City Girl In The Country: Lost – My Messy Beautiful

Lost. My Messy BeautifulHusband says I can get lost in my own backyard. He exaggerates. The fact that I couldn’t find my way home from Peach’s dance class when we first moved to the country and had to call him to send up a flare, is not ample evidence. To a city girl, everything looks the same in the woods.

Fortunately, I’m not afraid to ask for directions. Like the time at the hardware store when the kindly gentleman employee, noticing my bewilderment, asked if he could help me. “Yes,” I gratefully replied. “I’m looking for caulk.”  The stunned, red-faced man led me silently to aisle 5.

Life is a maze – one in which I am frequently befuddled. And scared. Sometimes it seems that there is no difference between the middle-aged me and the eight year old me who cried her way through an amusement park after getting stuck in the glass maze. Or the teenage me on the first day of Sophomore year in a new school who burst into tears from the stress of being the new kid in a paralyzing scene of adolescent frenzy.

Perhaps this explains why a girl who failed Geography is addicted to maps and has a pet name for her GPS. And why my favorite job in college was Orientation Guide – leading packs of overwhelmed families through the labyrinth of an urban University Campus. Guiding is the antithesis of being lost.

When I see a panicked child in a store or a dog wandering the streets, I cannot rest until it is reunited with its family. Helping the lost is akin to reaching out the hand that knows what it’s like to tremble with fear and grasping another to steady it.

One day, I found a boy at the beach who was clearly too young to be alone. I detained the happy little chap until his mother arrived on the scene, frantic. Scooping him up, she admonished him for wandering off. His precious rebuttal to her fear was, “I not lost, Momma. I right here.” Clever lad. He knew that wherever he went, there he was. Why waste time worrying about where you’re supposed to be when the place you’re at is so magnificent?

I’m sure it’s magical for some people, like Husband, to explore the unknown and find his own way. Say, for example, in Disney World. But for those of us in need of a plan, there are at least three books that one might read on how to negotiate this particular adventure with efficiency. If these two very different people attempt to vacation together, they might argue a lot and vow never to vacation together again. Not that this happened to me. Just sayin’.

In the Adventure Park of Life, if given the choice, I opt for the guided tour. And I know I’m not alone. When I Google ‘How to deal with anger,’ I don’t even have to finish typing the sentence before several of the most frequently requested answers pop up. People want to KNOW. They don’t want to struggle.

That being said, I’ve learned to appreciate uncertainty and to find the humor in feeling lost.   Because the truth is, I’ve never not been found. When I was lost in sorrow, love found me. When I was lost in chaos, clarity found me.

Life, it turns out, is not the terrifying place I imagined. Writing about it reminds me of this. When I find myself confused about life’s challenges, writing sheds light on the internal compass, which is a heck of a lot more interesting to follow than a real compass. It takes me to places I never knew existed. And then, of course, I want to lead others to these places. So I share my thoughts with you and hope that the little match I’ve lit will light your way too.

Henry David Thoreau said, “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” He is smarter than Husband who tells me, “You’re hopeless without a map.” But Husband is cuter and has a tremendous sense of direction. When we married, my first choice for our wedding song was Follow Me Follow You by Genesis. Husband said it was too hard to dance to. But I think the real issue was his disagreement with the ‘I will follow you’ part. He was understandably nervous, given my track record.

My lost-ness is a well-honed skill. I rather excel at it. It’s not much to brag about, but I’m sort of attached to it.

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

 

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The Death Watch

death watchI recall a promise made to myself in childhood ignorance – I will not become a bitter adult.’  It was clear to me that adulthood had the potential to suck the fun out of life.  Heavy responsibilities weighed down the big people.  They seemed to smile less and complain more.  Cynicism leaked from their pores as a result of letting life’s ugliness seep in.

As I walked into the wake for a neighbor who committed suicide, I felt myself becoming that bitter adult.  This was not the first time I’d been to a wake of this sort, but no matter the circumstances, death has a way of interrupting a harmonious , if not ignorant, mindset.

In coping with this loss, I cling to the wisdom that the only real suffering comes from believing that things should be different.  ‘Resist nothing,’ say the experts, because resisting only prolongs misery.  Trying to manipulate life is like trying to sculpt concrete with your hands.  Hard as we try, we’ll never crack the code with human reason.  Life will continue to astonish us no matter how much of it we’ve experienced. And it will end when it wants to.

Enter the ‘Death Watch’ – an actual device that bases the date of your death on a series of medical questions in the hope of inspiring people to make the most of their remaining time.  The watch shows the amount of time you are estimated to have left in years, months, days, hours, minutes and seconds. Yikes!

In theory, I see how it could be valuable to know how much time one has left on earth.  I had my own death countdown experience that yielded a wealth of insight.  But being cognizant at every moment of the impermanence of one’s existence is no picnic.  This is territory that should be tread-on carefully.  That being said, could it change the world for the better?  One of the first reactions I heard when my neighbor died was, “I should have been nicer to him.”  Would we treat people better if we knew the end – ours or theirs – was near?

Death is a reminder.  It screams so loudly that we have no choice but to listen.  Every passing is an opportunity to delve deeper into this wild existence.  It is a chance to bear witness.  What I witnessed this week was a controversial life and death.  No two opinions or reactions about this man were alike.  Yet still there is a common thread – Every Life Is Meaningful.  Not one person has more right to be on earth than another.  Each life has its place and its perfect timeline, whether we agree with it or not.

Perhaps that timeline is better marked by a Now Watch instead of a Death Watch.

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When focused on the Now, we see that there are no problems.  Problems only exist in the past (coulda, shoulda, woulda) or in the future (I hope not…I fear that….)  Staying present to each moment as it unfolds allows us to bring our whole selves to any situation, thereby warding off regret and worry.

I doubt I’ll ever make friends with Death, it scares me so.  But I respect it and am learning to trust it, because I know that it possesses a wisdom beyond my understanding.  My name is on Death’s calendar along with everyone else’s and I don’t want to know where.  For now, I’d like to live in blissful ignorance, enjoying life whilst Death knocks on someone else’s door.

The Club

PeoniesWhite_FlowerDear Mama,

You have joined a club that no one wants to be a part of.  With regret, I welcome you into the company of those who have lost babies in pregnancy and birth.

I remember standing at that same entrance, unwilling to move; unwilling to acknowledge my membership.  Fear entices you to run and hide, but there is no visible exit.  And you cannot tear through these walls that now enclose you.

My dear woman, you are safe, even though your earth is shaking.  You are surrounded by loving arms that are ready to catch you if you fall.  Come, sit a while, and I will hold a space for your sorrow.

My love is all I have to offer.  I am devoid of the healing you seek so early in your loss.  There are no tricks to make it all go away.  No express train to peace.  But there is a path out of the sorrow.  I promise.  You cannot see it yet.  But you will.

At first, you may wander aimlessly,  grasping at reason and cursing life itself. You will scramble to pick up the pieces of the belief system that used to fuel you.  You may grieve louder than is comfortable for others and perhaps longer than people hope you will.  Or withdraw into a space so dark that even you cannot find yourself.

But eventually, like fireflies at night, hope will emerge in flickers.  Little bits of sunshine will seep into the cracks of your broken heart.  Until one day you stop having to chase the light.  Instead, you find yourself standing in it, unable to resist its warmth.

A token flower on your doorstep.

A bird splashing in a puddle.

And yes, even a baby crying.

Love will return. Resiliency will reign.

There are great life lessons that are exposed only through the experience of tragedy.  They are yours for the taking. Allowing yourself to experience loss for all its potential will inevitably lead to grace.  With compassion and confidence, I invite you onto this new path.

May you be blessed on your journey and know that you are never alone.

New Rules

2013Every year I denounce New Year tradition and proclaim my distaste for the practice of resolution-setting.  I suspect it has some relationship to my inner teen who still rebels against what she ‘should’ do.  Or the adult me who finds certain practices trite.  I mean really, how many times can we disappoint ourselves by setting up lofty expectations that crash and burn before Valentine’s Day?  We mean well, I’m sure.  There is nobility in wanting to improve ourselves.  But when we fail, as we so often do before year-end, bitterness sets in and we end up feeling worse about ourselves.  Silly mortals.

That being said, I’m willing to risk disappointment this year because I need a kick in the pants.  If you’re an avid follower of this blog (thank you) you know that my posting frequency has slacked.  I could blame life for getting in the way, but we all know that’s a grossly overused excuse.  Nor can I claim lack of inspiration; life is too rich for that.  My problem seems to be a set of impossibly high standards.  You see, I want to inspire and motivate and educate.  I want to write only meaningful material.  I want to entertain you.   I want, I want, I want.  Mercy!  The wanting gets in the way of the doing.  And writing is something I really want to do.

So I’ve decided to change my own rules. (Calling them rules instead of resolutions might make them stick.)  I can’t promise to be a writing rockstar, but I can promise to write.  This year, that will have to be enough.  So here goes:

Chaos and Clarity Rules 2013

1.  I reserve the right to post even when the content is not profound.  Sometimes simple is better.

2.  I will write about life as I see it, not as the world might wish to hear it.  That means things might get uncomfortable from time to time.  Reality isn’t always pretty.

3.   I plan to write once per week.  This will be more likely if Rules #1 and #2 are followed.

4.  I will not chastise myself for breaking any of the rules.

Simple, right?  Cross your fingers and toes my friends.  And comment and share on blog posts, even if you disagree with me.  I respect differences in opinion and enjoy the occasional debate.  I promise to behave if you do.

Happy New Year!

Deb

Is Love Alive?

candle2After hearing about the school shootings in Connecticut, I tried to fight the lump in my throat, but it threatened to choke me if I didn’t release the sadness welling up inside.  I’ve never cried so hard for someone I didn’t know.

As a rule, I avoid news-viewing of this sort.  But this day I am fixated like the proverbial moth to a flame.  And I am singed, feeling the sting of another’s horror.

This blog post will not pretend it has answers.  Nor will it join in the cacophony of anger towards guns or politics or school systems or even God.  As it likes to do, this blog will remind us to pause long enough amidst the chaos – even if only for the blink of an eye – to glimpse a spec of clarity.

At the funeral of an eight-year old that I attended years ago, the priest offered a metaphor that has influenced every challenge I’ve faced thereafter.  He said that life, at times of tragedy, is like a pot of boiling water.  When we are plunged into it, two very different things can happen.  If we are like an egg, we will harden.  Our shell remains unharmed to the naked eye, but inside we react to the heat with hardening in the form of bitterness and anger.  In contrast, the same boiling water, to a carrot, has the opposite effect.  The carrot becomes soft, allowing itself to be stripped of its rigidity as it gives way to a new form.

Therein lies our only choice.  For we cannot escape the pot.  Not one of us will coast through life without taking our turn with loss.  Which will we be, egg or carrot?

When I lost a baby to the treacherous business of childbearing, I cracked, like the egg that couldn’t stand the heat.  At first I raged against life.  Then I abandoned it.  Time became irrelevant; joy non-existent.

One morning I lay awake in a familiar state of numbness and noticed that the darkness of the room and that of my soul blended together.   The void that was me was so vast, it had no boundaries.  All that had once defined me was gone.

Vaguely, I was aware of my curled form, head down, no more than a lump on the ground.  Out of nowhere, a voice commanded me, “Look up!”  When I did, I heard one more instruction, “Remember who you are.”  With that, rapid screen shots of my life flickered before me – distant, fleeting reminders of purpose.

This was the day I began my healing.   Like the lame man in the Bible who was told to get up and walk, God had reached down from Heaven and picked me up by the scruff of my neck like a cub.  ‘Enough,’ He seemed to say, and sent me on my way with a gentle nudge.

This is how I learned about grace.  When I began to examine the depths of my experience, I became privy to the great life lessons that seem to be reserved for the experience of tragedy.

I saw the courage and loyalty of friends who refused to let fear withhold their extension of love, even when it meant doing nothing but be present.  I saw the tears in their eyes and the heard the sadness in their voices as a reflective measure of my own sadness and it comforted me.

I learned the value of family – the ultimate crutch.  The ones I can curse to or curse at and still expect their love.  The ones who pick up the pieces long after most people think the puzzle is back together.

And I saw the resiliency in myself.  No matter how far I had fallen, I could always rise again.

In the face of loss, I found these reasons to have hope.  When I allowed myself to experience sadness for all its potential, it led me back to love.

This is what I know to be true:  that grace exists for all people.  That we are never abandoned.  That healing is always possible.

We, friends and strangers alike, will gather around this enormous loss trying desperately to fill the gaping wound in humanity.  We will pray and think and do, yet still the wound may refuse to close.  Life has its own plan, its own clock.  Sometimes all we can do is wait for grace to arrive.

This is my winter song.

December never felt so wrong,

Cause you’re not here where you belong;

Inside my arms.

Is love alive?

I’ll be your harvester of it

And send it out tonight

So we can start again

Is love alive?

-Sara Bareilles/Ingrid Michaelson

Let’s Be Clear

On holidays like Memorial Day, I feel especially defensive of the people I consider to be heroes.  Standing under a flag at half-staff, listening to a child play Taps, choking back tears, I know exactly who my heroes are.  They are not sports figures; those are idols.  They are not surgeons who correct a heart condition or cancer; those are healers.  They are not people who died in their place of business on 9/11; those were victims.  My definition of a hero is limited to a person who  knowingly risks his/her life and safety with the idea that someone else, or something else, is more important.  They make the ultimate sacrifice – themselves.

I am in awe of the people who fight for my freedom and end up losing their own to loss of life or limb or peace of mind.

I am in awe that in the absence of a draft, our armed forces are stocked with volunteers.

I am in awe that so many have the courage and the calling that I lack.

In quiet moments I reflect on moments that aren’t so quiet – when bombs are bursting and people are dying.  And I feel that I’ll never be worthy to stand beside those who have stood up for me.  There was a time when most of the world – including those who were left behind – made sacrifices during war.  They did without, they worked harder, they mourned repetitively.  These days, war could be just another reality show on t.v.  Life goes on, uninterrupted, for the majority.  For this I am guilty and ashamed.

Yet I wonder, is this what my heroes would want?  For me to stand in my house, safe and sound, feeling bad about myself and sorry for them?  Or would they prefer that I dance in my yard, breathing in the fresh air, forgetting myself, carefree.  Isn’t that what they fight for?  This very freedom?

Today I pause, at least for a moment, to remind myself that this is not, as one woman said, ‘National BBQ Day.’  It is the day we get clear on what, exactly, a hero is.  I may follow that moment with a burger from the grill, a backyard game, and a laugh or two.  And I will enjoy it all in the spirit of the freedom that I did not earn, but that others so generously gave to me.

Fifty More Shades of Grey

Yes, reader, I’m one of the millions who has been swooped up by the curiosity storm that is Fifty Shades of Grey. And it has me thinking about, well, lots of things – many of which I dare not share here.  If you’re a self-described prude as my neighbor is, fear not, it’s not what you think.  This is not a shock-jock type of post.  Nor is it a literary review.  There are plenty of other forums exploring this cult-like explosion and what it means.  Which is why I want to ask, ‘What do you mean, what does it mean?

Does the book’s crazy-big popularity have to point to some dire deficit in womankind – or mankind? Do we really have to pull out the holier-than-thou judgment card?  Experts will have you questioning your motives, doubting your core stability, worrying over betraying a secret desire, and making excuses for why you did or did not enjoy the book.  The bottom line is this:  there are as many different acceptable reactions to Fifty Shades of Grey as there are, say, shades of grey.

Which brings me to my story.  It’s a very different story than the one referenced above.  It involves a seven-year old girl, a first-time mother, and a rainy day….

My daughter and I were driving along on the kind of day that makes me want to curl up under covers with a cup of hot tea and warm pajamas.  The rain came and went and threatened to return.  My daughter stared out the window blankly, sharing a similar distaste for the weather – I thought.  “I’m so glad we have color in the world,” she observed.  “I agree!  We need color on a dull day like this,”  I absent-mindedly replied.  Puzzled, my daughter disagreed, “No.  I was thinking how great it is that there are so many different shades of grey – the pavement, the clouds, the puddles….It’s beautiful!” 

‘Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!  I’ve been schooled by a child,’ I thought. (One of many occasions.)  Here I was, lamenting the effect of the sky on my mood and wrongly presuming it was  universal sentiment.  In so doing, I might have conditioned one unprejudiced little girl to fall into the trap of mindlessness.  Thankfully, she dared to contradict an elder with her impartial view of beauty.

It’s been said that the whole world can be seen clearly through the eyes of a child.  Since that momentous day, I’ve made it a point to let my children show me the world, reserving my opinions on most any topic until I’ve heard theirs.  It’s been my experience that their assessments are often more enlightened.  And the teacher becomes the student.

The most important thing I’ve learned from this practice is that I know nothing with certainty.  Well, not nothing exactly.  I do know my name most days.  But seriously, that’s where it ends.  I’ve grown fond of the notion that I am but a child, still, with much to learn.  Some days that means I need to see the world, and me, in a different light.  Which is exactly why I am grateful to both my daughter and to E.L. James for showing me the many, many shades of grey.

Saved By the Son, Again

I may have misrepresented myself in a previous blog about my management of a busy schedule.  Given the fact that it was only the first week of a ‘mind-numbing’ schedule, I was still in possession of a sense of humor when I wrote about it.

Four weeks, and many mess-ups later, that sense of humor vanished and my brain exploded.  It was one of those days when you wake up feeling almost as tired as when you went to bed.  The insane busyness had finally caught up with me and stripped me of any reserve energy.

This particular day involved three trips between home and a town 30 or more minutes away.  I won’t bore you with a math problem, but let’s agree that it equaled a LOT of time in the car, especially for a Mom whose personal fuel tank is on empty.

So when I arrived at a sports field and found no one there, I snapped.   Immediately I knew it was my mistake.  Why wouldn’t it be?  Hadn’t I botched the schedule twice already this week?  I had shrugged off the first mistake, felt annoyed at the second, but came unglued on this, the third occassion.

Having a car full of children (not all my own), gave me pause.  I was actually proud of myself for pre-determining “Will anyone be scared if I start yelling?”  When they assured me that they wouldn’t be emotionally scarred, I unleashed a string of PG-rated curses against calendars and schedules, and no one in particular, that lasted longer than a few breaths.  Then came the tearless whimpering and stomping of fists on the steering wheel.  It was a full-on adult temper tantrum.  Like an irrational two year old, I couldn’t stop myself, until…

A hand reached across the front seat – the hand belonging to the same son who recently pulled me from the clutches of despair with his heartfelt sentiment.  This time, he employed quick wit to rescue me, and a car full of kids, from the Mommy breakdown that threatened to ruin the lot of us.

With feigned seriousness, my son began reciting Ricky Bobby’s irreverant dinner table grace.  “Dear little four pound baby Jesus….”  That’s all it took.  The entire car erupted into fits of laughter.  My son continued ad libbing a mock prayer sprinkled with requests that his ‘Mama regain her sanity.’

Though I’m not a fan of blasphemy, I felt that maybe even Heaven was laughing at the site of this car full of lunatics.  What an amazing remedy humor is!  Once again,  negativity was transformed by a sensitive, humorous, loving 13 year old boy.

The ride home was uproarious.  We opened the windows, blasted the tunes, and sang at the top of our lungs, effectively releasing all tension that had accumulated in the past month.

Despite the fact that I’d secretly like to claim dominion over my emotions, I openly admit that I can be as vulnerable as a small child when stress crosses my path.  But again, I recognize that where the vulnerability of an adult meets the love of a child, amazing things happen.  Children have a special brand of magic that imparts perspective on life.

So although I’ll do my best to remain in command of my faculties, I suspect I will forever be the colorful, emotional, unpredictable mother that my children enjoy saving.

Saving Seven Lives

I’m drowning in thoughts of murder.  No, not  me.  I don’t want to murder anyone – today.  But it seems that plenty of people do.  Which makes me wonder, like the Black Eyed Peas do in their song, ‘Where Is the Love?’

I’ve been reading the Hunger Games trilogy in which murder is a main theme.  Then there’s the daily disturbing news coverage of murders like the one of the man who killed seven people.  Couple this with the re-telling of the Passion of Christ this Easter season in which the crowd shouts, “Crucify Him!” and you understand how I got to this unsettled place.  Still, I surprised even myself when I burst into tears at Mass.  My children, unaccustomed to Mom crying, giggled nervously and whispered to each other loudly enough to draw attention to my spontaneous unraveling.

An explanation was expected on the ride home.  But how to articulate my despair?  Is it wise to expose my children to my darkest thoughts?  Mother is supposed to be a beacon of hope and strength and comfort.  Yet, she is human and desires that her children witness that truth. 

So she begins, delicately, trusting that her children will rise to the challenge before them.  She tells them that she feels weak sometimes and powerless against the evil in the world.  And when she stands before God in His house and spills her heart out to Him, she feels like a child who needs to cry about what she can’t do and can’t have – like world peace and safety for everyone.  Mother chokes up again when she proclaims how unfair it is that a person can decide to kill seven people and just do it.  But another person, like Mother, can’t decide to save seven people .  It’s easier, it seems, to kill people – literally and figuratively – than it is to save them.

The children, desperate to patch up Mother’s wound as she has done so many times for them, offer their wisdom.  The son, usually silent, speaks first.  With his story, the son pulls the mother’s pain out of her in the same way that Androcles plucked a festering splinter from the lion.  Here is what he said:

“Once there was a boy who was walking home from school.  Some bullies gave him a hard time and all his books spilled out of his backpack.  Another boy saw this and came to his aid, picking up books and helping the boy up.  The Samaritan asked, ‘Why are you carrying so many books?’  The boy answered, ‘I cleaned out my locker because I had intended to kill myself today.  I’m sick of being bullied.  I thought no one cared about me.  But you helped me.  And now I know I was wrong.  Thank you.'”

By the end of her son’s story, Mother is crying again, but for a different reason.  She is humbled by her son’s wisdom and compassion.  She feels hope and joy in his story.  Fearing that Mother may have missed the point, the son explains, “You never know the effect that kindness has on people.  You’ve probably saved a lot of lives, Mom.”

…..

There are moments in life when my heart fills so unexpectedly and so completely that I wonder how it remains contained in my chest.  The heart that only moments before was shriveling in despair, is renewed by an extended hand of compassion.  In an instant, I am transformed like the Grinch on Christmas morning: 

And what happened then?  Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.  And then the true meaning of Christmas came through and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches plus two!

A little love from little beings brings big love to big beings.  Beautiful.

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