With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's A Wonderful Life

It's been a long time since I have posted. After a good trip to Montana I suffered from a reaction to a medication and to anxiety about, well, everything. Then I got the stomach flu which set me  back another step.  I am recovering from these incidents and hopefully taking two steps forward now. I had angels sent to me in the form of Connie for ten days and Bill for two days, and in the form of my mom and dad for eight days. God bless you and thank you for your help and support and love.

Rob and I and the kids watched Jimmy Stewart in It;s A Wonderful Life over the weekend. I had never seen it from the beginning, and just loved watching the story unfold. The children also loved it, particularly Aden. At the end of the film we all had tears in our eyes. Rob reached out to grab my hand and say, "That's how I feel, how lucky we are to have such wonderful friends and family around us. Every day I wake up glad for another day with you and the children."

Rob is the biggest angel of all and strongest support imaginable in a dark time. Please send prayers for him as he deals with a torn meniscus in his right knee and has an MRI on Wednesday. We will keep you updated as to his prognosis.  In the meantime, thank you and love to all.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mold

It's terrifying to imagine that your house wants to hurt you. Last week in Montana my runny nose happily disappeared and I lost the need for a daily nap. William's nose and ears also cleared up and we had a healthy trick or treating week, if you ignore the quantities of sugar consumed by the children. Imagine my distress when the phlegm started production in my head immediately after I entered the door of my home on Saturday. Though I was thrilled to see my husband and to get the kids safely home, I was terrified to be in my house. The stress and the choking river down my throat kept me up all night on Sunday.

Rob stayed home yesterday to help me get to two more appointments. He was absolutely the superhero of the day, and I appreciated his presence so much when the doctor at my second appointment scanned my bloodwork and agreed with the immunologist that I have developed an allergy to some kind of mold, and it's present at my house. This new allergy (didn't show up on any of the tests done in July) probably started because I am "immuno-suppressed" and now it is keeping the system inflamed.

I cried, of course, marking the twenty-eighth time this calendar year that I have blubbered through a doctor's appointment. Fortunately, Connie was calm and assured us that she had been through this process herself, and that it can be easily fixed. Rob tested the home for mold last week on do-it-yourself agar plates but we decided to call Connie's specialist right away and not even wait for the agar plate results. Lo and behold, the specialist (whom I regard as a sort of angel, at this point) can be here on Thursday even though he lives in a small town in Oklahoma! That was a God thing, to be sure.

So now I keep windows open during the day, thankful for the warm weather, and have moved into my son's bedroom over the garage for the time being (not sharing beds, just floorspace). His room has its own heater and we feel that the air might be less contaminated in there. Until Thursday I will try to hand my worries over to a higher power and just give thanks that we might finally have all of the answers.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thoughts from Montana

To whom much is given is much required. [Luke 12:48]  

I am writing from the Last Best Place, as Montanans like to refer to their state.  The kids and I are on fall break, taking long walks and golf cart rides down toward Flathead Lake and catching glimpses of golden eagles, arctic swans, hawks and deer on our daily dalliances. This morning I went for a walk in the darkness (though it was 8 am I needed a flashlight) and I ran into a fellow walker - not a two-legged variety but a two-horned buck. 

Trick-or-treating in Polson was delightful for the children, who got dressed up at mid-day and went down to the town center to run in and out of all of the stores that had a pumpkin in the window. Almost all the local establishments were open to kiddos and their little pumpkin bags ran over by the time we had been up and down the length of Main Street. The joys of a small town! Papa and I darted into the shoe store for a few minutes while the kids were gathering candy and bought some shoes, Papa because he really needed shoes and I because I was distraught that I could not eat any type of candy.

I am still recovering from my illness and dealing with a new worldview. Being out in the mountains and by the lake help me to put things into perspective. I used to feel that because I had been given so much - great family and upbringing, best education money could buy, certain intellectual and athletic abilities - that I owed the world some great achievement. Writing a book, running a charity, running a marathon for charity - these types of activities felt required.

But being up here, where life is simpler, and reflecting on the Biblical text, seems to lead me in a different direction. I have been given so much love in my life, so much support and encouragement. I owe the world love and encouragement and support, I owe it service and not achievement. These actions start with my children and my husband and my family and hopefully spread to friends and community. Here in the Last Best Place, maybe I am starting to see how to live my best life.

Monday, October 22, 2012

More Humility

"You and Dad are in the Forties Column, right Mom?" asked the first grader last night. Trying to go with the flow of first grade math I answered that we both were indeed in the forties column. "And after 49, you would go to 50, right Mom? I mean, if you live that long."  He was alarmed at the raucous outburst of laughter that followed - both my older children and husband found the thought of my early death quite amusing. I sputtered my way through reassurances that if I did live to 49 I would certainly find 50 right around the bend.

Daniel's calm around the topic of my age and potential early demise reassured me that my summer's illness had not scarred him for life. Perhaps he has formed a back-up plan in the case that I off myself with another autoimmune high-wire act. His attitude is healthy but humbling. I've found a lot of humbling waiting for me in recent weeks.

On Friday I had a walking date with some close friends who have always been partners in crime when it comes to hiking, biking, running, etc. We planned to hike the Bluffs that morning, which lie to the south of us and present about 2.5 miles of up and down hill trails. The Bluffs have always been a fun walking and running challenge for me, but I was nervous last week that I would not make it, especially at the pace usually set by the girls. I confided my worry to one, who offered to reschedule for a flat trail. Humbled though I was, I couldn't change the route, deciding instead to hope for the best and ask for help (by way of piggy back, bungee cord, or extended rest break) when I needed it.

I was poignantly reminded of a hike we took several years ago in the Colorado mountains with a varied-ability group. Two friends and I felt the need for speed and, after a short while with the others, blazed ahead at a rapid pace to get the heart rate up and the caloric burn. I was chastised by my dear friend and mentor - a79-year-old poster person for health and fitness and strength. He reminded me that a leader always stays with the group and helps everyone succeed,  never bolting ahead in a show of strength and speed. He admitted to similar desires, which took the sting out of his words, but I don't know if I truly "got" the message until last week, when I was the loser at the back, feeling the potential to be left out of companionship and friendship and fun due to my physical limitations.

I made it around the Bluffs without setback or serious concern, but I'll think twice about my trailblazing ways if I am lucky enough to keep walking and hiking as a part of my lifestyle. The perspective from the back has changed my desire to lead from the front.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Burning Bush

There's a burning bush outside the dining room / office window and the crimson color reflects early morning sunlight so vividly that the kitchen ceiling turns pink each day after the kids go to school. The autumnal fireworks are stellar in Colorado this year, and they keep my mood from turning dark on mornings like this when digestive hemmings and hawings produced another restless night, and William's vital Webelo badges turned up missing on the morn of a big Pack Meeting.

I just went to the basement in a desperate attempt to find the Wolf Badge and the wreckage downstairs drove me screaming from the arena. If we just dragged all of the toys and props and scraps into a gigantic trash heap would the children ever miss them? I feel a strong desire to toss it all, to winnow our lives down to the things that have meaning, just as the my life has been whittled down to the basic activities that feed me and my family and keep our little house running.

If the burning bush on my right suddenly spoke and revealed truth to me, what would it say? Make the most of what you have today and be positive! Never give up, never ever give up! Be humble and accept the gift of suffering and knowledge of your limitations!  The Boy Scout badges are in the lower left hand drawer in the new cabinet (I wish)!

I've learned a few truths in the time of the burning bush for myself: we may never find the badges and pins but my husband and I made a good team in looking for them, neither assigning blame and both equally concerned for our son. That I am lucky to be out in the autumnal splendor and I can witness and give thanks for the brilliant trees and leaves much better at a walking pace than at a run. That time passes and progress occurs at slow rates but yet great gobbles of days pass by and somehow things are better.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Finding the Meaning

"If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things."
- Japanese poet Ryokan, as quoted in When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron

We recently re-designed our home, turning the dining room into an office and our office into a bedroom for our older son. In the process we went through dozens of old file folders and an entire filing cabinet full of irrelevant financial statements, outdated teaching documents, and ancient health information. In my stack of folders I saved merely two inches worth of paper, most of it related to writing and some lovely quotes on the environment and spirituality. What didn't make the cut?  Endless projects filed away under "Green Team," "Celebrate Green," "Worms eat my Garbage," "How to Run a Marathon," "Best Triathlon Times," "Museum paychecks." The past ten years seem to have given birth to a myriad of projects and classes, all short-lived. How could I find meaning in this stack of refuse?

I have been chasing around after too many things. Relieved to at least see a few themes appearing, I was still bewildered by the rapidity with which I jumped from one effort to another. Nature abhors a vacuum, and I apparently have abhorred any downtime that could have been used for thinking or pondering meaning. Family life is hard and children are hard; my solution to the difficulty was to find something else to do and run after it as quickly as possible.

Hard on the heels of this realization was the instinct to go off and find another project! As I told a friend recently, it hasn't been comfortable to sit with my thoughts in the quiet house, remembering how I drove myself into the ground and thinking of what I can do differently now. If I want to pull any meaning from the tumult and pain of the past ten months, I'll have to sit and think, yet new ideas beckon, new workout schedules compile themselves in my mind. Change hurts. And yet, in ten years I don't want to sit down with another stack of file folders, wondering where the meaning was in all of my varied pursuits. I want to know what my life is about and be aware that I have spent the majority of my time and energy there.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

James and the Boys

 
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Siblings Surround The Happy Couple

 
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A Rose in Bloom in Napa

 
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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Charm of Hummingbirds

My youngest brother, James, married the kind and lovely Molly this past summer and I haven't had the chance to write about their union. It's a tough topic for me, because when we got to Napa I was the most ill I have ever been in my life, and the struggle to stay on my feet and attend the wedding ceremonies was terrific. We stayed in a gorgeous home on a hill in Napa with two of my brothers and their families, and in all ways the setting and the events should have been idyllic for me, as they were for the rest of the crew.

One evening we sat around the porch table overlooking the valley. It was beautiful beyond belief to see across the vineyards to the sunset-tinted hills and even the faint Pacific and Bay beyond. My sister and brother and I were beset by hummingbirds, as the host family had many feeders on their porch. The whir of wings was almost too close for comfort as they darted and swooped, and my siblings started wondering what a group of the birds was called. It's a charm, of course, and this lead us into discovering that a group of peacocks was an "ostentation," a "bloat" of hippos followed, and a "murder" of crows. I didn't contribute much but was inspired by my literary and curious family.

Both ceremonies that united Molly and James were inspiring in their own way. The church ceremony saw their official union in Molly's grandmother's shawl, my father choking his way through the reading, and the cousins sitting up well-behaved in quiet through the service. Molly and James are perfectly suited in their kindness and modesty and love for friends and family. These attributes were on full display at the lovely and larger vineyard ceremony two days later. Afternoon sun came across the vineyards again and my younger sister "married" her brother and his wife in front of all the family and many happy friends. Molly's family is wonderful and kind and just a tremendous gift to all of us.

Molly and James are off on their honeymoon now and I hope they know how much they are still in our thoughts. My siblings and their families, parents and Molly's family have all been a source of love and strength for me in the past few months and James and Molly should know that that same source of love and support will be there for them always. Welcome to the family, Molly, we love you!

Monday, September 24, 2012

B-E Aggressive?

"Not causing harm obviously includes not killing or robbing or lying to people. It also involves not being aggressive -- not being aggressive in our actions, our speech, or our minds."
- Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

My spiritual director lent me the Pema Chodron book with the disclaimer that it wasn't negative, or that he meant to imply that my life was falling apart. I took the book with the assurance that my life had certainly fallen apart and I was willing to get whatever input I could on how to put it back together again. Be careful what you wish for.

In last night's reading I found the quote above, and what immediately leapt to mind was my high school cheerleaders singing "Be aggressive, B - E aggressive!" at our basketball and football games. It's been part of my mindset since I was at least 11 or 12, seeking to compete in school and sports. And yet Chodron says I need to break this cycle in order to be non violent with myself and with others.

I see that competition, like anything else, can be done to excess. I see that it isn't inherently bad, but can turn bad.  I've never before seen it as violent. Yet now, as I reflect on how I punished my body in self-competition, drove wedges in friendships due to competition with others, I see that competition is violent, and I am more ready than ever to excise it. Unfortunately, I have those damned cheerleaders singing in my head and each day I have to plug my ears to them, as well as to the voices that tell me I am lost, am no one, if I don't compete for status, money, position, influence, excellence.

But all that was taken away from me in the past four months and those I love and care about did not desert me. It really does turn out to be that my presence is more important than my accomplishments, that "be-ing" is way more important than doing. All I need to do now is remember that little fact as I re-enter the mainstream of life.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thursday Thoughts on Love

I spent a lovely hour with my Just Faith family this morning, and during our time of prayer, meditation and reading I gathered a few wonderful quotes. My daily email from Richard Rohr yielded a third. Good food for thought as I re - vision my self and purpose.

"Any exercise of power apart from love leads to brutality and evil; but love that does not lead people to a whole new kind of power is mere sentimentality and emotion."
- Father Richard Rohr

"My occupation--love. . . it is all I do."
- John of the Cross

"What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who knows you, what breaks your heart and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything."
- Pedro Arrupe

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Don't Call it a Comeback

I don't know if you saw the Broncos play the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday but it was a dire and desperate first half for the Broncos. I went to bed in exhausted disgust, leaving Rob to cheer on the home team.  Next morning, the headlines showed the score narrowed to 27 - 21 (not in our favor) and Rob observed, "the Broncos almost staged a comeback."  At which point our six year old started to rap, "Don't call it a come back, don't call it a come back."  He has the lyrics to 80's rap song "Mama Said Knock You Out" apparently on speed dial in his brain.

The gut-busting laughter that followed was a great moment but even more than that, Daniel's rap got me thinking. Am I staging a (lengthy) comeback or am I headed in a new direction? On Sunday (well before the game) I went to 9:00 services at church and heard a great sermon on how "passion plus vision equals transformation."  I've been long on passion in my life but not always strong on vision. Reverend Millard compared passion to a car's engine and vision to it's steering wheel. With a lot of passion and no vision, your car goes tearing around in circles. With vision and no passion, your car is pointed in the right direction but never gets anywhere. For the past eighteen months I have approached short-term goals (mainly in athletics) with great passion but with no long-term vision. I circled off onto a specious road-ramp, away from the main highway and purpose of my life.

So I wouldn't say my prayed-for return to health is a comeback. I need to restore both my energy and passion as well as install a long-term vision for how I can best serve my family and friends and community. That's a lot of work to do, and sometimes I think my healing is slow because I have so much spiritual and mental work to do as well as so much physical damage to repair. As always, I struggle to be patient and trust any timeline that is not my own. But a little music and laughter goes a long way.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Re-entry is Bumpy

I just re-read my previous post and wanted to scratch its eyes out. What idiot wrote about recovery and new directions in such an irritatingly positive and light-hearted tone? Re-entry is bumpy and difficult and uneven.  My tendency is to want to tie things up in a knot, but as soon as I turn my back it all unravels like the twine supposedly holding my string beans in the garden.

A good friend of mine, who is a retired Presbyterian minister, once said, "sometimes God just says 'no'. The door slams in front of you and He doesn't open a window anywhere, or at least not for a while. You're just left staring at the closed door." In discussing this with another friend, who is a social worker, she observed that it's really hard to see a window opening when you are throwing a temper tantrum in front of the closed door and banging on it for all you're worth.

Saturday became a day of closed doors, frustration and anxiety, as I failed to nap well (I sound like a colicky infant here, which indeed I was about 41 years ago), had difficulty herding my son and family to the soccer game, and struggled to assist my husband in any way with the new office. Fortunately I made it to church Sunday, where our minister preached an inspired text on accepting the will of God. He noted that if we don't get what we want when we pray, we're not alone. It's fine to ask for life events to bend to our will but when we're left in a different situation we have to trust that God's will takes us to a better place. Life is like Denver's western skyline, uneven peaks and valleys where the only rule is that "this too, shall pass."

So I continue to struggle with accepting the pace of my recovery and my current limitations. I try to accept where I am and not worry about where I should be (or where other people are). I am definitely on the road up from a deep valley, but it's going to take a while. I have a lifetime of stubborn willfulness to combat, where splintered doors are more common than new windows.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

New Things

"Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"
- Isaiah 43: 18 - 21

I spent twenty amazing minutes in the pool yesterday, carefully monitoring my heartrate and pausing between fifties to breathe deeply and stretch out. This slow re-entry to the water was a baptism of sorts. Swimming is an old activity for me, but my approach is new. In fact, many things now will be new, though I am certainly the same person, with the same crazy personality and same loving family and friends.

My body continues to improve, and as I get stronger I become less anxious about the future and more excited to start a new path. I am eager to spend time with friends again, reveling in the freedom to spend long mornings with them instead of cramped sessions between workouts. I want to return to yoga, start pilates, look for dance classes - any activity where I can stretch myself, be creative, and avoid competition. Of course, I may have to wear a blindfold to entirely avoid comparing myself to others, but hopefully I'll come around!

There remains some grieving to work through. I will miss the energy and adrenaline rush of competition and boot camp class, and I will miss the camaraderie of these activities. I will miss the image of myself as a Super Woman and athletic winner. But I won't miss being tired all of the time, and I won't miss constant nagging injuries, and I certainly won't miss illness.

I am grateful to be emerging into this second chance at living my adult life. I know I need to be careful and not rush into any activities - old or new - but I have enough family and friends to remind me of that! Love to you all - Laura


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Weigh It Is

I have never been so excited to put on weight; stop, have I ever been excited to put on weight?  Like any American woman, I'd have to say no. The welcome three pounds that I added over the past two weeks and celebrated at yesterday's doctor visit represent a first; the first time that bulking up represents the goal and not the enemy.

Over the past four months I've been on what my sister and I call the "I feel like hell diet." Because I developed a 'leaky gut' due to my autoimmune disease, all of my nutrients were going right through my body and the pounds fell off no matter how much I ate. I felt completely out of control and directionless, as well as unattractive and incapable of doing necessary chores like grocery shopping and laundry. Here's the big rub, though - up until the last four or five weeks when anyone could see how unhealthy I was, I kept getting compliments on how 'good' I looked, how fit.

People mean to be kind, and it is not their fault that we women interpret looking good to mean looking thin. Unless a woman is on a weight-loss odyssey (which is a good bet in 2012 America), we don't really want to hear it.  I have many friends who agree to forebear all discussions of weight, who don't buy magazines with airbrushed models, and who refuse to look at the scale at their doctor's appointments.  I intend to adopt this last habit as soon as I hit my goal weight, because if I keep on going and add a few extra pounds (and curves) I don't want to know about it and start judging myself harshly.

The weight-related comment I remember after 20+ years is one that a college classmate made to me after I returned to school for my junior year. I had been on a summer binge of cheesecake and ice cream (which I would nearly kill to eat now), and had put on ten pounds. My friend waved to me as I walked toward him through the flagstoned courtyard and said, "wow, don't you look healthy!"  At the time I took this comment as a negative, and instantly applied it to my extra weight. Yet now my ultimate goal is to BE healthy, and whether I look that way or not will be my business and not anyone else's.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Master of a New Fate

"It was a fine balance-one tiny fraction too much training could do it-between being acutely fit and chronically ill." from Gold by Chris Cleave
*Author's note-this blog was pinch typed by Laura's sister Karen.

That "fine balance"? Well, I completely tipped the scale, and not in favor of "acutely fit". The weight of racing, training, school ending, and an even busier home life triggered my auto-immune difficulties and caused a cataclysmic internal chain-reaction from which I am still trying to recover. Since I last posted my hope has been further tested, new and less acceptable four letter words have been  uttered, and I temporarily hit my new "lowest point" before beginning the upward climb back to health.

From the depths of my troubled waters, though, I have been blessed with many bridges back to health. The help started with my husband Rob carrying me through the moments when I honestly didn't think I could get out of bed, and continued with my amazing boot camp buddies and training partners. They brought meals and simply showed up to talk. And then there was family. My daughter Aden organizing me and watching her brothers while I headed off to doctors appointments. My in-laws researching food solutions and coming out to help, to more recently my superhero mom coming to stay and offering peace of mind as well as endless meals and child care (both of me and her grandchildren). Mom was relieved by my sister Karen who brought culinary genius, child development expertise (despite what her nephews may think), and a strong shoulder to lean on. Lastly, the neighborhood at large banded together to form a Caring Bridge Brigade of delicious food, play dates, and offers of time together. These accumulated gifts of kindness have left me with a feeling of deep appreciation and a keen desire to pay it back and pay it forward as soon as I am able.

This summer I have had a lot of time to reflect. I have realized that in the last two years I was attempting to turn back the clock by revisiting my training regimen of my collegiate years. Finishing a marathon and completing other races with best times at the top of my age group gave me an ego boost and a thrill. Who said I couldn't compete with the twenty-somethings?! The pursuit of this blind focus led me to a sharp descent, much like hounds following a rabbit off a cliff. Now, finding myself at the bottom of the ravine looking up, my goals have changed. As I climb laboriously back up the cliff towards good health my only focus now is on being well and being present for family and friends. Competition may be a thing of the past for me. I don't fear losing, but I do fear something else Chris Cleave wrote about in Gold-"The lingering sensation that in pursuit of my own exacting goals and objectives I might not have been as generous of spirit as I could have been with regard to the needs and dreams of people I cared most about or for whom I was emotionally responsible."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hope has Four Letters, Too

The neurologist diagnosed me with "subcutaneous allodynia," which basically means "pain underneath the skin when there is no reason or cause for pain."  He is treating it as a static migraine with strong medicines including prednisone. I am reluctant to take these but so exhausted from the pain that I will try them for the week before my brother's wedding. It's funny how dancing with my family became much more important than any competition, music necessary for life when medals are not.

My other doctor, affiliated with my ob/gyn and in tune with illness as a systemic issue, received my food sensitivity test**  results on Tuesday. I do not have any allergies as they are traditionally defined, and this threw my internal medicine doctor off the scent of the root cause of my problem, but I do have many strong gut sensitivities to food. When the suspect foods (originally gluten and casein and now almond, soy, oat, corn, chocolate, buckwheat and pecans, as well) break down the intestinal tract and start circulating in the body, my immune system attacks.  

We (the doctors, my family, and I) are hopeful that if I stay on my newly restricted diet for 6 months that I can calm my immune system and end the migraines. Well, hopefully the migraines will end long before that time but it may take that long to re-introduce the suspect foods. My sister had this same problem two years ago - I'm not sure why it took me six months to recognize that my problem might be similar to hers - and restored herself to health by abiding by her specific diet. 

I hope and pray that this journey takes a new direction. Healing won't be quick. It took me 8 months to get into this predicament so probably will require more than 48 hours to get out. I am thankful for hope and for the opportunity to act on my own behalf. Perhaps now I can build back what I have broken down.

**The test was done by Genova Diagnostics. Please get in touch with me if you have any interest or questions about it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pain is a Four Letter Word

"One thing about pain: it proves you're alive." - Ashleigh Brilliant

My head is on fire. It's been on fire for eight weeks with little containment. I have seen my ob/gyn, internist, chiropractor, dermatologist and am scheduled for the neurologist tomorrow. Medications prescribed include cortisone, other steroids, vitamin B, anti-neuroinflammatories, Vicodin, other painkillers. Rest has been suggested, exercise too. Allergy tests came back negative so I tried food sensitivity tests. No news yet. I eagerly await the absence of pain. I've tried to make it my friend but at best we are civil to one another.

Perhaps you have been here: the long stretch of not understanding the problem. We hope it is the homestretch, but no one can tell us - no final lap bell rings, no spectators cheer. The world goes on. Kids demand attention beyond the meal preparation, laundry and carpool service that proscribe summer days. When we hide in the basement for its quiet cool, they come to find us, angry that we hide, that we are less than.  Husbands patiently hold up under repeated bouts of tears, sleepless nights, many (many) dollars spent.

Heat makes things worse - endless repeats of 100-degree days are a cruel joke. Yet life goes on. People get married, kids swim and compete, friends need attention. Volunteer responsibilities require time and effort. My hair falls out repeatedly - not enough for anyone else to notice, apparently. I never know if their noticing would make things better or worse.

Thank you for your prayers and for your kindness. I apologize for my absences, for my shortnesses. The summer has been hard. I am sure there are gifts here, I just need some time to find them. Love to all.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Next, Great Adventure


“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” – Albus Dumbledore to Harry, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapter 17, JK Rowling
“Oh, you know nothing, Jon Snow.”  - Ygritte to Jon, A Storm of Swords, multiple references,George R.R. Martin

Our Benet Hill family gathered yesterday evening at Sr. Marilyn’s home in support of a cherished classmate who recently lost her husband. Her loss was sudden, described as a ‘trip over the rapids’ as opposed to a ‘leisurely inner-tube-ride down the river,’ which the doctors had suggested was an option. It was lovely to be with my classmates again and beautiful to participate in their love and support.  But (there’s always a ‘but’ with this topic) it’s so painful to see someone suffer and not be able to help. I felt painfully inadequate, too naïve and unprepared to assist anyone with their grief. As I drove home Ygritte’s words played on an infinite and unwelcome loop in my head, “You know nothing, you know nothing.”

No one really knows anything about death, except perhaps those who have had a near-death experience, but some folks have more experience with loss and standing alongside those who grieve. Sister Marilyn is one of those people, and I find it helpful to watch her and see how she handles situations of loss and sorrow and grief. As a hospital chaplain she has stood by many bedsides and comforted many families. She makes me feel death’s normalcy, its part in the rhythm of life, despite the pain that it brings.

Just last week our Engaging Spirituality / Just Faith class explored the topic of death. The atmosphere was dark at first, but after talking about our fears (or lack thereof) for an hour or more, the tension eased and we laughed together, particularly when someone said her husband was only allowed to remarry if he places a huge portrait of her in the bedroom! The subject of death cannot be avoided indefinitely, so it can help to raise it to the light. To my surprise, many folks in the class do not fear death. I do, because I want to raise my children and cannot bear to think of missing them. I’m also quite fond of being here. My classmates with grown children, however, have “well-organized minds,” and are willing to go on to the next great adventure, though hoping for a speedy and comfortable ride. Many referred to stories of near-death experiences of folks they knew personally or from stories they had read. All found comforting the fact that these stories are always positive, loving, light-filled.

This morning I spoke to another friend whose parent received a dark diagnosis over the weekend. The news is very painful for her and her family and for those who love her.  I swam laps with tears and chlorine in my eyes, my breath catching more than usual. Ygritte’s words returned to bounce around in my head: “you know nothing, you know nothing.” The words are true, but I am willing to learn, to be there, to stand alongside, and to share any piece of the burden that can be mine.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Miss Representation

I saw the documentary "Miss Representation" (www.missrepresentation.org) on Saturday. It's fortunate that I went with a group of fifteen strong, well-educated women, and came home to an emotionally intelligent and receptive husband or I might well have drifted into media-induced depression. Consider the following:

- "In a climate of a 24-hour media cycle and the proliferation of infotainment and reality TV, media has become the predominant communicator of cultural values and gender norms"
- "An individual's brain does not fully develop until the age of 24, which means our children and our young adults are our most vulnerable class of citizens"
- "Reality TV portrays women as catty, manipulative, vindictive and on display for male judgment and objectification"
- "Through media and advertising, boys get the message that they should be violent, in control, unemotional, and that women should be treated like objects and second class citizens." (All statistics from Miss Representation talking points, on the website)

The film highlighted many disturbing clips from reality TV shows and commercials that are readily available day and night on any mainstream channel. My friends and I cringed away from half-naked women in catfights and digitally enhanced (or reduced) images of young people; if we had a choice we would have changed the channel. Yet our brains developed under the influence of vastly different media. When I was young we had three channels, no TV remote, and a sacred "family hour" of viewing when the networks agreed to show only child-friendly material and commercials. These are long gone. If our children develop under the exposure of reality TV and digitally-altered everything, will their brains even know to cringe?

According to the folks at Miss Representation, kids and young adults watch more than 10 hours of media each day. Their world is defined by what they see, hear, and discuss with their peer group. How can young men and women find healthy role models and avenues to growth and development among the images that exist today? They can't.

My impulse is to turn off or get rid of the television - for good. But that solution won't fly in my family, and ultimately would not prepare our children for integration with their culture. Instead, I watch certain (carefully selected) shows with my older children and pause the DVR to discuss the characters of young men and women portrayed.  Thank goodness I can also use my DVR to fast-forward the commercials. We talk to the kids about how the goal of every advertiser and TV show is to influence them, primarily to buy certain commodities (clothes, makeup, shoes, music, etc.) - and make a lot of money.

We can also tell stories about strong women and emotionally - savvy men, both genders in three dimensions rather than stereotypes. We can focus on social justice rather than sexuality and wise choices rather than weight. We can work together with friends and neighbors to support good media with our words and our buying choices and to boycott bad movies, video games and TV shows. We have the power to fight back and create a better world for our boys and our girls, we just need to chuck the remote and represent the way life truly is.


Friday, May 11, 2012

"When we stand before reality preoccupied with ourselves we will see precious little of what is actually there to be seen."
 - Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God, p 34.

My Benet Hill course paused two weeks ago for summer break and I am just now catching up on my reading. I tackled Rolheiser's book first, and have found it about as comfortable as a paper cut. A growing sense of discomfort bothered me this spring, and I think Rolheiser sliced right to the heart of the issue; with a year of introspection and self-healing behind me, I have grown in knowledge and compassion but a healthy chunk of reality passed me by.

Point A: I realized over the weekend that I have not seen my amazing sister since last August. We have plans to be together in July, but that is a full year of absence. Despite (or because of) a good catch-up phone conversation, I feel a sense of loss that twelve months escaped us without time together. We have both been extremely busy, but how could I have let this happen?  Along the same lines, I haven't seen my parents since Thanksgiving, and will have to wait until July to be with them, as well. That is far too long; despite all of the good reasons for our absence (finances, surgeries, work schedules, etc), life is too short and loved ones too precious to spend so much time apart.

Point B: Our daughter and oldest child is headed to middle school next year. She 'graduates' from elementary school in less than a month. Have I been fully present to her unbelievable growth and development? Have I cherished every moment of the childhood that is rapidly receding? Emotionally, I struggle to let her go into the maelstrom of hormones and havoc that is junior high school. To move from the mother of a helpless, colicky infant to the mother of a "tween" is rough work in the short span of a decade.

Point C: What service have I done for those in the margins: the poor, sick, orphaned, widowed, alone? I have worked hard on serving my family, friends, and community groups but I have side-stepped the gospel imperative for a time. I feel this absence not only as a sense of guilt but as a sense of loss.

It's time to sharpen my focus on reality. Contemplation is always good but a preoccupation with myself - even if it centers on spiritual development - threatens to drown my sense of the world and my connections with others. I want to see all that can be seen.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Grow 

Awake! precious life
Blooms now and now and now
In succession of finite time pricks,
Dandelion spores on the wind.

Possibilities revealed moment by moment
In a green and fertile time.
Nature dictates growth or decay,
A verdict or a choice?

Pollinate your dreams,
Imagine the path of a butterfly,
Labor as a nesting robin,
Flash of reddest rouge amidst the brown.





Monday, April 30, 2012

Fight Against the Tide

"Most of what we call aging, and most of what we dread about getting older, is actually decay. That's critically important because we are stuck with real aging, but decay is optional. Which means that most of functional aging is optional as well." - Chris Crowley and Henry S Lodge, MD, Younger Next Year (for Women), p36  

I just finished reading Crowley's book Younger Next Year - the version he adapted specifically for women as opposed to the first wildly successful best-seller - and though I desperately want to loan my copy out to everyone I know, I just can't as it is already battered, dog-eared, and split in the middle. The book vindicates my mad passion for exercise, indeed justifies all expenses for athletic pursuit and equipment, hooray!

The simple truth Crowley and his doctor, Lodge, expose between the covers is that the human body is designed to move. Every day, not some days, and especially as we age. Everything in this paragraph comes from the book, and they explain much better than I do, so I am highly recommending that you purchase this book! The authors note that aging begins in the late 20's, and accelerates after 40, and for women, it REALLY gets going after menopause. Sound scary? It does to me, too. And yet.... we can beat back the tide! We can send opposing messages to our bodies, and they WILL listen.

Here's a great quote: "Exercise - the physical work of hunting and foraging in the spring - has always been the single most powerful signal we can send that life is good; that it's spring and time to live and grow." (p 39, italics are the authors') And another gem: "Seventy percent of what you feel as aging is optional." (p 6) Optional aging? Hallelujah - then I opt out of the 70% that is optional. The main premise is that we need to exercise 6 days a week for the rest of our lives. And not just 'easy' exercise either. I won't get into the details here, but . . . read the book. Happy, healthy exercise to all!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Summer Break

‘God breaks the heart again and again until it stays open.’ -Rainer Maria Rilke

I just finished my first year in the Benet Hill Spiritual Formation program. What a gift this year has been, and what a difficult journey. In the one-page summary I turned in for my end-of-year conference I had to answer this question: how have you changed? The space to reply was small and I laughed. How have I not changed? might be the better question.

To sum things up I could say that I have learned the truth – or many truths – about myself. About who I really am, about the strategies I use to get by in the world, about how I was wounded and healed as a child. I discovered gaps in my parenting, my relationship-building, and of course in my spirituality. Little by little I struggled to close those gaps, to move from reacting in fear to responding in love. It’s the long, steady work of forever, but it seems to be the best work I can do. And . . .I was privileged and honored to hear my classmate’s truths and their amazing stories. We were strangers at the first class last September, and now share an amazing bond, a willingness to expose our vulnerabilities and an appreciation of each other’s strength and ability to love.

Was my heart broken? Oh, yes. To share in someone’s deep pain – the illness of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a spiritual dark night of the soul – guarantees a period of broken-heartedness. I even think that now, it might stay open. At least, as Sr Marilyn might say, “the door is ajar.” So now our summer break. The respite comes as a relief, though I have four or five books to read and meditation to continue, if I can maintain some sanity and moments of alone-ness in the craziness of the children’s summer vacation. But I have a new self, a new mind (a beginner’s mind) and I hope that this summer will be another new journey. “I give up what I thought I knew. I don’t expect to ever again feel secured by intellectual confidence. But I find life much more interesting now, living with not knowing, trying to stay curious rather than certain.” - Margaret Wheatley

Friday, April 20, 2012

How do We Navigate These Times?

Today is April 20. It is deportation day for a friend of dear friends. She arrived several years ago from a poor and desperate country with two young girls. She was pregnant at the time, fleeing abuse, rape and torture and the people that killed her husband.

She has pursued legal channels to obtain residency in the US. Due to a case that was initially mismanaged, plus signs of post-traumatic stress which hinder her ability to jump through hoops, plus our country's rigid immigration laws, the system has failed her. May God bless her and her children and keep them safe.

In witnessing painful systemic injustice, we all ask - how can we keep going? In class on Tuesday, Michelle offered us a quote from Margaret Wheatley,entitled How Will We Navigate These Times? I offer it to you:

"The answer is together. We need each other differently now. We cannot hide behind our boundaries, or hold onto the belief that we can survive alone. We need each other to test our ideas, to share what we're learning, to see in new ways, to listen to our stories. We need each other to forgive us when we fail, to trust us with their dreams, to offer hope when we've lost our own. I crave companions, not competitors. I want people to sail with me through this puzzling and frightening world."
-(Leadership and the New Science, p 171)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Perfect Parent

"Each of us is looking for the perfect parent. We are waiting to have someone who completely understands us to mirror back that we are simply wonderful."
- Pat Wyman, Three Keys to Self Understanding:An Innovative and Effective Combination of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Enneagram, and Inner-Child Healing

A new baby arrived in our family over the weekend; my nephew, Joseph Matthew Clavadetscher, made his miraculous entrance in perfect health. A beautiful blessing for my brother and his wife and their two-year-old, who has suddenly become a big brother and - for a time - second banana. Talking with my brother brought back memories of my babies and of my scrambles to be an adequate mother. Survival, not perfection, was my goal.

Yet reading Wyman's book has been deeply moving to me as both a child and a mother. I can usually read only a few pages without some deep emotional shift, after which I either cry or take a nap. When I read this statement about envisioning yourself as a small child in the house you grew up in, I just ached: "In virtually every case, the child is alone in the house. That is because no matter the size of the family or the age of the child, she felt alone." When I imagined my young self in our home in Ann Arbor, where I spent formative growing-up years, I too was alone, despite my large and loving family. Wyman presents this as no one's fault, just a reality of childhood. We want something that no one else can give to us; this seems tragic and flawed. It is especially crushing to wonder if my own children feel this way, too.

And yet . . . there are ways that we can be loved completely. Faith teaches us that our higher power (God, Spirit, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, etc.) loves each and every person honestly and despite our flaws. I have written before about my struggle to say and believe that "I am the beloved Child of God." That statement comforts me but I find it difficult to comprehend and integrate.

What gives me more hope and peace is the following statement from Wyman: "The perfect parent is living within each of us, and it is up to the adult part of the self to mirror back to the soul everything that the soul has been waiting for." I can love myself, show compassion to myself, and honor my deepest, darkest feelings. I can be that source of endless love and support that seems so elusive elsewhere. Belief that God / spirit / source resides within me helps me with this effort, but ultimately this feels personal. I hear my own two-year-old voice in my head when I re-read these lines: "I do it myself!" What comfort and peace to know that we have this power within us, and that our children have it too.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Resurrection: Culture of Life Defeats Culture of Death

"Jesus was a one-man crime wave." - Father John Dear

I was privileged to hear Father Dear speak on Tuesday. He requested that we call him John, as "Father, Dear" was just a little too over the top. So John, then, is a Jesuit priest and peace activist who has been arrested 80 times (by his own count) and who was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. He was at our church as part of the tour to promote his latest book,
Lazarus, Come Forth!: How Jesus Confronts the Culture of Death and Invites Us into the New Life of Peace.

In John's presentation he breathed new life into the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of John, which is the only gospel to contain the story of Lazarus. Fr. John (as opposed to the gospel of John) argued that Lazarus represents all of humanity; we belong to the culture of death as it is expressed in war, poverty, preventable illness, trafficking, racism, sexism, and death row. Fr. John argued that we are in thrall to death's power, that we do not fully believe that we can defeat it. Just like the mourners in Bethany, like Mary and Martha, our faith is not strong enough to let us believe that life in God / Jesus is truly stronger than death.

Fr. John noted that Jesus wept out of sorrow for our lack of faith in him and in life itself. Then Jesus went to Lazarus' tomb and issued three commands:
1. Take away the stone!
2. Lazarus, come forth!
3. Unbind him, and let him go free!
In Fr. John's reading of the Word, he sees these commands as life-giving orders for each of us. We can roll away the oppressive stone of fear on our heart, walk forth into new life in faith, and be unbound to see, hear, taste, touch and smell what life truly can be.

Fr. John also revisited the foot - washing aspect of the Last Supper, another piece of our faith tradition that only John describes. In Fr. John's narrative, the foot washing is a call to a nonviolent Way, not a call to service (as I described it in my already - outdated epiphany below). He noted the verbs, "Jesus, bent over, lifted, rose" were verbs from the Passion narrative and presaged Jesus' ultimate nonviolent act of death on the Cross. Certainly rich food for thought. New thoughts, new imaginings, new directions - a blessing.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday

"Most scholars agree that the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John 13:34 by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maundy_Thursday

In class with Sister Marilyn on Tuesday I learned that the series of three days (Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday) was called the triduum in the Catholic Church (literally, "three days") and I learned a lot about Holy Thursday, which precedes them. Specifically I learned that the sacrament of Holy Thursday includes both the meal - the breaking and sharing of bread which is in Matthew, Mark and Luke - and the foot washing Jesus gave to his disciples, which is only included in the Book of John. The Mandatum (mandate, mandatory) element of the ritual was meant to be the foot washing, and not the meal.

Here is a wonderful quote from Father Richard Rohr which perfectly sums up the imperative of the foot washing:
"There's no real story of the Last Supper in the Gospel of John as we find it in the other Gospels. There is no passing of the bread or passing of the cup. Instead we come upon the story of Jesus on his knees washing the Apostles' feet. Really quite amazing, and even more amazing that we never made the foot washing into a Sacrament! It is much more explicit in the Scriptures than many other actions we made into sacraments. Perhaps John realized that after seventy years the other Gospels had been read. He wanted to give a theology of the Eucharist that revealed the meaning behind the breaking of the bread. He made it into an active ritual of servanthood and solidarity, instead of the priestly cult that it has largely become. Peter symbolizes all of us as he protests, "You will never wash my feet!" (John 13:8). But Jesus answers, "If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me." That is strong! We all find it hard to receive undeserved love from another. For some reason it is very humiliating to the ego. We all want to think we have earned any love that we get by our worthiness or attractiveness. So Jesus has to insist on being the servant lover. Thank God, Peter surrenders, but it probably takes him the rest of his life to understand."
- Adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 143, day 154

We accepted this mandatum in our Engaging Spirituality / Just Faith group this morning, and took turns washing one another's feet. Though slightly uncomfortable and certainly unusual, it was a beautiful ritual that perfectly set the stage for the coming holy days. We serve those we love, and see our love mirrored in their acceptance. I also want to deeply thank this group for their loving support and receptivity of my bearings letter today; if we can only know ourselves by how we are reflected by others then I am honored and blessed to be reflected by you.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Birthday Gratitude

Today is my birthday.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my parents who launched me into life (and refrained from - as Bill Cosby said - "taking me out of it" at my worst moments), my fabulous birthday-conscious siblings, my truly amazing husband and children, and for my brilliant, loving and loyal friends.

I'm also deeply and surprisingly grateful for that Facebook feature that lets everyone see that it's your birthday. Thanks to folks from nearly every decade of my life for weighing in with good wishes.

Getting older is not for sissies, the old adage goes, and certainly health challenges are on the increase. From the high vantage point of a beautiful 75-degree day in Colorado, it appears to me that longevity's payoff in loving relationships more than balances out the impairments of aging. Note: I really wanted to write "loving relationships and WISDOM" in the previous sentence, but I just cannot use the word wisdom in reference to myself. Maybe by the next birthday . . . or in twenty years.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Amazing Place

Just a quick note to preface the skiing glamour shots . . . we had a brilliant two days on the very warm slopes with John, Carol, Julia, Sean and Audrey. In two - plus years of skiing Winter Park I had never been to the top of Panoramic before and on Friday we made it up there with Rob, Aden, William and John, not once but four times! Utterly fabulous... even at the top we had our jackets unbuttoned and were nearly blinded by the radiant sun. So thankful to J, C and company for making the trip out here and spending precious time with us in the great Colorado outdoors. The kids skied great and were terrific sports about the change of locations and altitude. Hope it's the first of many times together . . .

Julia, Sean and Audrey Ready to Go!

 
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On the LIft with Aden

 
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Cousins Skiing!!

 
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Uncle John with Laura and the kids at the top of Panoramic

 
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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Still Trying . . .

Still trying to give up anxiety. Unfortunately, I only remember to give it up after it reaches a fever pitch, as it did this morning when I paused between organizing a fifth grade flash mob and planning 6-year-old soccer practice to buy diet pepsi for Carol (which I had forgotten in my 8 previous trips to the grocery store this week). I decided that blogging was an acceptable way to alleviate my anxiety and put off cleaning the bathrooms and floors before John and Carol and their children arrive tonight. We are going to have a blast when they're here but the pre-visit cleaning is not my forte!

Between teaching science, sitting through class on the nature of Evil and Sin, Pain and Suffering, flash-mobbing and soccer coaching, I have witnessed a few miracles. These include:

- the smell of a daffodil
- love, freely given and totally undeserved
- a surprise early birthday present
- forgiveness of a child

I am grateful for miracles and all of the people in my life who provide them. I am also grateful for family and the effort they make to spend time with us. Some family members wanted to come but were prevented by health issues; we want to send special loving and healing thoughts to my father-in-law, who is prepping for hip surgery, and my father, who is recovering from cataract surgery. And our thoughts are with my nephew on his second birthday this Saturday, and his parents who are prepping for the birth of their second child. Lots and lots of love, guys!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Firefly

My intro version
plays hide and seek,
burrows under shrubbery,
peers around
chimney bricks
reluctantly releasing heat
of midday sol-itude,
their radiance dissipating into
vaporous twilight, swirling
shouts of chattery laughter.

Intro masquerades as an extra,
the last player in the game,
sequestered until compañeros start
to drift away, their irritation
scratching the early evening air,
too impatient to wait for me
to re-light the spark,
gleam like a firefly
for treasured moments,
broken by darkness.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Corazón

ίQue signifícan ellos,
los latidos de mi corazón?
Sus ritmos, sus alitbajos
Hablan de amor y dolor.
Mi corazón, con su válvula
Agujereada,
Que crece en realidad,
ίCrece igualmente en su capacidad de amar?

Like a door ajar, permitting stealthy entrance
Of unwanted visitors.
Hospitably offering respite, una Zona Rosa for guests
Of which the host remains unaware.
The expanding hostel pointing left but growing right.
A tipping point approaches,
How long can we stay in balance?
Only in this moment.

The doctor will penetrate with fleam, with vision
Of repair and wholeness.
Yet a heart once broken will remain so,
The Atman dwelling within.
Brahma’s twin shines through unstitched seams,
Expands to fill wounds deep and wide.
The question: build hard to pulsing crescendo,
Or patiently abide with steady pulse?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Random

I am perched on my chair
As my derriere is rare;
Too many situps on the floor
Made my rear end red and sore.

Not prizeworthy poetry, but unfortunately true. So as I perch, I wanted to record a few random thoughts. First, I need to defend several of my Words with Friends word choices that have been strongly debated. To my worthy WWF opponents (you know who you are), these ARE words and here I shall prove it:

- Fleam: a handheld venepuncture device (good luck with venepuncture)
- Sherd: a historic or prehistoric fragment of pottery, often spelled 'shard'
- Wode: a wood

And here are some words submitted by aforementioned opponents that I debated:
- Pelves: alternate spelling for pelvis (now that's annoying!)
- Charro: a traditional horseman from Mexico
- Gimel: the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet

So hopefully we are all on the same page / kindle viewing screen.

I also wanted to start keeping track of little miracles - kind of an alternate Lenten activity since I am not doing super well with giving up anxiety. I have not given up giving it up, but thought maybe the new process would support the first.

So, miracle for today: second day of sixty-plus degree weather, and the hyacinths and daffodils are poking their heads above ground. I bet the wode will soon be full of them!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Snow Bunnies

 
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We All Fall Down

Drama ruled last Sunday, as Daniel joined Mom, Dad and the big kids for our first all-family ski runs of the season. After the usual trauma of getting a pole-less five-year-old up the faint hill and through the lift line, we had difficulties with the lift assist and the lift dismount. No one was hurt, but a ski pole lost its life in the process.

Our first greens were so easy and slow that Daniel could not get enough momentum to finish, especially with a biting, stiff wind in his face. After frozen fingers thawed in the lodge, we embarked upon slightly more difficult greens where D could practice his turns and actually make it through a run without multiple parental pushes or big sister pole-pulls.

Prematurely flushed with his success (and the aforementioned wind), we went up the mountain to longer, tougher green and green-blue runs. Alas, we took a wrong turn and ended up on a pure blue slope. I unwisely let Rob have Daniel to himself, taking my turn to ski down with William, and watched as chaos ensued on the snow. Daniel forgot his turns in his fear of the steeper slope and started careening down the hill. Rob forgot logic and attempted to corral D by skiing right next to him. This maneuver was promptly followed by Daniel skiing right over Rob's tips and causing them both to crash hard - Rob right on top of the little guy.

I missed the next part, but Rob filled me in later that night; Daniel started screaming at the top of his lungs, "Call 9-1-1! Call 9-1-1! I need a hospital! Oh, my arm, my arm!" Well, we have never heard him say that before so Rob was terrified, and promptly lifted him up and skied him down the mountain. Aden brought extra skis and poles to me, and we followed in a motley and sad parade.

Turns out that our youngest was fine. The ski patrol / health clinic checked him out and pronounced him whole after their inspection produced nothing but tickles and giggles. Daniel got a package of Oreos out of it, and his parents got a few more gray hairs. Next time . . . lessons!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Going Through the Desert

Frail.
Flawed.
Limited.

These are not words I would normally choose to describe myself. Though I have realized their truth, especially in the past ten years, I keep the knowledge to myself - partly hidden even from myself. I think that the flaws and the limitations are not so obvious; perhaps most people won't notice.

Right now I am at a point where the truth is undeniable. I am in the desert of late February, an appropriate place to be during Lent, I suppose. The wind howls outside, running paths are still snow-covered, kids are getting sick, and I am sick. Having an autoimmune disease sure makes you aware of your flaws, it's not pretty to have one part of your body attack another part.

I went to the doctor last week on an issue unrelated to the celiac, and discovered that one of my heart-valves leaks a little. It's no big deal now, but he cheerfully assured me that one day it would be. My sick son was playing his Nintendo DS at the appointment and heard the summary. The doctor asked at the end of the appointment, "What do you think of your mom? Is she a good mom?" William replied, "Yes, but she needs heart surgery."

I left feeling like I wanted to punch my hand through the wall. It's not that the situation is so bad - it's not - but it's not clean, not pretty, not perfect. My body is a perfect metaphor for my 'self'; it is uniquely flawed, with definitely limitations (not always clean, pretty, or perfect). On the other hand, it's functional, has certain gifts, and as far as I know it remains my only option.

I heard this morning that the Navajo people make beautiful woven blankets with a perfect pattern, but they always weave an imperfection into one corner on purpose. They know that absolute perfection is not part of nature, not part of life. I had to laugh, because I would never have made myself so obviously imperfect on purpose, but perhaps that is the perfect way to be.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

The first day of Lent and I am home with a sick child. Pondering how to re-work the schedule of the next two days as he recovers from the fever of early morning, and pondering the meaning of Ash Wednesday. As a child, the ashy cross on my forehead was both a distinction and a sign of bad things to come. Smears of grey and black on your forehead just don't foretell a fairy tale ending.

Lent also meant giving up meat on Fridays and giving up desserts (except for Sunday nights, which are not officially part of Lent, not being counted in the 40 days before Easter). Going dessert-free was no fun, and I never saw how the lack of ice cream and cookies helped me in my pursuit of spiritual growth. Then again, I did not really pursue spiritual growth as a child, so at least I got in the habit of going without sweets.

As an adult I have continued the practice of giving up things desired: chocolate, coffee, etc. When you fast, you're supposed to think of God or a spiritual focus whenever you crave the given-up item, but mostly when I wanted chocolate,I just thought of chocolate. In the last four or five years I have not given up anything for Lent; my diet is so restricted already it seemed beside the point. I added morning prayers and some meditation last year, but I am still doing those, so what now?

Fortunately, my spiritual director came to the rescue by challenging me to give up anxiety for Lent. He asked me to think about what it would mean to give up anxiety. On the surface, it sounds great! Sure, I'll give up sweaty palms and late night do-overs, no problem. But on further reflection, I realize that giving up anxiety means letting go of all illusions of control. Stuck in traffic? Can't control it. Sick child? Can't control it. Foot in mouth remark made on the playground? Done and over, can't get it back. So, definitely a greater challenge than it seems. I think the payoff might be worth it, so I'm giving it a go. Will keep you posted . . .

Friday, February 17, 2012

Drug-Induced Fog

I had to go back on medication for celiac-related issues this week. As a result I have been tired and cranky, a bit sorry for myself and slightly resentful of demands made by children and others. Today I realized that I have only myself to blame; the children are all in school so if I really need the rest, I should take it! A novel concept. Anyway, I have been puzzling over the idea of our culturally-supported hypnotic trance and wrote a few thoughts about my personal fog . . .

Hypnosis

I am dedicated
to vodka - cranberry,
People Magazine
distraction.

Daydreams of vampire lovers
Spar with laundry basket,
grocery list
awareness.

Addiction to acquisition
of on-sale running gear,
latest bestseller,
barely checked.

And yet. . .

Rain-scent shudders through insensate haze.
Piano chords ripple into deafened daze.
Skin on skin embraces the moment now,
Kiss on warm globed cheek remembers how.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Be Awake

"To become aware of God’s presence in our lives, we have to accept what is often difficult—that human culture is in a mass hypnotic trance. We’re sleep-walkers. All religious teachers have recognized that we human beings do not naturally see; we have to be taught how to see. That’s why the Buddha and Jesus say with one voice, “Be awake.” We have to learn to see what is already there."
- Father Richard Rohr, Adapted from Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer,pp. 29-31

I received this quote in my daily email from Father Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation in the days after the Super Bowl. Watching that pageant on and off for several hours made me feel that we are truly a culture operating hypnotically. We move from morning news or ESPN sportstalk through our hectic days, shifting from computer to Blackberry to cellphone and ipod in our rush to check all the boxes off our list, check all the boxes off our children's list, and sit down at night (often) in front of video games or reality TV. We are asleep, blind to the miracles that exist in front of and all around us as we focus on the football teams, fashions and foibles of our day.

This troubles me a lot because the great spiritual masters also teach that we only have NOW - this moment - to fully live our lives. If we sleepwalk through each one of our NOWs then we will be left at the end of our lives with a stacked pile of completed to-do lists and no awareness of the deeper joys and tragedies, the miracles and the mysteries of our lives. One of my biggest challenges is to live in the now and to relinquish regret and longing for the past, relinquish plans, daydreams, concerns about the future. I know that I am called to do so and it is only lack of determination and discipline that keeps me from awareness.

"Discipline" comes from the same root as "disciple," and recalls Jesus' urging to his disciples in the Garden to stay awake. He tells them multiple times, but they fail him. He forgives, but sadly. Am I awake? Do I see the daily miracles of my children's growth, my husband's love and dedication to his family, nature's multiple gifts? Rohr helps me to set my alarm and realize it's time to wake up.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dabar*

A word, a deed
Born in the bones,
Borne by blood
Through narrow passages.
At times catching, slowing, to
Drip from the tongue,
Each a scythe or a suture.
Or, a torrent hemorrhages,
Spilled uncautiously from mouth portal,
Sourced in hidden conflict:
To dialogue or dominate.
What word began, word can end.


*Dabar is a Hebrew word meaning both "word" and "deed"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Squinky

"Like other rodents, hamsters are highly motivated to run in wheels; it is not uncommon to record distances of 9 km (5.6 mi) being run in one night."
- Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamster_wheel

I really identify with my daughter's hamster. His name is Squinky, which I found odd until I happened to catch a re-run of Friends while folding clothes. In that episode, Lisa Kudrow tells a pouty Jennifer Aniston, "Don't get all squinky on me!" Aden must have picked up the name as a baby when I paced back and forth on endless evenings, watching Friends re-runs until the screaming (hers - not mine) stopped and sleep could begin. She must have absorbed the phrase and held it until the appropriate pet-naming day.

But back to my one-ness with the hamster. Squinky runs insanely fast on his little wheel, aiming his nose inward toward the axle so as not to fall off. He runs all out one direction, then stops and runs equally fast the other direction. Whether this is due to boredom or to inner wisdom (need to balance the muscles on both sides) I do not know. When he needs a temporary pause, he sits up in the wheel and looks outward, as if to say, "What is your deal? A guy's got to run!"

I am sympathetic to Squinky's insatiable desire to spin his wheel, since I suffer from the same compulsion. As soon as Squinky wakes up he throws his body into motion, and I often do the same. Starting with workouts at 5:30am and ending with class tonight at 9:30pm, it's a full day. But . . . he looks REALLY silly. As I laugh at this tiny animal and his need to run a 10k every evening, I have to question my own compulsions - the value of running around in my own wheel(s). Do we ever really get anywhere by running? Can we at least go outside to explore? And wouldn't a good nap and a snack be more fun?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Funnies

Mysteries of pronunciation as overheard in an Elementary school library:

First -grader: "I need to find the mystery of the Yellow Yatchet."
Librarian: "The Yellow Yatchet?? I am not familiar with that book. Let's look it up."
After fifteen minutes of fruitless research librarian says, "Are you sure it is called the Yellow Yatchet? I can't find it anywhere. What does it look like?"
First - grader: "Oh, it's a big yellow boat."

*********

My sister's closing lines to me after an hour of conversation on our full lives:
"Well, keep on keepin' on. Doesn't sound like you have much of a chance..."
Me: "What?? Thanks for your support."
Sister: "Not what I meant to say . . .but just keeping it real."

**********

Good friend consoling me around my fears of not being a good-enough mom:
"I really don't think you're so bad."

**********

As heard in spa while receiving facial among friends:
"If I can wall-sit for three minutes I can sit with my face in a bowl of steaming water for five. No breaks, people! No breaks!"

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Our Deepest Fears

Ever tried
Ever failed
No matter
Try again
Fail again
Fail better
- Samuel Beckett

"The spelling bee is today," my daughter announced at the breakfast table, her tone off-handed and her eyes avoiding mine. "Great," I said, "have fun with that." "Ummmm, I don't really want to win because I REALLY don't want to go to district," she replied to her cereal bowl. I've heard this before about previous years' spelling bees, so I was ready. "How about you do your best, and if you qualify for district, you don't have to go? You could let someone else go in your place. Just make sure to try your best no matter what." She met my eyes then, and thought for a moment. "OK," she said, "that might work."

I know she feels pressure from school to succeed and I am not sure my bid to take the pressure off will be successful, but I don't want her to sabotage her effort and not commit with all her strength to the task before her. So then I had to ask: why do I let myself off the hook? I try my hardest at most things, just not the ones that matter the most. I'll commit to workouts, races, jobs, and volunteer posts, but withhold my heart and soul from writing, from relationships where I might be vulnerable, from my spiritual practices.

Yesterday I met with my small writing group. We have only been meeting for four months yet I really rely on, and look forward to, our gatherings. On this occasion the group read my blog posts from the past few weeks. When it came time to review my work one of my friends enthusiastically leaned across the table and urged me to consider writing more poetry. I cut her off before she finished her sentence with protestations of my amateur style, my inferiority to published poets, etc. I felt so vulnerable that I had to forestall any criticism (from the others) by criticizing myself. If they don't like my work, I think, I have failed.

One of my Spiritual Direction teachers noted last week that we don't have eyes to see ourselves; we rely on the eyes of others to see us while we look for the reflection. I think that is why I protect my writing: I don't always want my true self to be seen because I am afraid to see the reflection in my readers' eyes. Their opinion of my deepest self matters too much, and I feel too disarmed when I share my best efforts. I wonder if my daughter feels similarly exposed in a spelling bee, especially in front of a big crowd. We want to be seen but not seen too much, or too deeply.

I love this quote from Marianne Williamson and return to it time and again:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles", Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3])

May we be liberated from our fears: from fear of spelling bees, fear of showing our heartfelt work, fear of failure, of showing our love, of shining our light. Maybe then we can come to believe that the ONLY failure is the absence of our best efforts, our truest selves.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nested Selves

At the same spiritual direction class I mentioned below, our female teacher brought out a beautiful carved Hawaiian nesting doll, with all the different nested sizes visible from the front. She talked about how the different dolls represented the generations. For me, the doll was a powerful image of all the different selves we carry within us.

I shared this thought with our teacher at the break and she grasped it eagerly. "Ooh yes," she said, "it's like finding a college textbook with your notes written in the margin. It's so fascinating to connect with your old thoughts and associations." She's right, yet some of my former selves are so vibrant I do not need books or old letters to find them. The 16-year-old self who fell in love for the first time, the 25-year-old self who celebrated the restaurants, bars, and parks of San Francisco, the 30-year-old self who was humbled, amazed, and shocked by the birth of our first child; these selves just require a photo or song lyric to appear above the surface of my consciousness. They are strong swimmers.

In every stage of our lives we learn truths and hide them, we experience beauty and are scarred by real or perceived trauma. When I was younger I may have recognized my "true self" much better than in mature versions, which assimilated cultural expectations and egoistic goals into the definition of personality and striving. I hope that my journals and this blog will keep me honest and capture some of the truths from this period of my life. At some point, too, this nested self will be just one in the chain.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Mother / Warrior

"The Warrior. This is the archetype of discipline (and self-discipline), hierarchy and power. The warrior controls the self, controls others, and is controlled by others. " -http://warrior-queens.livejournal.com/

We had a great Spiritual Formation class last week. The subject was how femininity and masculinity affect our spirituality. As part of the discussion we learned archetypes of both females and males. For women: the virgin / maiden, mother/queen, and hag / crone. Both the mythological names and their descriptions disturbed many of the women in the class (for obvious reasons). The men had the Boy, the Magician / Wizard, the King, and the Warrior. Brows furrowed in consternation, many of us were about to protest the discrepancies in the types and descriptions when one of our co-teachers (the male) stepped in quickly to point out that in Celtic mythology, as in other mythologies, the female Warrior is a fourth archetype.

This resonated with me, as with many of my female classmates, especially when he went on to describe the Celtic vision of the warrior. The warrior is not a man (or woman) who fights external threats, s/he is an individual who goes within to confront the inner demons. To 'fly within' can mean a dark and dangerous journey, and those demons we harbor can be far more terrifying than an advancing army. Only when we stand our ground; both naming and facing the demons, can we become truly wise, truly strong, and peaceful - for the time being. For to be a Warrior means to repeat this cycle over and over again throughout our lives.

I latched on to this type because the Mother brings to mind endless generosity, selflessness, openness, even loss of self. Though I aspire to be generous and to lovingly meet the needs of my spouse and children, I am frankly terrified to be needed / wanted to the point of my own extinction. The glowing description of the mother who gives an "unreserved yes" to all those who call her does not match my struggle with motherhood. I feel much more at home with the warrior, recognizing the need to stand my ground against demons of anger, frustration, ego.

Our male teacher pointed out that the Balrog in JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series epitomizes the inner demon (the monster from the abyss). When Gandalf holds the bridge against the Balrog, he turns to face the monster alone,slams his staff into the ground, and shouts "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" These days, when my temper starts roiling at the children's bickering or misbehaving, I imagine myself turning to face it and saying, "You shall not pass!"

Now the warrior does have *slight* control issues, which is where she might need to kibbutz with the mother in me to improve on things around here. To control and be controlling A. does not work in the parenting world and B. is completely exhausting. So perhaps these two selves can have coffee some day and work it out. I'll be re-reading Tolkien and carving a staff for future use.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Pier 39 Carousel

 
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Rainy Muir Woods Day

 
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Sunday, January 1, 2012

City by the Bay

We had a truly blessed vacation in San Francisco / Palo Alto last week. Everywhere Rob and I turned (or drove) we encountered our former haunts, apartments, rental homes, workplaces, party places . . . . Our children were underwhelmed by our tiny first apartments but thrilled by the Golden Gate Bridge views, Pier 39 Carousel and sea lions, Tcho Chocolate Factory Tour and following dinner and Pier 23 and cable cars. The city never disappoints (except when you are looking for cheap housing or a parking spot). Aden and I documented some of the trip in poetry, and here are a few of mine.

Happy New Year to all.

Christmas Haiku

Days of festive light
Dark and cold hold bitter sway,
Communal longing.

*****************

San Francisco

Sea lion barks hoar frost,
Shoulders onto tipping barge.
Clanking cars grab groaning cable,
Climb hills lined by pastel apartments.
Bridges' towers force through fog drift,
Gold and grey both guide travelers to and from
The simmering city.

Memories ooze from every neighborhood,
Shared meals, sipped drinks, friends attended.
Famous landmarks stand impressive and
Achingly familiar.
Old office windows solid and silent;
Memories of play reflect much better off smudgy panes.
Hazy fog of recollections, piercing sunray of present joy.

**************************

Muir Woods (haiku)

Filmy webs dripping
Decorate mossy giants,
The architects fled.