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.

 

A word here is long overdue. I’ve been writing and publishing, just in other forums. A Poetry of the Day series appeared on Facebook in the later half of April, along with some images and reflections about baptism, nature, and the nature of recovery on Instagram. I’ve also been working on a series of talks about spirituality and parenting, faith and community. Those won’t be out for a little while yet, but when they appear, I will definitely put the links out here.

Since it has been so long, I wanted to write something really good, really original and profound. A long absence should lead to a remarkable presence, right? At least in my mind that’s how it works, but it has also lead me to acknowledge the great truth:

Perfection is the enemy of the good.

With that in mind, I decided to write something and share a couple of really good things I have encountered this past week. I won’t overanalyze them, or even find a perfect thread to run between them. They are good in and of themselves and I wanted to make sure you came across them at least once.

The first is a speech from New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu. As you may know, New Orleans is in the process of removing and relocating four Confederate monuments and is facing intense criticism and resistance to this action. As a result, they have had to take extreme measures to do so safely, such as working in the middle of the night, and using the police force to protect their employees. I listened to Mayor Landrieu’s leadership on this action, his insight and the awakening of his consciousness (not conscience) on this issue and thought, “I hope this man stays in politics.” It is rather lengthy, but Tim and I were riveted.

His final words, quoted from Abraham Lincoln, are perhaps a clarion call to all of us at this point in our nation’s history. No matter where we find ourselves on the political spectrum, we all have a call to act:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to do all which may achieve and cherish: a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”


The second video is from Notre Dame’s commencement exercises this past week, but it’s not Vice President Mike Pence’s address. The real speech of the day came from Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries and author of Tattoos on the Heart. Fr. Greg is one of the great teachers, storytellers and prophets of our day. If you like the work of Brene Brown, you will hear echoes of it here, in the embodied flesh of former gang members, felons, and addicts, who have embraced the power of vulnerability and use their own wounds to help others heal theirs.

My favorite line?

You know, what Martin Luther King says about church… “It’s not the place you’ve come to, it’s the place you go from,” and you go from here to create a community of kinship such that God, in fact, might recognize it. You imagine with God a circle of compassion and then you imagine nobody standing outside that circle. You go from here to dismantle the barriers that exclude.

If you ever get a chance to see Greg speak life, or to go to a Homeboy event, I highly recommend it. He radiates holiness. If you can’t see him in person, read Tattoos on the Heart and there’s a good chance you will become more whole and holy yourself. If you are open to it, it will change you forever.


A week ago, Tim and I saw U2 at the Rose Bowl with about 90k other people. It wasn’t intimate, but it was awe-inspiring. Before the music began, they had poems from people on the margins, scrolling across the screen – voices sharing their pain and suffering and sometimes also the beauty, love and joy they found amidst those things. I finally recognized one poem and one name: “Kindness” by Naomi Shabib Nye, a poem that has haunted me for the last couple years.  Coincidentally, or not (sometimes it seems there are no such things as coincidences), I ran across this poem of hers, just a few days later. It struck me with its humility and good advice.

“I Feel Sorry for Jesus” by Naomi Shabib Nye

People won’t leave Him alone.
I know He said, wherever two or more
are gathered in my name…
But I bet some days He regrets it.

Cozily they tell you what he wants
and doesn’t want
as if they just got an e-mail.
Remember “Telephone,” that pass-it-on game

where the message changed dramatically
by the time it rounded the circle?
Well.
People blame terrible pieties on Jesus.

They want to be his special pet.
Jesus deserves better.
I think He’s been exhausted
for a very long time.

He went into the desert, friends.
He didn’t go into the pomp.
He didn’t go into
the golden chandeliers

and say, the truth tastes better here.
See? I’m talking like I know.
It’s dangerous talking for Jesus.
You get carried away almost immediately.

I stood in the spot where He was born.
I closed my eyes where He died and didn’t die.
Every twist of the Via Dolorosa
was written on my skin.

And that makes me feel like being silent
for Him, you know? A secret pouch
of listening. You won’t hear me
mention this again.

Like the poet and the people she mentions, I probably talk too much for Jesus and listen less than I should.

Amen friends, I hope you’ve found something good in this missive, worth your time on this long and lovely holiday weekend here in the States.

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The Sacred Heart embodied in a Homie. Image on the wall of HQ of  Homeboy Industries

 

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Without intending to be a cliché, I took Molly to see Hidden Figures on Monday. Countless friends had said, “See the movie!” reporting reactions that included tears, awe, and pride. As I watched the film, I was entertained and impressed, but I also felt a deep sadness. Maybe it was because we were celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.

Before the movie, I had just read this post by Rachel Held Evans, which pointed out the complacency of much of the white Christian churches during the Civil Rights Movement. (Please don’t point out the exceptions. That’s what we always talk about to make ourselves feel better.) I had also read a comment on my friend Kate’s wall:

“I read this post from Naomi Schulman this morning and haven’t stopped thinking about it: ‘Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than ‘politics’. They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.’”

Hidden Figures has lots of “nice” white people in it, but the film makes it clear that they really aren’t that “nice” at all. Kevin Costner’s Mr. Harrison pulls a few dramatic stunts in order to make maximum use of Katherine Goble’s genius mind, but he does it to help NASA, not her, or the black community. Motivated by empathy, a Jewish engineer from Europe encourages the brilliant Mary to continue her education. He knew what it was like to be part of a despised race. But apart from those two men, the “nice” people were simply polite, almost cruelly so.

Though working as a supervisor for almost a year, Dorothy Vaughan is repeatedly denied the title and compensation due to her. Mrs. Mitchell, Dorothy’s white supervisor, washes her hands of the discrepancy, blaming it on slowness of NASA and the inconsistency of the computing work. “What can one do?” she tells her self and Dorothy. Apparently, a lot if one really wants to. The moment Mrs. Mitchell needs Dorothy to have the title and position for the sake of her own white staff, the promotion miraculously occurs.

Someone “helpfully” provides a Colored coffee pot, so that Katherine won’t use theirs and decorum can be preserved. When Katherine needs a bathroom, the only other woman in the room says she doesn’t know where Katherine’s bathroom might be. (It was a half-mile away.) I can imagine she thought: “Well, it’s not my problem. I didn’t make the rules; I’m just following them.” She might have even thought she was being “nice” by implying that Katherine shouldn’t use the White Ladies room, lest she break the law. For the most part, Katherine is ignored by her peers in the space lab. She is a “computer,” brilliant, but nothing more than a woman and a colored one at that.

Hidden Figures prompted me to examine how I have been complacent to and complicit in systems of injustice, but they did it subtly. There was no overt attempt to produce white guilt, but I found myself thinking. When have I been polite, but not helpful? Verbally supportive, but physically inert? How often have I ignored the suffering and difficulties of others that were within my ability to address?

That’s what I found so compelling about Hidden Figures. While other films have dealt with the subject matter of racism, they usually offer a sympathetic white character with whom white audiences can identify. When we can imagine ourselves as one of the “good” people, we can dismiss the others as unlike ourselves. The Help had Emma Stone as Skeeter Phelan and who wouldn’t want to be that courageous, beautiful woman? A Time to Kill had Matthew McConaughey’s sexy Jake Brigance. Selma had the mostly, unnamed freedom riders and clergy. It doesn’t matter the size of the role; our ego will attach to virtually anything that allows us to remain unchallenged. Personally, Hidden Figures offered me no such decoy. Even as the white characters soften towards the women, the recognition of their skill, much less their unique humanity, is far too long in coming.

The talent and backbone of these women is incredible; the support and sacrifice of their families is admirable, but the way we hindered them was unconscionable and that is the message that stays with me today. Please, do go see the film. It’s worth watching. It celebrates hard work, determination, and intelligence. Glass ceilings are broken, while traditional values of family, faith and love are upheld. But when you go, don’t just see the story of these women; be willing to see a story that continues to this day as we struggle to achieve equality for all citizens, no matter their color, creed, gender, or orientation.

 

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Meme courtesy of Djrarela on Instagram.  

 

 

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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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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“Get up! Go into the world and live in the flow of Love. Forgive, show mercy, be compassionate, care for the poor, tend to the earth as family; find your inner wholeness in the Love of God, and create new wholes in your midst, in your communities, your workplaces, at shopping malls, and jazz fests. Live in the energy of the Spirit; let yourself be led…. Stop playing with your toys, your electronic gadgets… Do not lose yourself to consumer products that blind your vision, or distract your attention from the whole. Get up because you are too old to be asleep… Grow up because it is time to move on. The world is begging for new and more abundant life. The life of the world is your life, and your life belongs to the whole of Life. Stop trying to preserve yourself; lose yourself in something more than yourself…Live to the point of tears and don’t be saddened by sin, misunderstanding, weakness, and hate. Omega Love [God] is in our midst, and this Love is our power, our hope and our future. Remain in this Love…Be the co-creator you are made to be; emblazon the world with the grandeur of God.”

Ilia Delio

Okay, admittedly, it might take me a little longer than this Advent season to live into this call, but as I wrapped up Ilia Delio’s brilliant Making All Things New: Catholicty, Cosmology, Consicousness this past week, I knew I had found my marching orders for 2017 and beyond.

In the face of so much division and adversity in our nation, it can feel overwhelming to figure out, “What is mine to do?” the question I asked last month. But that’s what I love about Delio’s list. Anything that takes you out of your comfort zone and adds Love, life, energy, goodness and wholeness (understood as healing and holiness) to the world is yours to do! The only thing we can’t do is shrug our shoulders and go on with business as usual. Delio’s exhortation reminds me of Joan Chittister’s response to people who ask her what they should do to make the world a better place. “Do something!” she pleads.

It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

This season, if you are waiting in expectant hope for something new or better to come along, keep this call in mind. Print it out. Tape it on your bathroom mirror. Stick it over your coffee maker, or tea kettle. Read it every morning. Reflect on it every night and realize:

We are the something better we’ve been waiting for.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukah! Joyous Kwanzaa to you, my dear friends! And if none of those apply, Happy Holidays! I wish you an abundance of whatever it is that warms your heart, tickles your fancy, fills you with gratitude, and encourages you to start anew.

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Image from Amnesty International Christmas cards, 2016

 

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Image courtesy of GraphicCave.com

This election cycle has brought to mind a classic parable. I’ll share a version from the poet Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks.

Some Hindus have an elephant to show.

No one here has ever seen an elephant.

They bring it in at night to a dark room.

One by one, we go in the dark and come out

Saying how we experience the animal.

One of us happens to touch the trunk

A water-pipe kind of creature.

Another, the ear. A very strong, always moving

Back and forth, fan-animal. Another, the leg.

I find it still, like a column on a temple.

Another touches the curved back,

A leathery throne. Another, the cleverest,

Feels the tusk. A rounded sword made of porcelain.

He is proud of his description.

Each of us touches one place

And understands the whole in that way.

The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark

Are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.

If each of us held a candle there

And if we went in together, we could see it.

Politics is always about the part of the elephant you’re touching, but Rumi’s description is particularly apt this election season. A friend commented on my last blog: “We know what we know. We know what we don’t know. The problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know.” We may be humble enough to admit a lack of expertise in a few areas,  but we generally can’t imagine the vast expanse of our own ignorance.

We get ourselves into trouble when we believe our own frame of reference is the only one and fill in the blanks with our own assumptions instead of using our collective knowledge to get a bigger picture. He pointed out the trouble, but like the rest of us, he isn’t exempt. We all do it – in our politics and personal lives. Listening and empathizing with another person’s perspective and pain is one of the most courageous and difficult actions we can take as human beings.

Sometimes, our part of the elephant is the only one we’re willing to touch. And that’s okay – for a while, maybe even a long while – but eventually, if we want to make progress as a family, community, or nation, we’re going to have to enter the darkness with our shared light. Think of it as “group enlightenment.” Entering that space together, we’ll no longer be 100% right, but we will have fuller understanding of reality.

Another friend posed the question: “Will America stop listening to the media and start listening to each other?” I don’t know. I hope so, since it’s the only way forward, but I think it’s way too soon for a lot of people who are deeply wounded and defended on both sides. If a respectful conversation isn’t possible this holiday season, maybe it’s okay to take a year off. So much still needs to come to light, from within and without.

Where are you finding light these days and how are you manifesting that light in the world?

Some people are really good at being spotlights, pointing out what needs to be seen. Some are blowtorches, using their heat to skillfully craft something new. Unfortunately, too many of us are still forest fires, burning out of control, destroying everything in our path. But all is not lost! Even forest fires make way for new life in the spring.

I don’t know what kind of light I am. I just know I am called to return again and again to the source of Divine Light. I found one call to action from a wisdom teacher Matthew Wright especially helpful.

Listen deeply, friends. I am no fan of militaristic metaphors used for the spiritual life. Nevertheless, a battle is coming, and is now here. Our weapons are light (sharp, clear-seeing), love (non-judging, compassionate awareness), resistance (refusing to fall backwards into complacency, instead joining the forward movement of evolution on its messy way through struggle and pain), and relationship (holding our hearts open–within our capacity–so as to allow for authentic connection, born of deep and vulnerable listening). As Jesus constantly says in the Gospels – be sober, be vigilant, be watchful. But do not fear.

 

Light.

Love.

Resistance.

Relationship.

Courage.

Pick up your “weapons,” friends and enemies alike, because if we commit to fight with these in our arsenal, we will find ourselves on the same side of the battle more often than not.

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Poetry is a constant source of light these days. This quote is from Ranier Maria Rilke and is currently up on our family quote wall.  

 

I’ve been pretty quiet here the last week. I started quiet, because I didn’t want to add my voice to the post-election cacophony. So many good and powerful and true things were being said. For the first few days, I felt what was mine to feel, but I didn’t feel the need to share it with the public. I’m grateful, however, for all the people who did, including two men I love.

My husband spoke up, and I was proud of him. Tim Kirkpatrick is a man who feels things deeply and I have a ton of respect for men like him, who are willing to express their vulnerability, especially when those emotions include a deep compassion for “the other.” A couple months ago, when the election was heating up, he started posting a series of funny, 30-second videos of him singing (badly) and riffing on all things from surfing to business to comedy. This last week, however, he stopped joking and posted some more somber reflections on the election outcome. Here is a link to his two most recent posts: “Tracks of My Tears” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

But there was a new voice too, one that hasn’t spoken up before and I am very proud of him too. My son Finn posted this commentary on Facebook on Wednesday night. (He asked permission to correct the grammar and add a couple lines).

I’m new to politics. And historically speaking this is weird place to join the convo. However, I thought I’d share this clip about Trump talking about the “good old days.” He says he loved the days when protestors would be “taken off on a stretcher.” This clip is showing footage from Civil Rights movement protestors (Brown vs Board of Education and more) and then modern-day protestors. He encouraged others to inflict harm on protestors of today. This clip made me sad. Yes, I know this clip comes from a documentary with an agenda. What documentary these days doesn’t? Yes, it was intended to make Trump look bad. Still, it has some truth to it.

This clip comes from the documentary, 13th, a doc about the mass incarceration of black men in America. They cover how little progress has really been made. First, the US had slavery. Then we had Jim Crow laws. Now we have a mass incarciration of black men. When the 13th Amendment was passed, it banned slavery, with the exception of crime, so then they just made them criminals. More and more laws were made to get more and more people in jail. Now the prison system is another example of institutional racism. It’s hard for me to explain. Anyways just watch the doc on Netflix; it will blow your mind/ reassure you how corrupt our whole political system is.

But back to Trump. This made me sad, sad for all of those who Trump has diminished and put in harm’s way with his words (shown in the video). Sad for my sister and the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, for the minorities and all who Trump has already put in harm’s way. Most of my friends, being Trump supporters, tell me that he doesn’t mean what he’s saying, or that we need to give him a chance. But as far as I’m concerned, whether or not Trump believes his rhetoric, it still empowers other groups take action. And give him a chance? …Yeah, we should forget everything he’s said.  But I am still hopeful for the future. If you actually read this, thanks for listening; hopefully it makes sense.

I had originally embedded the clip in this post, but I am trying to be aware of adding more violent rhetoric to the atmosphere these days. However, it is a powerful statement on the impact of Trump’s language on his supporters. If you are able to watch, or interested, you can find the clip HERE.

As a newly registered Independent voter, Finn’s observations aren’t tied to a political party. It isn’t about being a Republican, or Democrat. It’s about how one young man is trying to keep his eyes open, and share what he sees with others. It’s what he does as a photographer and a budding film-maker as well. Most of his friends are Trump supporters, but he had the courage to speak up, to show them what he sees when he sees them wearing their “Make America Great Again” hats.

My heart broke a hundred times this week, beginning on Election night when I got this text from Keara:

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More than anything, I wanted to hold her in my arms and tell her it was all going to be okay, but I couldn’t, because I just don’t know. Trump has flip-flopped on his LGBTQ+ stance. I know that. He hasn’t been openly hostile to the gay community, and yes, he has even appointed a gay cabinet member, but Pence has consistently worked to disenfranchise, disrespect and demonize the gay community for decades. For many Trump supporters, putting the gay community “back in its place” was a huge part of the appeal. Ultimately, I believe it will be okay, but the long view wasn’t what Keara was looking for. I had to let her feel what she feels, but a week later, I have to help her look for hope.

In the aftermath of this election, I’ve frequently thought of Mister Roger’s mom. When something scary was happening, she would tell him: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

That is what I’ve been doing this past week. I’ve been looking for helpers: those who could help me grieve, those who could help understand and those who could help me move forward.

The first category was amply supported by my husband, my sister, many friends, my Facebook feed, and late night talk show hosts. Lots of people out there are feeling my pain.

The second category was assisted in part by this article on Cracked by David Wong and this interview with Michael Moore on Morning Joe. I actually have a much deeper understanding and compassion for Americans in deep poverty, who have been asking for attention and assistance for decades, only to be ignored by both parties year after year, despite campaign promises. This vote was the biggest “F*ck You!” to Washington they could muster. If it f*cked over a lot of other Americans, so be it. It was still their best shot to be heard once and for all. The Michigan vote, home to Flint, the filthiest water in America, makes more sense now.

The third category, the one that inspired me to write today, was this TED talk by Jonathon Haidt. No matter whom you voted for, I highly recommend you watch it. Today. Multiple times. It could be critical to the success of your holiday season and maintaining future relationships with family members, even though they voted differently than you.

It was given a serious boost by this hour-long conversation between Rob Bell and philosopher Pete Rollins. Like Haidt, they are progressives, but balanced. They don’t demonize “the other” and they offered me a larger framework for what’s happening in America right now and how we can move forward. As a side note, Pete grew up in Belfast during The Troubles, so this isn’t just an academic exercise for him.

I could probably stop now, and maybe I should, but I’m going to push my luck.

While I started off quiet to allow other voices to speak, I’ve stayed quiet, because I couldn’t write anything that wasn’t a lament, or a tirade, and there are plenty of those out there already. I have several unpublished essays where I go from being vulnerable and centered to angry and raging. While that may be how I feel, I’m pretty sure it’s not helpful.

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I was amazed with Liz Gilbert’s ability to immediately focus on what she needed to do, asking “Who Do I Want to be in this Situation?”

I was impressed with Glennon Doyle Melton’s call to action.

While these ladies were out there encouraging the world, I was at home in a fetal position. I’m not finished crying yet, but this is what I have to offer as of today. Some tirade, some lament, some progress, hopefully.

I’ve heard a lot about the “echo chamber” the progressive elites were sitting in during this election and I’ll admit, I was there. But I will counter that many Trump supporters have been sitting in their “echo chamber” for the last eight years, watching Fox news and reading Breitbart, as blissfully unaware of the alternative point of view as we were. In our “echo chambers,” we are ignorant of each other’s pain and fear, (which we always cover over with righteous anger) and it is easy to assume the worst.

The clip Finn shared is a glimpse into the progressive “echo chamber.” If you haven’t yet, please take a moment to watch it, especially if you’ve been sitting in the other one (and if you aren’t deeply concerned by this election outcome, you haven’t been in my “chamber.”) We are all – every single one of us – in some “chamber,” breathing the air of our own confirmation bias. It makes us human, but not as wise as we could be.

For all of you who voted for Trump, who said it was about the economy for you, Hillary’s past, the need for change, or the “sanctity of life,” know that for a fair part of Trump’s base, it wasn’t just, or only about those things. It was about this! THIS is what fired them up and what they hope to see more of in a Trump presidency. It may, or may not happen on a policy level, but it is already happening on the streets and Trump, their candidate, told them it was okay. In this video, in his own voice, he waxed nostalgic for it.

If you don’t believe me, look at the feed of Shaun King who is collecting data and reports about these types of incidents. If a millennial civil rights activist isn’t a reliable source for you, here is Dan Rather on the subject. And if you don’t trust him either, look for the honest reporting of it in your own go-to news sources. If it isn’t there, know that your “echo chamber” is alive and well. (And yes, I have seen at least one video of it going the other way. I have also sought out inflammatory videos about Hillary, so I could experience the other echo. I am trying to do my homework.)

If you are a part of my life, I believe your vote wasn’t about this. I know you aren’t supportive of this type of behavior or rhetoric. I believe you aren’t racist, or homophobic, or xenophobic. You wouldn’t be part of my life if you were. A few of you have even reached out to reassure Kiko of your support. I trust that you want justice to prevail for ALL Americans.

But know that if you wear your victory on your sleeve, this is part of what you are clothed in, along with misogyny and a whole host of other qualities that I know you do not teach your children. You wouldn’t tolerate Trump’s behavior in a classroom teacher, or even a volunteer soccer coach. I KNOW you. I’ve seen you speak up and activate for your own kids. Trump would be fired the first time he made a comment about your daughter’s performance based on his impression that she was “bleeding out of her you know, whatever.” But we didn’t fire him; we hired him.

So if your child is spouting Trump’s rhetoric, or rocking a “Make America Great Again” hat, perhaps you could talk to them about all that it implies. Show them the video clip (and the one where Trump talks about grabbing a woman by the p*ssy) and encourage them to make a statement about what you (and presumably he, or she) actually stand for – an end to the insider’s hold on Washington, an end to abortion, a more conservative immigration plan, a business man in the White House? Whatever it is, don’t offer Trump a blank check to speak for you.

And this is where I want to be clear about my own culpability.

Every time I raise my hand to point a finger at you, three fingers are pointing back at me. I know that. There’s a good chance  you see me in the same way.

I know my support of HRC was incomprehensible to many Americans, especially people who share my faith. I imagine you see me clothed in her sins as well. So let me be clear, as I am asking you to be. I did not support all of her policies. I am fully aware of the many unethical choices she’s made over the course of her thirty-year political career. I may be sporting a whole host of obnoxious sartorial choices you find unfair, and unfaithful. She would not have been my first, second, or even third choice for a president, but against Donald Trump, she was my ONLY choice.

I will wear a pantsuit and hold my head up high if that’s what it takes to say that women, the disabled, the immigrant, and the oppressed be treated fairly, with dignity and due process. Hillary’s sins were many, but mostly politics-as-usual as far as I’m concerned, ones that men have used for centuries to get ahead. The corruption of the DNC was despicable and their inability to grasp the consequences of their actions in real time contributed to a truly horrific outcome for all Americans. I wear it all, not with pride but with humility, conscious of the fallibility of the candidate and our political process.

I’m pointing my three fingers back at me. I KNOW what was wrong with my candidate and many of her positions, but Trump’s character, actions, standards and campaign rhetoric are beyond the pale for me. There was no formula by which I could have voted for anyone else but the one woman who could have beaten him, who did in fact beat him in the popular vote.

You can call me a hypocrite, a sore loser, a false Christian. I don’t know; I may be all those things, but I’m also an American and at the moment, I’m heartbroken and concerned about the safety and civil rights of my fellow citizens. Even if the system works, and the Trump/Pence ticket is limited by the checks and balances of Congress and the Supreme Court, I am disappointed for my daughters, that they heard again at the largest scale possible that men can say and do whatever they want to women and get away with it, as long as they have enough power, money, or charisma.

Donald Trump is my president. I support the demonstrations that are happening around the country as a protest against his campaign strategies, but not against his rightfully won position. I condemn the violence and awful, inflammatory statements made by some protestors. I absolutely believe in our election process and the peaceful transition of power. I am extremely proud of the way both Secretary Clinton conceded the race and President Obama began the transition. In fact, I am blown away by Elizabeth Warren and her clear offer to work with Trump on many of his election platforms. You can read it here. They are true politicians, and I mean that in the nicest way, and I didn’t even know it had a nice way. Even Trump has sounded presidential a few times since the election, civil and conciliatory. If he keeps it up,  disavows his earlier rhetoric and condemns the violence it has spawned, that hope we so desperately need just might rise.


This was a really difficult essay for me to post. I SO wanted to get to a place of total peace and acceptance before I published anything, something like the Dalai Lama. If nothing else, this election has truly humbled me, showing me how much work I have to do to become the person of peace and unity and Love I want to be. But people have told me many times over the past week that they have reread my last post and asking themselves, “What is mine to do?” So, finally, I came to terms with this essay.

This is mine to do: to grieve, to educate myself, to share my process, honestly and with as much Love as I can muster. I am hoping this essay helps you do a little bit of that too. I know this has been a long post, with a lot of additional information, so I appreciate it if you made it to the end.

 

 

 

 

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One of my favorite pictures of Halloween 2016. She’s joy incarnate!  

Like many of you perhaps, I relished going on to Facebook over the last two days and seeing dozens of pictures of adorable kids dressed up for Halloween. It was especially poignant for me, since my own kids are past the point of painted chubby cheeks and crazed sugar highs. But soon enough, my feed was populating again with news reports and commentaries about the many things that are going wrong in our country these days. Reading about Trump’s unethical business dealings and new email innuendos about Clinton, the struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, the latest political scandal, or refugee crisis, my heart grows heavy with anxiety and confusion. I find myself spinning. What do I do with all this (mis)information? The oppression and injustice? The violence and cruelty in our politics and on our prairies? What in the world can I do about all this suffering?

I don’t know.

I felt helpless the day before Halloween and I felt it creeping back up on me today. Like a sugar addict with her hand in her kid’s candy bowl for the twentieth time, I pass one sickening headline after another and feel myself getting nauseous from the over-indulgence. I want to stop, but I tell myself I can’t stop, because then I’m just burying my head in the sand, using my privilege to pretend like it doesn’t matter. I’m safe even if I don’t engage. I will be so grateful when the election is over and I hope (though I know it may be a false hope) that at least some of these issues will be resolved.

So when I sat down to pray this morning with a heavy heart, I didn’t know if I would find silence, or be able to still my busy mind. I didn’t know if my “prayer of quiet” would actually bring any, or if it would just be an exercise in futility. I was open to either outcome, since the latter is more frequent than the former. But I have been taught that success lies in the intention, more so than the execution and so I continued.

As is my habit, I opened up my copy of Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening before I began my sit. And this is what I read:

Thomas Merton wisely challenges us not to just slow down, but, at the heart of it, to accept our limitations. We are at best filled with the divine, but we have only two hands and one heart. In a deep and subtle way, the want to do it all is a want to be it all, and though it comes from a desire to do good, it often becomes frenzied because our egos seize our goodness as a way to be revered.

I have done this many times: not wanting to say no, not wanting to miss an opportunity, not wanting to be seen as less than totally compassionate. But whenever I cannot bring my entire being, I am not there. It is like offering to bring too many cups of coffee through a crowd. I always spill something hot on some innocent along the way.

 

My heart sank as I read his words. Whom have I burned?

I want to do my part to make the world a better place, more loving and thoughtful, and in times like these, when so much of the world is hurting and so much of it is right in front of my face, I start to lose focus. I start “liking” everything and I want to be here, there and everywhere with my words and prayers and money and presence, and when I can’t, I feel like I’m part of the problem, not the solution. Left unchecked, my desire to do the “right thing,” leaves me feeling helpless. I sat there this morning, convicted of the fact that over the last several weeks, I’ve scalded people on my political left and right, and probably even those who sit at my left and right around the dinner table.

It can be one of the hardest questions to ask ourselves: What is mine to do?

(Hint: It’s NOT everything!)

Deep down, we know what is ours to do. If we don’t, it’s because we haven’t slowed down enough to hear the answer. Or we’ve ignored it, because it’s asking something of us that we don’t want to give, or give into yet. But when we create space and silence, the answer comes – like it did for me this morning.

I know what is mine to do. I was born to Love – to find it, to make it, to spread it. I’m a smiler, a talker and a laugher, a hugger, a baker, a reader, and a teacher. What can I do with that?

I can do all sorts of things with that, but I have to be there! If I am vacant, preoccupied, or feeling badly about what’s left undone, then none of the things I do have the same impact. I’m just a body, going through the motions, not half the woman I was born to be.

As this election season winds to a close, how are you feeling? Are you clear about what is yours to do, especially on November 9th? How can you make the world a better place?

Because no matter who wins, we’re definitely going to need the help.

 

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his or her work for peace.”

Thomas Merton