Saturday, August 13, 2016

Rocked in a Rocking Chair

I do this thing that I am pretty sure no one else does.

When there is something wrong in my life, I truly believe that if I can just figure it out that I can move beyond it. I believe if I do everything right, then I can cure my malady. As in: if I just eat the green leafy vegetables and not the gluten, dairy, meat, nightshades, boxed, canned, or processed food then all symptoms will disappear, and I will lose 10 pounds, look 10 years younger and also gain 20 IQ points. And become spiritually enlightened. And never get another parking ticket. 

It also works for my mindset. If I can just choose my attitude, laugh on demand, recite daily affirmations and fake it until I make it then all of the afflictions of my mind and oh sure why not, my body, too, will evaporate. 

I am sure that these things are true for many people. They are probably true for you. You probably have great stories about curing yourself of something horrible with just a flip of your wrist. Awesome. Fabulous. Great that you can mend yourself and not get poked by the needle. 

Me? Yeah. Not so much. I just try so hard and then harder and then more and then when it doesn't work, when I am still depressed or in pain or unable to process big emotional rents in my life tickety-boo, all set, well, I just find that I just--melt. 

Photo by Anne Principe, Divign Thinking 
Somehow this belief that I can fix things, that I must fix things or I will get another big freakin' black "X" on my score card is sewn deep into my soul. I must be happy, whole and able to skip up and down steps with not a twinge of pain or I am simply not DOING it right. It being everything.

But maybe, I am doing it right. Or right enough to have it not be all my FAULT. Maybe generations of mental health troubles in my family history could be a sign that for me, depression is something that is beyond "choose your attitude." And maybe pain in my joints and crushing fatigue isn't going to be cured by being free of everything in my diet but blueberries and brown rice--maybe there is something, you know, wrong. Maybe there's not, maybe I'm just not TRYING enough, but you know, maybe there is. Maybe. 

I have told my beloveds for years and years that they must take care of themselves like they'd care for a dear friend. This week I decided that there is a higher standard. I think we need to take care of ourselves like we would take care of a four-year-old, and not a four-year-old that we can give back, not a visiting kid who you might feed Froot Loops and take swimming all day long with no nap and only Doritos for food. 

No, this is a higher standard. We need to take care of ourselves like we'd care for a deeply loved four-year-old that we have to keep. That means getting enough sleep every night on clean sheets with soft blankets, and healthy snacks both morning and afternoon. We need playtime and arts and crafts with long naps taken curled around a floppy dog. We need to get taken to the movies and out for ice cream but not too much and no movies that will scare us so much that we can't sleep. We need to be rocked in rocking chairs and read excellent stories--even if that means now we have to do our own rocking and reading, that's OK. We need to treat ourselves as if we actually cared, as if we actually loved us. 

Or, I mean, I do. 

I'm sure you've got it all together and can sew in a zipper that fixes up your broken heart without missing a single, organic, freshly juiced kale fueled morning work out. 

Or, you know, maybe not. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Every Atom and Love

I have a meditation practice. It's horrible. I have a horrible meditation practice. It does not seem to matter how many books I read or classes I take or malas I hold. It's terrible.

I feel like I have to say to my practice, "It's not you, it's me. Totally me." 

So here I was this morning, sitting, meditating. Of course I had read social media, you know, before, because that's just the shiny draw that social media is. There I saw a post from Marianne Williamson with a charge to go spread love BEFORE you go into the world so it paves your path or something really wonderful like that. 

I sat and did what I've come to call "the gratitude meditation." I notice and give gratitude. 

"Grateful for leaves. Grateful for breeze. Grateful for sun in the leaves. Grateful for the solar panels next door." Seriously. I said I was terrible at this. 

And then I thought about sending love, like Marianne said. What if I did that instead? What if I sent love to my dear ones and beyond, that might be good. It might be better than noticing the solar panels, anyway. 

So I thought about my beloveds; my dear husband and his ever stressful job. My three young adult sons and the spinning transitions: buying a house, crossing the country for grad school, heading away from home for the first time very, very soon--whoosh. Sending big love, paving a path. 

Then I thought about family and dear friends; some sitting by the bedside of critically ill family, some getting married, lots of love smeared across space and time. Whoosh. 

And then to the people of this world; our leaders, our ever marginalized. May love lift each person and let them know that they are valued, treasured, worthy. 

But then, I went to the people who believe that a tyrannical leader is their answer. Love, send them love to know that that's not the way. Love love love. 

Oh but no. My eyes opened and my heart stopped. No. Nope no no. I can't send love to that person who has stood above others. That person who says that he alone can fix this world. No. I can't. 

What? Why? Who says I need to love Donald Trump? I don't think anyone, anyone really loves that person. There is no way. He is unworthy. He has fomented such hate that I truly believe that he is not redeemable.  

So, nope. I can't. 

OK. Moving on. Love the animals, love the oceans. Love the planets and the stars and the ever expanding universe. 

But wait. Do I really believe that every person has worth? Do I? Who am *I**? What is my bottom line. 

OK, OK, OK. Wait. I think, maybe, I can. I can love the atoms in that person's body. The atoms that were created when stars exploded. I can love the hydrogen and the carbon. I can love those basic little parts that are just exactly like the atoms in my body; in the bodies of my beloveds. 

That, I can love. 

Pave the world with love. 

Because really, what other choice do we have. 

Pave the whole world, every bit of it, with love. 


Thursday, August 11, 2016

With Open Eyes

Last night I was driving to a lovely little library out in suburban Orange County. It's like a cross between a plantation and a mansion with grounds that host weddings and big parties. As I exited the insanity that is the 405 during SoCal rush hour, I saw a sign for the University of California, Irvine.

"Hmmm" I thought, "I should take a class at UCI, it's really so close."

Sure. Good idea, right? Take a class.

Except that I AM taking a class at UCI. My second in a series. I had even done a big round of schoolwork earlier in the day, posting on the discussion board and reading two chapters of the textbook.

As I pulled into parking lot I parked back in the spots that are not green or signed with anything. I don't really understand the 22 minute parking zones with the green curbs (22 minutes? really?) in California but I don't need anymore parking tickets.

I had parked in this spot before, the last time I'd come to a meeting at what I keep calling the Katy Perry library because I can't for the life of me remember the actual name. But this time, as I got out, I found myself looking for an easy cross to the parking lot and a path that had no steps to get to the front door. Four months ago I'd crossed this same lot. Then, it was without a thought.

Good health is priceless. But sometimes less-than-good-health sneaks up on you. Maybe you don't notice until you stand at the top of a flight of stairs, hesitant to take the first step because you know it it is going to hurt. Maybe you are tired all the time, but you've been busy. Maybe you don't want to notice.

I have noticed. My rheumatologist rocks and I see her for a three-month follow-up next week. But the little meeting at the Katy Perry library was a wake-up call. I need to start, at least for now, making accommodations.

Grocery delivery, someone else to deep clean at least once a month. More sleep.

And, most difficult of all, open eyes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

May I Wear a Path

It all started yesterday with International Women's Day; I was thinking about the women who have come before me, both the heroes and the humble. I wondered, what on earth does my life have to do with Margaret Fuller and her 19th century intellectual powerhouse of a life?

Nothing. Nope. Not really. I certainly did not suffer from life-long migraines due to being over educated as a child, in fact my intellect was judged to be below standard for the gifted program in my working class elementary school. No tears shed there, if they'd had a spirit filled dreamers gifted class, I'd have been the queen.

We all follow paths worn by the many steps of those who traveled before we pass by. We all shape our lives after those who have come before either knowingly or not. The question is, then, who am I following? Who made this path?

The answer came today during my writing class at church. We were writing on the topic of "Brokenness". The pattern goes that we read a poem and then write a bit and then share if we want to. I'm not even sure who said what, but I began to think about my great grandmother and how the story goes. She was a teenager in Norway when her sister decided to sail for the United States. Apparently letters were coming back from an aunt that things were so wonderful and so fabulous. If Marta would join her sister Severina then Mrs Johnson, the aunt (or cousin? the story twists in my mind) would pay her fare and she could work it off over time. The story goes that the work would be in the house, in the kitchen and while Marta didn't want to go, her family and her sister, and probably if I understand my DNA correctly, her Scandinavian guilt pushed her to sail.

Of course, the work wasn't in the kitchen, it wasn't in the house. It was in the fields; the sweltering tall prairie fields of South Dakota. And there was no early release. She worked for seven years. Now we would call her an indentured servant. One who had to work off her passage for so many years and then was free. But this ancestor woman of mine was never really free. Her whole life, so the story goes, she wanted to go home. She wanted to smell the wet, green air of Norway. She wanted to climb the hills and smell the sea on every breeze.

But, like all of us, life happened. She married a nice German man; a musician. She had two daughters and then years and years later had a son. She never let her daughters into the kitchen to cook a thing and was never, so the story goes, a very warm mother. Then, on May 4th, 1951, while visiting her daughter, my grandmother, she died.

This is the path I feel beneath my feet. Here are my ancestor women who nursed their babies and rocked them to sleep. The path of the my grandmothers grandmothers who lived as best they could and gave their children the best they could manage. The thousands of dinners set on the table, and hundreds of celebrations of holidays. The cooking and cleaning and managing and making do. I feel those dear ones in my body. They worked so hard and felt such loss. We have had so much leaving and loss on this path. We still do. You and me. Here in this world, we love and live and while maybe our plowing is different now, we still are working so so hard to do the very best we can.

And yet, and yet, I am able to have a bank account and credit and a college degree and I can vote. I have legal rights to my children beyond and outside my marriage (OK, OK, my children are grown men, but go with me here) and for goodness sake I married a man outside my religion and my race! I have a different life.

My path follows the dear worn way of my fore-mothers and it goes so much further. It's almost like I have a secret jetpack that allows me to walk and walk and then when faced with a cliff I don't have to soldier on as best I can. I have a new path, but not really. I have the "leap" button on the path, maybe that's it. I have more powers.

We have learned so much. The women I am drawn to honor are the ones who lived the daily life of getting by and getting on. Some of my other women ancestors were not simple women, but troubled and complicated. Their love for their children is hard to see in the stories told. I carry those paths in my cells, too.

So today, with my writing friends in my writing class I wrote the story of how my great grandmother might have felt. How this was not what she'd planned, how she never wanted to come to the great plains and always, always, always missed home. She pined. I wrote about the ripples of that life-long misery.

Women who are not my ancestors still pine, still get stuck, still become trapped in situations which are not fair nor just. Today. All over. Even where things should be better. And, of course they should be better every where.

Let me honor Marta and her sisters and our cousins everywhere. May my feet wear a path worthy of those who may follow.

May it be so.

Monday, April 13, 2015

When the Light Wins

Here's the thing about depression. You don't really know that you are deep in until someone points it out. Or validates it. Or notices.

At least that's how it was for me.

Today while I was working I hit a road block that had me questioning just why oh why I do the crazy work that I do when I realized something pretty big. A few months ago this very thing would have meant that my work day was over. Road blocks set me spinning into a "no go" zone which meant I might as well give up for the day. Usually it also stopped all practical work; no house work, productive errand or really, anything else would happen. Maybe I'd climb between my cozy flannel sheets and sleep or maybe just curl up on the couch and stay there.

Someone asked me a few months ago how I could tell the difference between the grief of losing my dad and depression. I didn't have much of an answer at the time--my brain was still in a fog, but the question stuck with me. Now, some distance out, I know the precise difference--in fact it is more of a Venn diagram with no intersection at all. Two different animals completely, with maybe a river or even an ocean separating them.

Grief is sadness, loss, regret for missed opportunities and a longing for things that will never be again.

Depression is hopelessness, feeling numb about everyday things (oh my God I have to choose what to eat? What to wear? Really?)  and wishing the pain of living would just be over.

That spin art of depression can take a person to some dark, dark places. For me it also hurt, I mean physically. My joints ached like I had some horrible inflammatory disease. But, the strangest symptom I experienced was an almost completely atonal voice. I think I am usually pretty expressive--but at the height of the depression it bored even me to listen to myself speak. I guess really, everything was flat: voice, energy, will to live.

I'm sure losing my dad contributed to my depression in some ways as did a whole lot of other events in my life. It's not been a good year. Or years. But some of this is about the way I think and the way I've been thinking all my life. Negative, or well, horrible and abusive self-talk can pile up a bit over the decades. It's kind of like laundry--the pile grows and grows until pretty soon you've got nothing left to wear. No place to hide.

For me I came to a point when something happened that one distant part of me recognized as just not OK. It was just too far, and if I squinted a little I could see that maybe I was actually worth at least a smidge more. That's when I finally called the therapist a friend recommended. It was hard to get that diagnosis--the validation that no, it actually was not OK. I was not fine. And not everyone feels this way. Not just depression, but severe. Like--really severe depression with a couple of co-diagnoses for good measure. It was an earthquake of the soul.

Bad stuff. Bad news.

But no. Actually, no. It was not bad news. It was good news. It was really good news because therapy with a good therapist begins to rewire the thoughts and feelings and reality that we all build for ourselves. For me Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a good fit, and it has mended some of my very broken places, at least a little. Still, though, I have done some damage in my life that I'm not sure can be repaired. Folks think I'm maybe just not very organized or that I have terrible follow through. I see it and hear it in the daily interactions. And while my memory is much better I still have a hard time remembering details. Hell, I'm always bad at details and have developed elaborate systems to track them in my normal life. But this depression was brutal on my ability to recall, well, anything.

In truth and hindsight I should have taken a few weeks or maybe months off from work. But in the deep depths it's hard to know what you need. Impossible, even. It never occurred to me to ask.

So, here I am. Hitting road blocks and actually navigating around them. Getting better. Being better.

That is good news. Victory really. I am rebuilding my life. Finding joy and hope. Mental health trouble is so wildly stigmatized in our world, yes still, that I deeply fear even talking about it because, well, because of job searches and personal and professional reputation and being judged for what happened to me as being my new normal when it is absolutely not. But to hide is to be ashamed of the depression. And that gives it power.

That is not OK. No more power for the pull of the dark side. No more. It's over. The light won and the truth is I know that if not right this minute, that pretty soon I'm gonna be OK. For real. Whole and holy and good. And that is a good thing, a very good thing indeed.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014


My dad is entering the final stage of his life. No one has said that to me, but I know it's true.

He's not even really himself anymore, and hasn't been for a while. He's back in the hospital, and I'm not sure he's gonna make it home again. Maybe. H
e's been surprising us for almost two years. But somehow this time is different.

Yes, I'm sad. Not sad for the letting go because at this point there's not a hell of a lot of dignity or meaning for him or for those who love him. Except, of course, doing everything possible so he's comfortable and cared for. I'm more than a thousand miles away, so there's not much real world I can do to take care of him. But I don't want to just be sad. I want to remember.

So, I'm kind of gliding through this day and it's tasks and holding memories. Like mixing homemade root beer in a vat so deep I was up to my elbow stirring with a long wooden paddle- I must have been about five. And the stories he told by sons about each individual lure in his tackle box. And the way he loved our crazy dog who ran away every chance she got. And his love of being busy and just having things to do, even if it was just going to the dollar store and having coffee at the local meeting spot.

I'm not sure what comes next. But it feels like waiting right now. And I'm OK with that. I'll wait. I'll wait.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Through the Dark Places

My weeks are peppered with meetings meetings meetings, all kinds of meetings. Working with the Church of the Larger Fellowship is the most fun I have ever had in an actual job, but if you were to attend all the meetings, it is likely there would be hardly a moment for actually doing anything. We have Theological Reflection or “TR” for short, the “planning all things to all people” meeting which is somehow named the “Big Hairy Meeting” but spelled “Harry” so in my mind I just think “oh, this week we have Harry” and it’s not so scary. There is Adult Faith Development and a monthly regular old staff meeting which is not really about all things to all people but kind of is. And then there are the twice weekly worship meetings. Wow.

Honestly, it’s lovely.

A few weeks back our fearless leader, Rev. Meg Riley, was talking about dealing with children and difficult topics at one of these meetings and she said this: “Do we accompany our children as they go to dark places?”

She was not talking about caves. Or nighttime hikes.

Rev. Meg was talking about helping our children face the dark parts of life—and how those things sometimes come blasting at our children full bore. We can throw our hands out, leap to place our bodies in the path of whatever is happening to our beloved child. And yet sometimes—sometimes there is not one damn thing that we can do to protect that precious being.

They are going to hurt.

Our racist world is going to filter in beyond the enclave we have tried to build. Illness will visit. Family strife: divorce, disease, poverty will find us and by way of us it will find our children. They will experience mental illness, and the hate of dictators and the terror of global warming and its inevitable results. And they will experience the mundane, regular hurts which are not so dramatic but we all know still hurt like hell. Life hurts sometimes. As much as we may try to stop it and prevent it and fix it and hide it, life sometimes just hurts.

And so, do we accompany our children when these things happen? Do we? And if so, then HOW do we accompany them?

Can we witness and allow our beloved children their own experience, not invalidating but allowing them to experience pain and loss and devastation? Can we? Can you? I struggle with wanting to fix it.


No pain, no suffering, no loss. But then of course what happens is that their experience is not validated. They do not feel the healing power of witness. They are left alone on the platform at the train station while I board the “happy train” and completely ditch them.

Well, crap. That’s not a good thing.

And so I try again. Luckily, or horribly, life provides unending chances to navigate pain and loss. So you have ample opportunities to forgive yourself and begin again in love.

Or, well—you go on and do whatever you have to do. I’ll speak for myself.

I have ample opportunities to forgive myself and begin again in love. I will do what I can to accompany my children as they go to dark places. I never want them to be alone there. They need to know that people will love us and walk with us through the most awful of times. We are not alone. They are not alone. I call and text and skype and try to see them in person, but my kids are adults—all grown. It’s not as easy as when they were little and at home and I could sit next to them or bake just the right treat or invite the perfect movie night. Nope. It’s different. And not one bit less important.

I found myself scribbling notes during that particular meeting with Rev. Meg and a bunch of other brilliant CLF folks.

I do not want children; mine or yours or ours or theirs to ever walk through the dark places unaccompanied. May it be so that there is always a treasured adult who says, what…..monsters? Demons? Scary stuff? OK, we got this. Let’s go. Bring it!

And may it be so that sometimes, sometimes….. I will be that adult.  Whether they be my own adult kids, my congregation, my neighbor or some random kid I see who just needs a smile. May it be so.