What I want to do this morning is run (away), so what I’m forcing myself to do is sit (still). I want to run away from the anxiety I feel about so many things, not the least of which are the fires raging here in California, the loss of life, home, habitat, and economy. There is also personal, marital, and professional grist for the mill of my unhappy mind, so I found myself doing what I often do on high stress days – (after sweeping of course). I started making a list of all the things I “have” to do today: errands, emails, the gym, banking, cooking, cleaning, but it’s total bullshit.  I don’t have to do any of it, but I would much prefer to do those things than to be present to the world’s pain, or my own. If I stay busy with what is “urgent” then I can ignore what is important.

Is a trip to Vons to buy juice boxes for Molly’s lunch more important than struggling with some life questions that might set me on a new path? Nope, but it’s way easier to check it off my list.

I don’t have to put it in such binary terms. I can do both kinds of things. I can work out, go grocery shopping, put in a half-day at Wavelines and have time for meditation, and journaling, but the temptation is to start checking things off the “urgent” list and never get to the end of it, and therefore never get to the things that are ultimately transformative and life-giving. For all the days I follow that pattern, a beautiful part of what it means to be human – to learn, to change, to grow in life and love – is lost. So today, I am starting with the prayer and meditation, with poetry and writing to all of you and I’ll get to rest later. (Tim, I’m going to be a little late getting to the shop today!)

Let me leave you with this thought.

I want to do something to ease the suffering of those affected by the California wildfires, but I’m too far away to be of any help personally. So I can donate some money, reach out to those I know are hurting and I can pray. I’m not sure exactly what good that last item does, but this poem by Alice Walker in her latest book, Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart, has strengthened my resolve to keep at it.

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pc: finn kirkpatrick

“The Energy of the Wave”

As a child I sensed

but did not

grasp

the power

of prayer.

It was my innocence

of the depths

that kept me unaware.

How could the passion of the heart

sent flying towards others

through humble words

change anything?

Or, rather,

what might this change?

 But prayer is an energy

that crosses mountains and deserts

and continents and seas

and is never stopped

nor even slowed

by anything.

It arrives

at its destination

as a blessing

that says: I feel – though it is but

a shadow of your sorrow –

the suffering

that has befallen

you.

Though far away,

you are securely cradled

 in the safety

of my heart.

I am but a droplet

in what must become

a vast sea

to create the big wave

that washes

away

whatever demons

are harming

you.

Prayer is the beginning: when

we don’t know

what else to do.

It is in this

spirit

of awareness and near impotence

beloved

kin

of butchered Africa

that we stand with you.

 

Walker dedicated this poem to the people of Africa, but I am confident in its universal application. So let us pray today for all the sorrows in all the hearts in all parts of the world, as far as we can imagine and as close as our own. Let our prayers be a droplet in a wave of compassion, generosity, forgiveness and mercy that this world so desperately needs.

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One of my funniest Ash Wednesday memories comes from my high school years. I was on the Mater Dei swim team and we took our workouts seriously, but we took our faith seriously too. At sixteen, we were “adults” and expected to abide by the rules of fasting on that day. My swim coach, who was also my religion teacher at the time, told us that we were exempt from fasting, but I wasn’t buying it. “Don’t fast,” he said. “Yeah right,” I thought. By the time I got out of the pool for sprints at the end of the workout, I was light-headed, nauseous, seeing stars, but I wasn’t the only one. He had kids falling down all over the pool deck! Something like that is only going to happen at a Catholic school!

One of my least favorite Ash Wednesday memories happened last year, when we spent the day at the E.R. at Rady Children’s Hospital.  Molly had to be readmitted a week after her back surgery for uncontrolled pain. By the time they finally doped her up, she was delirious on multiple doses of Valium and Atavin, which precipitated a crying, laughing, and truth-telling spell we will never forget (and she’ll never remember.) A female pastor – Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal – I can’t remember, came by the room and asked if we would like to receive ashes. Tim and I stepped out of the room and held hands as she completed the ritual: “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” It was a poignant moment, but painful. The evidence of the fragility of life was just beyond a pane of glass.

This morning, I sat down to begin my first official “Lenten” practice – an hour of morning reading, meditation and prayer. That’s it for the most part this year, nothing too dramatic, not like in previous years, which you can read about here, here and here. I thought about how my Advent journey in December was directed by a question: “What gift do you want to receive from God for Christmas this year and what do you have to release in order to make room to receive it?” I had been hoping another question would come to me from the cosmos, something significant, or holy to ponder, but there’s been nada. Each time I tried to pose one for myself, it rang false, like I was a poser.

So I just let it go.  I’m much more trusting these days that the right thing will show up at the right time if I’m paying attention (that’s the actual trick – paying attention instead of being distracted by our iphones, Netflix, food, alcohol, shopping, do-gooding, expectations, etc.) This morning I sat down to write in my journal, where most of the entries are written as letters to God. Instead of something significant, these were the questions that came to me:

This Lent, can I be content? Can I be of service? Can I participate with your work in the world: to love, to heal, to befriend, to connect?

And as I wrote, I realized that the first two questions were for me, but that I had written the final question to Jesus, not to God. That might not stand out to you, but for me, it was really weird.  I don’t pray to Jesus. I don’t write to Jesus. I wouldn’t even claim to know Jesus, even though he’s probably my favorite person who’s ever walked on the planet and I consider myself one of his followers. I love what Jesus said and did and taught and lived. I love the Eucharist and communion tables, especially when they are open to all. But Jesus himself? Mostly unapproachable. So, I sat with that oddity for a moment, and then I kept writing to him:

Jesus,

 Rarely do I pray to you. Your humanity seems too real to deserve prayers “to,” and yet your divinity is too alienating for me to feel like we’re friends. I have been taught my whole life that you were like us in every way, but sin, which always confuses me, because then you aren’t like me at all! Most of what I am is my “sin,” though I don’t use that word any more. If you were “perfect” and “sinless,” then you have no experience at all with the ways I fall short every day, the ways I disappoint, don’t get things right, hurt feelings, speak hastily, covet something, lose my patience, fall into temptation and eat/do/watch something I probably shouldn’t. I think I’ll be trying to work out that paradox – who you are and how exactly we’re related – my whole life…

 But today, I stop and consider for a moment, that this Lenten season is wholly devoted to you: your life, your teachings and of course, your death.

You were like me, (or so they say,) but I see it here in a way I usually can’t.

You had a life, and a path (which probably didn’t work out the way you thought) and a deep Love for God, and you kept trying to be obedient to that Love, even when it led you to Jerusalem and the mob and authority figures that killed you. You didn’t hit the escape button.

How much of that I can relate to!

What if I remembered that these are your 40 days, Jesus, the last 40 of your life? In the end, you knew you were a “dead man walking,” but you didn’t walk away. How tempting it must have been! So, here’s a question: Can we be friends this Lent? It sounds so silly, but would that be a good question?

Can I be content? Can I be of service?  Can I participate with your work in the world to love, to heal, to befriend, to connect?

It is not God’s work I describe there, but your work in this world. I watch how you lived and loved and bucked the system and ate and drank and touched and taught and broke a lot of rules and through that lens, maybe I can approach you, not as a theological dilemma to be solved, but as a life to be examined, a humanity to be loved.

I’m not really sure why I’m sharing these words with you all. I guess it’s because the complete change of focus from God to Jesus was so surprising to me. It was like I knelt down before the altar to my comfortable, slightly abstract image of a lovely and loving God, and I found myself on my knees before a complicated human being, who lived in the flesh and blood and the “full catastrophe” of what this life is. I don’t know what it means yet, but I know enough to pay attention, to keep asking questions and let my Lenten prayers take me where they may.

What questions are you asking this Lent? What practice is your heart leading you towards? What has to fade away, so that something new can arise? How will you approach these 40 days with grace and intention?

Leaf Heart

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.

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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.

 

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

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

It must happen.

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

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

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

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

How many one-woman plays can an audience stand?

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

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

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

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

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

God,

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

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

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

Amen

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

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

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

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

Postscript:

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

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

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

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

 

Hi All

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

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

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

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

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

She said,

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

Hmmm…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Glennon’s fancy, photographic invitation here.

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

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

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

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

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

Last week as I was walking I had a really hard time getting rid of Patty – you remember her – my “neighbor” who haunts my morning walks. If you missed that story, you can catch up here.

So there was Patty, just yammering away – I can’t even remember exactly what she was worried about – but she was digging into the past, projecting into the future, finding the most minute and gruesome details to chew on and the more I tried to leave her and my ego, my mind, and my worries behind, the less I seemed able to do so. I resembled nothing so much as a dog gnawing a bone.

I tried to breathe in and out, to place myself in the present moment, to enjoy the nature around me, but I was barely taking it in. I felt like I was simply a brain, walking around on my own two feet. Does this look familiar?

And so I began to pray that I could move out of my head and into my heart– that God would help me to truly feel something. There are so many things I think I know, but so few things that I truly feel. And so as I walked I asked God to help me feel, to soften my heart, to give me an experience of real emotion. But after praying for feelings for a minute or two, I started to get nervous. I chickened out and began to backpedal. I know what it feels like to feel things, and I don’t particularly like it.

I said in effect, “Just kidding about that God. I don’t actually want to have a heart that feels things deeply. That hurts too much, so here’s my new and improved prayer. I pray for the feeling to want feelings. I pray that you give me the desire to desire feelings. Someday I will want things to touch my heart, but I’m not there yet, so let’s just go slow. Give me the courage to feel things and then I will pray for things to feel.”

Whew I thought, that was a close one. Baby steps really are the way to go when it comes to these kinds of things.

I continued on with my walk, thinking I had dodged a bullet, and relieved that I had made it quite clear to that I wasn’t up for the challenge yet. I went back to Patty and my old self and walked on home.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t see any ‘#signs of love’ on my walk that day.

But a funny thing happened when I got home. I started getting everyone ready for school – smoothies and bagels and 6-course lunches for four, and then Keara remembered to do something important she forgot, which made a major mess in my kitchen where I was already making a mess and suddenly, wouldn’t you know it, I felt something! Standing there in my kitchen, I felt something ghastly rising up inside me, something like rage, something like judgment and frustration and bitterness! And wouldn’t you know it, I acted on those emotions, because in my experience, that’s what you do when you feel something. And I raised my voice, and I grabbed her project and I finished it for her – the right way of course- and tossed the finished project at her and asked everyone to please get out of my kitchen, thank you very much and I would just handle everything myself and deliver everything they needed if they would just please go away and be quiet!

So that went super well.

And I barely had time to make my apologies before they had to leave for school, but I did. I gave them kisses and hugs and said I was sorry for losing my cool and for acting crazy. I told them they were lovable, sweet, kind children who didn’t deserve the temper tantrum their mother just had. Keara also got a quick reminder that it would really help me out if she would try to remember to wrap up messy projects sooner rather than later.

And Tim, who missed it all because he was upstairs, shot me a quizzical look on his way out the door, which I just waved away, with a “Have a nice day!”

And when the house was silent, I could hear God laughing and I started laughing too, because really, what else can you do?

Apparently, God has selective hearing, just like my husband who tends to be good at hearing what he wants to hear and really good at tuning out the rest. God listened when I asked to experience genuine emotion and ignored me when I took it back. Within minutes God gave me real emotions – they just happened to be really negative emotions. Perhaps I wasn’t specific enough.

I don’t believe in unanswered prayers. I believe that much of the time, we just don’t like the answer, so we put our heads down and pretend that we don’t see it sitting there the whole time.

Obviously, I got the answer to my prayer that morning. God listened to the brave part of my prayer – the part that admitted I was ready to grow and change, and be free of the prison of my mind and the safety it affords me. I also believe He heard the second part of my prayer, where my courage failed and I asked to be left a little bit longer in the cell of my comfort zone.

Is it any wonder that He gives more credence to the prayers that align us with His will? The ones that make us more loving, more compassionate, more fully human and therefore more divine? Is it any wonder that He ignores the rest?

While part of me wanted to say, “See! Don’t give them to me; I don’t know how to handle them responsibly,” the other part of me knew that I was one failure closer to success. Next time I could, and perhaps even would, do better. Next time, I might even experience feelings of deep joy and excitement and what might my response be then? I don’t know, but it might be wonderful to watch.

So I will keep trying to say that brave part of prayer over and over again. I will keep trying to stay open to Love and how it makes me feel and if I respond like a two-year-old, that’s okay.

I’m working on it.

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

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

This isn’t hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting cancer is hard.

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

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