More than one way to get there

Over the past couple of months, I have been exchanging letters with an old friend of mine. She and I have known each other for almost thirty years. Especially in our adult lives, we have connected through sharing the things we are reading and learning about. We both get very excited about our learning and all the ideas that are churning in our heads. This particular exchange started with her reaching out to me to share her experience of converting to Catholicism. Joy does not really begin to touch on the feelings she is experiencing around this transformation, but I was hearing a lot of joy and enthusiasm. She wanted to send me some materials to read so that I could learn more as well.

There were times during the exchange when I felt that my friend had reached a point where she believes there is only one right spiritual path. This brought up some old feelings for me around conversations I have had with loved ones about education, child rearing, nutrition……anything that I find important and hold strong opinions about. The moment of distress for me is always the point at which I am offered the point of view that there is only one right way. Sometimes I even accept this view for a time. For a moment, or sometimes for weeks or months, I can hang out in this place, wondering if the way I have chosen is the one right way. I may reexamine all the possibilities, I may revisit the research, I may observe carefully for a time.

When I believe that there is only one right way, I am in misery. I feel tense and scared. Sometimes I feel righteous and sure, also judgmental. Sometimes I feel despair, sure that I have completely blown it and there is no hope. When I continue to read, observe and process, I always, always come back to believing that there is more than one way.

As I read about my friend’s spiritual path, even though it differs from mine, I can relate to her search for answers, and to the benefits she enjoys through her spiritual growth (the peace, joy, and connection). As I talk to my friends whose kids go to school and those who homeschool, I see that it is possible to raise well-educated, healthy, kind, happy children through either path. As I talk to homeschoolers and see the enormous variety in homeschooling philosophy and methodology, again, I see that there are many successful paths. Whether mothers are breastfeeding, child-wearing and co-sleeping or bottle feeding and sleep training, I hear love and a desire to do what is best for their babies. As I hear people talk about their love of vegetarianism or the Paleo diet, again, I see that there is more than one way to eat and enjoy good health.

And I tell you what, I just relax a whole lot once I can see that again. I still have the constant day-to-day struggle to sort out what is best for me and my family in this life, but that is a lot less stressful without the pressure of believing there is only one right way.

Forgiveness

For the past several months, “forgiveness” has been on my mind and I have been looking for as much information as possible about what it means and how to go about arriving at this place called “forgiveness”.

Do I have to be asked for forgiveness before I begin the work of forgiving?

Do I have to be in relationship with a person in order to be able to forgive?

Is forgiveness for me or for the other?

Is it NECESSARY?

For a long time, I said to myself, “I don’t even have to think about forgiveness until I’m asked for it”. That way of thinking just left me nothing to do with my hurt and anger. Those feelings are big and heavy. So I decided I had better get at least a little curious about forgiveness.

I read some articles (which I won’t even bother to link because they were so ridiculous) to the effect of “Forgiveness in so-many easy steps”. They were good for a laugh, but just not consistent with my experience and not helpful.

I went looking for books on forgiveness, and I’ll have to say, I didn’t find anything very good. I’m sure good books on the subject are out there (because I am pretty sure most of life’s answers are in books). I just didn’t happen to find them.

But then I found helpful thoughts on forgiveness in very unlikely places entirely by accident. It is such an important piece of the human experience, that I found threads of it everywhere! When reading a bedtime story to my children:

Forgiveness, reader, is, I think, something very much like hope and love, a powerful, wonderful thing.

And a ridiculous thing, too.

Isn’t it ridiculous, after all, to think that a son could forgive his father for beating the drum that sent him to his death? Isn’t it ridiculous to think a mouse could ever forgive anyone for such perfidy?

But still, here are the words Despereaux Tiling spoke to his father. He said, “I forgive you, Pa.”

And he said those words because he sensed that it was the only way to save his own heart, to stop it from breaking in two. Despereaux, reader, spoke those words to save himself. (From: The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo)

Right there in a children’s book, pretty much all my questions answered. Forgiveness is powerful and wonderful and ridiculous (I had suspected so) and it’s for ME. It isn’t a gift to the other. It isn’t about letting the other off the hook. Rather it is letting myself off the hook, preventing my own heart from breaking. Big, huge wisdom in that children’s bedtime story.

A friend recommended Jan Karon’s Mitford series for a fun read. It is fun, and very, very sweet and wise. Father Tim, the main character, is an Episcopal priest in the small town of Mitford. As he takes care of his flock, he has a great deal of exposure to people who are suffering. He even talks quite a bit about his own pain and his process of forgiving his father. It struck me that Father Tim is in his 60’s and has been carrying around his hurt and anger for decades. Though his father passed long ago, Father Tim still finds himself unexpectedly heart-broken over and over again and having to work through his thoughts and feelings yet again. This reminded me of what I already knew, that forgiveness can take a long, long time and that it is not a straight and direct path. Hurt and anger pop up over and over again. Even when you think you’ve worked through it and you are over it all, there it is again and there is more work to do.

I also decided to look in some of the books I already know I love in case there were some goodies I had missed back when I wasn’t thinking about forgiveness.

From Anne Lamott:

“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare…” (From: Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
(From: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith)

Ah, well…..yes, forgiveness as a giving up, a letting go. Letting MYSELF go from the nightmare. Stop poisoning MYSELF.

And of course I got out all the Pema Chodron books, and wouldn’t you know they all said exactly the right things? I couldn’t quote them all. I will say it again because I could never say enough times, I highly recommend keeping When Things Fall Apart on the bedside table and reading it again and again. My particular take-aways from re-reading my Pema collection are the ideas of leaning into difficult feelings and being curious about the human experience of grief, anger, forgiveness, etc. Rather than trying to fix things when I experience hard times, I am working on just paying attention and learning about this piece of the human experience. Also, I am learning to appreciate ALL of it, because it all comes together to make life rich.

I am not so sure anymore that forgiveness is a destination. I think it is a practice, one that I will be called to repeatedly and forever. My reading confirmed everything I have learned from experience.  Sometimes I will be in a good place and other times I will feel like I have made no progress at all. Though the practice is hard, I feel committed to it because it is important, heart and life saving work FOR ME and there are times I experience an opening, a softening which just feels easier and lighter.

Expectations and holiday cheer

My only criteria for having a successful holiday is that I remain a sane and likeable person throughout. I start holiday preparations early. I keep them simple. I set the expectation for myself that holidays are not about the gifts, the decorations, or the food. They are about creating connection and good feeling. I keep in mind that my family is going to be exactly who they are on that day, just as they are every other day. Maybe the best self will show up, maybe not, we cannot know. But there is not any reason to believe that all will be perfect: the decorations, the food, the gifts, the people. It will be what it is and I will enjoy whatever it is, because…..why not?

So, this season, I thoroughly enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday. All four days. I did not begin any Christmas preparations in the middle of Thanksgiving. I just fully enjoyed the first before even thinking about the next.

At the beginning of December, we got out the advent calendar, the stockings, the nativity set. We read Christmas books at bedtime. The kids played with their nativity set. We made plans about what goodies to bake for Santa. We began crafting, making gifts for our friends and family. We spent a week or so in blissful creative mode together, loving every moment. It felt really good, like a little taste of holiday cheer.

Then there was a week that it seemed every morning when I woke up to check in with the world via email or facebook, I would be in tears. A mama friend received a cancer diagnosis. A friend’s infant son who had been ill his whole life, passed away. A friend, a single mother, lost her job two weeks before Christmas. A friend going through divorce, facing Christmas as a single parent for the first time. Reading the news, which I can just barely stand to read even on good days, became entirely unbearable that week. I became overwhelmed with sadness and found myself saying, “No fair! And seriously, at Christmas time?”.

Which reminded me that it isn’t just in my little corner of the world that small things may not be perfect for the holidays. It’s everyone, it’s everywhere, and sometimes it’s really big things. Holiday cheer……it is real, of course, but there is so much more.

This year, this season, I am feeling this complicated jumble of grief and sadness and “no fair”ness and hopelessness and hopefulness and gratitude and compassion and love. It’s a lot all at once. It really is. But if I can hold it all at once, all of it, it is a full and rich experience. True to life. True to every season, holiday or otherwise.

Sending love and warmest holiday wishes to all! See you next year!

Stories

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how the stories we tell about ourselves shape who we are, shape our experience. As I listen to people talk, I often can hear “their story”, the same theme over and over again.

“I was left out”.

“It wasn’t fair!”

“Someone took advantage of my kindness”.

“It didn’t live up to my expectations”.

There are as many stories as there are people, of course.

If I can hear others’ stories, I know I must have my own too. I sit and listen to the stories that run through my own mind so I can find where I am stuck, where I need to let go or open up.

I found a couple of lovely quotes in my reading lately that relate to these ideas:

It’s a hard thing, sometimes, to accept that other people feel as strongly about their stories as we feel about ours. A hard thing, but also an essential one. Every so often, it helps to remind myself that a world with only one story might be peaceful. But it’d also be pretty damn boring. (From Ben Hewitt’s blog post Pretty Damn Boring)

What makes us miserable, what causes us to be in conflict with one another, is our insistence on our particular view of things: our view of what we deserve or want, our view of right and wrong, our view of self, our view of other, our view of life, our view of death. But views are just views. They are not ultimate truth. There is no way to eliminate views, nor would we want to. As long as we are alive and aware there will be views. Views are colorful and interesting and life-enhancing—as long as we know they are views. (From Norman Fischer, on tricycle)

And of course, Byron Katie is an author to check out if you want to read and think more about stories.

Healthy habits

Lately I am feeling very excited for myself because I am feeling GOOD! I am always looking for THE BEST way to do things, whether it’s homeschooling or diet and exercise. I am finally learning that while it is wonderful to get some good ideas from out there in the world, ultimately I need to just get to know my own dear self and figure out what works best for ME. It has been quite a journey for me, and I am still learning all the time. These are some of my more recent discoveries:

I am not particularly motivated by a goal of weight loss. If I start out on a mission to develop healthier habits telling myself I am trying to lose weight, I will not succeed. It is the surest way for me to fail. Maybe I’m not all that worried about getting back into a bikini, not particularly concerned about appearance, or maybe I have just gotten a little too good at living in the moment to be motivated by such a long-term goal. I don’t know! But what I notice is that I do far better if I pay attention to what is going on this very day. How do I feel today if I eat this food? How do I feel today if I get some exercise? How do these actions affect my body now? What can I do for myself today to feel my very best? Committing to doing my very best for a day sounds completely doable and I reap the rewards immediately.

If I find exercise I truly love to do, I will do it. And if I am told to do something that is good for me, but I do not love it, it isn’t going to happen. I am a quiet, peaceful girl. I don’t like noisy, crowded gyms. I definitely do not want to part with my money in order to exercise. Surely exercise can be free. I don’t want to own a whole lot of special equipment either. I don’t have room for it! So, with all of that in mind, I set out to find exercise that I can love. I have discovered that I love to hike. I love to be in nature with my family. I get excited about exploring new places in this way. I also love to take a morning walk in my neighborhood before the rest of my family is awake. I love to walk around and look at all the flowers, listen to the birds and be alone with my thoughts for a little while. And I love, love, love yoga and pilates. I’m not a big fan of exercise videos typically because I enjoy quiet while I exercise, but I found a book that is truly perfect for me. Yes, I had to spend $.37 to get this book used at Amazon, but I have decided it was worth every penny and then some. So exercise is now fun for me and something I look forward to. I am so excited about this! And I am just beginning to feel more fit and strong, which is exciting too.

Taking care of myself cannot be optional. I cannot put it off until everything else is done. It has to be a priority or it will not happen. Eating healthy and exercise are now my #1 priority. I do both everyday. Not after I have taken care of everyone else first. I can take better care of everyone else if I take care of myself and feel good. In fact, I consider this part of taking care of everyone else. The best way for my kids to understand that healthy habits are important is for me to show them that I consider them to be important by doing it. So, I’m doing it.

Finding balance will help me maintain my good habits. I know how to follow a plan perfectly and I know how to have fun. I would like to bring all that together and learn how to both take good care of myself and have some fun all at the same time. Not too much perfection, not too much fun. Then I will both enjoy the benefits of my good habits and also not get burned out and give up.

Beautiful

As so often happens for me, something has crept into my awareness due to repeated exposure over a short period of time. This something is poking at me and begging me to pay attention, to give it some time and thought.

Lately, over and over I hear the beloved and beautiful people in my life expressing dissatisfaction with their bodies. This dissatisfaction is nearly always about weight. I am most surprised that even women I consider to be quite thin wish they were thinner. The painful piece of this for me is learning that the people I love and KNOW to be beautiful are not feeling beautiful.

And then I found myself in those shoes, saying the very thing that had been driving me wild. I expressed frustration that despite my best efforts at developing good habits, my body is curvier than I would like it to be. My friend was surprised. She didn’t know I felt that way.

I think there is something really sweet there in all of that. I see all the people I love as beautiful. And the people who love me, see me as beautiful too. I suspect that very little of that has anything to do with appearance, and nothing to do with weight. It is really about who we are and how we treat people. It is really love that makes us beautiful.

I think if we can all feel as beautiful as our loved ones know we are, it will be life-changing.

 

Down the rabbit hole

My very dear friend and I often sit together over a cup of tea and process the tough moments of our lives. I remember many occasions when she has told me of something big going on for her, usually a situation that gave her a sense of impending doom that she did not yet have all the facts about. And as she was waiting on facts, she would say every time, “I’m just not going to go down the rabbit hole yet”. Not YET. Because she knew she was still waiting for facts and she didn’t want to drag herself through a big emotional mess without really knowing all the facts.

I understand that idea of the rabbit hole. I have spent some time down there. It is quite a ride to the bottom. It can be a swirling and whirling ride that starts with a statement like, “I think your child may have a serious illness. We’ll run some tests today and I’ll call you by the end of the week.” The brain starts asking “What if?” and “Then what?” and “How will I ever survive that?”. Or perhaps someone says something and I find myself hurt and angry. Then the swirling thoughts look something like “She must think…”, “If she loved me, she wouldn’t…”, “I don’t see a way to move beyond….”. And then there’s the arrival of “bad news”, a situation that I think at the time could be nothing but bad. That ride is just like an elevator ride to the bottom floor, a quick descent to a very dark place.

I think my friend is brilliant to choose not to go down the rabbit hole before it’s time, and yet I find that I am usually at least half way down before I even realize where I’m headed or I wake up in the night to find myself already at the bottom. At this point, I feel like it’s a win that I can recognize where I am and find my way back out, that I can have a sense of humor about the time I spend down there.

This weekend I read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. This part in particular really stood out for me: “Fear to a great extent is born of a story we tell ourselves.” All of my observations from the rabbit hole lead to this. Most of the pain I experience in the rabbit hole is a result of my mind jumping many steps beyond where I am at the moment. Just nearly always I am imagining horrible outcomes that never even come to pass. In fact some of the “bad news” I receive, turns out to bring many blessings I never saw coming. If fear is only a story, it seems possible to tell a different story, or to at least pull out of the story and recognize what is real right now.

One year of blogging–I am a writer!

I started writing here in March of last year. I didn’t really have much of a plan or a goal other than to show up and write. For me, there were a lot of obstacles to making this happen.

  1. FEAR–What if no one likes my writing?
  2. Not sure what I want to write about
  3. Not sure what is mine to share
  4. FEAR–What are the potential consequences of sharing my family life on the internet?
  5. Not sure what my strengths are when it comes to writing
  6. I am a bit technologically challenged and don’t really know anything about how to blog
  7. FEAR–What if all the things I think are really cool and smart are actually things everyone else already knows?

I would have liked to start my blogging journey with a lot of confidence, knowledge, and a well thought out plan, but I could have been stuck there for the rest of my life. I just decided to start and figure it out along the way.

Writing gives me a window into my own thoughts, into how my thinking has evolved over the years. I remember writing poetry and short stories as I was growing up. I still have some of that writing today. I like to reread it sometimes. It is both fun and difficult to have a permanent record of who I was at a particular time in my history. I feel an affection for the girl I used to be and also cringe occasionally, thinking, “Oh, honey, you just didn’t have a clue back then!” This written record of my development challenges me to let go of the idea that I ever did or ever will have anything all figured out. It allows me to see that everything is a process and gives me some assurance that progress is happening.

Over the course of this year, I became aware that I actually have a feeling that comes up inside me when I need to write something down. And I know now that I had better stop and write or those ideas will either pass me by or else pile up inside me until I feel like they have just got to GET OUT. This year I have rediscovered that I am a writer. I am a writer because I WRITE. Not because anyone reads what I write, or likes what I write, or thinks my ideas are cool and smart. I am a writer just because I show up and write.

Finding a new rhythm and giving up on our usual

When we first started talking about moving, I can tell you now that I had very unrealistic ideas about how that would actually unfold. Every step along the way has taken a lot longer than I ever dreamed. Once all the boxes were unpacked, I thought we’d get back to our usual. But I tell you what….moving is a lot of work and I think it took something out of us. We needed some time to rest and recover and then really had to begin at the beginning to establish a new healthy rhythm.

Good sleep Our whole day has shifted about two hours later. I have certainly heard much about the virtues of starting the day early, but surprisingly, the world has kept on turning. I think it started because we were all just tired from the move, but it has continued because it works for us now that my husband is working on Pacific time. We get more family time with him in the evening if we all sleep later, eat later, and stay up later.

Good food I knew we needed to transition back to home cooked healthy meals. Of course, it is all too easy during busy times to eat out or buy something at the store that requires little preparation. I, in particular, feel so much better when I eat at home and stick to whole foods. So I started putting more time and energy toward meal planning and preparation. My two big kids became interested in this and now they are preparing dinner most nights. They search for recipes, make a grocery list, and then do the evening meal preparation with very little assistance.

Exercise We started getting out every morning for exercise. In the past, that had so often not made the list because there were books to read, projects to work on, chores to do, etc. But we put it at the top of the list and we are all so happy with this change! I alternate walking and jogging while the kids ride their bikes. If I tried to run without them while they are still in bed, I would enjoy some time alone, but some of the kids may not get exercise. I would also miss out on their motivating remarks, such as their excited exclamation “OH LOOK! Mom is RUNNING!” and “Mom, your butt jiggles when you run.”

Chores Our approach to chores had always been pretty informal. The kids were asked to pick up after themselves and then I would do the cleaning. Since I injured my shoulder during the move, I wasn’t able to do some of my usual chores. The big kids were very willing to help me out during that time. Now that they have been trained to do certain household chores, they have continued to help out daily. And really, we have hit a point that this makes a lot of sense. The little two still leave a lot of toys out, so it is enough for them to pick up after themselves. But the big two do a lot of projects at their desks, so they have more time, energy and ability to pitch in on general household chores.

Learning Once all these other things had fallen into place, it was easier for all of us to get back to work. I started having weekly meetings on Sunday evening with my older children. During these meetings, I hear what they have been working on the previous week. I write down what I want us to work on for the coming week and what they should be working on on their own. They write down what they want to work on and get better at. All four kids get a main lesson time with me during the day. The big kids have time to work toward their own goals and all four have time for play. We set aside the evening for family time which includes dinner, chores, play, and a read aloud time before bed.

On the other side of our move: a lengthy update after a lengthy absence

Well, we pulled it off! We sold a house, we bought a house, we packed it all up, we made the drive, and it all went pretty smoothly!

The kids had a blast in our mostly empty house for the few days we were waiting on our furniture to show up. We grown ups did too, just imagining the possibilities. Then the furniture and boxes arrived and the mood shifted noticeably. As we were placing furniture and unpacking boxes, the realities of downsizing by 500 sq ft were fully realized. So although we thinned our belongings before the move, we had more thinning to do once we got here. After enjoying the openness for several days, we knew we didn’t want to be crammed in our home with too much stuff, so we were motivated. Several weeks later we are still unpacking and still figuring out what we can live without and where to put everything else, but we are gaining on it.

I injured my shoulder the week we got here, and was in PAIN for nearly two weeks, so needed to find a doctor sooner than I’d hoped. My first experience was not a good one and I found myself experiencing my first round of homesickness, missing my awesome doctor from home, my friends, my family, etc. Thankfully the night following the day where my pain peaked and my mood bottomed out, my shoulder improved dramatically and I decided not to make a second attempt at finding a doctor for now. I also started taking many time-outs from unpacking and organizing to call home and connect with loved ones and have helped the kids do the same.

The kids and I have been out to our local library and park. I may not have a new driver’s license yet, but I have a library card! 🙂 I’m getting lost sometimes and sometimes getting from one place to another without using navigation. We’re going out to eat, trying new restaurants and sometimes enjoying old favorites. Though we missed our usual holiday traditions with our families, we also truly enjoyed deciding how we might like to celebrate together and just doing whatever we wanted to do.

I have been feeling a bit disappointed about our lives getting derailed. All the plans I made about what the kids and I would do this fall, also completely derailed. I know I said I would be flexible about that, and I have been, but there is a bit of sadness about it. That sadness though has been almost completely overtaken by a sense of awe at what my children (and I) have learned instead over these past months.

No matter how busy things get, I couldn’t do without some daily connection with my kids. So I snuggle up with them and ask about what they did that day. I love to hear what they’re excited about! My son has been making texture packs for Minecraft, learning to use Photoshop, and making videos/art tutorials. My girl who has had a rough time learning to read, found a novel that she fell in love with and became a bookworm. She also has been sewing on the sewing machine by herself and baking with her sisters. My girl who has had almost no patience or tolerance for frustration has made an amazing shift somehow. She is verbalizing her thoughts and feelings and communicating clarity about who she is and what she wants. And my baby is so clearly not a baby anymore. She is more independent in every way. The three girls have become closer friends. I have witnessed much snuggling and tenderness between them.

All of it has made me think about learning. At the beginning of fall, I had ideas about what I wanted the kids to learn, and many of those ideas involved me sharing my knowledge and resources with my kids. But here is how I have grown these past months: I have a new respect for how much learning goes into these big life changes! All of us have had to do a lot of research to find out where to live, where to shop, how to deal with trash removal, what groups to connect with, what bugs are we finding in our shower, what plants are in the yard, and how do we get from one place to another. Besides searching for facts, we’ve had to emotionally and spiritually stretch to meet the challenges of leaving all that was familiar and reaching out to new people, places and situations. We have all had to step it up and be more independent and competent, more flexible and compassionate. During a time when I had very little time to read to them or even answer their questions as I usually would, it is both amazing and humbling to see what they have figured out on their own and how they have grown.