Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Night Soup

After a few crazy weeks, I am so very happy to spend a Friday night in with Pioneer Woman’s Tortilla Soup and a Christmas movie marathon. Whoever said Netflix and chill means something other than sitting, eating, and watching TV is crazy because its literal interpretation is about the best thing going. And, I also love a good soup during the winter months. And this tortilla soup is just about the best tortilla soup I have ever had.

I love to cook, but, I am not a baker, even though I like baking. I can make a decent carrot cake or chocolate cake, but baking isn't really my thing. I only learned to follow the well-written rules even though I was never, ever good at math and chemistry and physics. I don't fancy these particular subjects, not just because I am a natural blond who loves her skinny jeans and boots, but because I can’t even handle their exactness. My mom, the ever-feminist lover and daughter supporter, expressed her irritation with my I suck at math sentiment. And then, a few days later, I asked her a simple math question and she said, “Wow, you aren’t really good at math are you?”. 

No, I am not good at math. I am not even embarrassed about it. I am me. It’s not that I don’t like structure and rules. Even cooking has a few necessities like, a good knife helps more than you can imagine, a really good dutch oven saves time, a fantastic stainless steel pan will heal the world, and it's best not to add the garlic until the last minute because it burns and tastes like bark on a tree. But, I must admit, like cooking, I prefer subjects and people and the human condition that allow for the almost bad bell peppers who end up making the soup even better in the end and the too much onion that, secretly, makes the soup its best. Oh, and if you cook the veggies a little too long...they are even better. Julia Child once said, about cooking, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

Like Julia Child, perfection and exact chemistry are not my goals. Even though I greatly admire the chemists and the exact people. They are impressive, that's for sure. They heal us, find cures to heal our diseases, and they suture our wounds. However, making stuff out of the rotten, the discarded, and the forgotten - this is my goal. Like tonight, as we were so far into, A Family Stone, I paused from cooking, wooden spoon in hand, and stopped to watch my favorite part of the movie. That part when the Luke Wilson character says, "You have a freak flag. You just don't fly it."

And just as I teared up when Luke's cute face said this cute line, I realized I forgot to add the tomato paste to the soup...I didn’t need to stress. I just added it. I let the soup cook just that much longer and, while the soup simmered, I watched the tearful, yet heart-filled end of my favorite holiday movie. 

Allow the passing of time or don't. Get rid of most of the rules, except the ones you need. Adhere to your own version of creativity. Teach yourself. And enjoy the end result. We all matter...even the bakers and mathematicians..because they teach us the rules we choose to follow or choose not to follow. We need the rule makers and the non-rule makers. We need all of us. We need the calm and the exciting. We need each other because, together, we make the world go round. Just like soup - all of its ingredients are necessary and the time on the stove, while the soup simmers and marinates, is crucial to it becoming its very best version of itself.

And, by the way, I broke three of these darling glass bowls because I insisted on carrying them myself. And, oh well. Crate and Barrel is open all night long on line. Broken bowls are swept away in favor of a good night in, with a good soup, and favorite movies. That's just me. Perfection is not necessary for this Friday night. And, as my favorite four year old boy says, "The cute lady really makes a good lunch." ...or dinner. (Jack's assessment of Pioneer Woman on Food Network.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


The quality of human life on the planet is nothing more than the sum total of our daily interactions. Forgiveness is the way we mend tears in the social fabric. It is the way we stop our human community from unraveling.”

-Desmond Tutu, The Book of Forgiving

I love to Now is the operative word in this sentence. I didn’t always love to read. Just ask my mom. I learned to love to read. I even know the day and the very evening this love affair with books, finally, and, reluctantly, began. My mom banished me to my bedroom because I needed to finish reading, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I needed to finish reading the novel and write the paper for my ninth grade Honors English Literature class. I think Mrs. Draper knew reading wasn’t my first choice, but I think she, also, knew I loved to write. What Mrs. Draper and my mom knew is that reading is the key to writing. 

I am not the best writer and I don’t really care. Glennon Melton once wrote something like, reading is my inhale and writing is my exhale. This sentiment is one I can agree with, for sure. I love to meditate because I love to breathe. And the path to a fulfilling breath lies in the inhale and the exhale. I love the exhale - the end of the cycle. For me,the inhale takes practice. Neither needs to be perfect or textbook to heal, but, both, the inhale and the exhale need to occur for the breath to be complete. So, reluctantly, I learned to inhale, like I learned to love to read.

Right now, I read Desmond Tutu’s, The Book of Forgiving. Just like my practice to inhale, reading, I, also, practice forgiveness quite a bit in my daily life. I don’t practice forgiveness just because I experience betrayal or injustice or personal failure or doubt. I practice forgiveness because I am human and I need to breathe like every other human. 

I watch the news. I listen to NPR. I read the New York Times. I see the mass shootings and the wars and ISIS. I see the rape of children and the slaughter of communities. I see the mothers holding their babies and I see the babies left in the dumpsters on the side of the road. I hear the lies politicians tell on a daily basis and I see the lies about celebrities on the covers of the magazines. I see the mama who cries because her child lies in hospice and he dies from cancer and she begs for a reason. I see the man who enters the grocery store that cuts me off as I enter, or the teenager who is stalling at the traffic light and holds up everyone from getting where she needs to go. I, also, see the lies and betrayals and hurts in my own life. I see my own face in the mirror, daily, that asks her twenty-one year old self, why oh why did you get on the horse? And I see the face of the thirty-six year old in the mirror, daily, who asks, why oh why haven’t you done more or better with your life?

I really don’t have answers to these why questions. I am a person who doesn’t believe there really ever is an answer to the why. We can beg and plead and pray and cry to learn the lesson. The lesson might exist, but the why really never comes.

The only true answer to our cries lies in forgiveness. It took me a very, very long time to understand what forgiveness really means. I still don’t have the courage or power or level of understanding or articulation to adequately describe its truest meaning or most defining definition. The only thing I know about forgiveness is...but for the grace of God (or whomever) go I. I know we learn to forgive the human, not the inhumane act. We do not need to forget or condone the action, but we do learn to forgive the person. Or as Bishop Tutu writes, "Within every hopeless situation and every seemingly hopeless person lies the possibility of transformation. " 

Once again, we learn to see ourselves in our sister and brother and friend and enemy.
Until we, ourselves, are faced with a situation, whatever this situation may be, we never really, ever know how we will respond. One of my very favorite mentors ever, Eileen Johnston, said after my accident, “I really can't judge parents of a child who is sick or injured. None of us knows how we will respond when one of our own is hurt or in need. Judgement is not necessary in this kind of situation. Understanding is the only option.”

Forgiveness. It’s a hard word and an even harder act. It requires an understanding of interconnectedness that far outweighs right and wrong. Forgiveness requires a faith in oneness. And this kind of faith is really, really hard. If we really want to heal the world and its children and its people, we need to forgive. We need to forgive, starting with the bank teller that hold us up because we think he is slow. We need to forgive the young girl at the stop light who is texting. And, we need to forgive the friend who betrayed us the most.

If we want to heal, we need to forgive. If we want to fix anything in this entire world, we need to forgive. This is not an easy answer to horrific problems. Forgiveness is a muscle that needs major, major work and this muscle cringes in pain as we build it. But, it has to be built. We must tear down the walls of hate and build the walls of forgiveness if we want the pain to stop.

I don’t have any answers when it comes to gun control. I am afraid of the damn sound of the gun. I, surely, don’t have any answers to war or ISIS or child rape. But, I can learn and vow to forgive the small things. I can start right now and, today -on a daily basis- and that’s something. Just like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Love is Not a Victory March

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah
Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley 

It is kind of a cold room. A room with four beige walls, a bed with white, stiff sheets, a simple cabinet, and a table on wheels. A girl, twenty one years of age, lies in her hospital bed, and she wears a brace that extends from her lower belly all the way up to her neck. She is not allowed to sit up beyond thirty degrees. Every night, a bearded and long haired boy, also twenty one years of age, walks down the halls of this hospital. He opens the door to this bleak room, walks in, kisses her on the forehead, pulls the nearest chair close to him, and sits next to her bed. He doesn’t say much beyond hello. He doesn’t need to. He, either, loads a CD into the CD player next to her bed, or begins to play the guitar he carries. And as he plays, whatever music he brings, she cries. Just cries. Not only because she is sad, she is sad, very sad, but, because she has a person. A person who takes the time to shut the door that leads to the outside world and sit with her.This person, he allows her to cry. He knows she is broken and there isn’t much he can do to fix it.
And then, the tumultuous years that follow, years filled with illness and depression and more illness and vomiting and surgeries and wounds and fevers so high she can barely focus to see Ina Garten on the television , he still comes to play his music. He doesn’t require anything of her. She just lies there, cold and broken, and he continues to play his music.

This girl was me. This boy was Justin. And even though he bears a striking resemblance to the American depiction of Jesus, earned a Master of Theology degree, and he, too, does good work - he is human and flawed - just like the rest of us. He is a teacher and a student. He likes music festivals, football, and a good beer. But, the most important thing about Justin is, he shows up. He cares about hearts and really, really cares about others. He cared about me when I needed it most. He cared about me when no one else did. He cared to show up and prove to me, that love is not a victory march, It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah.

One of the songs, in his guitar playing repertoire, was always the Jeff Buckley version of Hallelujah. Always. And every time he played this song for me, I always heard the words - And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch And love is not a victory march It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah. And, man oh man, was I broken. My body was shattered, my mouth was very well practiced at setting forest fires, and my cries could tear down the strongest of wailing walls. 

I wasn’t sure what these words, love is not a victory march, It's a cold and broken Hallelujah, really meant. For a long time, I lived stuck in the fantasy that love looks like Hollywood movies or fairy tales or the end of a great novel. I thought love was supposed to be easy and fun and whole and bright and shiny and never broken. And thank the universe or the lord or Justin or Jesus - but I, finally, learned love isn’t any of these things. It's all of these things and more. It's everything. Our worst and our best. 
Great authors and poets and philosophers and songwriters go to great lengths to describe love. Love is even divided into categories and types. Love is ranked, one type above the other, or love is said to claim difference to one love over the other. We hear that love isn’t attachment, possession, or adoration, or appreciation. We hear it isn’t controlling, or angry, or deceitful. We hear it is kind and honest and free of judgement. We hear it is simple and complicated - all at the same time. And because it is such a mystery and deemed such an unattainable and enlightened goal, we chase after it at all costs. We sacrifice and fight and heal and comfort...all in the name of love. 

I don’t know very much, but after all of these years living as a person who is stripped down to not much more than a raw soul and a person who sits all of the time...I know love is just love. Love is just seeing our own eyes reflected back to us from our friend's, or enemy's, or lover's, or daughter's own eyes.

Love is simply the act of showing up and sitting with someone. Love doesn’t require some magic or some out of the box, extraordinary emotion. We spend lifetimes searching for the one we love or to be loved by our parents or friends or that cute boy in class. When the truth is, all love requires is a presence. A showing up. A willingness to see. 

But, the largest and most difficult trick to this whole love thing is - we must first learn to love ourselves. We must be able to look in the mirror and sit with the reflection who looks back at us. I needed to learn to love me before I saw my friend, Justin, as one who really loves. I needed to learn to love me before I could even begin the business of loving a friend. I needed to be able to sit with me and see and love the reflection that stares back at me, before I could even claim to love another soul.

Love is not romantic or’s just love. When we stop seeing love as special, or only available to those who find it, or birth it, or earn it, we will really see it. When we can finally look into our own eyes and hear our own cold and broken Hallelujah, we will feel love and see love and finally, finally we are able to give it to someone else.

You want to learn what love is? Look in the mirror. Look hard. See the Hallelujah in your own eyes and hear it with your own ears. See that you are loved. See that you are loved only because you are you. Because you are you. Just like Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, "One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving."

My forever friend - not because I see him everyday or every week or every year, but because he showed up for me and taught me to see me. And when I finally learned to love the broken version of me, I learned to love ALL versions of EVERY ONE I see. I wanted to post a picture of his beard and long hair, but I know he loves these sideburns. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Just Playing

"Close your eyes. Pretend you're ten years old again. Just playin'. You're just playing. I want to play football."
-Coach Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights

I think living with intention and purpose is one of the hardest things, ever, despite what all of the self-help authors and super successful people in this world may think and tell us. Living this way, filled with intention and purpose, requires a kind of resolve that not much of us adults know because we are trying so hard to just keep it all together, to just keep the game of life moving forward. 

When I was sick, I had a purpose and an intention. My job was to get well. And while I, still, will always have medical issues - when half your body doesn’t work like it's supposed to, that's just the way life is - I hope and plan to live a life full of a purpose and intention. A purpose and intention that exists other than just achieving physical wellness. I want my heart and spirit to heal as much as my body heals. I want my soul to dance. And, more importantly, I want to serve my fellow seekers of the light.

I don’t really know how to get to this place of a purpose filled life, but I am willing to keep trying. We all want to anesthetize pain with what feels so good. Although, I believe, the grown up version of what feels good, isn’t always the catalyst to purpose. 

But, what I do know, though, when i was ten, I played house and I drew fake roads, with chalk, on my parents’ driveway so I could run pretend errands and rush my fake kids to pretend soccer practice. I was totally enveloped in my chalk drawing purpose. I know I danced with joy at the McGing Irish Dancers' studio. I know I played school in my basement. I know I was super into clothes and fashion and my mom always says, when she was nine months pregnant with my sister, I insisted she tuck her shirt in, despite her huge belly. I still love to play house and cook and clean and run errands and dance and teach and pick out the perfect clothes and mother everyone I know. Just like, when I was ten years old. 

Mary Oliver writes, Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

We knew our plan. We knew when we were young. We knew this plan when we made forts out of blankets and played house in the woods and pretended sticks were forks. We just played. We didn’t have an agenda; we didn’t require perfection. We didn’t judge our play. We just played.

As hard as it is to live from this place, especially, in a world so filled with hurt and isolation and illness and heartbreak and bills to be paid and babies to be fed and who is right and who isn’t - we must still be brave enough to insist we live from this sacred and innocent place. We must find that child in our own lives so that we may see that innocent child in others' lives. We all just need to learn to play and believe and trust and most of all, just love. Just love the child. Loving, ultimately, is the way we live from the truest of all intention.

This plan, to just play and live from our ten-year-old-selves, may not be the answer, I have no idea. But, for all of the millions of dollars spent on therapy, wars, protection, politics, and perfection, self-help books, lectures, and all avenues to feel well again, it’s worth a try. Please, this holiday season, if you are grateful for nothing else, be grateful for the ten-year-old who lives inside of you. For she knows the answer because she is just playin'. "

Sunday, November 22, 2015

High Expectations

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

-Albert Einstein

A few days ago someone told me my expectations of life were just too high and I have an all or nothing attitude sometimes.

I said, “Yup, I have high expectations and I do want it all or at least the possibility of it all.”

Because here’s the thing...I almost died a few times, and I learned this thing called life only comes around once. And when I woke up, on several occasions, from near death, I didn’t lie there and think my expectations were too high. I thought of all the times I soared. I thought of all the people that made my heart soar. I thought of all of the moments I reached for and grabbed my expectations. I have one shot to do all the things I want to do. I have one shot to be all the things I want to be. One shot. One time.

So, yeah, my expectations are high. I like them up there. There is where they should be. I learn to live from my imagination, just like some guy named Albert Einstein did. I am sure he, too, had some pretty high expectations.

To all of you dreamers and high expectationers - please keep it up. We ALL deserve it ALL. Every single one of us. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

You Are Amazing and Unamazing

I have a friend who often says, “You are an amazing person, Sarah.” 

I often reply, “Well that’s nice, but it’s not quite the whole story.”

Then he will list what he thinks is amazing about me. Like how I am very girly, but my hands are rough from pushing my wheelchair and cooking and doing dishes so much. He thinks I am amazing because I cook and eat so many vegetables. He notices and thinks it’s amazing I keep my house so clean. And how I light candles and make truffle popcorn while we watch TV, because these little things create a cozy atmosphere. I like hearing this list and I like feeling amazing for a minute. I am all for positive thinking and affirmations. Focus on the good parts and allow them to grow and all of that stuff. I am a big fan of and, constantly, practice building myself up and feeling worthy. I am also a big fan of building up others and making them feel worthy. I am all for the amazing.

However, I also feel pretty unamazing, sometimes. I do pretty unamazing things, too. I cuss like a sailor. So much so, Ashlea warns me not to drop certain words as she drives through preschool car line. I am sad, a lot. Like, really, really sad. I am happy to eat salt and vinegar chips and truffle popcorn for dinner, even though I know it is not healthy and is a pretty unamazing dinner. My depression can take over and make me feel withdrawn and lonely and disposable and abandoned and I find solace in too much TV. I can have an incredible and spectacularly unamazing emotional breakdown that involves gut-wrenching cries and a wrath of anger so unamazing I struggle to forgive the moment. And in that moment, I can say words I don’t mean. Words that tear down and make others feel unworthy. I feel pretty unamazing and like a failure in these moments. And all I can muster up to say is, what is wrong with me?

Nothing. Nothing is really wrong with me. I am a person. A person who struggles. A person who gets it right sometimes. A person who is both, amazing and unamazing. And just as much as I celebrate and water the amazing parts, I can work to take tender care of and forgive the not so amazing parts - except the bad words, I lost the use of my legs, I get bad words. Most of these unamazing parts are our wounds. These are the parts that need just as much care and nurturing as the other parts. Anger isn’t as much as an attack, as it is a cry for help. Even Jesus got a little angry. Feeling lonely or depressed or abandoned aren’t unlovable qualities - they are symptoms of our hurt and places where we need more understanding and compassion. This is the crux of this whole love thing. We must forgive what is worst in us, and in another, to truly love. We don’t have to love the bad stuff, we just have to forgive it, and love anyway, in addition to, and because the wounds even exist. 

No one is amazing all of the time. We each possess a true story that lives inside of us. This recognition that the truth - the amazing and unamazing - is the best version of the story is scary to face. It’s hard to recognize that the hurt is still there, yet choose to keep living and healing anyway. We must understand this balance of, hurt yet still living, can get out of whack sometimes. It takes time to see the hurt and mistakes and transform them into moments of forgiveness and calls for more love. This kind of understanding is hard to offer a friend, but it is hardest to offer to ourselves. But, we can’t give away what we don’t have. 

So, yes, l still look in the mirror and tell the person looking back she is worthy and lovable. But, I am not worthy and lovable because I am amazing. I am worthy and lovable because of all of my parts, just as I am - amazing and unamazing. And so are you. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Hayden Charles

ACT II: The middle space. The part of the story where the main character is lost and struggling. S/he tries to find the way forward by taking every path except the ones that require VULNERABILITY. The struggle continues until s/he finally realizes that the only way home is through uncertainty and total vulnerability. Into the dark. I hate ACT II. I love ACT II. The middle is messy. But it’s where the magic happens. We live in the rumble. 
-Brene Brown

Hayden Charles entered this world. Ashlea had her fourth and final baby, naturally. Like, no drugs at all. Afterwards, she said, “It was amazing to feel it, but it hurts like a bitch.”

Giving birth hurts. Ashlea said it’s like a burning sensation that takes over the entire body and you aren’t sure if you will vomit or pass out or die from so much pain. She said you hold on to the guard rails for dear life and scream. And then the baby is born. The messiness isn’t over, but there is a peace that fills the room. He is alive and well and resting on his mother’s chest. She is exhausted, hands to her side, head tilted, and eyes slightly closed. He is born.

This is the magic of ACT II that Brene Brown writes about. That feeling when we think we just can’t take it anymore and we can’t see a single light or even lighthouse, but, instead of giving up, we clutch the side of the boat and enter the darkness of the night, trusting we will be guided. And it is in this trust, this vulnerability, that we find our way. 

Babies remind us of new beginnings and total forgiveness. They are vulnerable and trusting. They are open to love and they embody hope. We comfort and forgive their cries. We don't see their needs as weakness. They represent a fresh start. Magic is alive in their impending arrival, their actual breakthrough into this world, and this same magic breathes through their tiny bodies. This kind of magic, though, doesn’t come from certainty. There isn’t a guarantee with babies or with life. We just hold on to the guard rails for dear life and scream and hope, against all odds, that all will be well. And just like Ashlea said about birth, we say about life, “It’s amazing to feel it, but it hurts like a bitch.”

Welcome to the world, Hayden Charles. You give us so much light and hope and you've only been here for a moment. Thank you for blessing us with your presence.