Thoughts on Silence and How to Overcome It

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.

IMG_1332
The Sacred Heart embodied in a Homie. Image on the wall of HQ of  Homeboy Industries

Four Eyes are Better than Two

I've got my four eyes for every occasion.
I’ve got  four eyes ready  for every occasion.

Since it’s been six weeks since I last posted a blog, this confession might come as no surprise to you.

Sometimes, I forget I’m a writer.

Summer is not an ideal time for writing. It’s a time for being and doing. Whether I like it or not, it’s time to be with my children. Without school, they are simply around more. It’s also a time for doing, since they need more rides, more meals, more entertainment, more money, more looking after. So between all my doing and being, there has not been a lot of time for writing.

But summer’s end is quickly approaching and my thoughts have turned to writing again.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece called, “Standing on the Threshold,” about how a far off dream of going to seminary was going to become a reality this fall.

I blinked; summer passed. It’s fall.

I leave for school on Sunday and I can hardly believe it’s here. Though I will only be gone for a week, it’s the start of something new. It felt like an important time to write again, to mark where I am, where I plan to go and what I hope to do along the way.

I heard a sermon yesterday at Keara’s back-to-school mass at the Academy of Our Lady of Peace. The gospel was the story of how Jesus cured the blind man. The priest himself looked like he could relate. He wore thick glasses and without them, I’m not sure he could see at all. He shared that growing up, he was called “Four Eyes” by many of his classmates. They meant it as an insult, but today he takes it as a compliment.

The priest told the story of watching a young, blind boy go to communion. He used a cane to check what was in front of him, but his mother walked behind him with her hands on his shoulders to guide and protect him. The priest admitted that if someone asked him to describe his mother, he would say that she is 5’7,” with blue eyes and brown hair. If someone asked that little boy, he would talk about his mother’s demeanor, her voice, the feel of her hands, her care. The boy, out of necessity, moved beyond his first vision.

Too often, the priest mused, we see only with the two eyes in our head. We take in what we see; we judge it, process it and put everything in its proper place. But how much are we really seeing if we only use our two eyes? We stay on the surface of things, like physical appearance and condition, but miss the essence. We stop short, not plumbing the depths and complexities of people and situations. We see quickly and partially, but unfortunately, we assume we are seeing all.

If left to our own devices, we think the first set of eyes are all we have, when in fact “Four Eyes” applies to us all.

I am a pro at using my first set of eyes. I’ve always been adept at learning anything and everything (except complex math) and spitting it back at the appropriate time – when needed, or when needed to impress someone. And though going to seminary has always been a dream of mine, one of the reasons I’ve held back for so long is because the ones I’ve encountered seemed to focus on the first set of eyes.

What do you know? What can you learn? What can you prove? What can you write, explain, or deduce from what you’ve seen?

I jumped through all those hoops in graduate school. I cared passionately about the subject matter, but it was all words, and head knowledge. It was learning for it’s own sake, instead of the greater good. I couldn’t imagine learning about God, Love, forgiveness, compassion and mercy in that way, with my first set of eyes. They simply don’t see enough.

I want to develop my second set of eyes, the eyes of the heart, and that is what The Living School offers.

At one point in his sermon, the priest held up a mirror to one of the girls in the assembly and asked her what she saw. “Myself,” she said simply. He turned the mirror to his own face and said, “That’s funny. When I look in the mirror, I see beauty.” The girls giggled, but he was serious. He countered that when they look in the mirror with their first set of eyes, they judge the surface that is reflected back at them, and usually they will find a flaw (or many), but if they can look at themselves with their second set of eyes, they will see beauty and goodness and infinite possibility.

The eyes of the heart are the eyes of God.

The eyes of the heart see past the surface, beyond the masks, the posturing, the pain and scars of this world. They know that everything belongs. They may not understand how, or why, or when all things will be reconciled, but they know it is true.

There are many ways to nurture our second set of eyes, but first we must acknowledge they exist. Many of us deny it, clinging to Rousseau’s folly that “I think, therefore I am,” or else living a kind of practical (and pragmatic) atheism, even if we claim a religious tradition. We follow the letter of the law we see, rather than the spirit of the law, which takes longer to discern and requires a comfort with ambiguity.

But when we acknowledge our second set of eyes, we also need to start using them, all the time. We can’t leave them at home on the shelf, or tucked away in our coat pocket for when we are feeling particularly brave. We can’t just pull them out for an hour on Sundays. We have to wear them whenever the need arises, whenever our ego hastens to judge, categorize, or dismiss something, or someone that makes us uncomfortable.

When I was a little girl and got my first pair of glasses, I remember the doctor telling my mom that I should only wear them for about an hour. I could wear them a little longer each day, but if I tried to wear them for too long, too soon, I might get a headache, feel nauseous, and even disoriented.

I have to admit that seeing through the eyes of the heart can make me feel that way too. It’s like the things I knew to be true – about what was good and bad, helpful and hurtful, successful, or a failure – aren’t just that anymore. Most events bring both good and bad; they hurt me and help me; they break my heart, but when it heals, it leaves all sorts of little cracks that let the light in. When I keep the eyes of my heart open, I am more able to see the beauty in everything.

Over the next two years, I am going to try to see all that I can with my double vision.

Thanks for reading and joining me on my journey.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant, and has almost totally forgotten the gift.” –Albert Einstein, who I’m pretty sure had four eyes

A Different Kind of Mother’s Day

New Mother's Day tradition? Running the R.O.C. race in Del Mar.
New Mother’s Day tradition? Running the R.O.C. race in Del Mar.

Though publishing anything here has been difficult for me of late, I felt a Mother’s Day blog was a non-negotiable.

It must happen.

This will be my third one, which means that I’ve been publishing for almost three years. Blogging feels like dog years. It’s been a really long time and in case you haven’t noticed, I’m slowing down.

It’s not that I’m not writing. It’s just that I’m writing about things I can’t share with all of you.

When I started the blog, Keara was 14. She was just starting at an all-girls, Catholic high school, with all the innocence of an oldest child raised in PG household. For the most part, she wasn’t even watching prime time TV yet. Finn was 12 and puberty seemed a long way off. Molly was still a baby in my eyes and she was happy in that role. Their stories were mine to use and though I was respectful, they didn’t have much of a choice. They could say “yes” or “no”, but with mom looking over their shoulder, eager to hit “publish,” I never once had a kid stop me.

Over time, especially in the last year, that well has dried up. There are plenty of stories, juicy ones too: love, loss, betrayal, effort and reward, victory and defeat, but for the most part, they are no longer mine to tell. I am a witness to them; I may be a part of them. I am learning, growing and changing from them, but the major players no longer want to be on stage and without them, the theater seems empty.

How many one-woman plays can an audience stand?

I guess we won’t know the answer unless I keep publishing, which I plan to do, just perhaps less frequently.

The other day, I watched an interview with Sue Monk Kidd, best known for her novels, The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair among others. She was married at 20, a mother of 2 kids and a working nurse by 25. On her 30th birthday, she announced to her family that she was going to become a writer. She was over 50 when her first novel was published. For obvious reasons, I was encouraged by her timeline, but what I appreciated even more was her wisdom.

When asked, “What do you know for sure?” Kidd replied, “What you pay attention to matters; the love I gave, the love I received are the most important things. Just to be is holy. Just to live is a gift. I know that for sure.” She also quoted Stephen Hawking, who said, “Real genius is radical humility, for when you humble yourself before what you don’t know, you open yourself to possibility.”

Listening to Kidd shifted my focus. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and though I hope for some authentic gestures of love and gratitude from my family, I’m going to pay attention to the things that matter. I can give love; I can be present. I will never be a genius, but life seems eager to work on my humility each and every day, which is great, because I want to be open to possibility.

Before she turned her hand to fiction, Sue Monk Kidd wrote three spiritual memoirs, which I discovered several years ago. Though I like her stories, I love her own. While reading When the Heart Waits, I took a passage and put it on a sticky note on my laptop. Though it isn’t always open, I see the title every day. It is called, “Sue Monk Kidd’s Prayer and Mine too” and it goes like this:

God,

I don’t want to live falsely, in self-imposed prisons and fixed comfortable patterns that confine my soul and diminish the truth in me. So much of me has gone underground. I want to let my soul out. I want to be free to risk what’s true, to be myself. Set free the daring in me – the willingness to go within, to see the self-lies. I’ll try to run away, but don’t let me. Don’t let me stifle myself with prudence that binds the creative re-visioning of life and the journey toward wholeness.

I’m scared. God make me brave. Lead me in the enormous spaces of becoming. Help me cease the small, tedious work of maintaining and protecting, so that I can break the masks that obscure your shining in the night of my own soul. Help me to green my soul and risk becoming the person you created me to be. 

Tomorrow I may regret these words, but tonight I speak them, for I know that you are somewhere inside them, that you love me and won’t leave me alone in their echo.

Amen

She wrote that prayer some time around 40 and when asked on the show, “Have you become the woman you wanted to be?” Kidd said, “I am becoming that woman, yes.”

At 65 years old, she is becoming. I love that. Twenty-five years later, her prayer is still being answered.

Too often, I think the answers should already be known (by me) and the outcome assured. I falsely believe that I should have already arrived, but Kidd’s response humbled me. If I can accept that I am becoming and always will be, the possibilities are endless, not just for me, but for all of us.

So Happy Mother’s Day to those of you who have given birth, or raised children and loved your little ones so much you thought your heart would break, but a special note of gratitude to everyone who has nurtured something new within themselves and had the courage to share it with the world. Neither are small tasks and both are necessary for the good of the world.

Postscript:

Just in case you think I’m exaggerating how much my family life has changed over the last few years, here is a visual perspective.

Mother's Day breakfast at Pipes Cafe, 2012
Mother’s Day breakfast at Pipes Cafe, 2012

Here are some pictures of the kids taken within the last couple weeks, just two years later. I couldn’t even put the same filter on the images to make them look more cohesive. It felt dishonest, since they are so different and yet each image perfectly captures the attitude they put out the world: Keara crosses her arms, suspicious of it all. Finn is literally one of the most “laid-back”people I know and Molly is going to give you a smile and play the game, any time, any day.

PicMonkey Collage
Keara at 17, Finn at 15 and Molly at almost 12.

 

What’s So Great About Gardening?

I’ve been doing a lot of “F-ing” around lately.

Get your head out of the gutter.

I’m talking about feeling.

I’ve been Feeling with a capital F and you all know how I feel about that.

I’ve been Feeling frustrated, as if I am in free-fall. I am failing and flailing.

When I admitted my feelings to my genius-friend Steph, she promptly pooh-poohed them.

While I may feel fallow, in her opinion, I am actually flourishing.

For weeks now, she said, I’ve been glowing; she said I must be growing. She said something BIG is happening.

I’m not buying it.

Nothing is happening; that’s the problem.

Apparently God agrees with Steph, because the Universe keeps sending me invitations to see this time of my life in a positive way, but it is sooo hard to do. I see the invitations to be patient, to trust and to wait. I say yes to them on one level, but my ego wants no part of this patience party. My ego wants results.

And so I keep feeling the way I do, and the Universe keeps inviting me to feel differently.

My dear Aunt Beth posts a lot of things on Facebook. Some are profound, some sweet, some silly. I put this one in the silly category, but it turns out that was a bit hasty. Seeing it for the first time, I didn’t think twice. Walking recently, I saw this image for what it was – another invitation.

Success new vision

I want to be the rabbit on the right. I want to have something big and green and leafy in my hand. I am supposed to be building a brand, making a name for myself, getting “gigs” as a writer and speaker. I do what I can to make that happen and then I breathe and I pray. I write and teach, mother and wife, love and laugh and mourn. All these actions are good and necessary, but in the eyes of the world (and I guess my own too much of the time), they don’t amount to much.  They aren’t producing the kind of  “greens” I’d like to see.

In contrast, God is inviting me to see myself as the rabbit on the left, the one standing by the shabby, little sprouts. The invitation is to be patient. The invitation is to trust that something good is growing. It may be buried deep; it may be under a lot of manure. But that something, whatever it is, is worth waiting for. The rabbit on the left will be much happier in the long run, if she doesn’t give up and abandon her garden. Sometimes, for this rabbit, that feels like a big if.

Sometimes, this rabbit thinks she should get a job at McDonalds.

In case you haven’t guessed, I am a terrible gardener. I have little patience for seeds and the nurturing they require. I only plant flowers in full bloom and when they die, it’s at least a year, or two before I can muster up the energy to replace them. Perhaps that is exactly what this season of my life is here to teach me: to be a good gardener of my soul.

The seeds of our dreams were planted deep in our hearts in childhood. They began with gifts we were given and were shaped by the experiences we lived. They were nurtured by love, or warped by indifference, ridicule, or fear. But eventually, given time and even a ray of sunlight, those dreams begin to grow. For some of us, the harvest may come early; for others, it may come very, very late, if at all. I imagine the fruit of our labor may not even be what we thought we were growing all those years. In my case, I hope it will be even sweeter for the surprise.

Lessons from the Wild

My book group just finished reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. I found it disturbing, frustrating and beautiful, in that order. Wild is an autobiography of a woman who does a solo hike across the Pacific Coast Trail. As Cheryl nears the end of her journey along the PCT, she encounters Crater Lake, whose creation story is a perfect metaphor for what has happened in her life and so many of our own.

Mount Mazama was located in the Cascade Mountain Range in Oregon. At one point it had reached almost 12,000 feet high. It was a natural skyscraper: beautiful, majestic, impressive. Only the ancient Klamath tribes of that area ever witnessed how it towered over its neighboring peaks, like Mount Washington, Jefferson and Hood.

Up until 8,000 years ago, the presence of Mount Mazama was a fact of the skyline, a place you could count on to be there, like the Pacific Ocean, the Rocky Mountains, the nose on the end of your face.

It was there for hundreds of thousands of years, and then one day, it wasn’t.

Underneath its purple mountain’s majesty was a seething mass of heat, a cauldron of change, an eruption waiting to happen.

Mount Mazama wasn’t just a mountain after all. It was a volcano and when it erupted, what had been permanent was gone. What had been high was made lower than low. It wasn’t just leveled. It was cratered out.

The native peoples must have wept and trembled for what had been, for what they had seen, and for all that had been lost in the cataclysmic change.

How long did it take their eyes to adjust to the emptiness that had once been something? How long did it take them to pick up the pieces? How long did they look with disdain at the wound that had once been their mountain?

But the death of the mountain isn’t the end of the story, not for Mazama, not for Cheryl Strayed and not for you and me.

Invitations keep showing up in my mental mailbox these days to see changes in my life with a new set of eyes. The pattern of Mount Mazama keeps repeating itself over and over again.

What we think is the ending, is just a new beginning.

What we think is destruction is really a transition.

What we think is broken will be made whole again – not in the same form, but in some different and life-giving way.

The real bummer is that it takes longer than we want it too. We have to be patient. We have to wait. We have to hold on.

In my spiritual tradition, we talk a lot about the three days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Even Rob Bell, who I saw at a conference this last week, emphasized how much patience and perseverance it takes to get from Friday to Sunday.  But I am not talking about three days here.

While “three days” are a great scriptural metaphor, they are a lousy model for how patient we actually need to be.

What changes in our lives actually resolve themselves in three days? For most of us, the disruptions in our lives take a lot longer than that to heal. For Cheryl, for you and me, it usually takes more like years to acknowledge and accept that what we thought was permanent was actually a passing formation.

But if it takes years, we’re still lucky. It took centuries for Mount Mazama to become Crater Lake.

When the holy mountaintop blew up, all that was left was a sharp-edged, gaping crater. But season after season, year after year, the caldera started to fill with rain and snowpack and spring melts. Centuries later, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America at 1,900 feet and one of the deepest in the world. It is so deep that it absorbs every other color but blue.

I have never seen it, but I will take Cheryl’s word for it as she gazed upon the silence and stillness of the water, that it is a beautiful, sacred center, found in nature, in her and in all of us: “what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turn into after the healing begins.”

Looking for an Invitation

Hi All

I know it’s been a while since I last posted a blog. It’s not because I haven’t been thinking of you; I think of you every day, but I haven’t been sure what to say. Last month, I had some huge things to get off my chest about being honest and my fear of growing old. And this month, I had some huge things to do, like getting back into a classroom after a 10-year hiatus. I had to remember how to stand up in front of an audience for 3 hours, 2x a week and convince them that something they hate is something worth loving. I have to show them that something that is really hard to do can actually get easier if you work really hard at it. Sounds like an oxymoron and that’s what I feel like up there sometimes – a moron.

As you can imagine, I’m not a typical college professor, who takes herself too seriously. I’m just me, which means I’m silly and irreverent, but somehow underneath it all, educated, informed, intelligent and very good at what I do. While I might not take myself too seriously, I take my job seriously. I want to help young women and men become more proficient writers and better communicators. I want to help them breathe a little easier when they get handed an assignment, no matter what class, or job they’re in.

But transitioning from working at home to working at night has been a little shaky at times. The prep time, the paper grading, the rush hour traffic has put a serious crunch on my time.

It isn’t that I don’t have time to write; it’s that I don’t have the time to think about what to say. For me, this blog is a natural extension of my “thinking” time, my “praying” time, and my “being” time and there is a lot less time for those things. I am still getting up early; I am still spending some quiet moments with G each morning, but the thoughts that usually come from that time are fewer and farther between. My mind is on a writer’s strike. It wants more vacation days.

I was talking to my friend J the other day about not knowing where my life was going. There is a lot going on, but not in any one direction and she said a funny thing to me.

She said,

“If you don’t know where to go, pay attention to where you’re invited.”

Hmmm…

I’d never thought of that before. Where am I being invited? Not parties, of course, but in life. What opportunities are being extended? What is being asked of me? What is being offered?

She suggested I look for patterns, to see where one invitation led to another and another and another. The universe is always evolving, always moving towards something good. We are a part of that evolution somehow. The more we say, “Yes” to invitations, the more we are co-creating.

The tricky part is discerning which invitations are the right ones – the life events we are actually supposed to show up for. Too often, I think we end up crashing someone else’s party.

Deep in our hearts, we know which invitations are the right ones, the ones we truly want to accept, but most us stick with our gut response, trusting the guilt that makes us say, “Yes!” to everyone and everything, or the fear that makes us say, “No!” to even the most beautiful, and transformative opportunities. (For the record, I’m a yes man, while Tim’s a solid no.)

It was with this idea of invitation in mind that I said, “Yes” to teaching English 101 for Vincennes University at Balboa Naval Hospital. My heart wanted to meet and know the enlisted, the veterans and the wounded warriors who would be my students. Tim didn’t really understand it (a lot of work for a little money), but it wasn’t his invitation. It was mine. And though it meant saying no to several other things, it felt like an invitation I couldn’t refuse and didn’t really want to.

I’m looking and listening for invitations every day and when I opened up Facebook this morning, there one was, front and center from my “friend,” Glennon on Momastery. She sends out these amazing invitations, huge, fancy, hand-written ones, the kind that make you feel like if you don’t go, you might be missing the party of the year.

But I need to remember; it’s just an invitation, like any other. It might be right for me, or it might be just right for you, so I thought I’d pass it along, just in case you didn’t get one directly from her. Don’t RSVP yes or no based on guilt, or fear. Check out the link and listen to your heart.

Read Glennon’s fancy, photographic invitation here.

Did your heart start to beat faster when you heard the stories?

Did a face, a smile, a word connect with something deep inside you?

Did you just discover that this is something that really matters to you?

Because that’s what the right invitation does. It gives you an opportunity to participate, to co-create, to bring about something new and good in this world.

And when you do it, God looks around and smiles and says, “This is good.”

Shady Intentions on a Soccer Saturday

Just as I was sitting down to write this blog, I happened to check Facebook and find a post by one of my favorite bloggers in the world, Glennon Melton, and I almost stopped writing RIGHT THERE, as in RIGHT NOW, as in FOREVER, because Glennon has a way of writing that makes me think, “Why do I even bother? Glennon says everything I want to say, but she says it so much better!” Now, if you go to Glennon’s post from today, you might possibly wonder why I would want to say that and today, I don’t, but there are lots of other times when she does, like here and here.

But then I remembered something that Glennon said last month as she was reading a book by Cheryl Strayed,

Dear God, she’s amazing. And I felt myself start to panic a little. OH MY GOD. SHE’S SAYING ALL THE THINGS I WANT TO SAY, BUT BETTER.  I actually thought about CLOSING her book and NOT reading anymore because my heart was panicking and shriveling a bit.

Sometimes, that’s honestly how I feel when I read Glennon, or Anne Lamott, or Paula D’Arcy, but then they go on and on about grace and abundance and then I breathe deeply, and then G (the Big G upstairs) reminds me that I am enough and that I believe in Love and then I can finally try to write again.

So I’m back and ready to tell you a story about my weekend.

It was a hot weekend here in San Diego, like hot hot, like “Texas-hot,” as my kids like to say. They’ve only been there a handful of times, but boy, do they remember. We are also in the midst of soccer season, which means our family had four games in two days. Tim is the manager of The Lad’s team, so we got to set up goals once, take down goals twice, pay the refs, and turn in the scores. Along with all the other parents, we also got to cheer on the sidelines.

Those sidelines were a mass of brightly-colored umbrellas, beach chairs, water bottles and spray fans. There were canopies and sunshades and baseball hats – anything and everything that could provide some relief for the humanity that was slow-roasting in the heat. A friend of mine turned to me and said, “Surely, there is a blog in here somewhere.” And so I looked around to see what I could see.

I saw kids, and I saw parents. I saw players running, kicking and heading. I saw goalies diving, missing, and saving. I saw coaches coaching, cheering and scolding. I saw it all, but nothing that you wouldn’t expect on any given “Soccer Saturday in the Suburbs,” as Tim likes to call it.

So I kept watching Finn’s game, until I was distracted by a commotion happening behind my chair.

As you can imagine, making shade on a weekend like this is serious business. The fans want to be comfortable, but we also want to provide some protection for our players as well. I’m not talking about the players on the field, who were out competing in the sun; I’m talking about the guys on the sidelines, the subs who were resting up to get into, or back into the game.

These 13 and 14 year old young men WOULD NOT STAY IN THE SHADE and it was comical to watch the parents do everything they could to make them, without actually making them.

When the boys were smaller, keeping them in the shade was an easy thing to do. Someone would bring a pop-up tent and someone else would bring a blanket and the team mom would tell them to sit on it and they would. Job done. But as they got older, they wanted to be up on their feet, standing by their coach, or sitting on a chair, and our job got a little harder, but we could shoo them back under the canopy and there they would stay.

But now these boys are young men and we can’t shoo them anywhere. They stand where they want to stand, where their coach asks them, tells them, or allows them to stand. It is no longer our place to tell them where to stay anymore. Their autonomy certainly doesn’t keep us from wanting to protect, however and that is where it gets comical. Each time the subs would move, a parent would move an umbrella with them. It is no easy task to get an umbrella stake into hard-packed dirt, so a mom, or dad would spend a couple minutes twisting, stomping and pushing the sun-protection into the ground. The players would stay put for about 30 seconds and then move on. Parents would wait a minute or two, hoping the players would realize their mistake and come back to the shade. They rarely did, but if they came back, it was instinctively, or by accident, never by conscious choice. Eventually, another parent would jump up and move the umbrella to the new spot and get it settled and then the boys would move on again. This went on for a good 30 minutes, or so before we finally just gave up and followed them up and down the field, like little rajas, holding the shade over them, because really, WE JUST COULDN’T LET GO.

This was the life lesson I was waiting for.

As parents, we want to protect our children. When they’re small, we know what’s best for them, and we can provide it, whether it’s shade on the soccer field, or restrictions on the television. We put a jacket on them when it’s cold, and sunscreen when it’s hot. But as they get older, we think we know what’s best for them and we struggle to provide it, whether they want it or not. The older they get, the more often they are going to step out of the shade we provide. We can twist and push and stomp all we want, but that doesn’t mean they are going to stay put. Our wisdom and support only serve a purpose when our children choose to stand under it.

I cannot follow my almost-grown children up and down the sidelines of their lives, trying to “protect” them from every element that might sap their strength, or burn them a little bit. (Thank goodness I still have Molly to shoo back under the canopy.) Keara and Finn need to be able to move freely, mix it up, and hear what’s happening on the field. They don’t need to be hampered by their well-intentioned mother, telling them to back up, sit down and take it easy. Champions are made in the full light of sun and I need to be brave enough to let them take their place in it.

P.S. We saw a lot of soccer this weekend and a lot of parents, who took great pains to keep their children cool and hydrated on a hot day. Kudos to you. I am not speaking of any one team, or parent. The only parent I am calling out is myself!

Fear of Writing?

I’ve sat down to write this blog many times over the last weeks. I still don’t know if I’ll get it right, or not, but I thought I’d try again.  I’ve been struggling with writer’s block lately. Half-formed ideas haunt me, but the words won’t come. I’ve been hard pressed to complete a single thought, much less string together a series of intelligent ones. There have been saving graces – an episode of Project Runway, the death of a beloved author, a strange request from my husband – but those happy (?) accidents seems to have slowed.

Last week I thought I had finally created that perfect writing storm in the midst of my busy summer day: a few hours alone in my cool, quiet house, my work completed, the chores done. There was nothing to distract me. Surely, I would be able to write now. But I couldn’t focus. I fidgeted; I got up and down; I checked email; I about to jump out of my skin. Ultimately, I knew what I needed to do. Despite the 100-degree heat, I went out on a walk to reacquaint my head with my heart and soul. When my head is in charge, there are things my heart finds it impossible to say.

By the time, I got to the end of my street, the truth had already bubbled up to the surface and I was able to admit what had been bothering me. In hindsight, it seems obvious, but sometimes it’s difficult to see what’s right in front of us.

For the past several months, I have been writing about Love: the power of love, the joy of love, the signs of Love – all the things that keep me going, but what I haven’t written about is the shadow side of Love.

Fear.

I have been trying (with some success) to keep things positive. There is nothing wrong with ‘positivity,’ except when I use it to mask other truths. If “perfect love casts out all fear” as Bono and the Bible like to say, why mess around with anything else? The Love I have been writing about is that perfect Love. If I know that Love, as I have been claiming to, then it shouldn’t leave room for anything else in my life.

Except that it does. There is plenty of room for the flip side of love. My fears are still here. I am utterly and completely human, so even perfect Love has to go through my filter. I process it imperfectly and end up with something infinitely less than I began with. Somehow, I fooled myself into believing that this perfect, cosmic Love would leave me fearless. I discovered on my walk that it hasn’t, which is why I found myself sitting at the end of my street in the middle of the afternoon, crying my eyes out.

Quite simply, I’m afraid.

Andy Rooney once said, “A writer’s job is to tell the truth” and as I sat there, I realized that I can’t write, because I’m not telling the truth. I’m telling some of the truth – the truth about Love and what it can do. I’ve been holding something back too – the truth about what happens when Love doesn’t win, because let’s face it, sometimes our humanity simply won’t let it. Bono never mentioned that our fears could cast out that perfect Love as well. I kind of wish he would have warned me.

We embrace our fears just as often, if not more so, than we accept the Love that is available to us. It doesn’t mean that Love gives up, or that Love isn’t there. It just means that fear has the upper hand for a while. Fear doesn’t give up either. My life is a dance between Love and fear. Love has been on center-stage and fear wants to have it’s day too.

So for the sake of transparency and to get over my writer’s block, I thought I would share some of my fears with you.  It’s a short list. I only included three of the biggies.

I am afraid of growing old.

I am afraid of the unknown.

I am afraid of failing God in some critical way.

There they are.

Whew.

No, wait, not whew.

More like Aaaahhh! What did I just do?

I thought I would feel better, laying them all out there, but I don’t, not really. Unlike Love, fear doesn’t bring freedom. Basking in fear diminishes us and the possibilities for our lives, but maybe you already knew that. Deep down, I know it too, but sometimes fear just gets the upper hand.

My dear friend Joyce said to me recently, “Don’t make a decision based on fear. What would you do if you were fearless?” Maybe her question is just another way of asking, “What would you do if you were in Love?”

What would you do if you were in Love and it made you fearless?

I don’t think I can answer that question today. Fear is hogging the dance floor. However, Love is waiting  patiently in the wings. She knows her turn will come again soon and I know she will leave me breathless with beauty and wonder. Personally, I can’t wait for our song to come on. Fear is not my favorite partner.

Historical Fiction: A Living Genre

I recently read Alan Brennert’s novel Moloka’i and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is set around the turn of the century in the leper colony of Kalaupapa on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. To control the leprosy epidemic, everyone found infected with the bacteria, was sent to live in isolation there. For many patients, that isolation lasted their whole lives.  Historical fiction like this is my favorite genre, because it appeals to me on two levels. The reader in me gets lost in the story, while the scholar in me absorbs all sorts of new historical facts and trivia to bore my friends and family with later. In my nerdy opinion, historical fiction is the perfect combination of fact and fiction, research and escapism, a fabulous two-for-one deal.

However, reading the novel reminded me of an experience I had a couple months back. It made me think about historical fiction in a more personal way, because it wasn’t in a book anymore. At a cocktail party in my neighborhood, I saw all too clearly how our own personal historical fictions influence the stories we tell ourselves each and every day. While the fiction is probably harmless most of the time, it may actually cost us something valuable in the long run: our ability to see ourselves as we are today.

As Tim and I walked up to our hosts’ front door, he reminded me that I was his wingman. I wasn’t allowed to go mingle, if he didn’t find a buddy to talk to. He doesn’t usually worry about that happening, but this wasn’t our normal social circle, so I acquiesced. For my part, I straightened my skirt and checked my make up one more time. I was as ready as I would ever be. I knew we were both responding to some personal insecurities, but figured our secrets were safe with each other.

So imagine my surprise when our hostess asked us to put on a nametag, complete with three adjectives that described us in high school. It was, after all, a fundraiser for a youth organization. Oh boy, I thought, but honesty was probably the best policy here as anywhere else. Tim jotted down Lone Wolf, figuring that pretty much said it all, while I scrawled geek, klutz and swimmer under my name. We looked at what the other had written and shrugged. We’ve been together for so long and shared so many stories from our childhoods that we knew exactly where the adjectives had come from and accepted them as some approximation of the truth. I knew that after several moves, Tim had only a few friends at any given time growing up. He frequently ate alone in the cafeteria, and spent many of his afternoons, kicking a soccer ball at the backyard fence, scoring goal after game-winning goal for an audience of one. He knew how awkward I had felt as a child, skinny and freckle-faced, more at home in water than on land. He’d counted the scars I still have on my body that testify to the face-first, flat out falls I took on the black top, off bikes and into thorn bushes. He has also tried to heal the scars on my psyche from years of feeling inferior to so many of my peers.

So we stuck on the wounded egos of our teenage selves and started to mingle. I couldn’t believe all the casual friends and acquaintances we met, who were apparently all popular, smart, beautiful and athletic. Honestly, the ratio of class presidents, cheerleaders and homecoming queens to the rest of us was a little ridiculous. But what was even funnier was how they responded to our nametags. They thought we were kidding, or at least really exaggerating who we used to be. I assured them we were not. They thought we were “one of them,” and until that night, I had thought so too.

Not a single person at that party would have pegged Tim for a lone wolf. At this point in his life, my husband is known as “Coach Tim” to a large swathe of the under-15 population in our community and their parents. He’s spent years coaching our kids’ sports teams, from softball to soccer. He is sarcastic and funny, hangs out with the guys, but prefers to chat with the ladies. And as for me, I haven’t tripped over my own feet (much) since my second child was born, and I have become a fairly self-confident and capable woman, athletic even, since discovering Pilates.

The night was fun, but I didn’t love reliving my past. I put those words down, thinking they were harmless, that I had moved beyond those labels and memories, that they were “history” and I know Tim did the same. But when we reflected on the last things we had done before we walked into that party, we saw the evidence that our past is hardly history at all. He was making sure that he wouldn’t be the lone wolf, and by adding another layer of lipstick, I was re-arming myself against the superficial judgments of other girls. Despite twenty years of love and success, our historical fiction is still a palpable presence in our lives.

Does anyone ever get over who they once were, and thought they might always be? Is it worse for the class presidents, valedictorians, or homecoming queens, who perhaps never lived up to the promise of those early days? I don’t know the answer to that. My story runs the other way and they aren’t exactly the kind of questions you’d ask a casual acquaintance over a glass of wine at a cocktail party.

By the end of the novel Moloka’i, a cure for leprosy is found and the patients are free to move back into society, leaving their “shameful” past behind them. But virtually no matter where they go, they face prejudice, scorn and outright discrimination. There are no jobs for them, no places to live, and frequently no family willing to love them. They are technically “free,” but they are bound by their past and the evidence is written all over their bodies and souls. A few of them find the freedom they seek, but many of them return to the leper colony, Kalaupapa, where they are known and loved for who and what they are.

As I read this book, I was taken back to that cocktail party and the way our histories can continue to haunt us. Thankfully, for the most part, I am free. I laughed with everyone at what my nametag said. I am no longer that geeky girl, who lacks the self-confidence, courage and grace to be fully herself. However, when I went home that night, done socializing with the world at large, I was glad to be alone with Tim, my own personal Kalaupapa, where I am known and loved for who I was and who I try to be today.