Archive for the ‘Love and Marriage’ Category

Ode to the gifts of the horrible year that was

January 11, 2018

From the backseat, on the way to kindergarten, my five-year-old son asked, “Mom, why do scientists make bombs to kill people?” I paused at the profundity of his question, one I too have wondered, then answered humbly, “I don’t know.”

Almost as unfathomable to me is the intentional destruction of American democracy by those elected to uphold it, and their cruelty toward the vulnerable. Daily I ask, how can this be happening? I was told recently that if I could accept that it IS happening and that people like that exist, I would be better able to live my own values and help to create something different.

In 2017, I rode regular waves of existential fear for my son’s future. Will he live in a free country? Will he be able to vote for his leaders? Will his young life be cut short by nuclear war?

By the time the Las Vegas massacre happened, I thought I had become numb. I didn’t feel anything when first reading news of nearly 500 people shot and 58 killed at a country music festival, but then I watched a video that captured the sound of weapons of war mowing down mothers, fathers, teenage daughters and veteran sons. I saw country star Jason Aldean run off the stage in fear, and I cried all day while trying to work.

Over the course of the year, as my Facebook friends posted about their lives, but increasingly not about politics, and my Twitter feed was full of intelligent people discussing the daily state of our government, but not much about their personal lives, I yearned to read someone who would speak to both. I didn’t want advice; I just wanted to hear how they were taking care of themselves and their children within this national context. So that’s what this is, my story about how I’ve gotten by during the most challenging and clarifying year of my life as a citizen, mother and human being.

I woke up on December 31st grateful that we had made it. We are still alive and our country still has a fighting chance. I now know that I’m ok – even while I am sensitive to the suffering of others, and disgusted almost every day by what I learn in the news.

Early on, a teacher said to me, “Don’t let a tyrant steal your light.” These are the people and unexpected gifts that helped me keep my light.

My husband

P1050024He’s kind, smart and sexy. He stays calm when I am not. I love that in his work he serves children from low-income families. It wasn’t until this year though, seven years into our marriage, that I knew for sure he was meant for the deepest part of me. The part I’ve learned to hide. The part that shakes with grief about what is happening to our country and fears we’ll see things we cannot yet imagine and may not survive, at least with our souls intact.

He never shames me for how much I feel or how often I need to talk about what is happening. He doesn’t roll his eyes when I ask how we’ll spend the last 10 minutes of our family’s life if we receive an alert that nuclear war has begun.

When I call our red-state Senators, and wonder if it matters, he says, “Thank you for doing that.”

Most importantly, we talk about how to parent our son now. How do we shield his innocence, engage wholeheartedly in his joy, and prepare him for his future life in our country? What choices do we make that serve both our son and our communal duty to other people’s children? We feel responsible for the country and the earth we leave him and generations of others.

Speaking of… this guy, our son

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Thank God that our five-year-old’s endlessly rejuvenating joie de vivre commands my attention. I know that I will never again have this exact moment with my precious child and I’d be wise to fully participate. With him and for him, I laugh easily, I chase, I cannonball, I wrestle, I build, and I hold on tight for 20-second hugs.

My best friend

As my panic rose on election night, a feeling I recognized from the days before my Dad died, I texted my best friend in Virginia as she hosted a champagne party anticipating a vastly different outcome. She is the only one I could write mid-year during some awful legislative week, “I don’t think I’m very good at being happy” and be assured that to be having a hard time was normal. She sent me flowers with the note: “These days we need reminders that there are still beautiful things in the world. Your friendship is one of the most beautiful things in mine.” And because I know she pays attention, I love that she took a respite from the news to revel in the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It gives me permission to do the same.

The Great American Eclipse

Being with my family in an open field amongst celebratory community was as much a part of this phenomenal experience as the tear-inducing moment of totality. It felt to me like the Bicentennial when I was seven years old riding my decpexels-photo-580679orated bike while neighbors stood on their front porches and rang silver bells. As the eclipse progressed, it was quite moving to sense that all across the country, my fellow Americans were looking into the heavens for something to heal our brokenness. I wondered if this cosmic happening was of the same stuff as Christ.

Dance class!

By the time summer came, I knew I needed a regular influx of joy in order to turn up my light for my family, my work in the world, and myself. So I thought, “When am I happiest, just for me?” and decided to start dancing again. The DanceFix class I take every Saturday morning is the most fun hour of my week. It is amazing what shaking your booty can do for your spirit.

These Books

Each of these healed and shaped me this year.

  • Paradise in Plain Sight, Lessons from a Zen Garden, by Karen Maezen Miller – Written by a Zen priest who is also a mother, I learned that this life, my life, this very year, this that seems so horrible, this is the Way.
  • Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid – Many times, I had to stop reading to breathe and absorb the sheer beauty of Hamid’s writing. This story of refugees reminded me of how lucky I am. Would that Americans could imagine how easily it may be us needing someone else to take us in.
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates – When Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said about NFL players, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” I thought of this book and the way Black bodies are regarded as commodities with willing, extreme denial that within these bodies are human beings.
  • Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times, edited by Carolina De Robertis – I found parents here. While most of them are people of color or from immigrant families, having it thus much harder than I, I relished their letters to their children and ancestors, and their unwillingness to give up on our country’s promise, even if it takes a long, long time to realize.
  • Trump and a Post-Truth World, by Ken Wilber – This short, dense book helped me see how our society mirrors individual human development. I could then read about fellow Americans posessing what seems to be an astounding lack of compassion for others, including children, and understand that they cannot yet comprehend that they even should care about those outside their immediate circles of identification. I am the same way at times. It helped me recognize my own judgments, and what kind of leadership we all need to move civilization forward.
  • Pantsuit Nation, edited by Libby Chamberlin – I asked my husband for this for my birthday in December so that I could remember how it felt to read the heart-filling stories of all the different people who make America America.
  • The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy – I read this in the last week of the year, during my son’s 20-day winter break from kindergarten. In it Levy tells of losing her premature baby boy after only 10 minutes of having him alive and on her chest. I would put my son to bed after playing all day, and rather than bemoan my exhaustion, I felt grateful for my luck that I get to be his mother.

My growing ability to see people of integrity “across the aisle”

Along with truth-telling journalists and deeply knowledgeable historians, I so appreciate those across the partisan spectrum who are fighting mightily to save our country from corruption, personal greed and foreign interference. Though I am a lifelong Democrat, I’ve come to respect the integrity of some conservatives whom I may never have read otherwise. Without democracy, our policy differences won’t matter and no one, not even those who seem to benefit, will have a real chance at “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Virginia Election

One of the best days of 2017 was the election of Ralph Northam to the Governorship of Virginia, along with a slew of diverse women and men to the state legislature. My family had already made the decision to move home to the Commonwealth this summer and the thought of having a decent and intelligent leader is quite heartening. I also look forward to being in a bipartisan state as it seems the strongest way forward, even if difficult.

And the little things, like…

  • Breathing into my belly to ground my over-active heart.
  • Yin yoga to calm my body and clear my mind.earrings
  • My Gloria Steinem/Ruth Bader Ginsburg earrings. I wear these (as do my sisters and my mom) when I need bad-asses as spirit guides.
  • Naming three things I’m grateful for upon waking and another three before I close my eyes at night. I hope when I get to the end of my time, I will be able to follow John McCain’s example and “celebrate, with gratitude, a life well lived.”
  • White Sun’s “Ik Ardas Wahe Guru” – listening to this makes me exhale.
  • The Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean – No explanation needed. May we protect them.IMG_6135

 

Lastly, these words of wisdom from a nightingale

When I wonder how to talk with my young son about the world he lives in and how to navigate our path in a time of such tumult, I think about this passage I read to him from The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, with the most beautiful illustrations by Erin Stead (pages 90-91):

Prince Oleomargarine

“When dinner was nearly done, the nightingale excused herself. She shook the crumbs from her feathers and flew up to a high branch. From there, she sang a sweet song. It had no words, but still, everyone present knew its meaning, which was:

The world is beautiful and dangerous,

and joyful and sad,

and ungrateful and giving,

and full of so, so many things.

The world is new and it is old.

It is big and it is small.

The world is fierce and it is kind,

and we, every one of us, are in it.”

 

That’s it. That’s what I’ve learned this year. Now onward, with heart…

 

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Church

January 23, 2017

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The Brea(st/d) of Heaven

August 30, 2014

A group of girlfriends, including our priest, humbly shared Communion around a circle. One mother of three small children handed the consecrated bread to the woman next to her and said accidentally, if appropriately, “The Body of Christ, the Breast of Heaven”. Much laughter ensued. I was moved by the potential meaning held in her unintentional substitution for the word “bread” – it remains an unforgettable Eucharist.

I wonder what it is like to breastfeed from God, to experience mutual need and devotion, intimacy and sustenance unlike any other. Do I already? Could I intentionally?

My son’s favorite part of church is what he calls “God’s Dinner”. It may be because he gets to move his little legs and see lots of people on our way up front, or it could be that he gets a snack. I think, however, he senses something more is happening. He seems in sweet awe as he holds his two-year-old palms up to receive this spiritual food. He has a skip in his step afterwards. Back in our pew, he always asks for more.

I experienced breastfeeding my son as a kind of sacrament, an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” (Book of Common Prayer). In the wee dark hours, more than calories was transmitted. “Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you.” (BCP, Eucharistic Prayer II) It wasn’t my grace that flowed; it was the purest of God’s love feeding us both, and a passing of Peace between mother and babe.

It is no small feat to feed a child from your own body multiple times a day and night for weeks, months or years. During the harried moments of raising a baby into a toddler, it was within the calm of nursing that I remembered the profound nature of the mother role and what a privilege it is. A lot transpired in the 12-inch world we created between us in our blue denim rocking chair. It was there that my son rolled toy dump trucks and excavators across my chest, it was there we chanted about Sita and Ram during my yoga teacher training, and it was there we gazed into each other’s souls and fell deeper and deeper in love.

I often wonder, as I look at my son, if God loves me that completely. There were a few days last winter when I found myself saying, “I’m not a good person” because I had been bitchy, ungrateful, impulsive, and negative. These are the moments when I most want to contribute to God’s kingdom rather than take from it, and yet, I need time at the Breast of Heaven in order to right myself. I need to be held, to connect my soul with God, and to feel loved despite my shortcomings, maybe even, inclusive of them. Then I can be nudged towards what could be.

In the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, the charioteer and teacher, gradually reveals himself to the warrior Arjuna as the Divine and as Arjuna’s immortal Self. Near the end of the story, he tells Arjuna that he loves him, that he is dear to him. I found this so touching. Could God also be this Self within me offering tender love and forgiveness to my imperfect, small “s” self?  

When people say “God loves you,” it feels like fluff to me, until I give credence to God’s love as I experience it – a surrounding presence within which I “live and breathe and have [my] being” (Acts 17:28). It is a healing energy that works its way into the inner reaches of my heart. It is as if I were a nursing baby and whenever I cry for my Mother, or even make a peep, She is there. This there-ness, that’s love to me.

Do we wean from God? As happens in a breastfeeding life cycle, I know that I have received highly personalized-for-each-stage-of-my-growth Divine nourishment. Sometimes I wonder if it is time for me to stop asking God for so much, and give what I already have. I don’t think, however, that I will ever grow out of needing to hear about Jesus’ vision of justice or tap in to his meditative presence. Nor can I imagine being beneficial for my family and the world without continually accessing a power greater than myself.  

I’m heartened that when weaning a child, allowing him to continue becoming his own self, his need for his mother is no less strong, and her love for him is no less fierce and no less present. This, I suspect, is how it is with God.

“One Small Year”

April 2, 2013

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The evolution of self doesn’t end. I thought I had done a lot of it, but now that I’m a mother (12 months to the day,) something fundamental in me has changed, deepened. My heart feels broader. On Shawn Colvin’s album “Whole New You” which she released after becoming a mother, she sings, “One small year… It’s taken all of me to get here.” The first year of my son’s life has indeed taken all of me and more, a good bit more.

Through the ups and downs of gaining a new equilibrium, I’ve become a better person. Perhaps only perceptible to me, but I feel more whole and more humble. Because of my immense love for son, I’ve surprised myself with the level of selflessness and responsibility I’ve been able to sustain. While I’m far more caffeinated, scattered, overwhelmed and quick to resentment, I’ve also experienced far more joy than I’ve ever known before.

Strangely, during this most precious year of my life, I’ve felt less connected with God. I don’t have a lot of time anymore to sit with God in silence, yet I’m also pretty sure God has been powering my mothering. There is no way I could have done this on my own.  Perhaps this year was more about doing God’s work than feeling God. Even though, every single day, I am amazed at and indescribably grateful for the gift we have been given from the Lord Almighty.

Recently after a particularly challenging week of our baby son being sick at the same time my husband was working nights, I sat on my yoga mat and didn’t do anything except breathe and “be”. I was relieved and grateful to set down my screw-ups for a few minutes. I felt calm, strong and myself – the me that exists underneath all the striving to be a good mother, wife, leader and employee. The me that needs a break sometimes. The deep me I’ve always been and the one I’ve become over the past year. These few moments were a respite from thinking I need to be anything other or more than who I really am.

My dad told me once during a difficult life transition to “lighten up,” and not take myself so seriously. Last year comments in an anonymous work survey said that my “intensity” might be intimidating for others.  My sister likes to tell me to “relax!” While it is still a beast I battle, motherhood has lessened my perfectionism, and I’m grateful to be easier on myself and others. I do, however, like the part of me that takes my life seriously. I consider my time on Earth, and with those I dearly love, to be short and precious. I know that my way of being and what I write about isn’t comfortable for some, but I’m not sure I can or want to change that part of me.

I will acknowledge, though, that one of the most wonderful things about motherhood is that around my son, I “lighten up” naturally. It comes without effort. He is so joyful and so much fun, I can only respond in kind. Sometimes the tables are reversed, he needs me to be that way first. And… he thinks I’m hilarious! So I milk it and I love it. I enjoy the fun part of me. It is my husband who is really the funny one in our family, but my son laughs at my jokes and slapstick comedy as if I’m the funniest person on Earth!

Becoming a mother and a wife have been the two largest “need to step up my game” events of my life. Despite the saying that we are all replaceable, I don’t believe we are all interchangeable. There is something I’m supposed to give my son, my husband, and the world that only I can give. These two people I love the most make me want to become the very best me I can be.  Working motherhood doesn’t leave a lot of time for all of the supports I used to use to de-stress and center myself, but I have learned that it is essential to make time for those that most influence my ability to be loving and happy for my husband , my son and myself – yoga, meditation, prayer, listening to others’ spiritual journeys, and writing. I like myself more when I love them well, or at least try.

This piece doesn’t feel too polished or quite finished, and I’m not sure I’ve accomplished Benjamin’s Franklin’s “write something worth reading,” but it is my baby son’s first birthday and I have to sweep before his party. I just wanted to acknowledge my gratitude for this sweet boy and my amazement at this “small year” by posting today.

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What must they be feeling?

February 9, 2013

I try to imagine what the families of the murdered Sandy Hook Elementary first graders are feeling. How are they surviving the vicious taking of their children whom they will never hold in their arms again? I stop far short of really opening my heart to the bottomless well of their pain.

When my husband and I married, my stepmother gave a toast on behalf of my late father. She said to me, his youngest daughter and someone who struggled for years to understand his love, that I would never know the depth to which my father felt my every joy and sorrow.  Indeed, I had never imagined that my Dad loved me in such a visceral way. Perhaps, then, his anger at the choices I’d made while growing up was born from the pain those choices caused me.

When I had my own child, I began to understand on a much deeper level what my stepmother meant. My baby son feels like a living, breathing part of me who is no longer physically attached to me (except when he’s nursing!) There is an energetic connection between us.   When he is away from me, a central part of me is elsewhere. My heart beats now in and outside of myself. When he cries, I ache.

At four months, when I clipped his thumb instead of his nail, and he began to wail, I sobbed as if I could feel his pain with him. “This is what she meant,” I thought.   At five months, when I had to leave him behind in the daycare room for the first time, I felt like I was leaving the core of my being behind, taking only the weeping outer shell of myself to work, wondering what I was doing.

It holds true on the joyous side as well – when my son laughs, smiles his wide-open grin, talks his sweet sounds, or beams with pride at his newfound ability to stand, my heart expands beyond measure. Being in his sunny presence is the most simple, pure joy I’ve ever known.

Our son is wholly his own, he loves his growing independence, and he is still part of me and my husband. Is this physical, emotional and spiritual connection because we (and God) created him, he grew inside me, he feeds from my breast, he snuggles his little body against mine, and rests his sleepy, curly head on our shoulders? I don’t think my Dad did much of that beyond help create me, but apparently he felt love for me at a profound level. Something I had never understood, until now. And something I thought was perhaps just true for mothers, until watching my husband with our baby boy.

When I told my mom about the thumb-clipping incident and surmised that these intense feelings for my son would lessen as he got older, she said no, they wouldn’t. Her five daughters are now in their 40’s and 50’s. They haven’t gone away. It seems that feeling another’s pain and joy as if it were our own is a lifelong part of parenthood.

Because of the tragedy of Newtown, I’ve wondered about the potential for unfathomable pain in loving my son so deeply. Will I lose him? I have friends whose children have died very young, their time together cut impossibly short. I’ve realized it could happen to anyone and could happen to me.  No amount of prayer or begging seems to make a difference. I tell myself there is nothing to do except cherish everything about him and be awake to each present moment. Let this “little Zen master” (as Jon Kabat-Zinn calls children in the home) teach me over and over about the preciousness of now, and impermanence.

The joy of being his parent is so great and the privilege of caring for his heart so tender, it is worth the horrifying risk of unimaginable heartbreak. Perhaps that is how the Sandy Hook parents are living through this nightmare, able to survive their grief because of the unforgettable sound of their children’s laughter, the physical memory of small, sweet arms wrapped around their necks, heart-filling pride at the little people their children already were at six and seven years old, and an all-encompassing love that continues.

Speechless

August 16, 2012

my sweet son at four months

Because I’ve yet to create adequate sentences or time to capture how it feels to have been entrusted with mothering this precious child, I hope you won’t mind if I borrow, for now, from Cheryl Strayed’s essay “Baby Weight”:

“My life was a private pleasure dome of self-fulfillment, of doing what I wanted to do when I felt like doing it—or not.          

Which is how I got the shock of my life when, at thirty-five, I had a baby of my own and loved him so entirely I couldn’t honestly remember what I thought my purpose had been on this earth before he came along.”

A New Way Forward

March 14, 2012

I am 37.5 weeks pregnant. As I gradually become a mother to this growing babe and soul within me, my spiritual life has both deepened inwardly and been thrown off track outwardly.

I’ve only been to church a few times in the last nine months. I miss it, yet when I go to regular services, I wish it were different. Since taking part in this new creation, I want now more than ever to hear the feminine honored in church.

When I worship in community, I want to hear “Mother”’ as much as I hear “Father.” (I believe this would make a significant difference in how women are regarded politically, in this country and around the world. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Early in pregnancy and after reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, I had a dream that the Mother Goddess, wearing khakis, came to visit me. In the dream I felt torn, as if I were abandoning the Christian God for the Mother. Doesn’t the all-encompassing entity I believe in include the Mother?

Some have said to me, “What a shame you can’t get past the words.” Yet the words I speak aloud in prayer or proclamation are important to me. Authenticity, especially in my relationship with God, is my lifeblood. It’s made me wonder if most others believe God is male or the words just don’t matter to them. I acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth was a man. But beyond the span of that individual life, I don’t know. I hope Jesus Christ, the representative of God, is something entirely larger than mere male or female.

For Christmas, my brother-in-law gave me the New Zealand Prayer Book, an Anglican Book of Common Prayer that is intentionally and respectfully gender neutral. In the introduction, R.G. McCullough writes:

“We have gradually been compelled in our pilgrimage to start searching for ways to address God in language which is other than masculine and triumphal… Even new words are only a vehicle for the worship of God, so that we might reach for the things beyond the words in the language of the heart.”

My spiritual unmooring isn’t just about church liturgy. During pregnancy I’ve had to surrender control over my body to the mystery taking place inside me and to look there for God. During the first five and a half months of growing this baby, nausea kept me off my yoga mat, a sacred place that had previously helped me stay grounded and calm in my daily life. Once the nausea went away, I was able to resume a new kind of practice surrounded by 15 other round-bellied women one evening per week. Especially now that my days are quite busy preparing for my maternity leave from work, I’ve needed the permission to go within and connect with myself and with my baby.

I’ve been working on this posting for months, wondering all the while when it would say what I meant to express. I had a sense that I shouldn’t post it until after the recent WomanKind conference – a glorious, deeply meaningful day of 500 women exploring and celebrating their faith and their questions, led by wise female clergy and lay volunteers. Even while worrying about the impact of my changing spiritual places and practices, I’ve consistently felt protected by a power greater than myself and I knew that the day would hold answers for me.

Reverend Lauren Winner, Assistant Professor at Duke Divinity School and author of the beautiful Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, surmised in her closing WomanKind sermon that perhaps God was saying to us through the Exodus story, “You have already done more than enough. Now I simply want you to be with me.” Perhaps I’ve done enough in pregnancy simply by being a vessel for this Divine new creation. Perhaps now I can just be with God for the last weeks of this spiritual, physical and emotional journey.

Thankfully, when I meditate in the morning, God always shows, sits with me, and says to me, “It’s all going to be OK. I love you. I love that baby. I’m right here.”

This journey of pregnancy is almost over. Two more weeks to wait seems very long, though, now that my belly is big, my walk is slow, and my muscles ache. Yet there is still fat to add to my sweet boy’s body, cells still to develop in his brain, and tiny lungs that need more time to practice before they take their first breath of air.

Ten years ago, I took a Zen writing and painting workshop. During class, I drew an ink painting of a mother’s pregnant belly with a round melon-like baby inside. Along the curve of the belly, I inscribed a quotation from the Zen Buddhist teacher Dogen that reads “You should understand the meaning of giving birth to a child.”

I don’t yet, but I believe I’m on my way. When it comes time, I’m excited for my God-designed body to take over and birth not only a son, but a mother, a father, a family and a new way forward.

On Becoming a “We”

February 14, 2011

“The mystery which unites two beings is great; without it the world would not exist.” -The Gospel of Philip, Analogue 40, as translated by Jean-Yves Leloup

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to get married, to become a “we.” It’s already starting to happen. I am still an “I” and I am also now part of a “we.”

Recently I faced having to make a four-figure repair to my 11-year-old car. Upon hearing the shop’s estimate, I wanted to retreat to my room, shed some financial-worry tears, and figure out – on my own – how I was going to pay for it. But sitting on my couch was the man who loves me, waiting and willing to be there for me. I felt so strongly the urge to turn and leave, to be alone in my fear. Instead, I walked toward him, and he reached out his arms and held me. Then he helped me reason things out so I could make the best decision for me and for us.

I’ve spent many years thinking about “I.” Who am I in a family of five sisters? What’s best for me in my career? How do I take care of myself – mind, body and soul – on a daily basis? There is a tradition in some 12-step programs that reads, “Our common welfare should come first; personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity.” My understanding is that we all win when we put the “we” first.  My fiancé’s 100-year-old grandpa gave us similar advice for our marriage, based on his 68-year experience of shared life with the one he loved. He said that after we say our vows, everything that affects one will also affect the other. I feel myself becoming more careful.

I’m not losing myself or discounting my own needs, rather I’m gratefully discovering what it is like to hold our union as precious. I feel self-full and a little more selfless at the same time. I’ve also decided to add my beloved’s name to mine after we marry. For me, the symbolism is powerful. “I” and “we.”

There is a mysterious connection growing stronger and more fluid between us. We’re growing a “we” and it is a deliberate and beautiful process. I hope this contemplation and practice of “we” in my relationship will also inform how I am in my family, at work, and in the world.