniversary of her spinal surgery on February 22. Though she had begged to take the day off school, we sent her anyway, since we had taken a three-day snowboarding break in Mammoth earlier in the month. But she was greeted that afternoon with flowers, went thrifting with me at the Buffalo Exchange, enjoyed a hot tub session at the YMCA, a sushi dinner out and finally was surprised at Dairy Queen by her two best friends and their families, who have been with her every step of the way for the past fifteen years. This past month, we reflected on her amazing recovery and how she has finally done everything post-surgery that she did pre-surgery. Grateful doesn’t even begin to cut it.

 

On a sadder note, we lost a wonderful woman and friend, Gretchen Kelly, to cancer this past month. Tim had known Gretchen for over thirty years; our kids thought of her as their local grandma, calling her “Nana Gretch” all their lives. We loved her homemade carrot cake, her “Sunday ‘do,” her full-bodied hugs and full-throated laughter. She was a legend and her memorial service was a testament to that. Friends from all generations and family from all over the country gathered to honor a woman who lived her life with passion, generosity, loyalty and faith. Gretchen is truly an example of how open-hearted living and loving extends the circle of connection and compassion, making the world a better place. Gretchen is seated on the far right in these photos, which hold pride of place in our kitchen, right next to my mother-in-law Ruth and their friend Patsy.

 

I found this poem by Mary Oliver on the day of Gretchen’s service and I think it could have been written just for her.

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from Evidence, 2009

Finally, on a more foolish note…

I always think of February as the month of Love and try to do something a little special for my family. Since there are so many miles between us this year, I had to get a little creative, which wasn’t a problem, because I have discovered SNAPCHAT and my kids created a FAMILY GROUP, so now I can torture them all hours of the day and night while endlessly entertaining myself. Instead of love notes on their pillow, they received a daily love song.

untitled-1_158I’m going to admit it: filters are my friend. Stickers speak to my soul. Bitmojis are totally bitchin’ and voice changers are game changers for people like me who don’t have musical talent.

Am I sounding foolish enough yet? Is your respect for me leaking away, slowly but surely?

Stay tuned. There’s more.

I was inspired to take my foolishness to this next level by my church community’s theme for Lent: “Holy Fools for Love, Holy Fools for Christ.” I don’t know how many times I have shown up as the latter, but the former? Any day of the week! I’m your gal, especially when it comes to my kids.

As I’ve dug into this theme, proposed first by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians and later practiced by my favorite saint of all time, Francis of Assisi, I’m more convinced than ever that foolishness is something to be cultivated and cherished, not condemned. I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill stupidity, immaturity, or thoughtlessness. I’m talking about the foolishness on the other side of seriousness, or as Rob Bell likes to say, the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

My family knows how much I love them and they know that my light-hearted singing is not an expression of the depths of my love, but of the lightness of my love. It is the aspect of my Love that wants to lift them up “higher and higher” in the words of Jackie Wilson. We have been to the depths together and have come out the other side: heartbreaks, betrayals, depressions, medical interventions, coming out, moving out, standing up for justice and kneeling down to ask forgiveness. We’ve gained some wisdom during our twenty-five + years of loving each other, so I gave myself the permission and pleasure of being a fool for Love this February. If you’re not familiar with Snapchat and all the good times that can be had with it, here is some evidence.

(I ask that you watch with generosity! This is amateur hour. I am fully aware I have no musical, filming, or editing ability. The talent may be weak, but the spirit of Love is strong.)

Have you ever been a fool for the sake of someone you love, not because you were weak, but because you had the strength to offer them your own vulnerability? When or where have you chosen to lose, even though you could have won? Who, or what inspires you to fall to your knees, instead of standing tall? These acts of radical foolishness are so rare. We cultivate an image, a “brand,” a level of seriousness, beauty and respect, which we vigilantly guard, but unless we are unprotected, we will not be connected.

There are so many things that keep us from “fooling” around: pride, efficiency, fear of ridicule, loss of standing, lack of practice, cultural expectations. The list goes on and on, but it doesn’t have to. We can stop it anytime, simply by looking at each of those pre-conditions and seeing if it is more important in any given situation than communicating Love, connection, humor, tenderness, grace.

Is there room to “fool” around right now, right here? 

I know the answer won’t always be yes, but it isn’t always no either.

Finally, because poetry is often the language of fools, especially the wise and holy ones, here’s a final offering from Mary Oliver.

 

I Don’t Want to be Demure or Respectable

I don’t want to be demure or respectable.

I was that way, asleep, for years.

That way, you forget too many important things.

How the little stones, even if you can’t hear them, are singing.

How the river can’t wait to get to the ocean and the sky,

it’s been there before.

What traveling is that?

It is a joy to imagine such distances.

I could skip sleep for the next hundred years.

There is a fire in the lashes of my eyes.

It doesn’t matter where I am, it could be a small room.

The glimmer of gold BÖhme saw on the kitchen pot

            Was missed by everyone else in the house.

Maybe the fire in my lashes is a reflection of that.

Why do I have so many thoughts, they are driving me crazy.

Why am I always going anywhere, instead of somewhere?

Listen to me, or not, it hardly matters.

I’m not trying to be wise, that would be foolish.

I’m just chattering.

 

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Give it a go! Get on your hands and kick up your feet! Look at the world a little upside down. The foolishness of God is wiser than we know.

 

Today is my mother’s 70th birthday and although I could think of a few things she’d like more, I’m hoping the gift of words will be enough for now. Her favorite gift will come in a week’s time when our whole family – all 20+ of us – will gather in my sister’s backyard for dinner and drinks and dancing. Cutting a rug with her grandbabies, sons, daughters and in-laws is her idea of heaven!

A few months back, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They renewed their vows in front of family and friends with a big celebratory dinner. At one point in the evening, my siblings and I, along with our spouses, each shared a few words about what their marriage has taught us.

How had we grown and benefitted from their love and commitment to each other and to our family?

As you can imagine, we talked about love, loyalty, commitment, hard work, inclusion and integrity. You don’t make it fifty years without knowing a thing or two about those qualities. It was hard for me to decide what to speak on, because I wanted to talk about ALL THE THINGS. (No surprise there, I’m sure.)  But what I landed on was faith, and that brief reflection is probably one of my mom’s favorite things I have ever written. So, in honor of the woman who raised me, I’m sharing it here today with all of you.

If you ask my mom, her family is the best thing she’s ever done, and if you ask any of us, we’d probably agree. Our mom taught us that Love was never just a feeling. You had to live it out too through service, loyalty, and sacrifice. She embodies the art of “showing up,” sticking to your guns, speaking the truth (as you see it), and then releasing the outcome, because she loves you so damn much. My mom lives by the motto that with God, and with her, you get “forever tries.”

Happy birthday, Mama!

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Sylvia’s Squad on June 10. 2017. She’s the short one in the middle, between my dad and me.

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Last week, I wrapped up my 45th circle around the sun and embarked on a new year. Thanks for the well wishes and love! I spent the day, the entire week actually, mostly in silence and stillness, at La Casa de Maria, my favorite retreat center in Santa Barbara, CA.  If the name sounds familiar, it’s because we spend a week there each year at Family Retreat.

In solitude, the familiar grounds were unfamiliar territory. At first, it felt like a haunted house of love. Each corner I turned, I half-expected to see a pack of children running by, or hear the peals of their laughter or find myself wrapped in a knee-high bear hug. Instead, there was just me, nodding politely to one stranger after another. Eventually the nods gave way to new friendships, quiet, engaging conversations and I remembered that Love can look like that too. La Casa was still my home, just an empty nest, much like the one I’m preparing for here in San Diego.

When I got back this week, I returned to my daily routines, including my favorite class at the gym, taught by a former college football player from Alabama. He too was celebrating his (33rd) birthday this week, so while we were warming up, he asked the question: What was the best year of your life? People rattled off “the college years,” “twenty-one,” and “before I turned 30,” but as one of the senior members of the class, he looked at me and said, Well?

The one ahead, I answered.

I don’t know how to answer that question any other way.  While it may not be empirically true, it has to be true on some level. Otherwise, what’s the point? If we believe our “best years” are behind us, what is there to strive for? I can’t spend my life looking backwards, thinking, “Remember the good old days? The ones where I was more beautiful, successful and fit?  Had more fun, more freedom, more sleep, and more sex?”

Yeah, I remember those days, but I don’t know if they were my best ones, because I’m only halfway through the ones I hope to live. So as long as I’m growing old, I’m going to keep trying to grow up. The best might still be ahead of me if I keep becoming more of whom I’m meant to be and more of what the Universe needs. I truly believe those two things are one and the same and that the process can happen every day – even at the gym.

One of our rotations on the turf that day was a minute on the speed rope. In my group of (mostly) younger women, they dropped the rope in frustration. It kept getting hung up on the artificial grass and ruining their pace. More than anything, they wanted to keep their heart rate up, and burn more calories. I wanted that too, but at 46, what I want even more is to learn a new skill, and to not let myself quit when something is pissing me off and making me feel incompetent. Truly, our best years are behind us if that’s our go-to strategy. When our coach noticed my persistence, he came over and said with a smile, “You know Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney said, ‘You’ve got to believe that the rest of your life is gonna be the best of your life!’” Hodge may be a baby, but he’s an old soul, (or at least he knows how to talk like one.)

I do have bigger goals for my 46th year than mastering the speed rope, but I don’t know what they are yet.  It took me until I was forty to learn that naming artificially-constructed goals – things the world would see as markers of success – doesn’t work for me. Instead, I’ve learned to trust that the next “right thing” will arise from the fabric of my life. It will show up as a challenge, a failure, or a heartbreak and my goal will be to see it as an opportunity and rise up to meet it.

If the past is anything to judge by, it will probably require a lot of Love, which means a lot of everything: courage, vulnerability, commitment, patience, wisdom, empathy, humility and joy.

If my birthday gifts are any indication of what I’m going to face in this year, it’s going to be a doozy.  Let me just say, “Thanks for the reminder (in advance).”

 

 

 

We’ve all heard the quote from Robert Browning that I opened with, but few remember all the advice he offered:

“Grow old along with me!

 The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made:

Our times are in His hand

who saith, ‘A whole I planned,

youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”

 

 

According to the poet, the Universe has use for the whole enchilada, not just the first half, so keep on cooking friends and I’ll do the same.

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.

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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.

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In LA at the Museum of Neon the day before she moved home.

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.

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Finn and JT figured if you had to pose for photos, you might as well have some fun.

 

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Looking ready for the next phase of his adult life…
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Letting you know how he plans to face it…

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.

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“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.

 

As you can probably tell from my lack of posts, this Lenten season has not been a particularly devout one for me. The week before Lent was a blur after Molly’s surgery and Ash Wednesday coincided with her re-admittance to the hospital. The day made no impression on me until late that evening when a hospital chaplain stopped by and offered to pray with us and offer us ashes. Tim and I accepted gratefully, but when Molly indicated she wanted them, I almost knocked the bowl from the chaplain’s hands. Something deep inside me was repulsed by the thought of marking the body of my suffering child with a sign of her mortality. It seemed morbid and inappropriate, but I let it pass and it did Molly no harm. Still, it wasn’t an auspicious beginning to the season.

The next day, however, something my former pastor Nancy Corran preached to our community came back to me. She said, “If your life is a Lent this year, if you are suffering in a desert already – physically, mentally, emotionally, financially – whatever it is, don’t feel like you have to pile more on. Let your life be your Lent and let God Love you through it.” Those were some of the most profound and compassionate words I had ever heard a priest say, but the privilege of my life had always precluded me from taking her up on her offer. This year, however, I decided it was time. My life was Lent enough.

But Holy Week is here and Molly is back at school. She hardly needs any medication and can manage most things on her own. If you weren’t watching closely, you’d never know she was six weeks out from surgery. And so I began to wonder what I had learned during my “life as Lent” experiment. Jesus’ forty days in the desert showed us that a Lenten practice isn’t about a transaction to be completed, but a transformation to be undergone. He went in to the desert a newly baptized man, but emerged a man on a mission. What about me?

While there were no great changes of heart, my sense of mission has deepened this Lent. More than ever, Love is the ground from which I want to ”live and move and have my being.”

Last night, I read the Passion account from the Gospel of Mark and I was struck by the fact that the word “Love” is never mentioned. 1 John 16 may remind us that “God so Loved the world…” but in the eye witness accounts, Love fades away. Instead, fear, betrayal, pain, cruelty, guilt, and abandonment each take their starring turn. Love may be the motivation for Jesus’ actions, but it’s never explicitly stated and if there is one thing I have learned from all my years of study, it’s that we can’t see what we aren’t told to look for and through it all, Love is what we should be looking for. Any time I see a story about Jesus where Love is not mentioned, I know it’s not the whole story and I have to look again. God is Love and so for Jesus to be unloving, or unmotivated by Love was not possible.

Love is what sent Jesus out of the desert ready to serve humanity: Love of God, Love of self, Love of neighbor. They were all one in his heart and mind and it is that Love, that deep internal knowing of perfect relationship that allowed him to walk through the desperate time we call Holy Week. Jesus’ Love is what makes it holy, because he was wholly committed to Loving us and showing us what Divine Love looks like.

This week, it’s so easy to fall into the pattern of worshipping Jesus, for who he was and what he did. But he didn’t ask us to worship him; he asked us to follow him. He didn’t want admirers; he wanted disciples, women and men who were willing to do what he did, however imperfectly, (because that’s the only way we do can anything). Perfection is the enemy of the good and that was never something Jesus wanted to get in our way. We just have to read the post-Resurrection accounts to see that’s true.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t tell the painful and tragic story of Jesus’ death on the cross. I’m not saying we shouldn’t acknowledge our own culpability in his death and ask for forgiveness. I am saying that maybe we could use this Holy Week to try to Love as Jesus did.

On Holy Thursday, how can we humble ourselves before our friends and family as a sign of our Love for them?

On Good Friday, how can we allow ourselves to not need to be right, or defend our positions and reputations?

On Holy Saturday, how can we rest and just let things be as they imperfectly are, instead of rushing to make everything all right already?

On Easter Sunday and every day after, how can we celebrate the truth that death is not the end of the story and that Love conquers all?

Today, I’ll be washing feet. Tomorrow, I’ll be shutting up. Saturday, I’ll be unproductive and Sunday, I will be smiling and singing Alleluia. I hope you’ll join me.

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Here are some of the other posts I’ve written about Lent and Holy Week in year’s past.

“So Long Sad Lent”

“Rethinking Lent”

“The Day Before the Bad Day” 

“It’s Holy Week in Belgium” 

 

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Three days ago, on June 10, deeply saddened by all the pain I saw around me, I posted this on Facebook.

So much pain in the world these days – over the last couple weeks.

The continued migrant drownings

The 19 women burned alive by ISIS for refusing to become sex slaves 

The Stanford rapist sentence and what it reveals about the travesty of our justice system – especially for women and minorities 

The political race/system in the US, which is about to get even uglier

 And yet, this poem by Wendell Berry has given me hope today.

 Hate has no world.

The people of hate must try

to possess the world of Love,

for it is the only world;

it is Heaven and Earth.

But as lonely, eager hate

possesses it, it disappears;

it never did exist,

and hate must seek another

world that Love has made.

With optimism, I wrote,

Let’s keep making the world of Love – again and again and again.

Yesterday, after the Orlando shooting, I was less hopeful, at least momentarily. When I first heard, I went numb with shock, then every cell in my body started to hurt. We were in the car and Tim pulled over so he could comfort me, while I cried myself out in the passenger seat.

 
We sat there together, holding hands, and I tried to believe Berry’s words – the ones I had posted just 48 hours earlier. But this time, I couldn’t stop thinking of Warsan Shire’s poem, “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon.”

later that night

i held an atlas in my lap

ran my fingers across the whole world

and whispered

where does it hurt?

it answered

everywhere

everywhere

everywhere.

I felt that in my body, in my heart and mind.

It hurt everywhere and I kept thinking, “What can I do? What can we possibly do to make a difference?”

Yesterday, for a moment, I forgot the answer.

Today, despite my grief, I know.

If it hurts everywhere, then it means that we have to BE everywhere.

We who believe in LOVE – of every gender, culture, nationality, religion, belief system, political party, orientation – We have to LIVE everywhere, WORK everywhere, HEAL everywhere, LOVE everywhere. This is our task.

There is no backing down to hate. This is no time to fight fire with fire – to join it with our own version of the same.

This is the time for the kind of Love that Krista Tippett calls “muscular, resilient,” instead of the watered-down version we’ve been taught to pursue, dependent on our feelings, eroticized, romanticized, limited to personal agendas, and over-attached to its own happiness.

This is time to embrace what Rilke taught:

“It is good to Love – Love being difficult. Love is perhaps the most difficult task given us, the most extreme, the final proof and text, for which all other work is only preparation.”

This is our time and this is our task – to Love everywhere – more deeply, more actively, more faithfully (which is to say when we are full of doubt), more vocally and consciously. Whatever it means to you, wherever you are, Love someone today.

If you haven’t been deeply disturbed by the tragic news of the past weeks, then you haven’t been paying attention. Or perhaps, you do not yet know that we are, in fact, all connected. In every one of these news items, I saw myself, my child, my family. I grieved for them, as I would grieve for my own, if not in degree, then at least in kind.

  • The continued migrant drownings

(my ancestors who crossed the Atlantic to come here)

  • The 19 women burned alive by ISIS for refusing to become sex slaves

(my 14-year-old daughter)

  • The Stanford rapist sentence and what it reveals about the travesty of our justice system – especially for women and minorities

(myself and all the times I drank too much in my younger years, and, if I’m completely honest, my young, white, athletic son, who knows and is and Loves  so much better and yet, at 17, still has so much more to learn)

  • The political race/system in the US, which is about to get even uglier

(my neighbors and friends with whom I avoid political and religious discussions)

  • The shooting in Orlando and the threat on the Pride parade in Los Angeles

(our gay daughter, friends and family members)

If our Love is muscular enough, there is no pain in the world we cannot connect to and carry with those who are directly affected. It doesn’t mean we have to fix it, but the least we can do is acknowledge it, which will hopefully inspire us to do more.

 

 

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I wanted to write a blog today, on International Women’s Day, to honor the women I love the most in this world. Although I have incredible sisters, cousins, teachers, pastors, and friends, these laughing ladies have my heart. They are my heart.

As I was looking for a photo to go with this blog, I realized that I don’t take nearly enough pictures of the women in our family together. I have lots of the whole and lots of the parts, individually and in different combinations, but of the three of us together, very few. I know why that is, but it saddens me that I haven’t made it more of a priority. Being sisters, “sitsering” each other, standing together – creating that bond for them is one of my greatest desires as a mother and one of the most difficult to fulfill. Keara and Molly are so different from each other. The gap of five years between them is nothing compared to the gap in the way they see and experience the world. In a simple binary way, one is athletic, while the other is artistic. One is petite, while the other is zaftig. One is a night owl, the other an early bird. One wants to compete, the other wants to create. One likes romance movies, the other art house films. Raised in the same home, by the same set of parents, our girls have turned out completely different – at least on the surface.

I know my two girls better than probably any one and so I feel like I can say with confidence that despite their obvious differences, they have the same heart. They may show it differently, but their motivations are the same. They want to make the world a better place; they ache for the pain of others. They aren’t afraid to stand up for justice and say what they believe when it comes to right and wrong. They value family, big and small, by blood and choice. They value adventure and travel and education and loyalty. That is the big picture, but that shared heart doesn’t always come through though, particularly in their interactions with each other. I guess that’s why I’m writing this.

In addition to what I hope they see they have in common, I also want Keara and Molly to see in one another the legacy their mother left behind. Someday, I will be gone and I pray that removing me from the picture will not remove the maternal tie that binds them.

In Keara, I hope Molly will see my legacy of creativity. I use words, most of the time, but Keara has taken that desire to create to a whole new level. She uses her head and heart, her hands and body. From her makeup to her cross stitch, her music to her humor, Keara always finds new ways to express what is inside of her. I hope Molly will witness Keara’s engagement with stories, ones she’s read and heard and watched, as a legacy of my love of stories, from my time as an English graduate student to my obsession with reading good books. I hope she will respect Keara’s fierce originality and independence and find its genesis in my own quirky style and desire not to be like everyone else.

In Molly, I pray that Keara will come to appreciate how she has always wanted to be a ‘mother,’ to others. Like her own mother, Molly wants to heal people with her touch and presence. She wants to lift others up and make them see themselves as whole, beautiful and special. Like me, Molly is disciplined about her practices – with sports, academics, food. Although it might seem strange to Keara, we work better on a schedule and we know it. Like me, Molly seems to want traditional things – a home and family and career and there is nothing limited or prosaic about that. Within those confines, beautiful things flourish.

I don’t know that my girls will need this pep talk. I don’t know that this pep talk will even work, if or when they read it. I only know that when I look at this picture of the three of us, my heart is broken open with joy for the connection these momentary laughter and smiles represent and I hope continues for the rest of their lives.

 

P.S. My own sister and I grew up thinking we were about as different as two women could be. Ten years apart in age and at least that far in temperament, she is now my best friend. We share the same heart.

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Last week, Richard Rohr published a meditation that included this line.

“Love is the source and the goal, faith is the slow process of getting there and hope is the willingness to move forward without resolution and closure.”

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This week’s chalk wall – the Wall of Fame was temporarily replaced by Month of Love in honor of Valentine’s Day.  

It blew me away and so I wrote it up on our chalk wall in the dining room. We have 4 grids: Wall of Fame, Prayer List, Quote of the Week and Do-er’s Choice. We also keep a bucket of chalk on the table. Though I conceived of it as a place for family expression, probably about 80% of the time, I am the only one who expresses herself there. Occasionally the kids will chip in with a “Thanks, Mom,” or a “Way to go” on the Wall of Fame. A little more often, they will add someone’s name to the Prayer List. When they were small, they would jockey for space to draw in the Do-er’s Choice lower quadrant. When inspiration strikes, Tim will commandeer the Quote of the Week for a song lyric, usually from U2. So what I thought was a fun and inexpensive way to get the kids involved has mostly become another place for me to do my “mom-thing.” It does however, on occasion, open up some family conversation, so I just put things up and see what happens. Sometimes they ask, but mostly they ignore it.

However, I loved Richard’s words so much that I wanted to make sure they saw them. During dinner last week, I pointed out the quote and asked what they thought.

Clearly, I threw them for a loop, because they kind of nodded, said, “Uh-huh,” and moved on. Our dinnertime conversations cover topics like school, friends, our goods and bads, sometimes song lyrics, and these days, even politics, but rarely do we stray into theology. At the end of a long day, it’s just too much and on a normal night, if it were an obscure text from some 14th century mystic, I would have given up and moved on, but the idea is so central to my understanding of the world that I thought I’d try one more time.

“Let me draw you a picture.”

 

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“Love is the source and the goal.”

On the left side is our ‘source,’ the beginning of the universe, the Big Bang. It began with what the scriptures in Greek called the Alpha; what we would call God. Richard Rohr, drawing on the work of the saints and the mystics across the ages, calls it Love. That’s why it’s a heart. God’s desire to be in relationship got the whole thing started and it’s what keeps the whole thing going. NOTHING operates in isolation or solitude. On a most basic level, that’s what Love means. From the tiniest sub-atomic particle to the global population, we are drawn toward each other and we are changed and charged by those connections.

On the right side is our ‘goal,’ where we are headed. That is also God, what the Greeks called the Omega point. That is also Love, for God is Love and despite all the setbacks, the violence and injury we do to each other, the primal urge is to draw back together. What is scattered is gathered again. It is the way of life and evolution, the way of Love.

Faith is the slow process of getting there.”

The line from the left to the right is the length of our days. We go along; we live our lives. We are sure of our path and where we are headed, except when we aren’t. There are moments when our surety and safety are disrupted. Bad things happen! We get bullied; people die; we fail miserably at school, at a job, at a marriage. In those moments, we need Faith to see us through. Faith is our will to live; it is knowing where we came from and where we are headed.

“Hope is the willingness to move forward without resolution and closure.”

Even with Love and Faith, we will not move forward on that line without Hope, because things won’t be resolved as quickly as we’d like. In discouragement, it would be easy to stop, but Hope is the engine that drives us forward anyway. Life does not operate according to perfect plans, but even when we don’t know the answer, Hope allows us to trust that an answer will come eventually.

“Does that make more sense?” I asked them.

“Sure mom, we get the picture.”

Good enough, I thought. If they have the picture of Love at the beginning and end of it all, that’s good enough for me.

I sheepishly put down my pencil and the conversation moved on to other things. Sometimes, I think I overwhelm them with too many ‘big ideas,’ but I hope they will retain some of the biggest, the ones I repeat most often.

This is the truth of our lives. Love is where we came from and Love is where we are headed. Yes, we encounter circumstances every day that challenge that truth, but Faith allows us to carry on ‘as if’ it were true. And if we look for it, we can also find clear evidence to fuel our Hope. We can witness Love winning through compassionate giving, community building, truth telling, and resource sharing. I see it in my friends and my enemies. No one is exempt from the ability and desire to Love. And that truth gives me the Hope to walk further down the road in Faith toward even greater Love.

Even, and maybe even especially, during family dinners.

 

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Over the last few rainy days, I have been reflecting on my most recent blog. What am I really talking about when I talk about Love? There are clearly some things I don’t mean. Obviously, for me, Love isn’t just romantic, sweet or mushy feelings, but it isn’t simply an obligation to a person, community, or cause either. Recently, in another writing project, I defined Love in this way.

Love means saying, “Yes” to all that life brings me: to all that is, has been and will be.

When I am in Love, I have forgiven myself and others for past dramas, disappointments and detours. When I am in Love, I am not anxious about the future; I don’t have to force my own agenda, or protect myself from what might happen. Most importantly, when I am in Love in the present moment, I am at peace with what is: myself, my circumstances, the people and possibilities around me. When I am in Love, I don’t need to change anything and when I am really feeling it, I don’t even want to.

But I am not always able to Love like this, which is why I intend to practice Loving even more in 2016. It might sound funny to think of Love as a behavior we have to practice, but we do. Like anything we want to be better at, we have to give it our focus and find ways to improve our abilities, especially if it doesn’t come naturally.

I came across a great image to help inspire me in these early weeks of the new year. It is from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening. (If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, I highly recommend it.) Mark tells the story of a friend who wants to paint his family room. He gets home with all the supplies from the hardware store and preps everything in the garage, but when he wants to enter his house, he can’t get in. He has a bucket of paint in each hand, the drop cloths and rollers under his arms and the paintbrush in his mouth. He struggles to open the front door, refusing to put anything down, (because we hate to put anything down!) and just as he’s about to get in, he slips and falls and ends up covered in red paint. He could laugh about it now, but you can only imagine how angry and frustrated he must have been when it happened.

These are the words of wisdom Nepo gleams from the story:

…In a moment of ego we refuse to put down what we carry in order to open the door. Time and time again, we are offered the chance to truly learn this: We cannot hold on to things and enter. We must put down what we carry, open the door and the take up only what we need to bring inside.

As far as I’m concerned, it is the beginning of Love when we recognize that we are in front of a closed door in the first place. If nothing else, we’ll know we’re there by the way it feels in our bodies – the clenched jaw or balled-up fists, tension in our stomach or neck, our deep sighs, or raised voice. When we notice ourselves getting angry, anxious, or insisting on our own way, it is Love that allows us to stop, take a deep breath, and put our baggage down, whatever it is – our fears, expectations, justifications. Instead of seeing the situation, or person in front of us as an obstacle to be conquered, we see them as a doorway to something new.

In that moment, we are doing the most Loving thing we can. We are saying a resounding, “Yes” to what is, instead of ignoring, denying, or fighting against it. Once we’ve put things down, the rest is just a little bit easier. We can choose to act, instead of react. We can assess what we need to pick up, what is truly important and what will actually help us (and them) on the other side of the door. The rest, we leave behind. Loving actually makes us lighter! (How’s that for a New Year’s diet plan?)

The best way I know how to reinforce this kind of Loving is through my meditative practice of Centering Prayer. For twenty minutes each morning, I “put things down,” over and over again. Inspired by Jesus’ kenotic, or self-emptying, communion with God, Centering Prayer asks me to release my self-centered thoughts, desires and agendas. When I find my mind wandering through daydreams and to-do lists, I repeat my sacred word and put it all down. This practice reminds me that it is not my will that needs to be done.

Sidenote: In case you’re wondering, I have been meditating daily for almost three years and I still have to “put things down” at least fifty to a hundred times in those twenty minutes. I know, shockingly bad statistics there, but my first teacher told me that the only way to fail at meditation is to fail to do it. I choose to use that as my guide still.

Coincidentally, my meditation practice ends about the time my children’s alarm clocks go off. That’s when my real practice begins. My morning agenda is clear: get everyone fed, dressed and out the door on time. My expectations are much higher than that: I want morning hugs, smiles, thank yous for lunch, beds made, teeth brushed, dishes cleaned. You can imagine how many “closed doors” I encounter in those 45 minutes. Every morning, I have 45 minutes to practice Loving my kids in their tired grumpiness and haste. I have 45 minutes to respond to teenage stimuli with Love, patience, forgiveness, encouragement, and physical affection. I have 45 minutes to fail at Loving the way I want to, and when I do, (and yes, I find myself covered in red paint pretty frequently), I apologize. Love also means cleaning up the messes we’ve made. And then, when they leave, I just “put it down” again, even the self-criticism and frustration. I have to Love myself too, or I’ll never get anywhere at all.

In 2016, I want to meet more minutes of my days like I do those first forty-five, fresh off the meditation mat when the challenges are small and the challengers are people I care deeply about. It’s a different story entirely in the real world where I encounter people I don’t much like with even higher stakes. Pope Francis may have declared it the Year of Mercy, but I’ve declared it the Year of Love and I want it to last a lifetime! I will keep trying. At more and more of those closed doors, I will take a deep breath and drop my shoulders. I will think of the red paint I’m carrying. I will remember the crime scenes I’ve created when I refused to put my baggage down and then I will face that door with the freedom that only Love can bring.

So, yeah, in case you were wondering, that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about Love.