Friday, July 24, 2015

The White Feather

Chaos reigned the last few weeks. Chaos showed up and tried to steal my hope and pollute my dreams. And because I am human and flawed and sometimes full of doubt and fear, I almost gave in to the darkness. I almost forgot it is up to me to bring calm to the chaos. Yesterday, as I coughed and hacked my way through a long and hot walk, I decided I just couldn’t take all of the hard anymore. I drove home, hopped in the shower, and let the floodgates of pain open and pour down the drain. And as I cried I asked why. Why does this life have to be so hard? Why does it always feel like I am ten steps behind even though I hit the ground running every single morning? Why does it feel like my heart breaks more than it swells? The tears finally stopped and I turned off the shower. I felt better, but didn’t feel any magic answers or loud intuitive callings. I just felt a bit of relief. Belle needed to go outside, of course, so I put on some leggings and a t-shirt and prepared to take her outside. And as I opened the door, a tiny, white feather flew inside and landed smack in my lap, right on my black leggings so I could see it, clear as day. A long time ago, when darkness was all I knew, I chose a feather as my spirit sign. Whenever I doubted or feared or even wondered, I asked for a sign I was on the right path or making the right choices, and within days a feather would show up on the ground or in the air or on the hood of my car. 

I didn’t ask for a sign yesterday. It just showed up and flew in my door into my lap. The feather wasn’t an answer to a specific question, but more a reminder that yes, life will kick me in the ass more times than I would like and these kicks will keep happening. Trying to figure out why is it so hard is an exercise in futility. Life is just hard sometimes. Life is hard more often the not. It just is. This doesn’t mean life isn’t also wonderful and inviting and accepting and sparkly and joyful. Life is both hard and good. And the only thing I know for sure, is there is always joy on the other side of hard. I just need to persevere, get through it, and have faith in the light its willingness to carry me. Light wants me to recognize she is always there, even when it is dark. Sometimes, I have to hunt for light and sometimes it effortlessly floats through my front door.


So, from a person who is still learning not to fear the dark and accept it as part of life, please wait it out. I know darkness and hard are painful and scary. I know they seem like they will never end. But, they do end, eventually. And we all feel scared and alone and defeated. We all need to be reminded that we are loved and not alone and seekers of the light. We all want the good, even though we get the hard sometimes. Hard doesn’t show up because we are wrong, or unworthy, or broken. Hard is just a part of life. I am sharing my feather with you today because we all need to be reminded how beautiful and whole and full of light we are. We are all carriers of the light, even when we don’t feel that way. Sending so much love to all of you, especially if you feel alone and scared today. The hard will end, I promise. 




Saturday, July 4, 2015

Freedom for All



"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. " --Nelson Mandela. 

Nothing says America like the melting pot of a California Cabernet, a Waygu beef burger -sans the bun- served with pommes frites. As a person who is, sometimes, perceived as a second class citizen in her own country, please remember today isn't simply about independence for the chosen few. Today, Independence Day, celebrates freedom from all oppression, for all of US. Yes, as individuals, we all may be different on the outside. But, as sons and daughters, and husbands and wives, and mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters, and friends and lovers, we are all equal. We are all worthy of freedom. We are all free to be just as we are and to think as we think. We are Americans and, by definition, we embody acceptance and liberty for ALL.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Listen to the Lady

Kids can be a lot of things. They are sometimes loud, destructive, unruly, and messy. They can take the calmest, most sane adult-care-taker-person and bring her to her knees. They are wise and accepting and honest and wear their hearts and emotions on the outside. Sometimes these emotions show up in a screaming and yelling, legs and arms flailing tantrum on the floor of Target, but at least they are honest. My favorite thing about kids, though, is they are overflowing buckets full of joy and curiosity and wonder and unconditional love. Kids need their adults, but the adults, we need kids, too. 

A few Fridays ago, I drove out to Kyle and Ashlea’s and join their family for dinner. We ate a summer dinner of lobster rolls, corn, and cucumber salad. And because it is summer, schedules don’t really exist, so we watched a movie with the kids. This movie night wasn’t planned, it just happened. Ashlea put in the DVD of Secretariat to make sure it worked. My dad burned Kyle and Ashlea copy of the movie and we wanted to make sure it worked first. But, as soon as the movie started, we all gravitated towards the family room and were soon a big pile of kids and adults watching a movie, together. 

Kate, Jack, and Will, because they are kids, played with toys, puzzles, and iPads, while we watched. For a brief second, I glanced over at sweet Kate and saw her happily playing on the iPad and sharing it with Jack. Two sweet kids. And then in the next few minutes, I heard Kate say something so wise and beyond her years, it still gives me chills and still causes me to wonder. 

Early on in the movie, Secretariat, there is a scene where Penny Chenery, visibly upset, escapes to a barn on her family farm. She believes in her horse. She believes he is a member of her family. She believes he will win. But, very few people believe in Penny. As she struggles with the staggering risks of racing her horse and forcing her family into financial ruin, she gives an impassioned statement. I always thought of this statement as a turning point in the movie for dramatic affect. I never really paid attention to Penny's exact words. As Penny cries from her heart on the shoulders of the few friends who will listen, Kate looks up from her iPad, points toward the television, and loudly instructs all of us in the room to, listen to the lady. Kate’s instructions were so profound, Ashlea and I quickly whipped our heads around to look at Kate, but caught each other’s eyes instead. We shared the exact same surprise and wonder face. Kate, after her moment of brilliance, returned to her iPad and finished her game. 

Kids are a lot of things. They bring us to our knees in many different ways. We pray for their safety and strength and kindness and bravery. We pray for their innocence, wonder, and love to all remain intact. When we pray for them, we forget they are also here for us. They gently guide us out of pain and misdirection. They know they ways of the world better than any of the grown ups. They figure out how to play in the sandbox together. They don’t see difference as a detriment. Kids just learn to get along. They know how to comfort us and hurt when we hurt. They teach us it’s okay to feel sadness and doubt and fear. They teach us to dry our tears and try again. We think we raise them and, practically speaking, we do. And then they turn on us and raise us up so high we aren’t sure if they are kids or mystical creatures. 

So, I share Kate’s advice with you. I know she is six, and even I felt a little silly listening to the lady these past few weeks. But, you know what, Kate is right. Listen to the lady.



“We will win if we can and live with it if we can’t, but you never know how far you can go unless you run.  You have to run your race.  I don’t care how many times they say it can’t be done. I will not live the rest of my life in regret and no matter what happens, we are going to live rejoicing every day.”
-Penny Chenery, Secretariat

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bags of Love




These are the bags Jeffery chose for me. Jeffery is one of my favorite Whole Foods friends. At the end of the checkout station, sits a box of reusable grocery bags. The bags come in several different color choices and each display a different word. From my viewpoint, I only see the colors, not the words. Jeffery looked at the bags and carefully selected this bag from the line up and said, “How about this one?” I said, “Wow, a perfect choice.” Then he packed the love bags and carried them to my car while he explained to me his girlfriend is upset with him because she doesn’t understand why he loves to work so much. He carefully put the love bags in the trunk of my car, hugged me, and rushed back to work. Oh, and Jeffery is also an individual with special needs. I am pretty sure whatever his needs are, they pale in comparison to what he gives to this world. Jeffery chooses love and serves others. Jeffery is our teacher and we are his students. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Compliments Heal a Broken Heart

I am the first to admit I posses a tendency to fall prey to weakness. I, especially, struggle when it comes to gossip, trash-talk, and judgement. I hear the painful words of gossip leave my lips and hear my head scream, why, why, why do you need to say what you just said. And, then, I spend the rest of the day or week or month reliving my moment of nastiness. I vow to change my voice and, in many different ways, I try to stop this habitual pattern. I make rules I must follow, like a forty day abstinence from any and all gossip. Or a rule that insists I correct a nasty and unnecessary thought by changing the bad thought to a good and kind thought. I am better, but I can’t seem to entirely kick the habit. 

All of these take-downs manifest in a variety of words and thoughts. Competition and judgement and beliefs and politics all feed this kind of negativity. I learned it is still trash-talk even if I think I am very, very right. I don’t have a clue why another person believes or feels or acts they way he does. I don't know his hurt or his hard. Placing any kind of judgement on him, no matter how right I feel, is unnecessary and completely not helpful to progress; of any kind. Everyone thinks differently. Everyone comes from a background or situation or life experience that is entirely his own. It is, simply, not my job or place to judge or even have an opinion. Kindness outweighs rightness every single time. I wish I could embrace this idea every moment of every day. But, alas, I am human. Even though I try and focus on the kindness part, I still mess up, a lot. I still engage on a level that makes me feel small. I feel small because I tear someone else down. My own words cause the smallness, not the other person or people or what ever injustice occurred. I create the icky feeling all on my own.

After another failed attempt at eliminating this destructive vernacular, I decided I was due for a change in my approach. And just like I usually do whenever I can’t figure out a solution, I headed to my meditation space, lit a candle, got on my knees, and asked for help. I sat in silence for quite some time. And because prayer and meditation aren’t magic, I didn't hear a loud and booming voice calling me or offering a profound answer, I only felt calmer. I only felt a bit of peace. However, this peace and detachment leads me to a path of clarity.  And in this cleared space, I washed the dishes and I thought of the hens

These girls, and their entire family, mom, dad, and brother, are poster people for positivity and love. Their positive energy is so palpable, so enveloping, it overpowers any space in which they reside. A friend of mine, unknowingly, regularly visits a local juice bar and the youngest hen, Bridget, waits on him and prepares his daily juice order. Bridget told me she recognized this friend, but was unsure if he knew who she was. The last time she saw him was several years ago. At a recent dinner with friends, I mentioned to this friend that Bridget works at the juice bar. His face lit up like a bright star on a dark night. He shared he had no idea this was the same Bridget he knew as a much younger girl. More importantly, he continued describe Bridget’s energy and smile and kindness. She lights up the room. She’s magnetic and I just feel better after I see her. His words were unsolicited and came purely from his heart. And just like my friend, when I think of these girls, the hens, I feel the exact same way. I feel better after I am with them, all of them or just one of them. 

I finished the dishes and created a plan. Instead of trying to eliminate my bad habit, I chose to work to create a new habit. When I first enter the hens home or they come into my home or I run into one of them while she is running, I am always greeted with a heartfelt smile and a compliment. They never fail to find one nice thing to say to me or anyone. If a person comes up in conversation at the dinner table, one of them always chimes in with a kind thought or story about the person. Their words are never fake. Their words are never malicious. Just kind. Always kind. And I figured, if these girls are a good decade younger than I and can muster up such kindness, I certainly can give this whole compliment thing a try. Instead of finding fault in another, I vowed to find one kind and loving compliment to extend. Even when I am alone and angry and hurt, I remember the hens, stop my mouth, and say something kind. The funny thing is, this method works really, really well. It causes me to step back from my internal madness and focus on what is right, what is good, what is love...in the darkest of moments.

Insecurity, hurt, envy, anger, and competition bring out the worst in us. When we engage on this level of pain, instead of making ourselves feel better, we just add to our own misery. What we water grows. Rather than healing ourselves and exorcising our pain, we end up hurting and causing more hurt. We, not only hurt ourselves, but we hurt others. No one wins and we are left with scars of shame and pain and fear. 

Love isn’t born from anger. Love doesn’t blossom out of resentment. Love is born from kindness and forgiveness. Love is finding what is right and good, in all situations, especially the ones we don't like. When we decide to focus on the ninety-nine percent of what isn't right in our lives...what isn't going our way, what didn't turn out how we hoped, the fault in how another responded to us or behaved towards us...we slowly begin to learn love lives in that one-percent that is right and good and deserving of a compliment. This one-percent not only deserves a compliment, but a compliment said with a kind smile and an open heart and an energy that lights up the room. What we compliment in another doesn’t just end with our friend who hurt us. It grows and flourishes and flowers; wrapping its vines around all of us. Building each other up, genuine kindness, and seeing the good makes us all better. 

Once again, I am the first to admit this practice of finding the sparkling one-percent isn’t easy, especially when my heart is broken and hurt and in pain. But, I will still try. I will still try  because I like to give compliments. I like to build up, rather than tear down. The big secret I learned is this kind of true generosity doesn't make me feel all dark and twisty inside. It actually makes me feel good and whole and worthy. And when I fail, I will try again. I will forgive my weakness and continue to extend the compliments that build this foundation of love. I will continue to try, not only because living with a generous heart and spirit is the only way to truly live, but because love and kindness are the only antidotes to a bruised and broken heart. We all need to heal and the healing begins with us.



Monday, June 1, 2015

Joy and Pain, Pain and Joy

After years of avoidance, I slowly began to accept my physical vulnerability. Along with this acceptance, I soon learned, to live fully, I must also work to accept and live from the vulnerability of my heart and my soul. When I live in and from this space of vulnerability, both on the outside and the inside, my heart opens wider and my soul digs deeper. This tender space of vulnerability can be painful and it can be joyful. 

When I first started to really practice the phrase, you need to feel it to heal it, I felt, well, awful. All of my not so delicately contained sadness, grief, guilt, anger, and hatred boiled to the surface. The ferociously bubbling water seeped out of my eyes and I continued to wiped the hot and salty tears with tissue, after tissue, after tissue. I knew I needed to feel the pain. I knew, in order to survive, I had to scream until my voice grew hoarse. I knew my dark pain needed to leave my body to make room for any shred of light trying to get inside. Over time, this pain release practice became easier and easier. I became a survivor, instead of someone struggling to survive. Now, I readily identify the lumps in my throat and let them rise and then pass. I practice not bottling up my sad and scary emotions. I even set aside a bit of time each day purely for these tears. And now, after some work and time, I’ve grown accustomed to healing the feeling of pain.

What I, apparently, am not so great at feeling, is joy. I know this sounds a bit funny because I make a practice of noticing gratitude and joy. At night, I record moments I am grateful for, and moments where I noticed joy. I assumed I was doing okay with the whole joy thing. And then this past week happened. This past week of nothing really that bad at all happening happened. I woke up one day to a broken air-conditioner, called my sweet friend, Trey, for help. He ran over right away. My house was cool again in twenty minutes. My wheelchair needed some repairs, but they were easily fixed. Towards the very end of one of our walks, Belle and I ran through a downpour of rain to make it to the car. We were soon dry with a quick wipe of a towel. Nothing bad. Nothing to cry over. But, instead of just simply feeling peaceful and like the flow of life was working with me, I, continuously, felt this giant ball of emotion just sitting in my chest. A few of the days, my eyes felt so heavy, I chose to lie down in my bed for a bit. My eyelids, giving into their weight, fell shut and instead of inducing sleep, they began to weep. Each time this happened over the course of the week, I cried about five minutes and the ball of emotion was gone. I felt infinitely better and far more energized. I bounced out of bed and continued with the day. As this habit started to increase, I also started to wonder what was happening to me. I searched my pain, my fears, my sadness, my anger, trying to find what was new, what was lurking and masking itself as healed. But none of my explanations or reasons seemed to be the culprit behind the new and sudden tears. Anxiety set in and I began to worry.

While I was in this heightened state of emotional awareness, I scrolled through my Instagram feed and noticed a post by Glennon Melton at Momastery. The post was a picture of two words, SACRED/SCARED, that’s it. I looked at the words for a long time. These two words were calling me to pay attention and so I did. And as I stared at them, that ball of emotion crept back up and transformed into more tears. Only this time, I knew why I cried. I wasn’t crying tears of pain all week; I was crying tears of joy.

Emotion is emotion. And I have learned, emotion finds its way to the surface, whether I want it to or not. Emotion, in whatever form, isn’t something I can suppress for very long or keep down without much effort. If this emotion isn’t felt it builds up a pressure that will eventually cause an explosion. 

Recently, I experienced and lived many moments of joy. However, instead of feeling my joy, I escaped into my survivor mentality. I built a fortress to keep too much joy at bay. I decided if I refrained from feeling too much joy, I might not feel so sad when the pain visited again. But just like the pain, the joy will eventually boil over and spill out of my eyes. This method of controlling joy, simply doesn’t work. And in this moment of realization, I found this presumed dichotomy of pain and joy  to not really be that polar opposite at all. Joy lives right along side pain and they work together. By opening my heart at all, I am exposed to both joy and pain. Joy and pain show up, in tandem, when I  watch a baby sleep, or love another person, or fall hard for my dog. There is so much joy to be found in all three of these things, but also so much pain from the fear of losing them. And as tough or practiced as I may be at the pain part, I can’t fully live unless I allow both the pain and the joy to enter. Just listing my moments of joy doesn’t mean anything, if I can’t feel them. There isn’t any other way. I have to feel it to heal it. And I have a bit of a suspicion, the more I practice actually feeling joy, the more joy might show up and ask me to dance.

Vulnerability isn’t about just feeling my pain or knowing my weaknesses. It is also about softening my heart and allowing it to fill with a little bit of joy; even if this allowance of joy makes me vulnerable and scared. Joy is scary because it recognizes a moment when everything is okay, better than okay. A moment where life is lived and it feels really, really good, almost sacred. A moment that can’t possibly live next to all of the pain and fear, but it does. And just like the pain, joy has to be felt. Joy is the light that guides the pain out of the darkness. 


Photo from Glennon Doyle Melton at Momastery. #CarryOnWarrior

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Confidence

I am strong, some days. I am weak most days. I am fragile everyday. 

A friend recently told me she couldn’t live the way I live. She just couldn’t do it. She insisted she isn’t strong like me and continued to repeat, I am just not like you. I can’t even imagine how I would survive.

Here’s the thing. When I was ten and making lists of baby names and husband names and dog names and places I wanted to live and jobs I wanted to have, I assure you, I did not include a lists of wheelchairs I would like to use. I did not include a list of ways to be so ill you’re life is a blur for an entire decade. Or lists of surgeries and IV antibiotics I would like to try. Nope. Not even on my radar. 

And then it happened. I woke up in a hospital bed paralyzed from the waist down and spent the next fifteen years learning how to cope with my new body. I still learn. It’s not an education that ends with a diploma. And this coping and caring doesn’t stop at five o’clock each day and on weekends. My body is always with me, always begging for my attention, and always paralyzed. 

I learned to be strong when I need to be strong. And even then, that so-called strength, is full of fear and full of tears. I used to be ashamed of the tears and try to portray a stoic confidence. But the thing is, pretending to be confident, that really isn’t confidence. The definition of confidence is the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something. This feeling or belief part of the definition is the true essence of confidence. Before I could show up and look strong, I had to feel and believe I was strong. I learned my confidence doesn't simply rely on the outcome of whatever bad or good thing happened; it has to come from me. It is a muscle I learn to build.

Most days, I doubt if I can live this way. Most days, my strength muscles are so sore, I end up in a puddle of tears.And, then there’s that day. That day when I bust through the can’ts, cross items off my list, and think, hey I can do this whole paralyzed thing. And, then, something happens to shake this momentary burst of enthusiasm. But, enthusiasm only shakes and cracks. I am still worthy...even with the doubt and the broken pieces that are fused together to make me whole again. This broken mess is still worthy. 

This is why I don’t give up, even when I want to. It isn’t because I am strong or mature or some super person. It is because I feel and believe I am worthy to live a good and full life. Even just writing that sentence reduces me to tears. It took my a very long time to realize my worthiness comes from within. It took me an even longer time to feel and believe I was worthy. And it still takes time to learn this worthiness comes with tears and doubt and fear. And that’s okay. Strength and fragility aren’t mutually exclusive. They go together. 


I am not cut out for this life anymore than anyone is cut out for this life. I choose to keep going and living. That’s it. I make the choice and work to move in the direction I choose. If something throws me off course. I might sit and mourn the other route for a minute, but I always get back up and try again. I do this because I learned no one is born with the confidence to overcome every hardship that happens. I do this because I learned I am worthy, just like you are worthy. None of us is stronger than the other. We are all worthy of a good and full life. We just have to believe it and feel it.