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Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs

28 Apr

My faith rides somewhere between Damn I hope and optimistically agnostic.  This being the case, there have been times in my life where I felt reassurance that God exists.  Perhaps humans are all connected and this silly life means we are meant to learn from one another.

The first time I felt this was not long after I decided to quit drinking.  I was on an arduous road to sobriety and was in the stage of self loathing.  It was a point where I felt I needed to be honest and open with my family regarding my mistakes and my addiction.  The one person I felt most ashamed to tell was my grandmother in Texas.  She spent much time caring for me as a young child and I cherish her beyond measure.  My grandmother is a kind, beautiful woman who embraces life with arms wide open.  She used to meditate and practice yoga daily, she would give away her belongings to help those in need and we would take moonlight walks and discuss life.  I thought everyone paled in comparison for she is effervescent.   I knew she would always love me, but I hated to disappoint her.   One night I woke up from a deep sleep and felt the overwhelming need to call my grandma.  My husband encouraged me to call, most likely so he could resume sleep.  I called her around two o’clock in the morning and she answered on the second ring.  She told me she had been praying for me, she felt I was wrestling with some weighty issue’s and needed guidance.  To this day, I don’t know if life can be this coincidental. 

The second incident also defy’s my experience with logic.  My sister was living with me while going through a divorce.  She had moved home from Florida and was tormented about rebuilding her life without her ex husband as the legality was quite fresh.  I received a phone call early in the morning that her ex husband had died that morning in a motorcycle accident.  My sister was sleeping in the basement and I had to give her the news.  I remember walking slowly downstairs, knowing this information would forever alter who she was.  I crawled into bed with her and hugged her.  She woke up, rolled over, looked at me and spoke “Brad is dead, isn’t he?”  I’ll never forget the clarity with which she said it.  All she could tell me later was she had a sensation that he was gone.  I would like to believe God braces us so we can emotionally survive tragedy.  Perhaps we are all given innate coping mechanisms that act as our light in rough waters.  Maybe every so often we learn to trust the inner voice that shines brighter than our doubt and fear. 

I have a dear friend who is a  staunch fundamentalist and believes Jesus is our savior.  One of my closest companions is a wise,  beautiful, soft-spoken Jewish woman.  She does not belive in God yet lives her life by the mantra ‘treat people with kindness because that is how we would want to be treated, not in order to reach salvation.’  Both friendships have touched me and their faith based in intellectual and emotional rationale make them loving caregivers.  I am curious by nature and have contemplated my own mortality since I was quite small.  I would pray for faith; ask for guidance to find meaning in a higher being that I could not comprehend. 

I am so envious of people who are astute in their ideologies and trust in their convictions.  Perhaps I am a student, a feidist always in pursuit of religious truth.  This sounds far better than  a person who lacks conviction and is void of guiding principles.  Regardless I hope the events that have shaped my life reveal my character and have not determined I am lacking it.

One of my favorite quotes is from Wally Lamb, “love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness, mongrels make good dogs,  the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things.’  When I first read this, it reaffirmed my value’s; practice forgiving those that have hurt us because it teaches love.  Some people who have been discarded make remarkable students and teachers.  There is no true beginning, no end, only the process of knowing we are all connected. 


In for the long haul

25 Apr
The thought of love has been on my mind, not because I am a romantic person.  I’m not, I don’t even enjoy celebrating anniversary’s.  I say skip it and do the ‘just because.’  My girls wanted to see the opera house where we got married.  It’s hard to believe we have been married close to ten years. 
Marriage is an odd union when you break it down.  You make a promise, a vow to spend the rest of your life with this one person.  And chances are both of you will change drastically over the years.  If you grow and evolve, congrats it’s the natural order of life to change.  You make this grand statement in front of family, friends and odd onlookers you invited to buy dinner at the event.  You dance and drink and accept gifts and then fly off to commemorate the occasion on your honeymoon.  It’s radical explaining this to my five-year old when she looked terrified and asked me “do I have to get married?”  I’m so lucky to have a precocious daughter who finds everything fascinating.  Once when I explained the tooth fairy to her, she burst into tears.  I thought perhaps I explained it improperly.  I asked what was wrong to which she responded “I don’t want a giant woman with wings taking my teeth.  I don’t want her touching my pillow while I’m sleeping.”  Marriage is another ritual that we celebrate that feels right but makes little sense sometimes. 
I count myself as extremely lucky when it comes to marriage.  When I first met Mike, he said to me “I don’t know why but I am crazy about you.”  I was young and blunt and told him when he figured it out to give me a call.  I never expected to hear from him and I never anticipated falling in love with such an amazing man. 
I am not going to paint the union seemless.  There have been rough patches that lasted for a few miles.  For the most part though when my friends ask how we make it look so easy, I laugh and shrug.  I believe in the adage ‘an unexamined life is not worth living,’ so I examine the shit out of my shit.  I look it over, analyze it and then pay for therapy:)  I think we work because we genuinely like who the other person is.  I still get excited when Mike is nearing the end of his commute and calls me to tell me he’ll be home soon.  I still believe Mike is the funniest person I have ever met, and nothing feels quite real until I relay the day’s activities with him. 
I have embraced change over the years and Mike pushes against it.  I once put our house up for sale when he was at work.  I told him there was no harm in seeing if we had any offers.  We sold our house in two days and now live in an old home that we both adore.  I cringe every time Mike tells this story to new friends, but know that we have pushed one another outside of our comfort zones.  This chemistry would most likely not work with other couples, we are gut wrenching honest and in the moment with one another.  
He is the most supportive person in my life.  He stood by me years ago when I began the uphill battle to become sober.  Now that I am seven years without drinking we can laugh about the struggles, but I would not have had the courage without him.  Last year when I signed up for the marathon I asked him if he would come and watch me run.  He laughed and said I’ll run the last couple of miles with you.  I said “Mike, there are 50,ooo people running it, you may not find me.”  He looked at me and said “I’ll aways find you.”  I saw Mike four times throughout the race.  At one point he jumped in and ran a few miles with me and then had to jump out to go to the bathroom.  I was in quite a bit of pain and begged him not to leave.  He just told me he would find me again and not to worry.  Sure enough two miles later I spotted my 6 foot four-inch husband in the sea of people carrying drinks and running to catch up with me.  He made me laugh even when I thought I could not physically run another step.  He finished the race with me sipping iced tea.  I recently had a frame engraved with a marathon photo, it reads ‘WTF-WE did it!’  
I think we work because we consistently show up to do the work.  More than mutual love and respect, we like the people we have become.  Perhaps I am this person because he always goes the distance with me.  I know marriage is so much more than a day, than a celebration; it’s endurance and strength.
Today I vow to love Mike in spite of his insistence that every person loves Hall and Oates.  I will forge ahead even though he bobs his head to that damn ‘Live with Darryl Hall” show and sings ‘private eyes’ while stretching in the living room.

Dear God, it’s me. . .

23 Apr
Sometimes the advice we receive is not worth the contents of a soda can.  Sometimes the advice given to children can be destructive and alter our perception of human relationships.  Now that I am a mother of two girls, the floodgates are wide open and I remember moments of what it felt to be small, to wonder and to ask “why.”  I hope to provide a little solace when they seek clarity and I hope they don’t think nurturing is a learned quality.  I hope my girls feel and express love and know that comfort is instinctual, an integral part of the human condition. 
When I was twelve, my mother left our family due to mental illness and question mark.  The question has permeated my being.  What on earth makes you abandon your family? 
I was attending a private, conservative Lutheran school so I had a brief meeting with our pastor regarding “my unfortunate circumstances” as they were referred.  I remember asking our pastor why did this happen to me and my family.  He looked at me with a  grave expression and I expected wise words, reassurance, a lesson on faith.  What I received was this “God never gives you more than you can bear.”  At night when I would pray  I would tell God aloud “perhaps you did not know God but it’s too much to handle, the pain is too great.”  I don’t know that my pastor could have said anything so profound as to soften the blow of my dysfunctional family.  Yet I was looking for compassion and instead I might have better luck seeking advice from a fortune cookie. 
Over the years, I have also received advice that has shaped my values and my perspective.  My father is a generous man and he has often told me “it’s far more important to be kind than it is to be right.”  I hear his voice when petty disagreements weigh on my conscience.  Also at a pivotal moment in my life my stepmom told me “Jan, strive to be more than just another pretty girl, it will serve you in the long run to take the time to cultivate your passions.”  And one of the greatest passages I ever read came from the book ‘The Message’ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.  She discussed the importance of sitting with another’s pain.  She talks about the value in being able to be present when someone is hurt.  We don’t have to fix it, we just have to listen and then we will truly learn empathy.  I have played this over like a mantra throughout the years; as I practiced in social work, watching my husband grieve the loss of his father and close friend and also with myself when I am living with self-doubt and fear.
Mistakes will be made when my girl’s seek guidance.  I know I can be judgemental with people I love.  Hopefully I don’t say something that is costly for one’s self-esteem. I hope I opt to love, listen and encourage.   May I not resort to a hollow adage such as ‘time heals all things.’   We know this to be untrue; most deep wounds never truly heal, they just become less visible.  Some wounds like advice or people change our vision and alter our course a bit.  May we all strive to play a positive part in someone’s journey.      

Dump the bucket Dippers

17 Apr

My daughter’s kindergarten teacher uses the analogies of bucket dippers versus bucket fillers to teach a valuable life lesson.  Bucket fillers are people who are positive, loving, build us up and help us to reach our potential.  Bucket dippers are a bit more complicated.  They work to tear us down; by verbal insults, distract us with drama and stir the pot to create animosity.

Recently I asked my daughter Anni about a certain child in her class whom I hear her refer to often.  She looked at me with a solemn expression and in a contrite tone said, “they are a huge bucket dipper.”  “AAAh,” I said immediately as I am quite familiar with life’s said bucket dippers. 

I thought back to the self-help book; ‘Everything we ever needed to know we learned in kindergarten.’  I think this would be a qualifying chapter.  We all know people who deplete us of energy, conspire to make our live’s more difficult by focusing on minute issue’s and consistently focus on business that does not pertain to them.  I.E. my business!  I have had a few dippers in my life; running partners that constantly compete as opposed to working together, friends that give constant criticism and family members that shall remain nameless that take more than they give.

Additionally, I have amazing life partners that will forever be my genuine bucket fillers.  I am lucky to have an unconditionally loving, hilarious husband.  I maintain friendships with a few people that are unconditionally supportive.  Also, I have  relationships with my siblings and parents that make me a better woman because of their honesty and insight.  My sister’s and my stepmom have taught me so much, I only hope to pass on a little wisdom to my daughters.

This is where the sweet afterschool special music is cued and mother sits down daughter for heart to heart.  I explained to Anni as best I could that throughout childhood and adulthood you will encounter people who are toxic and rob us of time and energy to focus on positive, soulful living.  I tried to kindergarten this down to her, but she seemed to understand the message; learn to discriminate who is most beneficial to have in our lives.  Gravitate towards people that acknowledge the world is indeed a good place.  Ditch the dipshits that  preface conversations with “oh my god I have something to tell you” and then they drone on about trivial nonsense.  Find people who make you feel happy, are able to listen without judgement, offer honesty and unconditional kindness.  Most of all bucket fillers don’t create tension; they strive for people to get along, are able to take a backseat and cheer.

 Years ago my dad told me a story regarding a  native american child growing up with two wolves inside of him.  The wolves were waging a battle within and the boy asked his grandfather “who wins?”  The wise grandfather replied “the one you feed.”  It’s so true, you can choose to nurture the negative or the positive. 

Yikes having children is so difficult, rewarding and life altering!