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My 2015 Experience

I found this photo on Facebook this morning and it inspired a little year-end review. I decided it summed up what I discovered about myself in 2015.

In 2015, a few external things changed. Keara graduated from high school and went off to college. Finn got his driver’s license and stepped into the serious college hustle of AP classes, varsity sports and a job. Molly, our baby, became a teenager and is winding up jr. high, ready to launch into the next phase of her life. I am in the stretch run of having a house full of kids, and all the care that involves. Nowhere is this transition captured more poignantly than in the Team Kirks 2015 Christmas card. You can click on the link to watch it here. In the words of REM, it’s “The End of the World as We Know It.” Despite all the changes, we feel fine.

But what I have noticed even more than the external changes in my life are the internal ones, which the quote above captured so beautifully. In 2015, through the Living School and the people I have met there, through raising teenagers and meeting their friends, through reading, writing, teaching and everyday life, I have fallen in Love over and over again. Obviously, I am not talking about romantic love here, the heart-pounding flush of infatuation and the inevitable crush that follows. I am talking about Love – the Love that says Yes to all that is. The Love that can only be discovered when people reveal something vulnerable and true about themselves.

Dostoyevsky describes this Love beautifully in The Brothers Karamazov. It’s been twenty-plus years since I last read the book, but it has been mentioned three times in the last week by people I respect, and so it goes on the top of my reading list for 2016. Here’s is Fyodor’s commandment to Love:

Love people even in their sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

This Love is a gift, though most of us treat it as a burden. We’d rather have a facsimile, projection, or image of Love than the real thing. I know for most of my life, this has been true, with few exceptions. But in 2015, I began to see my own preferences for what they were: fear and self-preservation and this is not the kind of Love Dostoyevsky, the mystics, prophets and even Jesus talk about.

This year I fell in Love with all sorts of people who showed me a piece of their soul. I fell in Love with authors: Glennon Melton, Liz Gilbert, Parker Palmer, and Omid Safi. I fell in Love with poets: Rumi, Hafiz, David Whyte and Mary Oliver. I fell in Love with mystics, musicians and artists. I fell in Love with my own friends and family. I even began to fall in Love with strangers, the refugees and homeless and victims of all the “isms” of the world, though I am not yet sure how to show that Love appropriately. I have a feeling that will be the journey of 2016 and beyond. I have a feeling that is the journey of a lifetime. How do I serve those I Love? How do I meet them where they are?

We know that real Love changes us. Once experienced, we cannot forget the joy Love brings; we cannot un-know the secrets it reveals; we cannot re-harden our hearts. We are different on the other side of Love’s door.

My resolution for 2016 is to keep stepping over the threshold.

P.S. If anyone wants to read The Brothers Karamazov with me, comment below. I’d love to get a little virtual discussion group going!

I had quite a few friends and readers wondering how my Mother’s Day turned out, so I thought I’d write a follow up post to let you know – not only what I got, but also what I learned.

First, let me say that I had a wonderful Mother’s Day. My family did a beautiful job of making me feel loved and appreciated. I didn’t get my ‘latte,’ but I did get a trip to Pipes Café in Cardiff with my kids in tow, which was even better. Here are the pictures of the best faces they could give me. (Finn was trying to be funny, though he didn’t quite pull it off.)

Mother’s Day breakfast at Pipes, 2012

I also received a new set of ear buds for my cell phone, so I can drive hands-free, as well as a Brixton fedora to keep the sun off my face. “Killer,” I thought, “They must love me if they want to save me from tickets, and melanoma!” I also received two handmade cards and a hand painted flowerpot. I have to admit, I was wrong. Handprints are still totally cute! Well, fingerprints are anyway. See for yourself.

"Hand-made" butterflies, caterpillars and butterflies, oh my!

The flowerpot was just the beginning of Molly’s gift. Tim calls her “The Ringer.” As long as Molly’s around, my Mother’s Day (or birthday, or Christmas) is going to be just fine. She made me a card, calling me The Best Spirital (sic)Writer Ever and quoting some of my own work back to me. She also brought me home a piece of coral that she had found at the beach to add to my nature collection of rocks and sticks from my canyon walks. Molly said it reminded her of me, because of all the holes. Apparently I “fill up all the holes in her heart with kindness.” Are you kidding me? She’s totally got my number. Thank goodness I hadn’t put on my make-up yet.

Molly's metaphor

Finn, “The Artist,” made me a card in his own unique style. His thoughtful gift, which some might think irreverent, was a perfect combination of what I love and what he loves to do. It too was added to my bedside table.

Finally, Keara, “The Silent One,” wrapped my ear buds in pink tissue paper with a white bow and handed it to me on our way out the door. Despite reading my last post, it was the best she could do. That’s okay. Deep down, I know she loves me.

Tim, as always, stepped up and told me how much he loves and appreciates me.

All in all, it was a pretty special day and I learned something too.

Glennon Melton, who I adore, had this to say about Mother’s Day. It was too late to take back my words, but that’s okay. I don’t think what I said was untrue, just maybe not broad enough in it’s perspective. On her Momastery blog, Glennon wrote,

I want to try to explain my evolving definition of the word Mother. I am starting to understand that the word works better for me as a verb than a noun. Mothering is a choice we make, like loving is a choice.  We do not need to have given birth or to have signed adoption papers to Mother. To Mother, to me, means to nurture. To heal, to help grow, to give. And so anyone and everyone who is involved in the healing of the world is a Mother.  Anyone who tends to a child, or friend, or stranger, or animal or garden is a Mother. Anyone who tends to Life is a Mother. Tomorrow is a celebration of all the healers and hopers and lovers and givers and tend-ers.  In other words- tomorrow is for every single one of you.

So I hope that yesterday, you mothered and were mothered. I hope you not only loved and healed and gave, but were also loved and tended and received. I hope you laughed and cried, because all of life is a celebration.

Happy Mother’s Day – every day – and thanks for reading.

Last week I went to Ventura to speak to a group of women. My cousin Megan had invited me. This was not a difficult audience; I felt like we were all part of the same tribe – women, wives and mothers. Easy-peasy, I thought. However any time I am going to get up in front of an audience, I like to collect my thoughts before I go on. I usually excuse myself for a last minute trip to the bathroom, so no one sees me closing my eyes and centering myself. If they see a random woman in the audience doing some deep breathing, that’s one thing. If that random woman, suddenly becomes the “expert” they are supposed to be listening to, I think it affects my credibility.

So before she introduced me, Megan led me to the little bathroom in the back of the meeting room and left me to my own devices. And as I took my first deep breath, it hit me.

This isn’t hard.

I am not saying that public speaking isn’t challenging, or that I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to say and how I’m going to say it, because I do.

But on the day before this day, this day when I was crouched in a bathroom, trying to do deep breathing exercises (while not gagging on the smell of cleaning fluids), I had received an email that a mother I know, a mother I call a friend, a mother of 4 children, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

So when I went to center myself, I was immediately thrown off-center by the realization that my friend may be off-center for a very long time to come, that she was probably in the furthest orbit she had ever been in from her center in her entire life. That when you receive a cancer diagnosis as a mother of 4 children, still at home, who still consider you the center of their entire existence, your own center pretty much looks like a nuclear bomb just went off.

Obviously I’m just guessing here. I’ve not faced it myself, but I do have a little bit of history with mothers, with mothers of four children, with mothers of four children and a cancer diagnosis.

When I was 15 years old, my own mother was diagnosed with cancer, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, to be exact.  I was the second eldest of her four children, ranging in age from 16 to 6 years old. She was 39 years old and it was not looking good. One day our mom was home and the next day, she was gone, not to return for almost 4 months. Chemo, radiation, isolation and a bone marrow transplant, fifty miles away from home, were on the docket.

She survived; we all survived. In fact, we thrived.

Our center was still there; it was just in a “geographically undesirable” location – on the 11th floor of the UCLA hospital. Instead of gravitating home after school, we gravitated up the 405 Freeway. Instead of relying on her to center us all the time, we centered each other. We also became the center of our school, church and community. My older brother Charlie became the family chauffer. I became the homework helper and babysitter. Tim and Amy, 9 and 6 respectively, became amazingly adaptable and compliant, endearingly so. There was nothing we wouldn’t have done for them. And there was nothing that people wouldn’t do for us, if we simply asked and frequently when we didn’t. At that time in our lives, nothing seemed impossible, if we stuck together.

And when our Mom got home, our center moved to the family room couch and slept and drank Ensure and got stronger every day for a year, until finally she was up and around and dancing and skiing and cooking burned chicken again – just like she used to.

So on that morning last week, before I stepped up in front of 40 women, I was extremely grateful for that new perspective. This isn’t hard. It’s my new motto. What my friend has to do is hard. What my mom had to do was hard. What sick women and men and children all over the world do every day is hard.

Fighting cancer is hard.

Since that morning, any time something uncomfortable, or painful, or challenging comes up, I think of my friend. I remember, This isn’t hard, and I go on and I do it – better, braver, and more happily. Glennon Melton always reminds her readers that We Can Do Hard Things, but I think it’s even easier when we remember what the hard things really are.

So to my friend, and to all the women and men and children out there who are fighting against a diagnosis you do not want, a disease you cannot control, a tragedy that has thrown you off-center, know how much you are loved, how much we respect your fight and your process. Know that we are here to help. I believe with all my heart and soul that you are held lovingly by The Center of the universe and if you can trust in that, you will find your own center once again. Until that time, we will keep you at the center of our prayers, our love and support and hope it helps.

My Pop and I, circa October 1971

A popular blogger, Glennon Melton, coined a word to describe the world as she sees it. Life brings joy and pain, good and evil, comedy and tragedy, frequently in the same day, sometimes in the very same moment. All in all, she says, it is a brutiful world, beautiful and brutal, all wrapped in one extraordinary package.

I read her description of her brutiful life and was captivated, not only by her story, but also by her word choice. I love new words, so when my father inadvertently gave me one a few days ago, I was delighted.

My father and I don’t live very close to each other and we aren’t terribly good about using the phone, so we usually rely on email to stay connected. It’s a good venue for us. I like to write and he likes to read. I share my latest ideas and he usually has some valuable commentary. On this particular day, I had emailed him an essay by one of our favorite authors (Ron Rolheiser in case you were wondering) and I shared the connections I had made between the article, his life and my own. He got back to me and ended his response in this way:

            Wishing i could hug you right now to send my love and joy in you my wounderful daughter.

Pop

I have to admit that as a former English professor, I frequently need to remind myself to appreciate what he says, instead of judging how he says it, but that day, my impulse to correct his grammar quickly fled in the face of the sentiment his sentence held.

He called me his wounderful daughter. What a gift! I know he meant wonderful, but whether it was a Freudian slip, or serendipity, being wounderful felt even more significant. It felt profound.

Somehow, I have been made wonderful in his eyes, by my wounds.

He thinks I am wounderful.

Like any father, he wanted to protect me from injury and he thought he could do it through sheer size, force of will and determination. He was an intimidating, 6’6”, successful breadwinner, with a 7-foot wingspan and a size 13 shoe. He thought that if he could keep the world at bay, including teenage boys and the smut on TV, his little girl would be just fine. Ultimately, and obviously, he discovered he couldn’t. He watched me tumble and fall too many times to count, from little ego bruises, like the 7th grade softball team I didn’t make, to major heartbreaks in friendship and love. He helped me recover, and hoped that I would learn about myself and the world around me from the pain I experienced. He watched me learn about courage, compassion, and humility. He watched me cry, thinking I would never stop and then he saw me laugh again. Through it all, he was there to bind up my wounds with his fatherly supply of unconditional love.

Our animal friends have been given adaptations. They have hard outer shells, leathery skin, horns, beaks, claws, speed, agility, and size. All these evolutionary gifts help them avoid being wounded. Their very ability to survive depends on their invulnerability.

But humans haven’t been given many physical gifts. We are slow – slow to mature and slow to move. We need to be kept warm and cool; we need artificial protection of all kinds, from clothes and sunscreen to armored tanks and bike helmets. We have few anatomically-given ways to avoid being wounded, but we have psychological weapons in spades. We have sarcasm and introversion, indifference and aggression. We have pride and arrogance. But none of them keep us from being injured in the first place. The wounding always comes first. We grow our armor later.

But hopefully, no matter how defensive we become, there remain chinks in our armor, ways we can still be wounded, and places where we are vulnerable. Wounding frequently draws blood, but sometimes it is the only way we know we are still alive: by feeling something coursing through our veins, filling our hearts and spilling over.

I would rather be wounderful than wonderful any day. In the first place, I am approachable; I am human and in some way, beautiful in my pop’s eyes. In the second, I am plastic, perhaps pleasant, but never vulnerable, which is the essence of humanity.

If you have the choice, if you are brave enough, be wounderful. It’s the only way to truly experience this brutiful world.