bébé-chèvre“The Lame Goat”

You have seen a herd of goats

going down to the water.

 

The lame and dreamy goat

brings up the rear.

 

There are worried faces about that one,

but now they’re laughing,

because look, as they return,

that one is leading.

 

There are many different ways of knowing.

The lame goat’s kind is a branch

that traces back to the roots of presence.

 

Learn from the lame goat,

and lead the herd home.

 

From Rumi, a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic.

If you ask anyone who knew me as a child, they will admit I was a late bloomer. My dad’s nickname for me was “Bumper;” I was always running into walls and doors. With the amount of spills I took running across the street, riding a bike, or even just walking down the hall, it sometimes seemed like a struggle just to stay on my own two feet. I’m guessing that’s why I am drawn to this poem.

So often, we dismiss the “lame goats,” the ones who bring up the rear and seem to be in their own world, but this poem reminds us that when we do, we may not have the right perspective. It takes time, and patience to see the whole picture and those are two things most of us have in short supply. The concrete visual imagery of this poem is a powerful reminder to have some patience and faith in the people and things that take a little more time. This is even a lesson we can apply to ourselves when we find ourselves falling behind! Everyone has value and everyone is ahead of the curve somewhere and at some time.

So have pity on the “lame goat” who lags behind, including this writer, who agonized about choosing such a silly poem for today! I wanted to offer something a little lighter than “The Last Supper,” but hope you don’t find it underwhelming.  Tomorrow, we’ll get back to some more serious literary work!

 

 

The other morning, I woke with Otis Redding playing in my mind, “You’ve got to try a little tenderness….” I had spent the night at my folks’ house and as I walked down the stairs, humming along, my dad laughed. That song had been in his head for the last couple days too.  Kismet, I guess, or the fact that we are both currently reading Barking to the Choir.  I’m guessing “Tenderness” is just about the only song Fr. Greg Boyle knows how to sing.

Sorry friends, but I am obsessed with this book. I gobble up story after story and then I put it down, hard, and walk away, not because it made me mad, but because it made me so damn GLAD. I just want to cherish the feeling – of both surprise, “I’ve never thought of it that way,” and satisfaction, “I knew it all along!” I also put it down so that I can find my own response to his call. He says “Amen” to life in all its painful, poignant reality and his example demands that I find a corresponding, “Alleluia” within myself. To offer any less to this modern-day gospel feels sacrilegious.

I think I am beginning to understand how the early gospel began to spread and people became “Christians.” When the news is that good, that liberating, that healing, you can’t help but tell your family, friends, neighbors and even strangers about it. You want to jump up and down and say: Look! Taste! Touch! See how love and love and more love makes all the difference.  And in case you think I’m putting Fr. Greg on a pedestal, I’m not.  He’s only reminding us of the “original program,” as he puts it, which is simply the message of Jesus, which some of us seem to have forgotten.

So back to tenderness.

In some ways, tenderness is the key to it all, though it goes by many names: compassion, empathy, love.  Each of those words has its own nuance, but they all work on the same principle – the act of softening towards “the other,” so that some connection, healing, or relationship can be fostered. Tenderness, however, has a connotation of spontaneity, as if it’s something we can’t develop, or consciously create. Nonsense, Greg says.

Compassion and empathy have taken on clinical standing; they have been studied and analyzed to death with data. But tenderness? That kind of just wells up within us, right? It’s too soft, squishy, and personal to analyze, which is exactly why we should embrace it above the others, according to Greg.

Tenderness doesn’t just happen from your intellect; it’s your heart’s response in proximity to what is beautiful, vulnerable and beloved in our midst. The key to the “practice” of tenderness is to become familiar with what it feels like and know what brings it out in you. And once you know it, don’t run away from it; run towards it! Get comfortable with the uncomfortable, vulnerable feeling of tenderness. It feels dangerous (I might get hurt by admitting how much I care!) It feels embarrassing (I might look like an idiot for welling up in tears!) It feels inefficient (who’s got time to stop and marvel? I’ve got things to do. I’ll get back to it later!) For all those reasons and more, we don’t allow ourselves to feel tender towards most things. It destabilizes our ego’s ability to judge quickly, efficiently and “correctly.”

But we all have our Achilles’ heel, the thing that just melts our hearts, even when we’ve got better things to do. Currently, mine happens to be my nieces and nephews, especially the little ones. I wish you could feel my heart leap when I spy one, or all of them in a room. I think my heart literally pirouettes in my chest as I bend down and open my arms and call their names and they come running to me for a heart-stopping, germ-sharing, laughter-filled embrace. I am not so foolish to think it will always be this way. They will grow up and grow out of love with me, but I will cherish these tender moments as long as I can, which is also why I keep pictures like these on my phone. When I’m feeling cranky and judgmental – Instant Tenderness! (Snapchat filters are magical things at this age!)

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I also feel tenderness towards my own kids, toddlers of all kinds, some teenagers, and most teachers. Not the heart-skip-a-beat kind of tenderness, but a genuine softening towards their occasional negativity, bad attitude and tendency to see themselves as the victim of unfair authority figures. “I get it,” I want to say to them. “Let me get you a drink (milk, soda, or wine, as appropriate) and sit with you for a while until you feel more like yourself again.”

So the tender gospel of Barking to the Choir asks us to consider:

Where and for whom do you feel tenderness without effort, or reservation?

Maybe you’re not a kid person, but how about a baby?  A newborn? (One of the only places in our culture that men are allowed to display tenderness without shame!) Maybe it’s a majestic, endangered species, or newborn pandas, or packs of puppies. Maybe a telephone commercial with a grandmother can have you in tears? Cats must be the source of tenderness for millions of people in the world, because who else would be watching all those videos?

The next time you experience that rush of tenderness, whatever, or wherever it is, feel what it feels like in your body, your heart, your face. Get to know that feeling, and then hold on to it, because that’s where “kinship” begins. As poet David Whyte writes, “Start close in,” a place where the yoke is easy and the burden is light. Start embracing the tenderness you feel naturally and then take it a degree further, one step at a time.

If my heart melts for my little ones, can I extend some measure of tenderness to the runny-nosed stranger’s child, crying in the grocery store line behind me? Can I ask my heart to skip a beat, offer a smile and drop the judgements I’m making about his parents and their choices? What good do those judgments do anyway? And once I can do that, can I extend it even a step further to the homeless child in my own town, or the refugee child on a distant shore?  Can I eventually get to the heart-wide-open place where I begin to believe that there is no such thing as other people’s children?

Degree by degree, step by step, we expand our tender hearts until they include even our enemies. That is the mission and magic of Homeboy Industries.  Step by tender step, they move people from separation to solidarity to kinship.

Embracing tenderness, writes Jean Vanier, is the highest mark of spiritual maturity. It is not a sign of weakness, or sentimentality, or femininity in a pejorative way. It is a sign of strength and character and mutuality.

I am strong enough, centered enough to allow you to destabilize me through Love.

I am secure enough to be softened and changed by you.

I do not lose me when you win back some of yourself through my tender gaze.

I hope you’ll find something that makes your heart melt this week and then, that you will chose to find another and another, each one less likely than the last and that through the practice of tenderness, you will become the genesis of “kinship” in your own little corner of the world. This is critical work needed in the world today.

 “If love is the answer, community is the context and tenderness is the methodology. Otherwise love stays in the head, or worse, hovers above it. Or it stays in the heart, which is never enough. For unless love becomes tenderness – the connective tissue of love – it never becomes transformational. The tender doesn’t happen tomorrow… only now, only today.”

Greg Boyle, Barking to the Choir 

 

 

 

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This week, Tim and I saw Fr. Greg Boyle speak about his new book, Barking to the Choir, but really, his speaking is simply storytelling. At the beginning, or end of a story, he might tee up the point he wanted you to get out of it, but not always. Sometimes, you just had to sit with the story and see what it brought up for you. The impact of his storytelling forced me to recognize how few stories I tell here on my blog any more. When the kids were small, I told a lot.  It’s easy to tell personal stories when your kids are young, but as they got older, I tried to respect their privacy. Their stories are theirs to tell, not mine, even if I am the one learning the lesson. But after a while, I got out of the story-telling habit and then I kind of lost the nerve.  There’s not much vulnerability involved in a story about how your three-year-old is driving you nuts, but grown-up stories, personal ones? It makes me sweat just thinking about it, so I rarely wander down that path.

But the stories Greg tells? Those are risky stories, heart-breaking accounts of abuse, foolishness, pride, stupidity, ignorance, frustration – much of it his own. Nobody comes out looking perfect, but everyone comes out beloved – understood, and held with tenderness. In all that they do, Homeboy Industries is working to create the “Kin-dom of God” here on Earth, a kin-dom where no one is left outside the circle of mercy, compassion, tenderness and connection, a place where everyone belongs.

One of my favorite lines Greg shared was that at Homeboy, they never use a bar to see how the homies are measuring up. They only ever hold up a mirror, so the homies can see who they truly are, and then help them to become that person. In the mirror, homies see who they are in the eyes of God, innocent, untouched, replete with unique skills, talents, personalities and experiences. In the mirror, they see how they are made in the image and likeness of the Divine and they begin to live out that truth.

I heard that line and could have wept.

Like almost everyone I know, I am a master at using “the bar” to see how I measure up and it seems like the world is always “raising the bar.” Honestly, it’s the only game in town: discover your shortcomings and fix them! According to “the bar” method, we are never finished, never satisfactory, never worthy of the title “Beloved.” But the stories in Barking to the Choir show over and over again that the only antidote to “the bar” is “the mirror,” the blessing and transformation that takes place when we see, and are seen, with the eyes of love.

Though I know the power of “the mirror” and use it as much as possible with my kids and husband, friends and family, when it comes to myself, I am quick to reach for “the bar” and the inevitable disappointment that comes along with it. I am so grateful for Tim, who counteracts my self-criticism, by patiently holding up the mirror for me, time and time again, even as recently as last week, when I found myself with it (the bar) in my hand, assessing my performance as a woman.

How had I been doing in the wife-department? Dismal

How had I shown up to our conversations? Distracted

How had our sex life been the last month? Dissatisfying

To be fair, we’d had a full house since mid-December with Kiko and Finn home from college, but on Saturday night, they were finally gone and Molly was out for the evening. For the first time in six weeks, we were alone… in our house… after dark… for longer than a half hour. We’d been anticipating this evening for so long! We drew a hot bath, lit candles, opened a bottle of wine. Let the romance ensue! We talked; we laughed; we relaxed and then… nothing happened, (at least on my part.)

Has anyone else experienced that awkward moment, where all systems are GO, but some critical part of your libido says, NO?

I stalled for a few moments in the cooling bath water, unable to find my way, emotionally or physically, to that place of intimacy and connectedness with my husband I had been longing for so badly. What was wrong with me?

Strangely enough, it was Fr. Greg Boyle who came to mind in that moment. Even after taking the time for romance, I still had “the bar” in my hand and was reviewing all the ways I hadn’t measured up as a woman, or wife. Those are pivotal identities in a healthy marriage, but they had taken second, or third (or last) place while I prioritized some other things going on in our lives. We need to do that sometimes, but after twenty-five years together, we know not to allow the “urgent, but not important” to run the show for too long. I also knew I was going to need some help letting  go, so I said to Tim:

“Hold up a mirror for me, love. Help me see myself through your eyes on a night like tonight. Who am I besides a mother, seeker, teacher, writer, worker, volunteer, cleaner, driver, household manager? Who am I when I’m just me?”

And through Tim’s words, I began to see a reflection of myself again, this time through the eyes of love.

I saw an Ali who surfs and swims and stand up paddleboards, for the sheer pleasure of water on her face and sun on her skin and strength in her shoulders.

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I saw an Ali who smiles often and laughs easily, who touches everyone she loves because she just can’t help herself.

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I saw an Ali who loves adventures and food and a good drink and isn’t so worried about the calories.

 

I saw an Ali who isn’t afraid of sensuality, who is learning to embrace her middle-aged body, while also appreciating her husband’s.

I saw an Ali who knows how to stop trying to measure up, so she can relax and find herself “beloved” again.

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I did not expect Greg Boyle (along with Tim of course) to be the one to solve my “roadblock” on Saturday night, though I think he’d be tickled by his presence there. But that’s the power of a great story. Not only does it enlighten you in the moment; it sticks with you for the long haul and shows up in radical places down the road.

My takeaway is this: When you need a better story, ask for it and when you hear a better story, believe it.

Allow it to disrupt the narrative you’ve been telling yourself, which probably features a bar you can never live up to.  Make sure the new story includes the mirror of “kin-ship,” grace, and compassion, so you can see yourself in all your beauty, femininity, masculinity, and vulnerability again. Even the great doubters claim, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” so find a mirror that shows you who you truly are in the eyes of Love. Believe it  and then become it.

And if you need some more inspiration, pick up a copy of Barking to the Choir, or get to a source of water and look inside – a natural mirror does wonders for your perspective!

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For the past several weeks, I’ve been wanting to write here, but to no avail. Each time I sat down with ideas in mind –good ones even – the words wouldn’t come. I’d bang away on the keyboard for an hour or more and end up with nothing to show for it – just a bunch of half-formed paragraphs and half-baked ideas. I’d finally walk away, dissatisfied, but also certain that if the words weren’t coming, there was a reason for it.

About the same time in fact, the week before Advent started, my spiritual director asked me what I wanted from God for Christmas this year. With just a moment’s thought, I said:  Clarity. I want to know the next right step.

She then asked a more difficult follow up question:

What would you have to let go of in the coming weeks to make room to actually receive the clarity you want? What in you has to die, so that the Christ can be born?  

Oh, I thought, that is a harder question.

Continue reading

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.

Keep on Reading

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Yesterday was my 24th wedding anniversary, but this won’t be a love story. Plenty of those have been told and plenty more will unfold, but yesterday, as I sat down and logged on to social media for the first time in 48 hours, I was struck by the #metoo posts.  Some included just the words, large or small. Some included instructions – what the #metoo signified, a personal experience with sexual harassment, or assault, and how one could participate. Some included stories from long ago, or as recently as last week. I scrolled and read, unable to turn away from the vulnerability of the posts and the obscenity of the numbers.

My first impulse was to type in “Of course #Metoo ” but something about that didn’t feel quite right. My dad would read that post, my brothers, my husband, their friends, my friends, my mom. Would they ask for details? Would I want to share them? Would I be more offended if they didn’t ask? And worse yet, would I have to explain myself, frame my story with the caveat that “Yes, I believe in personal responsibility” and own the fact that some of the incidents could have been avoided if I had planned better, been more careful, less young and dumb? I’d like to think all that goes with saying, but I couldn’t type #metoo without saying it all.

That’s why I came here.

Keep on reading!

Yesterday, I went to the ocean to mix my own salty tears with that of the sea, to be surrounded by Life and forget for a moment my small one. If I lived near a forest, I would have lain down under the tallest trees. If by the mountains, next to a granite face, soaring high above me. If on a prairie, I would have gazed up at the vast blue sky and watched the clouds race from one end of my vision to the other.

I felt a need to be connected to a grandeur and beauty that remains unaffected by the crazy, painful shit we humans do to each other. It reminds me that there is something larger at work, something that does, in fact, want us to be well, not sick – not the violent, unmerciful people we so often are.

I call that something God; I also call it Love and I was grateful to the Center for Action and Contemplation for their post.

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In September, Richard Rohr spent a week teaching about non-violence. Perhaps it was prescience, or coincidence, but perhaps it just seemed practical to remind his readers that we cannot give to others what we don’t have ourselves. As much as we may want peace in our world, we ultimately have to do the even more difficult work of creating peace within – first, or at least at the same time. Otherwise, we’re just brokering a cheap truce, too easily broken when boundaries are crossed.

I’m going to offer a few highlights of his teaching here that I copied into my journal.

…..

September 22, 2017

The  reflections from Richard Rohr have been so powerful this week – deeply convicting about how nonviolence must be something that comes from our heart, an awareness of Your presence within us, God. We cannot live and behave however we want in our everyday lives and then go participate in the non-violent healing of the world. It just doesn’t work that way.

If we want make peace, we have to be peace. Our lives are our message.

……

How can we make nonviolence a way of life?

[First] Practicing nonviolence means claiming our fundamental identity as the beloved sons and daughters of the God of peace… The problem is: we don’t know who we are. . . . The challenge then is to remember who we are, and therefore be nonviolent to ourselves and others.

This alone, God, challenges me. Nonviolence has to begin in my own heart, in how I treat myself in moments of weakness, or shame, when I have not met expectations, my own, or those of others. The voice of the inner critic is rarely gentle. It yields a sharp sword and knows all my weak spots. Even this has to change? 

To create peaceful change, we must begin by remembering who we are in God.

Gandhi believed the core of our being is union with God… [and] that experiencing God’s loving presence within is central to nonviolence. This was his motivation and sustenance: “We have one thousand names to denote God, and if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I see so much of misery and disappointment every day that I would be a raving maniac.”

[Second] Nonviolence, on the other hand, comes from an awareness that I am also the enemy and my response is part of the whole moral equation. I cannot destroy the other without destroying myself. I must embrace my enemy just as much as I must welcome my own shadow. Both acts take real and lasting courage.

Practicing loving presence must become our entire way of life, or it seldom works as an occasional tactic.

From this awareness, nonviolence must flow naturally and consistently:

Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being. . . . If love or non-violence be not the law of our being, the whole of my argument falls to pieces. . . . Belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love. . . . If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.

….

Living a nonviolent life is no easy task; it is not simply pacifism. It requires courageous love, drawn from the very source of our being.

As Mark Kurlansky explains, “Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than nonviolence, which is dangerous. When Jesus said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence.”

One year, RR invited his staff to take this vow of nonviolence. I don’t know how many of them accepted the challenge. I only know I couldn’t, as much as I wanted to. I read and reread the vows, but my heart shied away from them. 

What does it mean to take a vow you are sure to break?

 I think I will print the vows out and put them on my nightstand. If I read them over and over again, perhaps I will move one step closer to living into them with some integrity. From RR:

Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. . . . You have learned how it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy”; but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven. (Matthew 5:9, 43-45)

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus

  • by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;

  • by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;

  • by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;

  • by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;

  • by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;

  • by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it.

…..

This last line is the key, isn’t it God?

In days like these, while the world grieves so many acts of violence  –

from the hands of our fellow humans,

by the forces of nature,

in the war of words we constantly engage in,

and our slow but sure death from complacency and indifference,

do I trust in Your sustaining Love and Grace?

Most days, I say, “Yes,” with my whole heart and the entire force of my being. I believe, I trust, I want to participate in the Love and Grace that sustain the world.

This week? Not so much.

My yes is a whisper, a longing more than a reality, but I don’t want it to stay there. So I’ll head back to the sea; I’ll look up at the sky; I’ll walk in a canyon; I’ll find my center and breathe and trust that the truth of Love will rise again.

In the meantime, I am grateful for the helpers, the people who are actively participating in the Loving and healing and peacemaking that is going on today – in Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Mexico City, Houston and around the world. I am grateful for their resounding “Yes” in the midst of tragedy.

…….

If you’d like to read the reflections from the teachings on non-violence, you can find them here. There’s a lot to explore on the page!

 

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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.

As you may have guessed from following this blog, I have a pretty special husband. Though we met in college, he was the “cool guy” I always wanted to date in high school, a surfer and skater, funny and irreverent. He was also darling in my eyes, brunette with green eyes, slim, not too tall, not too short. He even had a little silver hoop in his left ear, but let’s forgive him that. It was the early nineties, and almost as common as a tattoo on any 23-year-old these days. If his hobbies, his smile, and his excellent job prospects as the manager of a surf shop weren’t enough, he had a little added bonus.

He was deep.

Our first “date” was an informal book club where we swapped well-worn copies of Siddhartha and Catcher in the Rye, our favorite books. (Wait! I take that back. That was our second “date;” our first date was bodysurfing at Scripps Pier, with me 34 weeks pregnant and in a bikini.  You can read about that adventure here). From those moments on, I knew he wasn’t like other guys. I knew I would never get bored and that I would never get to the bottom of what makes him tick, not because he wouldn’t let me in, but because there was no bottom. He is a curious, dynamic soul.

One of the current ways Tim is expressing his creativity (and entertaining himself) is through his #WMD project, a mix of bad car-riding karaoke, entertaining trivia and some serious truth bombs. I loved what he posted yesterday so much, I wanted to share it with all of you.

I respect Tim’s writing for his ability to make complicated and painful truths accessible and funny. I can’t seem to get away from research; he just trusts his own gut and lived experience. We’ve been together for 26 years now and I’ve still got a lot to learn from this man. But one thing we’ve learned together is that it’s all about the laughter and tears.

WMD – Wise “Man” Driving

News flash: men typically don’t like to express their feelings. They prefer to avoid them, deny them, sweep them under the rug, and in many cases, they simply bury them and they think “out of sight, out of mind.” But we all know that this is a recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, our culture is not very good at encouraging men to deal with their feelings. There are a lot of reasons for this. For one thing, we have been taught that emotions are feminine and that they are a sign of weakness. Healing and grieving are overrated and unnecessary. A man just needs to buck up.

We have also been taught that winning & succeeding should be our primary goal. Who has time for feelings and emotions when you’re busy achieving, climbing, or maintaining?

I hang out with a lot of men, and most of them are much more comfortable when conversations stay on the surface of things. Safe topics include pro sports, kid’s sports, college sports, and beer. I love sports and beer as much as the next guy, but I also like to mix it up from time to time and read a book or listen to a podcast or ask someone about their hopes, dreams, disappointments, and fears.

News flash #2: most other men think I’m weird and can usually steer any conversation detour that I attempt back to sports and/or beer in 2.2 seconds. Luckily, there are a few dudes in my life who are willing to engage in the occasional deep dive with me (you know who you are). Also, most of my friends have wives, so I get plenty of good conversations. But I can’t help thinking that the world would be a better, healthier, and more interesting place if more men would just express themselves.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite thinkers, Richard Rohr: “the young man who cannot cry is a savage and the old man who cannot laugh is a fool.” I could do an entire essay on this quote alone, but instead I will just sum up the take-home point: young males are not taught or encouraged to feel their feelings or to process & honor them, they are taught to deny them. Besides aggression, war, and many other corporate evils that exist, this also leads to bitter old men who are unable to experience the simple joys in life.

There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know (how to change the oil in my car, how to invest in the stock market, how to choose a ripe cantaloupe, etc…) but in terms of the above, I cry often and I laugh every day. My tears come from joy, sadness, nostalgia, grieving, etc. I welcome them all. And without laughter, I really don’t see the point.

So, men… please take my (and Madonna’s) advice and Express Yourself.

 

 

 

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.