The Best is Yet to Be

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

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

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

The one ahead, I answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

“Grow old along with me!

 The best is yet to be,

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

Our times are in His hand

who saith, ‘A whole I planned,

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

 

 

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

College-Bound in the Time of Charlottesville

About this time two years ago, Tim and I took our eldest child, Keara, to college for the first time. It was a tough day for all of us, and it brought back a lot of memories of another “leaving day” that I had experienced twenty-five years earlier. You can read about it here.  Even when we heal, there are parts of a broken heart that will always be more tender. But two weeks ago, on a midweek morning, with no fanfare, Keara packed up a car and headed back to her third year at CSULB. What a difference 700 (or so) days make! With the day already at 90+ degrees, even a long hug was out of the question, so I stood in the street and waved goodbye as she drove away with David Bowie blasting out the car window

But that doesn’t mean this Fall will be easy. In a few days, child #2 is moving out and heading to college about 100 miles away. This time, it feels just the same and totally different. The same part is that it’s a portion of my heart walking out the door and setting up residence in another jurisdiction. You learn to function that way, but you walk with a limp for a while. The different part is that it’s Finn. If you don’t know what I mean, check out my post from June. The house will be quieter, less fun-loving and jokey, but just less loving too. When Finn’s been out of the house at dinner time this past year, Tim, Molly and I have kind of looked at each other sideways across the table, each of us thinking, “Just the three of us, huh?”

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Graduation Day: Finn and Dr. Renfree, principal of Serra High School

Molly probably feels the most anxious about the 40% population drop, a little ripped off by her change of circumstance.  I was the “big sister” in my family and never experienced the sense of abandonment that the younger ones must go through as siblings move out on their own, one after another. However, Molly is thrilled with Finn’s decision to move in with my parents and attend junior college for two years before transferring to San Luis Obispo.  For one thing, it’s 200 miles closer; for another, he can’t dictate (exactly) when she can and cannot visit him. She’s got her own key to Grandma’s house! She adores her big brother and some of the most tender moments in the hospital this last Spring were when he sat by her bedside. No matter how she felt, Finn always got a smile.

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February 2017

A mama knows that the fabric of her family will eventually be stretched by time and distance (and other things), so she spends the first decades of her kids’ lives stitching them together, so that when the bonds are tested, the Love of her family will stay strong. Undoubtedly, some of the threads will come loose and the edges will fray, but she prays the integrity of what she’s woven will hold.

With that in mind, I approached this summer with the goal of creating as many opportunities as I could for the five of us to be together, tightening the threads, and stockpiling enough hugs and laughter to last us for the months (or weeks) that might pass before we are together again. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t, but there were beach days, dinners out, movie nights, evening body surfing sessions, Scrabble games, Slurpee runs to 7-11, conversations across the table, sing-a-longs in the car, and Snapchat videos shared.

Every once in a while, I would find myself wondering – a little anxiously if I’m honest – “Has it been enough? Have I been enough? Have I done enough before I let them go? Will our fabric hold?” It takes a lifetime for those answers to unfold, but I was getting all teary-eyed thinking about how my time of biggest impact was coming to a close.

And then Keara left.

And then the date of Finn’s departure neared.

And then Charlottesville (and our President) happened.

And then my tears dried up.

I’ve got nothing to cry about.

(I’m not saying I won’t cry, or that there’s anything wrong with crying about our kids leaving, but it gave me some serious perspective.)

My son is going to be just fine, and there are so many things in our world that are not fine at all.

I’ve raised a white, middle-class, soon-to-be college-educated young man in a two-parent American, “Christian” home. He has been privileged in every way his whole life. Of course he’s worked hard and honed his skills, but every door has been opened for him, except the ones we couldn’t afford (but those were few and far between and he didn’t need them anyway). Every step of the way, from parents to teachers, coaches to employers, police to waiters, he has been given the benefit of the doubt, not just because of the color of his skin, but because of the smile on his face, the kindness and confidence he exudes, the vocabulary he’s developed (in part from having two parents with multiple college degrees between them).

All of it comes “naturally” to him and that’s a form of privilege.

So is that fact that he can wear clothes from Goodwill, and loiter in the local park with his friends all hours of the day and night without “concerned” neighbors calling the cops.  So is the fact that he can go to school for the next two years without taking out a loan. So is the fact that when he needs a job, we can call upon dozens of professional connections to help him get a foot in the door. So is the fact that he can “follow his heart” and pursue a career in photography. If it all goes belly up, he’s got some money in the bank and many, many places to land.

To be sure, he isn’t guaranteed a damn thing. He is going to have to bust his ass to make his dreams come true. He may fail many times, but this kid has multiple choices and multiple chances to succeed. Anything he accomplishes will be based, not just on his own talent, grit, hard work and luck, but also because the world welcomes him with open arms as a straight, white man and that’s privilege.

Last week, when everything in Charlottesville went down, Tim and I had Finn to ourselves on a 20+ hour road back from Montana. It was a gift to have so much time with him, right before he leaves the nest. We talked race, religion, politics, enneagram, technology, social media, national parks and the environment, our dreams, fears and failures. We offered our takes and heard his and I have to say, I am less worried about him than ever. I believe in him – his talent, skills, vision and work ethic, but most especially, his heart.

I haven’t posted anything about Charlottesville, because I didn’t want to add my voice to the fray. There were so many good, and important things being said by people who were there and people who have wrestled with these issues their whole lives, people like Brené Brown and Brian McLaren and  Ruby Sales, among countless others.

But I do want to highlight two voices I came across that were kind of hidden away, but are every bit as worthy of wide-scale attention.

The first is a bit of parenting advice from Brian Vincent from Farmville, Virginia, a born and bred Southerner, who contributed to a forum on BitterSoutherner.com.

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“As I looked at my girls this morning, I remembered that I have the most potent weapon against this kind of ugliness, right at my fingertips. We can Raise Warriors. We can raise children who speak out in defense of love, and denounce hate at every turn. We can combat a long history of calculated disparagement of ‘others’ by educating and reminding our children of this country’s history, while emphatically celebrating its diversity.

Step your game up. Engage in the uncomfortable waters of contentious conversation. Fight back with sharp intellect, and a heart filled with fierce morality. Teach your children that this war will not be won with physical combat, but with a spiritual warrior’s discipline and adherence to love. Be bold.”

@The Bitter Southerner

The second is from the Native American award-winning poet,  and author, Sherman Alexie. His brilliant poem, HYMN, was written just days ago. You can find the whole thing here, and I hope you’ll take the time to read it, but here is an excerpt to get you started.


It’s too easy to keep a domestic score.
This world demands more love than that. More.

So let me ask demanding questions: Will you be
Eyes for the blind? Will you become the feet

For the wounded? Will you protect the poor?
Will you welcome the lost to your shore?

Will you battle the blood-thieves
And rescue the powerless from their teeth?

Who will you be? Who will I become
As we gather in this terrible kingdom?

My friends, I’m not quite sure what I should do.
I’m as angry and afraid and disillusioned as you.

But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist.
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist

To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.

I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.

I will sing honor songs for the unfamiliar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.

I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.

I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.

And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.

I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.

We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.

We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.

Finn gets it. He knows he’s got a head start and that to judge, dismiss, divide and denigrate others is a bullshit way to make it in the world. What do the gospels say? “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from him who has been entrusted with much, even more will be demanded.” We have been given so freakin’ much, we’ve got to start giving back, somehow, in some way. Maybe Finn won’t in big ways for a while, but the fact that he gave me the “okay” to publish this is a start. He’s just a kid after all, but I’m the adult and I’ve got to step up my game.

Welcome to the world, Class of 2017.

I’ve known some of you since the day you were born and I’ve watched you grow up, go to school, play sports and skateboard in my front yard. I’ve surfed and studied and supped with you. I’ve watched you float and falter like all kids do. I have fallen in love with your hearts and witnessed your potential to change the world, so get to school; get to work; get to learning how to Love. We’re counting on you.

 

The North Star of Love

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.

 

My Funny Valentine

Yesterday was a day for writing love letters, which was convenient, since today is Valentine’s Day. But I don’t mean I was writing obligatory cards. Rather, my heart was just full – full of love and gratitude for a bunch of people in my life. Some of them probably expected to get a card from me, but I imagine at least a half dozen didn’t. I hadn’t written to them before and I don’t know if I will again, but this year, for some reason, I just thought, “I Love them,” so I went ahead and did it.

I think it’s because of the big Love I’m feeling these days for my youngest daughter Molly Grace. In about a week’s time, she will be having surgery to treat scoliosis with a procedure called “spinal tethering.” It’s a couple days in the hospital, followed by a couple weeks at home, followed by a couple months in a back brace. Though it was a difficult decision, we are confident it’s the right plan and that we have the right doctor. Still, as the date approaches, a low-grade anxiety is permeating our home. And when that happens, whenever Fear appears, I try to double down on Love.

Which is why I am so grateful I encountered this yesterday in the center of a book on my nightstand:

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I don’t remember where I got the card, but I’m glad I kept it. It surfaces every once in a while, seemingly just when I need to be reminded of the Love I need to give or receive myself. In this case, it’s both. I need to help Molly feel ultimately protected, and safe “in the hollow” of my arms, but I also need to trust that I am being held in the same way. We cannot offer to others what we do not have ourselves. So each morning, as I sit in Centering Prayer, I return my attention over and over again to Love, the ultimate source of my existence. I get up knowing that it is the ultimate action I can take, however it manifests itself that day.

It’s pretty easy to know how to Love on Valentine’s Day, a card, a heart, a bunch of flowers, but on other days, those answers aren’t so clear. How can we act in Love when we’re afraid of (and for) the people we encounter, the decisions we make and outcomes that are beyond our control? But today and every day, I try to come back to this:

Fear does not get to have the final word.

Next week, when I watch my girl go into surgery, I know I will be afraid. Fear will be sitting in the waiting room with me, making small talk with Tim and pacing the halls. But I also know we offered ourselves the antidote to that fear when we named her fifteen years ago: Molly Grace.

Grace.

Outpouring Love. Undeserved forgiveness. Divine presence and strength. Inner beauty.

Love stronger than Fear.

Today, Love in a way that is easy and light, but tomorrow, try to Love into a place that has been dominated by fear. You don’t know where it will take you, but I promise it will be better than where you are.

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Molly Grace and I at her final water polo game last week. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fifth Word: TRUST, as in “TRUST me, ENCHANTMENT, I’ve got this.”

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I can’t believe that what took only one day for Liz Gilbert and Rob Bell to unpack at a creativity conference has taken me two months to write about. Call it laziness; call it summer vacation; call it what you will, but we are in the home stretch!

First we had COURAGE; then there was ENCHANTMENT. We were tasked with PERSISTENCE, before we received PERMISSION.

And the fifth word is TRUST.

TRUST is hard to come by these days. The world doesn’t seem like a trustworthy place. Presidential politics and police brutality, terrorism and terrible news dominate our airwaves. If you’re paying attention to the outside world, it seems there is little we can place our TRUST in.

But according to LG and RB, there is one thing you can TRUST, today and always. You can “TRUST that your life is always talking to you,” but not in that masochistic, “Everything-happens-for-a-reason” kind of way. Absolutely not, but what they would argue is that everything that happens is saying something to you.

That something might be really loud and clear, or it might be a whisper you have to listen closely for. It might not even be obvious right off the bat. It might take ten days, or even ten years before you smack yourself on the head like someone in the V-8 commercial and finally get the message.

But you know what? If you look back over the last ten, twenty, or forty years of your life, it has probably been giving you the same message all along. I know that’s true for me. Throughout our lives, we keep asking the same questions and our lives keep giving us the same answers, albeit in different ways. The problem is that we aren’t listening; we don’t TRUST our lives, as much as we TRUST the louder voices – those of media and culture and the ads on TV.

Let’s be clear though, even if we TRUST that the Universe is talking to us, we cannot expect that nothing bad will ever happen, because it will! We will fail; the people we love will get sick; we might lose everything. The Universe is not a particularly safe place, but what I do TRUST is that my life means something and that humanity is going somewhere. We may have evolved physically from primates, but we are evolving consciously, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually from that place too! It is a slow and painful process, but it is “in process.” On this day, Rob Bell claimed, and I have to agree, that the Christ mystery affirms that there is an animating force that holds the universe together and is always evolving towards greater wholeness. If we TRUST in that, the rest of the pieces fall into place more easily.

The question, then for Liz Gilbert becomes: “Are you TRUSTWORTHY?”

Can your life TRUST you to listen, or are you like a grumpy old man, turning up the TV set to tune out his wife of fifty years?

Can your hands be ENTRUSTED with your life’s work?

Can your ENCHANTMENT TRUST you? (If you forgot what ENCHANTMENT is, that’s my bad for taking so long. You can review the definition here.)

That’s the crux of the matter and the topic of the next letter LG asked us to write. Our ENCHANTMENT may have shut up, or shut down, because it was tired of being ignored. Who keeps talking when no one is listening? (That’s a rhetorical question by the way. We all know someone!) So, LG asked us to write a letter to our ENCHANTMENT, promising that it could TRUST us.

While the previous letters were written from different parts of our psyches to us, this letter was our opportunity to respond to our ENCHANTMENT. This letter was written to say that if it piped up, we would honor what it had to say. We would work to be worthy of its time and the gifts it had to offer. Here’s my letter:

Dear Ali’s ENCHANTMENT:

You can TRUST me. I read the letter you wrote to me and you’re right! We do our best work together and I promise to do my best to not let FEAR come between us, even FEAR disguised as “good decision-making.” The people in my life, the ones I Love and trust the most, affirm me when I am open to and working with you. You, ENCHANTMENT, Mystery, Holy Spirit, bring me to life, make me whole and give me all I have to offer the world. “Enchanted Ali,” we have some hard work ahead of us to do, but I will try to make sure I am doing it with you. I will let the chips fall where they may. If I am rejected or fail, I will get still and silent. I will return to you, that which brings me Love, energy and joy, the greatest gifts I have to offer the world. Though I may fail and fall, you can TRUST me to try again.

Ali

P.S. I will keep pushing my kids towards their ENCHANTMENT too!

After we completed our letter and some people shared their responses, LG wanted to give us a final pep talk about what a creative life, partnering with out ENCHANTMENT might cost us and why we should do it any way.

This was one of her key points. So many of us, women especially, struggle to TRUST ourselves and keep looking to outside and often untrustworthy sources for affirmation and advice. Thanks patriarchy! I know I’ve spent way too long looking for male approval for my actions, often from my father, but also from too many men in clerical collars who purported to speak for the mythical Big Man himself! (That is not to say that God is a myth, but that our hyper-masculinization of God certainly is!)

Living creatively and curiously – for both men and women – means we look first and foremost to ourselves and the lessons from our own life for guidance. It isn’t about rejecting outside wisdom; it’s about not rejecting our own. How much could we learn from our mistakes and the moments when we got it right? What would our instincts tell us if we actually learned their secret language – the one of sinking guts, tingling palms, and fluttering hearts – instead of pretending we didn’t understand? That’s the kind of TRUST we need to live more boldly and authentically.

As I wrote this post, I found myself thinking that it sounded good in theory, but was it actually true? Could my ENCHANTMENT TRUST me to do what I promised in that letter? I started thinking about the times in my life when I have listened to my ENCHANTMENT and we were able to foil the voices of the priests, and principals, and even the loving parents who so frequently dominated my inner dialogue.

I think the critical lesson came when I was 19 and found myself pregnant, accidentally of course. I wasn’t in the habit of sleeping around, but it wasn’t with someone I loved either. Culture called for abortion. Catholicism called for adoption. I chose the latter and at first put on the requisite sackcloth of guilt and shame that accompanied my status. “I am a sinner,” I thought, “used goods. The loss of my child is penance for my profligacy with my body.” While I was pregnant, I planned to hide inside, read books, and develop a love for cats (because clearly I was going to be an old spinster with a dozen of them.) I even moved to a “secret location” to avoid pregnancy detection, but here’s the funny thing. Once I was ensconced in a place where no one knew who I was, or how I was supposed to feel, ENCHANTMENT started to work its magic. I forgot to be ashamed of myself. I made friends; I laughed; I went to the beach in a bikini and I met a bunch of guys who worked at a local surf shop. In fact, I FELL IN LOVE with one of them. I was EIGHT MONTHS PREGNANT and I had a new boyfriend! How do you explain that besides MAGIC?!?!

To be clear, I wasn’t having the time of my life, but my life took this time to tell me something.

Everything was going to be okay – not perfect, not what I had planned –  but maybe even better if I TRUSTED my instincts, not my FEAR.

I chose Sarah’s parents, people who had careers and a life I had never imagined for myself. But I was drawn by their open-hearted smiles and their obvious Love for each other and to this day our relationship is marked by patience, openness and gratitude.

Though it seemed like foolishness to many, I married that boy I fell in love with as a pregnant teenager and we’ve raised three more children together. Out of the 9,000+ days we’ve spent side by side, I’ve maybe only regretted it for five of them (and not even whole days at that).

Tierrasanta, the “secret location” I went to run away from my problems, became my hometown. I thought it was a temporary stop, but somehow it became the place I put down roots and raised my family.

When I look back at that time of my life, it feels like it was ENCHANTED, like everything that could happen for my good did happen. And all of it came about because I failed, not because I did it right! I was drunk and careless and I could have died – either of alcohol poisoning or AIDS (early nineties folks!) – but I got lucky and then I didn’t  follow other people’s rules. Instead, I got quiet and I let my soul speak and this is what it asked me:

“What would Love do?”

Love would have the baby.

Love would give her up to parents who already Loved and wanted her, before she even existed.

Love would fall in Love despite the circumstances.

Love would keep on Loving, through the ups and downs, the good times and bad, the richer and poorer, the sickness and health.

Love would fall in Love over and over and over again.

Love would honor each person for the best of who they are and forgive them for all they are not – or not yet.

Love would never end.

That’s how I know when it’s my ENCHANTMENT asking the questions and giving me the answers. It always, only, ever wants to Love and then Love some more.

FEAR never tells us to Love, though some people get confused. They stay when they should go; they cling when they should release; they suffer in misery and degradation and call that love. That kind of “love” is really just FEAR in the drag of romance and codependency.

I earned my soul’s TRUST at that time in my life. I heard the whisper of a Love song and turned it into a full-bodied dance, but I haven’t always done it so well. I turn 45 next month and over the course of the last two decades, I have forgotten many times to listen to that Love song. Days and weeks and months go by where I am out of step and off-key, using a lot of jazz hands and pirouettes to cover up my confusion. Eventually, I’m so exhausted by the hustle I have no choice, but to settle down and listen to my heart, which reminds me to Love and let go of the rest. Suddenly, I breathe easier. My moves become more graceful; my smile isn’t forced. Shoulders back, head up, heart open in gratitude, I make a mental note:

Dear ENCHANTMENT,

I think I’m getting the hang of it.

TRUST me.

A-

The Fourth Word: PERMISSION, or “Go Ahead and Get Started”

 

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The fourth word at our creativity conference with Elizabeth Gilbert and Rob Bell was PERMISSION.

(If you are just getting started, you can go review the first three words: COURAGEENCHANTMENT,or  PERSISTENCE by clicking on the word.)

Every place has a set of rules, a code of conduct and expectations. We find them in our schools, churches, families, and culture. No matter where we are, we know what’s okay and what’s not, what will get us affirmation, or draw condemnation. And if we don’t know, we figure it out pronto.

This was certainly true in my house growing up. We were “good kids” and “good Catholics” and those simple descriptors came with a whole list of “dos and don’ts.” They covered everything from our physical appearance to religious practices, academic expectations to moral obligations, but I’m not complaining. In my childhood home, I learned about hard work, critical thinking, the importance of family and the steadfastness of the Spirit. In fact, I’m trying to pass those traditions on to my own kids as well.

But I’m also trying to leave a couple things behind, like shame about my body, sexuality and femininity, as well as my fear of speaking up to authority. I don’t believe those were values my parents’ consciously chose to give me. For the most part, they were just transmitted from their own cultural and religious upbringing right on down to us.

But what I have learned while making my own home and my own rules is that we will never move forward, or evolve if we don’t transgress the rules and expectations of those around us. Those norms exist to stabilize the social order, not to aid the flourishing of human consciousness. If we want to grow up, become adults in the truest sense of the word, we have to challenge what we are told. We have to decide what works for us and what doesn’t and for that, apparently, we need PERMISSION.

Unfortunately, too many of us think PERMISSION comes from an outside source. We spend years, sometimes even decades, waiting for an authority figure to tell us that we can challenge what we were taught, but it’s not true. We are the adults and we have the inner authority to make those decisions! We are the ones who sign the permission slip, not the ones who have to work up the courage to ask if we can go on the field trip!

In the decade since she published Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert said the single thing people seek from her most often is PERMISSION. She gave herself PERMISSION to shake up her life, and they want her to give them PERMISSION as well.

  • Can I leave my unhappy marriage?
  • Can I not have kids?
  • Can I travel alone?
  • Can I go back to school and pursue my dream?
  • Can I be spiritual, but not religious?
  • Can I listen to my heart and soul and NOT just the people around me?

Obviously, LG says, YOU CAN, but should you? That’s the real question.

But you’ll never ask the real question if you don’t think you have PERMISSION to do so.

Let me just say, along with Elizabeth Gilbert and Rob Bell, you have PERMISSION!

You have PERMISSION to take every belief, value, assumption and stereotype out of your mental closet. You can hold them; turn them over; find out where they came from. Do they still deserve pride of place in your mind and heart? Does the ideal you’re clinging to still align with what you know to be true of yourself and the world around you? Is that belief/value/assumption still serving you? How about those around you? How would your life look differently if you let it go?

LG and RB have both rearranged their mental, emotional and spiritual furniture many times over the last decade and I have never seen two people who live so joyfully and compassionately in such spacious houses. I’m still working on my remodeling job, but it’s getting roomier all the time.

I’ve gotten rid of a fair amount of rigid Catholic doctrine and more than a few pieces of false Christianity – all of which served to keep some people in and put some people out – outside of Love, connection and worthiness, which is totally unacceptable to me today, but totally normal to me in my younger years. I keep pulling out ideas I have about what it means to be a good parent and to raise successful kids. (In both cases, perfection has transformed into intention, effort and execution.) As I reach middle age, I find myself again questioning what it means to be happy, healthy and put-together. (Again perfection has given way to grateful, present efforting) and I keep re-evaluating my relationship to FEAR and how it informs my decisions. (A daily reminder: FEAR is there for risk assessment, not project management!)

Each time I put one of my beliefs back on the shelf, it’s been adjusted. It’s less rigid, more flexible and ultimately stronger. It’s been through a refining process, getting rid of what was unnecessary, or did not resonate with my hard-earned knowledge and experience of the world and the God who made it.

But there’s a caveat if you are going to start a remodeling process of your own! “Waking up,” becoming more conscious, whatever you want to call it – is likely to generate some negative feelings. If you step out of your familial, or cultural norms, you are going to meet  resistance – even if  you are moving towards something that is intrinsically good for you and the world. Think about the first kids to question segregation in the South – not a popular change of view with their parents! Galileo was arrested; Darwin was denounced; Jesus was crucified! Institutions, corporations, and the people you love might condemn you, but you have PERMISSION to break the rules in order to live a fuller, more authentic life. And the bottom line is that you can spend time explaining your process to those around you, or not.

For the people I Love and whom I know Love me, I take the time. My mother and I have had many heartfelt conversations about the teachings of the traditional Catholic Church, especially those I no longer agree with, like their stance on homosexuality, female ordination, and the legitimacy of patriarchy. My father and I talk quite frequently about the US educational system, white privilege and politics. Tim and I battled for years over how to parent out kids and we still debate our family finances, marital expectations, and professional goals. Over and over again, we take out our positions and try to identify what needs to stay, because it is of ULTIMATE IMPORTANCE to both of us, and what needs to go, because it is simply a carry-over from our family of origin, or cultural expectations. These aren’t always easy conversations, but I can’t imagine not having them. When we make a decision, it has both of our signatures on the bottom line.

Elizabeth Gilbert made it clear that she is happy to keep handing out PERMISSION slips to people who ask for them, but what she would truly love is for people to find the inner authority to write their own PERMISSION slip. Each and every one of us can set ourselves free from the messages, beliefs, and narratives that limit us and keep us from living authentically.

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To that end, the fourth letter LG asked us to write was from the Boss, the greatest authority figure in our lives. It could be our father, mother, priest, rabbi, pastor, or elementary school principal. When we do something that we know “they” won’t approve of, who is the “they?” That’s the voice we’re channeling here. There is no greater, or higher authority than the person who is writing this letter and this person is giving you a PERMISSION slip to ask questions, to be who you are, to keep growing up so you can live the fullest life possible.

This is how the letter begins:

Dear _______________:

I am your Principal and you have PERMISSION to:

While I hate to disappoint, I cannot transcribe my original letter here in full. I have finally reached my threshold for vulnerability and embarrassment. A few lines are all I can offer.

Dear Ali:

I am your Principal and you have PERMISSION to:

Be yourself and Love yourself. …

You are free to NOT listen to all the voices in your head about what is worthy to do.…

You are free to be thin-skinned and not muscle through. ….

You can move at your own pace….

Everything does not have to be “just right” for everything to be okay…

Sincerely,

ALK,  The Boss of You

At first I didn’t think I needed another PERMISSION slip. I signed my first one long ago, when I was nineteen, single and pregnant. I had transgressed all the rules about what it meant to be a good, Catholic girl, so I started making up my own and guess what? They all began with Love and still do to this day. (You can catch up on part of my adoption story here.) But I have to admit, writing this letter was helpful anyway. Anything we can do to step into greater freedom and away from fear is a win in my book. And I hope you will write yourself a PERMISSION slip and see what you get to do next!

The Third Word: PERSISTENCE or the Art of Showing Up in Three Parts

 

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I feel a little sheepish to be introducing the third word in this series, PERSISTENCE, after a three-week delay. However, without PERSISTENCE, there would be no #Signs of Love at all, much less this much-delayed post.

(You can catch up here with the first two words: COURAGE and ENCHANTMENT .)

Part One: The Background

I love the practicality of this word. According to Rob Bell, PERSISTENCE is the engine of just about everything. Nothing in the world would get done without it. Books wouldn’t get written; companies wouldn’t last; marriages would fall apart. The fact that we exist at all is due to our evolutionary drive to just keep going. A spark might get us started, but without PERSISTENCE, we’d stay right where we are.

Of course, we need to find that spark in the first place, that particular something worth our time and effort. Rob Bell introduced the word ikigai, a Japanese word for “that which gets you up in the morning” to describe that impetus. Once we find that passion, or purpose, PERSISTENCE will follow. Sure, setbacks make us want to give up, but when we find ourselves lagging, we can return to that original question. What gets me up in the morning? People give up, because they are pursuing something other than their ikigai, or they don’t what it is yet. It is living out of your purpose, that makes you PERSISTENT.

Now, if you are thinking this sounds a little “pie in the sky,” you might be right, which is why it was helpful to have Elizabeth Gilbert there to hit us with the reality stick.

For her, PERSISTENCE is a total grind most of the time. That’s why we call it PERSISTENCE! If it were easy, we would call it “Fun!” and we would do it all the time. But things are hard, so we don’t. Each of us has a history of not following through on people and projects. Our lives are littered with unfinished things – personal and professional – and we can carry a lot of shame about those things. But when we beat ourselves up over it, we tend to believe that we are undisciplined losers, who have never persisted in anything in our whole lives, which LG assured her audience was NOT TRUE!

The third letter LG asked us to write at the creativity conference was from our PERSISTENCE. “Ask it to give you a pep talk,” she said, “and remind you of all the things you have accomplished together – the mundane and the momentous.” That letter would help us counteract the story we tell ourselves about our ability to follow through: “There are many things you do DO. Look at them all.”

Part Two: The Letter

So here is my letter from PERSISTENCE. Much like the others, I find it embarrassing and if I didn’t believe in the power of vulnerability, I wouldn’t be sharing it with all of you.

Dear Ali:

I am your PERSISTENCE and this is damn sure what I want you to know about me: I exist! You are fiercely persistent. I may not be bombastic and loud, but I show up every single day! I get you out of bed in the morning to pray, to learn, to stand before God, to make breakfasts and healthy lunches for your family – all before 7:00 am. To kiss and hug your kids, even when they are bugging the crap out of you. You make your family food – you shop and prepare it. You take care of the house and the laundry. You exercise. You raise good kids, the hard way, in ways that no one else sees. You remember other people’s stories, even the details, and you follow up with them to see how they are doing, because it matters to you. You write thank you cards for goodness sake! You read hard books most people haven’t even heard of and then you connect them to your life and try to make them relevant to others. You prioritize your marriage and the romance that sustains it. You willingly choose to hang out with 14 year old girls on Tuesday nights and you do it all with a smile on your face and Love and joy in your heart. You are disciplined enough to know that your own happiness doesn’t mean a damn thing if you can’t contribute to the happiness and wholeness of others.

You’re welcome,

PERSISTENCE

Sigh.

At the time, I felt proud of my list. Today, it feels silly.

In part, that’s why it’s taken so long to publish this essay. I was all set to go, then Alton Sterling was killed, then Philando Castile, then the Dallas police officers. I didn’t know what to say. What difference in the world does my own little PERSISTENCE make in the face of a world gone mad? Last week, new waves of terror began: Baghdad, Nice, Germany, and then more violence in our own home: Baton Rouge, Kansas City, Miami. Where will it be tomorrow? What could I possibly say?

Almost nothing, except this.

Part Three: The Love

Through obstacles and distractions, victories and heartaches, PERSISTENCE is the virtue of showing up; it is the ultimate act of “keep on keepin’ on” and it doesn’t get nearly enough credit. That is what I re-learned about PERSISTENCE last week while Tim and the kids and I were at Family Retreat.

As I prepared my talk for Thursday morning, I remembered my true ikigai. My purpose on earth (and yours too ultimately) is to Love. Over the course of my lifetime, my ikigai will take a hundred different forms, but currently it means making meals, hanging out with teenagers and writing this blog. And as much as my FEAR and ego like to tell me otherwise, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that. Thank God PERSISTENCE is there to remind me that I just have to show up and do what I do.

The theme for this year’s Family Retreat was “Love is…” and I had asked them to call my talk, “Love is Fearless,” but with everything happening in the world that title didn’t really work for me, because choosing to Love is actually pretty scary and no matter how much we Love, we will still be afraid. The world is a scary place and bad things happen to good people –Loving and kind people. But Love allows us to face our fears and act in spite of them. Love means doing what is necessary to create more wellness, more wholeness, more HOLYNESS for ourselves and those around us – in our own home and in the world.

Love is what we were made for and Love is what we are here for.

And we know that to create those things – health, wholeness, holiness – we have to show up! Of course, we’re happy to show up for the good things, but we’ve got to stay put for the hard things too – the things we’d rather NOT show up for, the ones that involve pain, disappointment, embarrassment, and hard truths we’d rather lie to ourselves about. There are many things in our lives we’d like to run away from, but that’s not Love, because it lacks PERSISTENCE.

On the first day of Family Retreat, I read the passage from 1 Corinthians 13 on Love. Maybe you’ve heard it before? It goes something like this, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” If you’ve never read the chapter, dig in, because it is good stuff.

The Love that Paul describes is not the wimpy kind of Love we’re used to giving and receiving. This is next-level Love. This Love is MUSCULAR. It is ROBUST. It is HEARTY. It is PERSISTENT. This Love is COURAGEOUS.

We need look no further than Jesus on the night before he died to see the COURAGE and PERSISTENCE of Love. Was he afraid in the Garden? Absolutely. He sweated blood. I don’t think any of us has ever been that terrified. And what did he ask of God, the ultimate source of Love he had come from, drawn on and trusted in his whole life? In that moment, Jesus asked for a pass! He was afraid, like you and I would be, and he asked to not have to show up. He said, “If it is your will, let this cup pass from me.” And then what did Jesus do?

He showed up! He got up and he walked out – unarmed, and vulnerable – knowing he was going to lose his life, his reputation, his friends – and he trusted in LOVE to see him through it – all the way through the pain and the fear and the trauma of rejection and the hardship that he would face in the following hours.

And Love let him walk through it. That’s the part we wish weren’t true. When Love wins, it can still feel like losing.

Love doesn’t excuse us from anything, but Love allows us face ALL things – with our heads up, even as our hearts and sometimes our bodies are battered. When we choose to Love as Jesus did, all things can be redeemed. I believe that with all my heart.

Thank you, PERSISTENCE, for reminding me what I’m here for.

Today, if nothing else, I will show up to Love.

 

 

 

 

The Second Word: ENCHANTMENT: It’s Not Just for Fairies

This is part three of a seven-part series on Creative Living. To get caught up, read Part One: “Get a (Creative) Life”, and Part Two: The First Word: “FEAR, or Rather COURAGE.”

ENCHANTMENT is a funny word, old-fashioned and otherworldly. It reminds me of fairy stories, and William Blake’s poetry. As soon as Liz Gilbert introduced the word, you could almost feel the room get awkward, and a little skeptical. To go from COURAGE and FEAR, such straightforward, active words to such whimsical nonsense seemed like a non sequitur. But because it was Elizabeth Gilbert and Rob Bell and we had paid a lot of money to hear what they had to say, we tried (and some of us failed) to keep an open mind.

ENCHANTMENT is a concept that we might use other words to describe more comfortably – words like our curiosity, soul, spirit, our True Self, or passion. Ultimately, no matter what we call it, ENCHANTMENT is the part of us that knows we are here to do something more than pay bills and die. ENCHANTMENT knows we are here for some particular reason and wants to do something about it. Unlike FEAR, ENCHANTMENT is comfortable with not knowing or having all the answers. It asks us to take risks.

The voice of ENCHANTMENT is subtle, which makes it a little trickier to hear. If FEAR uses a bullhorn, ENCHANTMENT speaks in a whisper. While it is persistent, it is never pushy. And here’s the rub: unlike FEAR, ENCHANTMENT can be silenced, so it needs to be protected from internal and external aggressors, like FEAR, efficiency, and our consumer culture. To gain the wisdom and gifts ENCHANTMENT has to offer, we need to create space in our lives for it to thrive and grow.

LG, a best-selling and award-winning author, has spent the last twenty years of her life learning to listen and play with her ENCHANTMENT. She knows what it wants to do and what it absolutely cannot do. It will fall asleep every time someone talks about money, or market share. ENCHANTMENT doesn’t care about outcome, or failure, or ego strokes. It thrives on experience and risk and joy. Consequences be damned! As soon as we pick ourselves up from our failures, ENCHANTMENT asks, “Can we do it again?”

ENCHANTMENT is the reason writers keep writing, artists keep painting, kids keep creating and we all keep falling in Love, over and over and over again.

Contrary to popular opinion, the voice of our ENCHANTMENT deserves more air time than we give it, so after writing a letter from our FEAR, LG wanted to make sure our ENCHANTMENT got its say. With less FEAR, but still some consternation, here is my letter from ENCHANTMENT:

Dear Ali:

I am your ENCHANTMENT and this is what I want to tell you. We love our time together. When you are with me, you are happy and immersed in your life and your work. Together, we let FEAR have its say and then it goes to sleep, because when you’re hanging out with me, you know it’s all going to be okay. When we are together, we write, we read, we walk at the beach (and yes! It’s always me who gets you in the car to go to the beach when life is bringing you to your knees and you need to smell the salty air and feel the sand between your toes. I know what you need to be healthy and whole and happy!) Most importantly, together, we fall more deeply into Love. You do your best work for the world and everyone in it when we are together.

Ali, I would always have you with me, but I know, or think, or consider that it might be too much sometimes. Is it? Is it magical thinking to believe that we are our best version of ourselves together? Is this work we do an appropriate use of time and resources for an adult? I hear you thinking this and I don’t know the answer. Is there such a thing as ENCHANTMENT strengthened by realism? How do I find the balance between being who I am and being a “real” grown up?

Love,

ME

Just as I recognized the voice of FEAR inside me, I recognized the voice of ENCHANTMENT as well. I KNOW her. I LOVE her. She makes me so happy. My best days on the planet have occurred when she was the only voice I heard. That doesn’t mean I was alone; it just means that there was no static, no noise distracting me from my purpose. On some of those days, I have been alone – reading and writing. On others, I have been surrounded by strangers, speaking and teaching on my favorite subjects – spirituality, literature and life. On some of those days, I have been swimming in the ocean, or lying on the sandy shore. On others, I have been holding the hand of the Love of my life, or hugging as many children as I possibly can. The common theme on every one of those days is that I was immersed in the deepest reality of who I am and what I was made for – to know and serve and be a source of Love (Joy/Freedom/Connection/Insight) to others. That is what my ENCHANTMENT offers me and what I, in turn, can offer the world around me.

Before LG and RB opened up the floor to questions, we had a few minutes to talk about what we wrote. I told my sister, Amy, about my letter and how it changed directions near the end. In the first half, ENCHANTMENT affirmed our work together; in the last half, it seemed worried that we do it too much. I didn’t really know what to make of it, but the concerns seemed reasonable and Amy agreed. However, we shrugged it off and headed back inside for the Q&A.

Right off the bat, a woman got up and admitted that her ENCHANTMENT was actually kind of a Debbie Downer. The letter was snarky, nihilistic, and full of ennui, with no real ideas about what could be new, or fun about anything. This woman’s ENCHANTMENT was a bummer, but HOT DAMN, LG got ferocious FAST.

As Liz struggled to stay in her seat, she asked Rob politely if he would mind if she went first and then she yelled,

“That wasn’t ENCHANTMENT speaking! That was FEAR in disguise! It put on a Groucho Marx mustache and came back in through your subconscious! FEAR will do that! It will put on a million disguises to try to fool you into taking orders. It comes as the voice of reason, boredom, nihilism, perfectionism. ENCHANTMENT knows none of those things!”

As LG’s profanity-laced rant went on, the woman just stood there kind of slack-jawed, like the rest of us, but we got it! Too many of us have no idea what our ENCHANTMENT would say. We can’t even make it up, so we quit before we even start.

We haven’t been taught to listen to the voice of our inner authority about who we are and what we Love. We’ve been trained to submit to the voices of religious, cultural, parental and peer authority. We’ve been taught to view every one of our actions through the filter of FEAR, rationality and effectiveness. We’ve been convinced that every investment of our time and energy should move our personal stock up and to the right. ENCHANTMENT doesn’t give a shit and as LG said those things, I realized that my own letter had also devolved into “FEAR in disguise” when the questions about balance and responsibility took over.

It’s not that they weren’t reasonable questions. It’s that it wasn’t the time for them! I had been asked to let my True Self, my passion, my soul and spirit have her say – for five minutes – and I couldn’t do it.

So this blog is, in part, an apology to my ENCHANTMENT and all she represents – the best, most life-giving part of me. I’m sorry I got scared and cut you off. I didn’t need to. Even when I let you have your say, I am still a rational, reasonable, responsible human being. You don’t turn me into a defunct adult, who doesn’t make good on her promises.

In the few minutes I gave her, my ENCHANTMENT told me the truth: We do DO our best work together! From my morning sits to my ridiculous dance parties, from my creative writing to my contemplative studying and teaching, from my out-loud living to my whole-hearted Loving – that is ENCHANTMENT casting it’s spell on me. And according to the people who love me, they wish I’d listen a little more often.

ENCHANTMENT doesn’t make me flaky; it makes me fun and funny. It doesn’t make me irresponsible; it makes me responsive to the needs of others. It doesn’t make me a loser; it makes me a Lover.

And I bet your ENCHANTMENT does the same thing for you; we just don’t give it the credit it’s due!

If you were willing to write a letter from your FEAR, I hope you’ll be willing to give your ENCHANTMENT equal time. It might not come as easily, but I promise it will be worth it. There is so much negativity, doubt and cynicism in our culture. We have to find a way to hold space for the alternative – for hope and joy and optimism. It is so much easier to know what we are against (our FEAR) than to articulate what we are for (our ENCHANTMENT).

PLEASE, take five minutes to let yourself be enchanted and listen to your heart speak about what kind of beautiful, loving, life-giving work you were made FOR.

Here’s the prompt:

Dear _______________:

I am your ENCHANTMENT and this is what I want to tell you.

 

I wanted to include a few image of my ENCHANTMENT and me, doing some of our finest work together.

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Leading a retreat on contemplation and Christian mindfulness for the De Marillac Academy in the Bay Area this Spring
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Cuddling with my very pregnant sister, Amy, her two daughters and Molly on a weekday afternoon
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Reading, writing and swimming at the beach last summer. If my academic work can be done anywhere, why not do it in the place that brings my soul the most joy? 
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A moment of solitude at St. James Cathedral in London. ENCHANTMENT tells me to stop in sacred places and be still, even in the midst of a busy vacation. 
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Tim, who is much more in touch with his FEAR, counts on my ENCHANTMENT to bring him out of his shell in social situations. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to have a photo booth to provide evidence that it does happen.  
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Finally, and perhaps most beautifully, my ENCHANTMENT leads me to find #SignsofLove everywhere I go and to spread the Love through social media. I get text messages and tags from people all over the world. From 4 to 84 year olds, from the US to the UK, from food to artwork, paper products to rocks, I receive more Love than I could have ever dreamed and I owe it all to my ENCHANTMENT and everyone else who acknowledges their own.

Where Does it Hurt? Everywhere.

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

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

The continued migrant drownings

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

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

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

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

 Hate has no world.

The people of hate must try

to possess the world of Love,

for it is the only world;

it is Heaven and Earth.

But as lonely, eager hate

possesses it, it disappears;

it never did exist,

and hate must seek another

world that Love has made.

With optimism, I wrote,

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

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

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

later that night

i held an atlas in my lap

ran my fingers across the whole world

and whispered

where does it hurt?

it answered

everywhere

everywhere

everywhere.

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

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

Yesterday, for a moment, I forgot the answer.

Today, despite my grief, I know.

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

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

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

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

This is time to embrace what Rilke taught:

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

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

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

  • The continued migrant drownings

(my ancestors who crossed the Atlantic to come here)

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

(my 14-year-old daughter)

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

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

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

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

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

(our gay daughter, friends and family members)

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

 

 

It’s Holy Week in Belgium

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“Thinking of Brussels and all of Belgium,” courtesy of Flavia Pennetta on Twitter.

I woke this morning, like all of you, to the news of the terrorist attacks in Belgium. I thought, as surely all of you did, “What can I do?”

What can any of us do?

As a practicing Catholic Christian, Holy Week gives me an answer.

I attended mass on Palm Sunday, just two days ago, where I heard the gospel writer Luke report that Jesus saw the city of Jerusalem and wept, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes…” Jerusalem was a stand-in for God’s chosen people, which Jesus knew included everyone.

Surely Jesus is weeping today – for Brussels, for Belgium, for the world, the victims and the perpetrators.

We do not know how to make peace. It eludes us at every turn. We have tried more sanctions and surveillance, anger, revenge, violence, and profiling to no avail. We have won individual battles, but we are losing the war. We have to find another way forward – at least in our own hearts, because that is where all lasting change comes – from the inside out and the bottom up. And I think about how Jesus acted during the final days of his life and it gives me a clue about where to begin.

The Buddhists have a term for individuals who act as Jesus did in the world, especially as he entered Jerusalem, knowing he was going to his death. They are called SPIRITUAL WARRIORS. 

A spiritual warrior is “one who combats the universal enemy; a heroic being with a brave mind and ethical impulse.” The spiritual warrior’s “only complete and right practice is that which compassionately helps other beings with wisdom.”

I believe that is how Jesus entered Jerusalem. He went, full of compassion for the brokenness of our world, in order to teach us another, wiser, way to be.

While some Christians cling to the idea that Jesus’ death paid our debt to God, I don’t see it that way. Honoring a divine blood price and human sacrifice sounds far more like something the Islamic terrorists would embrace than the God that Jesus’ humble, loving, and merciful life revealed.

Theologian Ronald Rolheiser wrote a beautiful alternative metaphor of how Jesus’ willing, sacrificial death might have accomplished the same purpose of universal love and salvation, but through an entirely different mechanism.

Jesus took away our sins in the same way a filter purifies water. A filter takes in impure water, holds the impurities inside of itself and gives back only the pure water. It transforms rather than transmits. We see this in Jesus. Like the ultimate cleaning filter, he purifies life itself. He takes in hatred, holds it, transforms it, and gives back Love. He takes in chaos, holds it, transforms it, and gives back order. He takes in fear, holds it, transforms it and gives back freedom. He takes in jealousy, holds it, transforms it and gives back affirmation. He takes in Satan and murder, holds them, transforms them and gives back only God and forgiveness.

This is it friends! This is how we can live like Jesus, no matter what our faith, or belief system, or even if we have none at all.

 In fact, I guarantee you are already doing it! Every time you act, instead of react; every time you hold your child’s fear, your friend’s anger, your life’s chaos, and give back something better, you are the holding tank and the filter of Love.

But in these difficult times, we have to crank up our internal filtering systems and start working overtime. We have to pay attention to what’s coming in and be intentional about what we are putting back out, because that is what a spiritual warrior does and that is what we are all called to be! Of course, some of us are called to be military warriors as well, to work on the front lines of defense against terror and violence, but we are still called first and foremost to be spiritual warriors, especially if we call ourselves Christians. Only by holding and transforming hate into Love as Jesus did will we meet the evil of this world with a more powerful force than itself. Remember what Paul affirms for us: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love NEVER fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:7. If Love appears to be failing, it is because we haven’t really tried it yet.

Mark Nepo says that the spiritual warrior is “someone who is committed to a life of transformation not knowing where it will take them, or what it looks like,” but that you can be sure “they have a crack in their heart, because that’s how the mysteries get in.” Jesus wept because his heart was full of cracks; it was broken open for all of humanity and we must allow the same to happen to us if we have any hope of being a part of the peace-making process in the world. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know we must begin there.

I had plans to commemorate Holy Week in church settings: to share Jesus’ last meal, recall his final words to his family and friends, and observe his persecution and death, but my piety has evaporated in the face of tragic reality. This week instead, I’m going to learn all I can about the victims of today’s bombings, the ones who ate their last meals and spoke their final words and walked to their deaths, not willingly, but betrayed, as Jesus was, by the worst of blind, ignorant, and fearful humanity. My faith demands that I hold them, as I would hold Jesus this week, in Love. I don’t know what difference it will make, but it is what the cracks in my heart ask me to do.

I know I quote Richard Rohr way too often, but he is so good and as always, he gave me a path forward just this week. In his daily meditation on Saturday, he wrote, “True spirituality is about keeping your heart space open. It is daily, constant work. The temptation is to close down: to judge and dismiss and hate and fear.” But if we are training to be spiritual warriors, we have to resist that temptation, because giving into it means deserting the work of God in the world, which is Love, mercy, reconciliation and healing. Richard goes on: “You have to work to live in Love, to have a generosity of spirit, a readiness to smile, a willingness to serve… Love is a choice. You have to deliberately, consciously, intentionally choose to stay connected through your practice to the Source of Love, which is the heart of God.”

Practice, warriors, practice! This week especially! Every time you remember, every moment you have to spare, let the cracks in your heart be a filter for Love. Breathe in the pain of the world and breathe out healing and wholeness. Breathe in the hate and breathe out forgiveness. Breathe in the judgment and breathe out compassion and mercy. Breathe in the toxicity, pain, and fear of humanity and breathe out Divine Love. And although I know we cannot bring new life to Belgium at the end of this Holy Week, we will be bringing new life to the world from the inside out.

In the words of one of my heroes, Carry On Warriors!

P.S. The list of the victims is very sketchy still, so I can not name any as of yet, but when I am able to find more information, I will try to update the blog, so perhaps you can hold them in your hearts with me during this Holy Week.