We Are Yours

On Saturday morning, I sat down to meditate for the first time in a long time and for the first time in an even longer time, I wanted to sit down and write.

Since Molly’s surgery for scoliosis on February 22, there has been a lot of doing, but not a lot of “sitting,” thinking, writing or anything else really. I have been “in the moment,” instead of worrying about it. And in that way, almost a month had flown by and I found myself wondering where it had gone.

It seems like it just went.

It went into the maze-like halls of the hospital with its fluorescent lighting, and the beeps, whirs and humming sounds that create an otherworldly time and space.

It went into hours of doing simple things that under normal circumstances take only minutes, things like showering, or eating a meal, or going to bed (by which I mean how one spends the night-time hours, not that you actually stay in bed).

It went into days on end of holding hands with a child, who was trying to lose herself in mindless TV, so she wouldn’t have to be present to the pain and anxiety that was present in her body.

It went into afternoons of reading out loud, coloring pictures, telling family stories, listening to music, or imagining the adventure we will go on when all this was over – somewhere warm and sunny and on the water.

In other words, this last month went by just loving Molly Grace.

But finally last Saturday morning, I sat alone, quietly and gratefully, for a full thirty minutes. The house was still asleep; there were no pills to organize, or meals to prepare. There was no place to be. There was just me and a Divine invitation to “be still.”

I sank into my favorite chair with a cup of coffee. From years of habit, my sacred phrase welled up from deep within.

“I am Yours,” my heart sighed and along with it came the reminder, “So is she.”

That was the phrase that came to me, during the long days and nights in the hospital, when I could not stop Molly’s pain, her vomiting, her hot flashes, or her tears. There was no time for formal meditation, but I would find myself sitting at her bedside, breathing deeply and intentionally.

Without a conscious thought, “I am Yours” became “She is Yours.” I would inhale and exhale those words, over and over again: “She is Yours. She is Yours. She is Yours,” a rhythmic prayer of Love and surrender, belonging and grace.

She is not (just) mine. She is not (in any way) alone. She belongs to God and God was holding her more closely in Love than I ever could. But in that prayer of letting go, I also recognized how intimately I was getting to hold on.

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My hands were the ones washing her face, spooning her ice chips, adjusting her pillows. My lips were the ones kissing her forehead as she slept. My voice was the one lulling her to sleep, telling her it was all going to be okay. My heart was the one beating next to hers. What a privilege it was to just be there, Loving her, however the need manifested itself. Though sometimes tired, or scared, or frustrated, my overwhelming emotion was deep, deep gratitude.

We would walk the halls and see children who would be there for weeks and months on end, whose injuries and illnesses were not some temporary disruption from their normal life; it was their normal life. I was grateful we were in the right place for a while and that soon enough, the right place would be home. I was grateful we had such compassionate, gentle nurses there with us and such loving and generous friends and family supporting us nearby.

I can’t tell you how many people were praying for Molly, but I can tell you how much we felt the power of their prayers. We might not have gotten what they asked, or hoped for, but we got exactly what we needed. We felt loved; we felt brave; we had the energy to face the challenges of each day and when we didn’t, we had a soft place to land and a shoulder to cry on. Though we saw only a handful of people in those weeks, we were never alone.

At a difficult time in my life, “I am Yours,” began as a plea to God to not forget me, but it has become a reminder to myself of who and whose I am. When distractions and difficulties arise during my sit (or in my life), “I am Yours” sets me free to return my attention to what I was made for – what we are all made for –to be in Loving relationship.¹ “She is Yours” became my prayer for Molly this past month, but “We are Yours” is my prayer for all of us, not because God has forgotten, but because we have.

While I was finishing this blog, I heard about the attack in London and it brought to mind the wise words of Mother Theresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

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We are Yours, God, and we are each other’s. Help us to remember.

Amen

  1. My favorite book about the Trinity and how the Divine relationship is the model for all relationship is The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell. It’s insightful, accessible and I highly recommend it!

Being Sent

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Graduation night with Richard Rohr, my teacher and hero

Disclaimer:

It’s been difficult for me to write after my last post about “The Conspiracy of the Universe,” about Sarah, adoption, and family. Those ideas are so big that writing about anything else feels small. My fear is that you’ll open this post thinking, “How’s she going to top that?”

The answer? I’m not.

I can’t top that story, but I can’t stop writing either, so I’m going to ask you to bear with me while I get this one, the one after the “good one,” out of the way.

 

“Being Sent”

 

Before the kids went back to school (8/24), before my 45th birthday (9/11), before the cosmically-engineered beach day (9/18), I celebrated another major milestone. On August 25, I was “sent” from The Living School for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM. While a graduation implies some kind of mastery over content, a “sending” is something else entirely. My “Sending Certificate” says it all:

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These words perfectly reflect the essence of my last two years of (in)formal education. As a cohort, we studied church history, the mystics, the ascetics, the prophets, cosmology, theology, spiral dynamics and non-dual consciousness. We read a lot; we wrote a little; we discussed much and I loved it all. I found friends and perhaps most importantly, I found a deeper, truer version of myself. It was liberating to know that I was going “all in” and that nothing else would be coming out. It freed me from the need to impress, or excel. I could just show up, do the work and trust that it would be enough.

But a lot of people have asked me why I did it, or what it was “for,” so I thought this might be a good place to try to explain.

From the time I was young, I had a sense that there was “something more” to faith than my religion teachers were telling me, more to it than the priests were letting on. I looked around at the people in the pews, just going through the motions, and I thought, “What’s the point if you don’t really mean it?” By the time I was a teenager, finding that “something more” and making it matter became a constant call in my life. I was always searching for meaning through books, at retreats and conferences, and in church communities. And each step of the way I found something deeper and truer about God and myself, so I just kept going.

One of my most transformative experiences was a retreat led by Paula D’Arcy, where she challenged me to get out of my head. As forty approached, she assured me, it was time to start working on transformation and integration, not just on the level of information. With her encouragement, I started my early morning walking meditations, body prayers and conversations with a spiritual director. I started sitting in silence, not always using my words to make sense of everything. (Believe it or not, I actually write far less now that I used to.)

When I applied to The Living School in 2013, I had other choices, including a traditional Catholic seminary, but my major criterion for deciding was this: I wanted to make it count. I was and continue to be a wife, mother, part-time teacher, volunteer and writer. The calling and curiosity were my own, but the resources I was going to be using were not. So whatever I did, I wanted it to work for all of us. Even if I was the only one overtly seeking “something more,” I wanted all of us to experience it.

So there was really only one place I could go and that was The Living School, because they promised not just an education, but transformation. According to their website, you should only apply if you “are willing to receive the lessons of darkness and suffering, and are open to profound transformation and change of consciousness.” And even better, despite your commitment, “formal degrees or certification are not offered. The reward is the experience itself—the learning and practices that will support your continued growth as a fully human, God-indwelled being.”

I was attracted and terrified by the prospect, which is a pretty compelling reason to move forward with just about anything in my mind. Of course, my ego screamed at me to head for the high holy ground of a traditional seminary, but my heart told me I was finally home – that I had found the place and the people who would offer me “the more” I had been looking for my whole life. The core faculty Fr. Richard Rohr,  James Finley and Cynthia Bourgeualt didn’t disappoint. They not only showed me “the more” in their teachings, but they showed me how to find “the more” for myself – in ancient texts, like Bonaventure, John of the Cross, and Meister Eckhart to name just a few, as well as in modern teachers, like Ilia Delio, Raimon Pannikar, Ken Wilbur, Thomas Merton and Teillhard de Chardin. They showed me how to access “something more” through personal practices, like centering prayer and chanting.

Most significantly, they showed me how to recognize the “something more” in my every day life. For me, that is where “the more” matters the most – in how I respond to the people I love, as well as the people I don’t.

I’ve always thought that what we do matters more than what we believe. But through the Living School, I have also come to see that what we do is not more important than who we are and how we show up in our lives. Our actions matter, but so does our energy. Our presence makes an impact, but so do our intentions, (something our Buddhist sisters and brothers have been trying to tell us all along).

To quote one of Richard Rohr’s favorite lines, “How you do anything is how you do everything,” and so for the past two years, I have been learning to do “everything” in a whole new way – from a contemplative stance – not led first and foremost by my own agenda, or my ego’s need to be right or successful, or even on the timetable I set for myself. Of course, this “(un)learning” was and continues to be a dismal failure much of the time, but the Living School accounted for that too.

Unlike the formal religious education I had previously received, the faculty affirmed that “It all belongs” –my life, my work, my family, my gifts and especially my failings. God is the Great Recycler and so nothing is wasted. Not one poor decision, mistake or over-reaction. Not a single moment of consciousness, of freedom, of forgiveness, or letting go. God uses all of it. Every conscious act of love is a participation in the Divine economy of the Trinity, a non-stop waterwheel of selfless, generative, creative and life-giving action on behalf of the world.¹

The Living School gave me the education to know and the experience to confirm that we are not separate from that Holy Love and relationship; we are an intimate and intrinsic part of it. Like Jesus the Christ, we are also God’s beloved, God’s chosen, God’s unique manifestation in the world. And while we cannot force that recognition, or make those experiences of divine union occur (We cannot be mystics on demand!), in the words of James Finley, we can “assume the inner stance that offers the least resistance to being overtaken by those moments of graced awareness.”

I believe that “knowing” our true identity is absolutely critical to the healing of the world. If you look at the lives of the mystics, the holiest of saints, the Mother Theresas, the Gandhis, the Martin Luther King Jr.s,  it was “knowing” their chosen status, as well as their confidence in the grace of God that changed everything for them and allowed them to change the world as we know it. It was “knowing” their place in the Divine flow of Love that allowed them to be the yeast that leavened the dough, the mustard seed that created a living sanctuary for others to flourish. If we don’t get that piece right, if we don’t know who we are, then everything else falls flat.

Now, if all this sounds a little cosmic, a little too touchy-feely for you, I will admit that a different student would talk about The Living School in an entirely different way. Everyone enters the program with their own agenda and finds their own outcome.

But when it comes right down to it, what I learned through almost three years of daily contemplative study and prayer, practice and community, in the midst of my beautiful and chaotic family life, is that Love is the engine of it all.

And unless I spend time every day doing the work of unmasking my ego, its illusions of power and control, separateness and superiority, I can grind that engine of Love to a halt, and for me that is the greatest failure. And yes, I fail, but in the words of Maya Angelou, “Still, I rise” and try again each and every day.

  1. The Divine Dance is Rohr’s new book about the Trinity that just came out. If you are at all interested in changing, improving, or even destroying the traditional Christian image of God as a bearded old man, sitting on a cloud in judgment, READ THIS BOOK!

 

 

Letting Go with Love

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Many of my friends and readers have children leaving for their first year of college in the next week, or two.  My heart is with them. Just last fall, we sent Keara, our oldest daughter, off to school. It may have been only 120 miles away, but it was far enough to create a distance and level of vulnerability that was difficult for us to accept.

One of the ways we managed to honor our emotions, but empower her was to “bless” her on her way. It was a really moving experience for all of us, including her younger brother and sister, who felt her absence as keenly as we did. It’s a tradition we will continue this year as she packs her bags at the end of this week and again heads north.

If you are looking for a way to “let go” in Love, here’s the blessing we used, but I want to affirm that what is in your heart and mind, what is authentic to your family’s language and experience, will always work best. Too often, we are afraid to articulate the Love and the deep truths that reside in our hearts. We hold back out of fear that we will stumble, sound silly, or maudlin.

What if we cry ? Maybe we will!

Will our emotions make us look weak, or scare our kids? Maybe they will!

Who knows? Who cares?

They can handle it! Showing our vulnerability is actually a sign of great strength.  If you don’t believe me, check out the brilliant  research of Dr. Brené Brown. 


From “A Meditation on Leaving for College”

I love to ritualize moments in my family’s life,  and so we often do blessings and prayers as people hit certain milestones, but last night, I decided to try something different. I didn’t want “god-language” to get in the way of Keara’s hearing what we had to say.

I played a short guided Metta meditation by the Buddhist teacher, Sylvia Boorstein, with her husky voice and New York accent. It is a gentle introduction to the Buddhist practice of blessing, which involves the simple repetition of these four lines, beginning with yourself and radiating out to others.

May you feel safe. May you feel content. May you feel strong. May you live your life at ease.

That’s it and yet, it says almost everything. In safety, we do not act out of fear and all the negative consequences it brings. In contentedness, we are not greedy, grasping, envious, or backstabbing. When we are strong, we protect the weak, not just ourselves. To live at ease does not mean we live without suffering, but rather, that the end of the story is already assured.

We sat through the guided meditation as a family, each of us in silence, and in our own space and then we gathered around our daughter and sister, the one who is leaving our shared space, and we blessed her with the following words:

May you feel safe.

May you feel content.

May you feel strong.

May you live your life at ease.

And in those moments when you cannot feel safe, content, strong and at ease, then may you take a deep breath, center yourself and draw on the resources you’ve been given.

Remember your gifts, your talents, your deepest desires and what you are working towards.

Remember your history, what you have accomplished and the obstacles you’ve overcome.

Remember your family and friends whose Love will never waver and whose support you can always count on.

Remember that Love is your birthright, the place you came from and the place you will find your home.

For it is there that you will find the freedom to become most fully yourself, and committed to your future,

Where you will find the courage to embrace hard work, to overcome setbacks, to process your confusion and disappointments and learn from them.

May you always come home – to yourself and who you truly are – gloriously Keara Moses Kirkpatrick, a creative, passionate, determined soul, who is a gift we call our own.

Amen.

Amen, Keara. That is our wish and our blessing for you as you move into your own space in the world, physically, spiritually, and professionally. You know where to find us whenever you want to come home.


Good luck friends as you send your children on their way towards greater freedom and responsibility. The risks are greater, but so too is the reward.

 

Lent 2016: Forget the Fasts

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My Catholic readers know that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. For my non-Catholic readers, which is most of you, Lent is the 40 day period before Easter, the pivotal moment of our Christian faith when we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. During Lent, Catholics (and some other denominations) try to focus their energy on preparing themselves to celebrate the Easter season. Technically, this is done through fasting, prayer and almsgiving, but mostly, people focus on the fasting. If you ask a Catholic, or even a non-Catholic, what Lent is about, they will probably say it’s about giving something up – a favorite food, or drink, indulgence, or bad habit. I was raised to think that way and it’s taken me a very long time to move beyond emphasizing that one practice.

Looking back at my childhood, I’m trying to remember the theology behind the fasting – why we were asked to sacrifice something. I don’t think the priests actually said this, but in my mind, I thought it was for one of two reasons.

#1 – Jesus gave up his life for me, so the least I could do is give up candy (it was always candy growing up!) for him during Lent. You know, tit for tat. Fair is fair after all.

Or #2 – You aren’t worthy for Jesus to have died for you – so your candy sacrifice is your way of becoming more worthy of Jesus’ death.

As if that were possible, as if anything we could do in a lifetime, much less forty days, could make us worthy of Jesus’ life.

I knew there was something about those theological constructs didn’t sound quite right, but I couldn’t quite move past those child-like assumptions for a really long time. But of course, as I grew and matured, my Lenten practices did as well. And so what I ‘gave up’ changed, but I was still doing it for the same reason – to somehow become more worthy of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice.

The fasting habit fell apart for me a couple years ago, which you can read about here, and it came about as most failures do, through a confluence of good intentions and misguided execution. Of course, it was my husband, who had the words to help me see the light. After suffering through a Lent that left me feeling deeply saddened and discouraged, Tim gently called me out. He reminded me that he loves me “as is,” and that God does too.

God always loves us ‘as is,’ not ‘when,’ not ‘whether,’ not ‘if,” we get our act together during Lent, or at any time. If God is the Abba that Jesus taught us about, then we are loved beyond measure already and it is knowing and experiencing that Divine Love that inspires any changes we make. It is never, “First you are worthy and then you are loved.” Contrary to most of our cultural conditioning and human reasoning, with God, you are always loved first and that Love makes you worthy. What you do with that Love is up to you, but personally, I have never once in my life been loved unconditionally and taken it for granted. True Love has never turned me against myself, or another person. Being Loved deeply has always inspired me to become a better version of myself, a truer reflection of the woman God created me to be.

Through that conversation, I finally got it: Lent is never a question of worthiness; Lent is a question of mindfulness, of bringing to our minds the Mind of Christ, which is compassionate, loving, and tender to all human beings and absolutely faithful to the Love of God, which he experienced first hand in the Trinity.

At the end of our talk, Tim reminded me of this bit of wisdom from my own teacher, Richard Rohr, who often says, “Don’t try to engineer your own death; it will be done unto you!” The scriptures are full of this imagery about the death of our ego, the part of ourselves that we keep separate from God and each other. We read over and over again that we must die to ourselves. I know the truth that unless a grain of wheat dies, it remains alone, a simple grain of wheat; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. But the point I had missed in my Lenten fervor was the fact that life itself will take care of death, both literally and metaphorically. Life is already full of losses – of the people we love, of seasons and situations we cherish, of dreams, hopes, plans, and health. And we don’t have to manufacture those losses on purpose; they happen as an inevitable course of our lives, but what we can do, during Lent, and every day of our lives, is prepare ourselves to face them.

And that is what I plan to focus on this Lenten season. Last year, I committed to just keep practicing my practice and that is what I plan to do this Lent as well and what I’ve tried to do almost every day in between.

I’m going to meditate and walk, read and write.

I’m going to hug my family members whenever they get within arm’s length.

I’m going to smile at friends and strangers alike.

I’m going to find Love and pass it on whenever and however I can.

Whatever I am already doing that opens me up to God’s Loving presence in the world, I’m going to keep doing. Whatever shuts me down, I’m going to forgive and move on.

I may hold a different intention, or pick up alternate readings to begin my meditation. I may find a special focus for my journal, but I will not fool myself into thinking I need to be different than I am to celebrate the new life that is constantly before me.

In my last post on “Seasons,” I wrote:

Death is inevitable, but so too is resurrection as long as we have a deep commitment to Love and Faith and Life. Only in that soil is there an invitation and a space for the Divine to work in us. Life and Love will win if we want them to and if we release our preconceived notions of what that life looks like!

We are all moving through a season. Some are observing Lent; others are experiencing the transition from winter to spring, in nature, or in their own lives. Though we are in different parts of the cycle, we are all participating in the eternal movement from death to new life. As gardeners of our own soul, the only thing we can do is prepare the soil and trust that God will do the rest.

We can aerate our egos, poking holes in the outer shells that protect us from each other. We can soften the hardness of our hearts with the holy water of tears (you too guys!). We can let the things that have died over the past year become fertilizer for the new life to come. I cannot think of a more difficult practice for Lent, or any time of year.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

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Over the last few rainy days, I have been reflecting on my most recent blog. What am I really talking about when I talk about Love? There are clearly some things I don’t mean. Obviously, for me, Love isn’t just romantic, sweet or mushy feelings, but it isn’t simply an obligation to a person, community, or cause either. Recently, in another writing project, I defined Love in this way.

Love means saying, “Yes” to all that life brings me: to all that is, has been and will be.

When I am in Love, I have forgiven myself and others for past dramas, disappointments and detours. When I am in Love, I am not anxious about the future; I don’t have to force my own agenda, or protect myself from what might happen. Most importantly, when I am in Love in the present moment, I am at peace with what is: myself, my circumstances, the people and possibilities around me. When I am in Love, I don’t need to change anything and when I am really feeling it, I don’t even want to.

But I am not always able to Love like this, which is why I intend to practice Loving even more in 2016. It might sound funny to think of Love as a behavior we have to practice, but we do. Like anything we want to be better at, we have to give it our focus and find ways to improve our abilities, especially if it doesn’t come naturally.

I came across a great image to help inspire me in these early weeks of the new year. It is from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening. (If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, I highly recommend it.) Mark tells the story of a friend who wants to paint his family room. He gets home with all the supplies from the hardware store and preps everything in the garage, but when he wants to enter his house, he can’t get in. He has a bucket of paint in each hand, the drop cloths and rollers under his arms and the paintbrush in his mouth. He struggles to open the front door, refusing to put anything down, (because we hate to put anything down!) and just as he’s about to get in, he slips and falls and ends up covered in red paint. He could laugh about it now, but you can only imagine how angry and frustrated he must have been when it happened.

These are the words of wisdom Nepo gleams from the story:

…In a moment of ego we refuse to put down what we carry in order to open the door. Time and time again, we are offered the chance to truly learn this: We cannot hold on to things and enter. We must put down what we carry, open the door and the take up only what we need to bring inside.

As far as I’m concerned, it is the beginning of Love when we recognize that we are in front of a closed door in the first place. If nothing else, we’ll know we’re there by the way it feels in our bodies – the clenched jaw or balled-up fists, tension in our stomach or neck, our deep sighs, or raised voice. When we notice ourselves getting angry, anxious, or insisting on our own way, it is Love that allows us to stop, take a deep breath, and put our baggage down, whatever it is – our fears, expectations, justifications. Instead of seeing the situation, or person in front of us as an obstacle to be conquered, we see them as a doorway to something new.

In that moment, we are doing the most Loving thing we can. We are saying a resounding, “Yes” to what is, instead of ignoring, denying, or fighting against it. Once we’ve put things down, the rest is just a little bit easier. We can choose to act, instead of react. We can assess what we need to pick up, what is truly important and what will actually help us (and them) on the other side of the door. The rest, we leave behind. Loving actually makes us lighter! (How’s that for a New Year’s diet plan?)

The best way I know how to reinforce this kind of Loving is through my meditative practice of Centering Prayer. For twenty minutes each morning, I “put things down,” over and over again. Inspired by Jesus’ kenotic, or self-emptying, communion with God, Centering Prayer asks me to release my self-centered thoughts, desires and agendas. When I find my mind wandering through daydreams and to-do lists, I repeat my sacred word and put it all down. This practice reminds me that it is not my will that needs to be done.

Sidenote: In case you’re wondering, I have been meditating daily for almost three years and I still have to “put things down” at least fifty to a hundred times in those twenty minutes. I know, shockingly bad statistics there, but my first teacher told me that the only way to fail at meditation is to fail to do it. I choose to use that as my guide still.

Coincidentally, my meditation practice ends about the time my children’s alarm clocks go off. That’s when my real practice begins. My morning agenda is clear: get everyone fed, dressed and out the door on time. My expectations are much higher than that: I want morning hugs, smiles, thank yous for lunch, beds made, teeth brushed, dishes cleaned. You can imagine how many “closed doors” I encounter in those 45 minutes. Every morning, I have 45 minutes to practice Loving my kids in their tired grumpiness and haste. I have 45 minutes to respond to teenage stimuli with Love, patience, forgiveness, encouragement, and physical affection. I have 45 minutes to fail at Loving the way I want to, and when I do, (and yes, I find myself covered in red paint pretty frequently), I apologize. Love also means cleaning up the messes we’ve made. And then, when they leave, I just “put it down” again, even the self-criticism and frustration. I have to Love myself too, or I’ll never get anywhere at all.

In 2016, I want to meet more minutes of my days like I do those first forty-five, fresh off the meditation mat when the challenges are small and the challengers are people I care deeply about. It’s a different story entirely in the real world where I encounter people I don’t much like with even higher stakes. Pope Francis may have declared it the Year of Mercy, but I’ve declared it the Year of Love and I want it to last a lifetime! I will keep trying. At more and more of those closed doors, I will take a deep breath and drop my shoulders. I will think of the red paint I’m carrying. I will remember the crime scenes I’ve created when I refused to put my baggage down and then I will face that door with the freedom that only Love can bring.

So, yeah, in case you were wondering, that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about Love.

College, Gelassenheit and The Law of Three

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A casual friend asked me recently how Keara was doing. Though she doesn’t know Kiko personally, she’s a reader of the blog and loved how we blessed K on her way to college last month. Though I had considered writing about how it went, I thought it might be too late. She assured me it wasn’t. On the hope she’s not the only one, I thought I’d follow up.

On Friday, the morning after the blessing, we packed up the car to drive from San Diego to Long Beach. I noticed some butterflies in my stomach, nothing too distracting, just an occasional flutter, a hint that today was not an average day.

On Saturday, her move-in day, I woke with a nagging sensation that something was wrong. I took a shower, asked Tim to bring me a cup of coffee and sat down to write and pray. Here is an excerpt from my prayer journal that morning:

We move Keara into her dorm this morning and it is very clear to me that I have two choices: I can write, or I can cry. Since I’ve already done my makeup and I am determined not to scare her, I’m writing to you God. All I keep saying, over and over again – even during my sit as I tried to return to my sacred word – is, “May you be safe. May you be content. May you be strong. May you live your life at ease.” I am praying that blessing for Keara and myself, over and over again.

I pulled myself together; we drove up the coast and created a semblance of a home in a 15×15 dorm room. I was so bewildered that day. I kept looking at all the parents and their eighteen-year-old children. What had seemed like such a good idea in the previous months suddenly seemed like bad idea, one of the worst really. I felt like I had Tourette syndrome. It took everything I had to not start shouting, “Does anyone else think this is a terrible idea? Take your children and go home. All of you!” Obviously, I didn’t do it, but Tim, perhaps sensing my need for solidarity, kept squeezing my hand and giving me appropriately concerned smiles. Before I knew it, it was 5 o’clock and Kiko was racing out to dinner with her new roommates, saying she’d see us in the morning for breakfast.

Sunday morning dawned and I found myself , unable, or possibly just unwilling, to get out of bed. I was physically nauseous, dreading the day ahead. Eventually I persevered, but only with Tim’s help and on his insistence. We picked Kiko up from campus and did one more Target run, one more cup of coffee, one more hug goodbye and that’s when it got ugly. I held her in my arms and whispered my morning’s blessing to her one more time, and then she started to cry and I started to cry and Tim started to cry. We let her go, got in the car and drove away.

And before we were even out of the parking lot, Tim asked me, “What are you feeling right now?” as if he didn’t know. But sad didn’t even begin to cover it, so I took a deep breath and told him.

“I know this is going to sound really weird, but it feels like the morning I left Sarah in the hospital. It’s that same sense of being hollowed out, of leaving half my heart in the high-rise behind me and driving away, ON PURPOSE, and knowing that things are never going to be the same again. She’s never going to be mine again…. And don’t turn on the radio, because God help me, if Lionel Richie is playing, I just might not be able to do it. I don’t care if you’re crying; DON’T STOP THE CAR! We can’t stop, because if we stop, I don’t think I can start again. If we just keep moving, I can do this. I know how to do this, but if there is one second when I can turn around and take it all back, I just might and that would be the worst thing ever! So please, just keep going….”  As I trailed off into sobs. *

And so he did. We turned left out of the parking lot, found the 405 freeway and traveled south at seventy miles an hour, silently, in our pain and grief. We couldn’t talk about it, or listen to music, because we’d both start crying and Tim’s so responsible that he won’t cry and drive. He said the tears messed with his visibility and we still had two kids at home to raise, so instead we talked about stupid, silly things – work and politics and the weather. We made it home, went to church and out to dinner that night and the new normal began.

And it was okay.

Like the day after I left Sarah Moses and gave her up for adoption, twenty-four years ago this week, I woke up and took deep breaths. I listened quietly for the beating of a heart I thought was broken. I found a routine I could live by and if I lost track of time intermittently throughout the day, thinking about my baby girl somewhere far away, that was okay too. I knew she was safe; I knew she was content; I knew she was strong; I prayed she would live her life at ease, but I also knew the ease would come more easily if she was living apart from me. It’s the reason I let them both go, my two Moses girls. Love, my love anyways, would never be all they needed to become all they were meant to be.

I guess I didn’t share this story earlier, because it hurt so much and I couldn’t make sense of it. I didn’t have the right language to explain how, or why doing something that you know is so right can feel so wrong. And for me, sense-making is an important part of the healing process. Now, I may not have it all figured out yet, but I’m getting closer, with some help from my friends in the Living School.

A couple weeks after we dropped Keara off, I went on my annual pilgrimage to Albuquerque, NM and spent time with the faculty and my fellow students. We listened and learned and talked late into the night. We laughed and cried and fell in love with the world and each other a little more. It helped with my healing process, especially something called the Law of Three and ternary metaphysics. Basically, the Law of Three holds the premise that “three-ness,” like that we see in the Holy Trinity, is the basis of creation for the whole universe. Nothing new comes into being with out the dynamic interweaving of three distinct, but inseparable forces.

According to 17th century German mystic, Jacob Boehme, at first, there is a yearning, a desire for something. Then, there is the frustration of the desire; the will cannot get what it wants. As long as there are only two, there will be anguish. They will endlessly go back and forth, pushing and pulling without reconciling, or changing anything. (Think of U.S. politics.) If one is much greater than the other, it may “win,” but nothing new will come of it, because it is the friction, the pain itself, which is the “ground of motion.” It is only when a third force enters the equation that the two can be transformed and something new can be born. Frequently, this third force is gelassenheit, what we might call equanimity, the “letting-be-ness” of the surrendered will. In her commentary on it, Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “Will, desire, and pain are not obstacles to spiritual perfection, but rather the raw materials out of which something yet more wondrous will be fashioned.  Thus, these things are not to be feared, denied, or eradicated; they are to be transformed.” **

Don’t worry, I’ll stop there with the dry stuff. If you’re anything like Tim, you’re about to check out anyways. Here’s what it means to me personally.

Although I didn’t have the language of ternary metaphysics at nineteen, I knew what Boehme was talking about. Here is my simpler formula:

Desire + Will = Pain + Surrender = Transformation < A New Being 

When I was nineteen and got pregnant with Sarah, there was so much pain (SO MUCH PAIN) as I held the tension between the desire to raise her and my will to give her the best possible life, which I believed meant not being raised by me as a single teenage mother. Only through surrendering to the process was I transformed. I became someone new on the other side of that experience, someone who knew that it was possible to have your desire and your will completely at odds with each other emotionally and energetically and yet completely aligned in terms of their purpose. It was in the alignment that the resolution was found.

I had that same sensation as we left Keara on her college campus. My will was for her to become independent and find her place in the world. My desire was to have her place in the world be next to me, in my arms and the shelter of my home. Those two forces created enormous anguish in me – as they have done, I imagine, in virtually all parents across time and space. But it is only by letting that pain be what it is, neither clinging to it (by over-involving and inserting myself into this phase of her life), nor rejecting it (by denying my pain, or shutting myself off from feeling it) that she and I, and our relationship, actually have a chance to become something new. I have no idea what that new thing might look like, but in faith, based on evidence, I’m not worried.

Here’s how I look at it. I think we are screwed, or blessed either way, or perhaps more exactly, we feel screwed in the moment and are blessed in the long run. But I think the blessing only comes if we believe it will come and live as if it will come. If we refuse to surrender and choose to stick with the pain, then we will view our path as either an inevitable frustration of our desire, or of our will, and then it will become thus – simply frustration, not transformation. If there is no surrender, no faith in a new arising as yet unknown and undefined, then there will be nothing new under the sun.

The process of giving Sarah up burned into my body, heart and mind, the lesson that you do not stop wrestling with the angel of God (who comes disguised as every moment of your life) until you receive the blessing. When something unknowable, but potentially precious is placed in your life, you have to grasp it, embrace it fully, know it intimately, see what it has to teach you. Don’t bury it in the desert and walk away too soon. Find some way, however small, to allow it to bless you before you let it go. You may always walk with a limp, scarred in some way, but you will be wiser and better for it and you take that wisdom out into the world with you. ***

Stephen Colbert has said recently in many interviews promoting the new Late Show that he can never be glad for the death of his father and brothers and yet, the very curse of their death has become his greatest blessing. He admits, “I love the thing that I most wish had not happened” and he has found a way to embrace the paradox. His life, his work, his humor, compassion and drive all stem from the wisdom he gained in the struggle. He has surrendered both his desire for it to be different and his human inability to make it so.

We all have wisdom to share with one another, hard fought wisdom and the accompanying Love, compassion, joy and empathy that goes with it. If you’ve wrestled with an angel, don’t be afraid to show us your scars. It’s the only reason I’m here. My writing is the best proof I have of my ever-broken and ever-mending heart.

*If you don’t get my Lionel Richie reference, click here, or on his name, and it will take you to the original story.

**All the notes in this paragraph are from Chapter Seven of The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three  by Cynthia Bourgeault.

***The language around this lesson was taught to me beautifully by Rob Bell with an assist from Paula D’Arcy.

The Wave and the Water

Hokusai, The Great Wave
Hokusai, The Great Wave

I had dinner with my darling (birth) daughter Sarah last night. She is heading off to graduate school at LMU next month, on a full scholarship. She also just rented her first solo apartment in Manhattan Beach. She’s excited and terrified about beginning to build her life as an independent adult. We both brought a book to the bar, because what else would you do if you had to wait ten minutes? She brought crosswords; I brought The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh. She looked at my book and laughed.

IMG_7012Sitting across the table from her, the beautiful difference in our age and stage was clear. “I’m looking forward to the day when I want to work on my spiritual progress,” she said, making some sort of flapping gesture with her hands over her heart, “That’s great. I’m really happy for you.”

And I think she meant it, but it’s always hard to tell with Millennials.

But I took the opportunity to share my favorite Buddhist metaphor with her – well, I think it’s Buddhist, but since Thich Nhat Hanh is pretty much the only Buddhist I’ve read, it might just be “Hanhist.” It’s a metaphor that works on me all the time, or at least when I remember it. I just wish I remembered it every day.

Imagine a wave in the ocean as it approaches the shore. That wave has existed for miles and miles. It began across the sea, perhaps even across the world, but as it finally becomes visible, it becomes conscious of itself and it begins to worry. How good am I? Am I the biggest? The prettiest? The strongest? Are they taking pictures of me? Am I surrounded by other waves? Will I always be alone? Am I useful to people? Do they find me fun? Terrifying? Are they mad at me for washing away their sandcastles? How much longer do I have to live? Can I be all the wave I was meant to be in these too brief moments of time? What will happen to me when I’m gone? I…must…hold…on. All of this chatter is the wave suffering, because it thinks it is separate from the water.

But if the wave could just recognize that it is water, that it came from water and will return to water and never stopped being water, then its suffering would cease. It will stop over-identifying with its wave-ness. It can simply enjoy its temporary form, knowing that all along, it is still the water.

“Okay…,” Sarah said, nodding her head, “I can see that…” And she moved on.

She totally could not see that, which is why she said, with great honesty, that spiritual growth was for someday, down the road for her. Like Keara, her younger half-sister, honesty is one of their strongest policies. But because the girls love me, they also do it kindly, which I deeply appreciate. Kind people are some of my favorites.

But the wave/water metaphor is something that is working on me deeply. As a writer and teacher, it is so easy to get caught up in how my “wave” is being received. It feels especially true in this time of social media-driven audiences. Each opportunity for a like, a share, a repost, a retweet, or a positive review is an affirmation of your “wave-ness.” It’s practically the only game in town for artists like me, but I think it’s true for everyone. From eight-year-olds to octogenarians, we all want to be affirmed. But we try so hard to be waves that we forget we are water.

I love writing this blog, but there are so many successful bloggers out there, so many writers and authors and vloggers, pastors and preachers, speakers and teachers that I admire and who seem to make a difference in the world that when I look at the scope of my work, I feel like the tiniest little toe-lapper on the banks of Mission Bay. Not only am I not even a real wave; I’m made of polluted water that most local residents won’t even touch. And I look at all the other waves and want to be like them and make a powerful, beautiful, and useful splash.

And so after another disappointment, I collapse into a puddle of tears, ironically still forgetting that I’m water.

I have my coping mechanisms, the first of which is to look for Tim, my husband, the surf-shop owner. As a life-long surfer, he’s good at judging the waves and he thinks the world of me, so his answer’s a sure thing. He builds me up, tells me what a good wave I am, how smart, how kind, how talented and loving, and how much my kids benefit from riding in my wake. He reminds me that even if my wave never gets any bigger, it’s okay. I’m the perfect wave for him and the people I love.

Okay, so he doesn’t actually talk in similes, but you get the picture. After several of these pep talks, I can begin to feel my wave-ness again and I am ready to hit the shore. But you’ve been to the beach. You know what happens.

I don’t need my Buddhist buddy to point out that this “I’m a wave” thing is unsustainable. The pattern repeats itself and I crash and disappear, over and over again, in a big frothy mess of self-doubt, snot and tears.

The reality is: I don’t need a coping mechanism. I need the truth.

I am water, not just a wave.

And as an ocean girl, I like the idea.

Practicing it, however, is awful.

Giving up finding my worth in my own self-identity is really difficult. If I really believe that the wave is always water then it involves disassembling a lifetime of culturally-constructed images and measurements of success.  It means gracefully accepting the disintegration of my physical self. I am not the tall, thin, blonde that was sitting across the table from me last night. I resemble her; I used to be her, but now there are wrinkles and sunspots and saggy bits when I wear a bikini. My body doesn’t work the way I want it to. I can’t swim, or play, or even throw a football without paying for it the next day and I know that’s just beginning. It means dissolving my standards for achievement, including being rewarded, financially or otherwise, for what I do. I always thought that I would do something important, but I can’t even figure out what I want to be when I grow up and I’m well past that point. My teenagers seem closer to figuring it out than I do! I find myself randomly searching Craigslist for a job that requires my strange grab bag of skills – well-read, conceptual organizer, multi-tasker, strong oral and written communication skills, no professional references. The Starbucks barista listing seems like the safest bet. Finally, it means allowing my own agenda to disappear as the driving force for my life in the world and interactions with others. I have to let the water take me where it will, and use me as it may. I used to think it was easy to “go with the flow,” but in this case, it entails the painful erosion of my ego and false self-confidence.

Upon reflection, I can see why Sarah is putting off this spiritual journey. It sucks, but I can’t see any other way forward, only back.

Do you remember when Jesus gave the teaching in the Gospel of John that his followers had to eat of his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life and virtually everyone left and he looked at Peter and the twelve and said, What about you? Are you leaving too? And Peter looked back at him and said, “To whom shall we go?” What other options did they have? I can just picture Peter looking balefully at Jesus and shrugging. They weren’t looking forward to the feast, but when the Truth is before you, what can you do?

heart-of-the-buddhas-teaching-273x418I am reading The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching as part of my Living School curriculum. Though in different language, Hanh’s metaphor says virtually the same thing as every Christian mystic: We have to let go of our separate identity, and fall into the Love of God from which we came and to which we will return. In a dance of cosmic coincidence, I read these lines from John of the Cross just this morning during my meditative reading. He wrote “Beloved, please remind me again and again that I am nothing…Plunge me into the darkness where I cannot rely on any of my old tricks for maintaining my separation.”

The wave calls out to the water in the voice of a 16th century Spanish mystic.

I don’t know about you, but I am much more comfortable with the 21st century, natural language of wave and water. In fact, I think it’s only by understanding the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh that I can approach John of the Cross with an open heart and mind. Reading the great mystics of all the religious traditions has brought me to a deeper understanding and appreciation of those in my own spiritual home.

Tim and I have a date planned for tonight after work. We are going to the beach. We will surf with our bodies, and on our boards. We will play in the waves. I will ride down their faces and let them tumble me head over heels for the sheer joy of it. I will honor their beginnings as I float over their swells and their endings, as they dissolve one by one at my feet, becoming indistinguishable from that which they always were. I will mourn for them, like I mourn for myself, for clinging to all that I think I need to be worthy and worth noticing. And when we are done with the waves, we will swim past them and float in the expansive water. I will lie on my back, with my face to the setting sun and I will remember that I am both.

I am a wave and I can cherish and love the ride, but I’m not just a wave. I have always been and will always be part of the water, God’s creative, generative, and never-ending Love. And  I know the pattern is not over, that my waves of desire will never cease to rise and fall, sending me head over heels, back down to my knees. But tonight at least, I will try to remember I am water.

A line-up of waves, courtesty of www.theintertia.com
A line-up of waves, courtesty of http://www.theintertia.com

Rethinking Lent

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Last week as I began to prepare for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent (which starts tomorrow by the way), I decided to review my previous posts on the topic, as well as my journals.

2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 … It wasn’t a pretty sight.

I discovered an unfortunate pattern of pain, struggle and personal humiliation. I set lofty goals, make myself miserable in the process and ultimately end up needing to apologize to Tim on Good Friday for taking him down with me.

This year, I’m doing something radically different.

I’m not changing a thing: I’m simply going to practice my practice.

I’m going to meditate and walk, read and write.

I’m going to hug my family members whenever they get within arm’s length.

I’m going to teach my students and smile at friends and strangers alike.

I’m going to look for Love and share it whenever and however I can.

Whatever I am already doing that opens me up to God’s Loving presence in the world, I’m going to keep doing. Whatever shuts me down, I’m going to forgive and move on.

When I told Tim my plans for this Lent, he let out a huge sigh of relief and possibly even sent up a silent prayer of gratitude to a God he isn’t even sure he believes in.

If I was looking for a sign I was on the right track, that would have done it, but the peace I feel in my own heart is confirmation enough.

So whether you celebrate Lent or not, maybe six weeks in to the New Year is a good time to check in with yourself. How’s it going? How do you feel? What in your life reminds you that you are enough, you do enough, you have enough? I’m not saying you should add anything to your daily routine, but I hope there is at least one moment every day where you think, “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

That, my friends, is a practice worth practicing. That, my friends, is a resurrection.

 

My Morning Walk: Part II

After my early morning experience with the nature of Love, or Love in nature, I’ve started taking morning walks, trading in one form of meditation for another. I no longer wake up and write. Instead, I lace up my shoes, pour a cup of coffee and head out the door.

The purpose of the walk is twofold.

I go to find solitude and to go slowly.

Going slow may not seem like much of a purpose; in fact, to most of fitness-conscious Southern California, it sounds like the anti-purpose of walking. But I’ve come to see that I go fast enough already, all day long. Going slow is an anathema to me, which is all the more reason to learn how to do it. It’s not easy. In fact, that’s why I bring the coffee: to remind me to sip and savor my surroundings, to literally stop and smell my neighbor’s roses.

But what I thought would be the hardest part, going slow, is not as hard as the harder part: finding solitude.

Somehow, an old friend, let’s call her Patty, has found out I’m walking and has decided to join me on these early morning strolls.

Actually I wouldn’t call her a friend. She’s more like a nemesis. Though I try to evade her, by the time I get a few houses away, there she is, keeping step with me, ready to chatter away about her plans for the day and gossip, filling my head with negative energy. I’ve tried sending her away, saying politely, but firmly that this is my time, for peace and quiet, to not think about all the things she’s obsessing over, but she’s very persistent. If I really press her, she might fall silent, or walk on the other side of the street for a while. But she’s usually back, the very next day, ready to keep me company again. Apparently, she thinks I would get lost without her.

Now if you’re wondering why I don’t just get rid of her, the fact of the matter is that I can’t.

Patty is me.

Patty is my conscious self, my ego, my mind,. And no matter how hard I try to leave her at home, she always tags along.

She is just full of ideas.

She tries to get me to multi-task: “If you’re walking, you might as well walk faster and get your exercise in.”

She tries to get me to plan: “If you get home by 6:30, that will give you 15 minutes to write and then 10 minutes to make lunches and then 5 minutes to …”

She tries to get me to worry: “Keara has a Spanish test today and a math test too. Did she study hard enough? Did the Lad finish his math homework? Will Molly ever grow?”

Patty tries to get me to stick with her, but the whole point of the walk is to find some measure of stillness, away from my busy mind. The point of the walk is to discover the truth of what I know, apart from words and plans and the power they hold.

I want to be clear about something. Patty is not a bad person. I need Patty. She keeps me on track during my day, directs me about my tasks and makes sure that my family and work life run smoothly. Sometimes, Patty can be quiet. Sometimes, she sleeps; sometimes, she’s distracted, and on occasion, she is actually satisfied with what we’ve accomplished during our day.

It’s been several weeks now and I’ve realized that Patty is coming on these walks with me whether I like it or not. It was a naïve fantasy that she would remain home in bed while I was up and about in the world. So I’ve learned these walks are really about teaching Patty to be silent, to remember she isn’t the only one in this relationship. And so far, I think it’s been good for us – me, myself and I.

Little Molly and My Failure to Meditate

meditation

Without a doubt, the most important part of my day is the early morning. I set my alarm to wake me up well before anyone else, usually while it is still dark out. Thanks to the timer, I have a freshly brewed pot of coffee waiting for me. I get cozy on the couch, the easy chair, or if it’s summertime, on a chaise lounge in the back yard. And once I am settled, I close my eyes, breathe deeply and begin to pray. I might meditate on the words of a master, on yesterday’s highs and lows, or on this day’s hopes and fears. I try to gather wisdom from the universe about who I am, my place and purpose in this world. All this happens on a good day.

A not-so-good-day might begin with any one of these.

I forget to make the coffee. I oversleep and only have a few minutes to pray, before the school lunches have to be made. I have two glasses of wine the night before, instead of one, and wake up with a headache and cottonmouth. I neglect to put on a bathrobe when I get out of bed and spend my time shivering in a fetal position, completely unable to concentrate on any cosmic thoughts at all. Sometimes, my peaceful morning ritual is a comedy of errors.

One recent morning, I tiptoed downstairs and my youngest child greeted me in the hallway, sleepy-eyed and crabby. This particular phenomenon happens with some regularity and when it does, it is not likely that my morning ritual will proceed as I want it to. Sometimes I can successfully distract her with an early morning television show, or a bowl of cereal and a request to please let mom have her little bit of morning quiet time. But then, she is occupying the only unoccupied room in the house, besides the bathrooms. Meditating with a hot cup of coffee on the closed lid of a toilet is not an ideal situation, but that may just be me.

Most of the time, she wants to curl up in my lap and ‘pray with me,’ which sounds so much sweeter than it is. That girl can’t sit still for a minute, and her capacity for silence is even less impressive. So when I found her standing at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for me, I tried to suppress my internal groan. I offered her the usual distractions, which she quickly declined and instead curled up next to me on the couch. We spilled my coffee on our laps; we changed positions six times and we exchanged more words in those 60 seconds than I usually speak in the first two hours I am awake on any given day. I finally got frustrated and stalked back upstairs, leaving her sitting forlornly on the couch. I sat on the edge of my bed and whined to myself about missing my peace, quiet and meditation. However, after that kind of performance, I knew that the only thing the universe was going to tell me was to get back downstairs, apologize to my daughter and love on her. So, I went, albeit grudgingly and sheepishly at the same time, if that’s possible.

Molly feels things deeply, but she doesn’t hold a grudge, so I was immediately forgiven and within seconds, I felt little tears on my chest as she told me why she was up early. She’d had a bad dream and some things had happened yesterday that she didn’t like, so she didn’t want to go to school today. Although I heard a jumbled, early-morning version of what happened, the bottom line is that she doesn’t like it when she comes up short in any area, academics, sports, or clubs. She is constantly comparing herself to her peers, and wanting to make sure that she measures up. This is not a burden we’ve put on her. It’s a burden we’ve been trying to take off her since she started elementary school.

So I held her close to my heart for a moment and then I pushed her away and asked her to look in my eyes. I told her that she only has to be the best Molly she can be on any given day – not the best anything else – not the best anybody else. She doesn’t even have to be the best she has ever been. She simply has to be her best for this day.

As I said those words to her, still carrying the guilt of my bad behavior 5 minutes before, I thought, “What a mantra for all of us. I only have to be the best me I can be this day.”  It doesn’t matter if I am being a mom, or wife, daughter, or friend, employee, or employer. Whatever the world asks of me each day – that is all I can do. When I hold this mantra in my mind, I can pause when I see myself being less than my best, and try to adjust, just like I did after I stomped upstairs and abandoned my sad, little girl.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my best is really pretty stinky. But still, if that’s the best I can do this day, really stink it up, then so be it. Occasionally, I hope I can pause to see the way I am behaving, and ask myself, “Is that really the best you’ve got?” The more often I do it, the more I see the truth that I choose how I react to my circumstances and that if I don’t choose rightly the first time, I can always go back and make amends. And truth be told, I spend a lot of time making amends. I may not always apologize, but there are always opportunities to repair what has been damaged, and heal what has been hurt when I have not been my best self.

And after I got my kids to school that day and the house was empty, there was plenty of time to recover the peace and quiet that had been lost to my early morning companion and I knew that nothing of value had been lost. The universe had spoken to me after all.