Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thirty-two: Spring

Spring won't let me stay in this house any longer! I must get out and breathe the air deeply again. ~Gustav Mahler

Spring. Ah, Spring. It's above 45 degrees here in Connecticut. Spring!

Today I'm opening windows, letting in the fresh air. My children can complain all they want that it's cold. That's what sweatshirts are for. Deal with it - it's Spring!

It's also supposed to rain on and off all day. I'm hoping the rain will wash away what remains of the snow. My yard could use a good cleaning, and I yearn to see green.

I can barely wait to go outside just to breathe. I want so much to pack a backpack and take off for my favorite local hiking trail. I yearn to sit on the rock and watch the pond come alive. Hopefully in a couple months my body will be healthy enough to comply with my longings.

Until then, I'll celebrate the greening of the world in my own way, drinking in fresh air and marveling at all the little miracles in my own back yard. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Thirty-one: Breathe

For me, it is OK as long as I can breathe, as long as my heart is pumping, as long as I can express myself. ~ Ai Weiwei

It's been a long couple days.  Oh, wait, it's only been one day. 

On Remicade, my immune system is compromised, so when Alia uttered the words, "I'm going to puke," I had a moment of panic. Then I woke my husband and he dealt with the mess. I had slept maybe two hours at that point, and it was nearly 5AM. We got out the vinyl-encased camp mattress, sheets, blankets, the small washable pillow, a puke bucket, and water to sip and set Alia up in the dining room for the little time that remained of the night. Her bedroom upstairs and the bathroom downstairs, our dining room is the nightly sick room.

My husband returned to bed while I helped Alia settle in. He was sleep in seconds. Upon returning to bed, I tried to sleep once again and failed, my mind racing with the what-ifs of everyone getting sick. So I did what I always do. 

I took deep breaths. I prayed. I thanked God for a husband who cleans up puke and a child who handles herself so well despite her belly not feeling so good...and that it was one puking child. Only one. Please, only one. 

And I started writing. I wrote and wrote, about a lot of things. I got out and worked through my concerns. It helped calm my nerves and put things into perspective. 

Just when I was sleepy enough to drift off blissfully, the alarm went off. If I hadn't needed to make it to an appointment, I would have ignored it and slept, but I willed myself awake and reluctantly and quite slowly began a new day. 

Throughout the day, whenever my OCD kicked in about the what-ifs, I took deep breaths and centered myself in the present. I took naps. I watched Into the Woods with my children. I communicated to my children what I needed to get through the day and listened as they told me what they needed.  I pretty much ignored my to-do list. 

I gave myself an afternoon to simply breathe. 

Sometimes we just need to take some time to breathe. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Thirty: Clean

Sunday mornings are hard, especially after unusually late Saturday nights...

Every one of my children was grumpy, whiny, or just plain out of sorts. They were treating each other badly, feeding off each others' anger or lack of patience. 

I was exhausted. I was in pain. I had very little sleep. I also had very little patience upon getting out of bed and that was used up trying to drag five tired children from their warm, comfy beds. I had a house to clean, preparations to make for a gathering that afternoon - and little time to do it after worship and Earthkeeping Team and feeding a horde of ungrateful children lunch. 

My children's horrible behavior evoked anger and resentment. Why couldn't they just suck it up so we could all have a good day? Why were they doing this to me? I got up early to make french toast for breakfast and in exchange got grumbling and procrastination. I spoke nicely and kindly and in return received arguments and children throwing things at other children. I was ready to give up. 

I felt my blood pressure and stress levels rising by the second. 

Finally in the van and on our way to church, I had to sort out a squabble between siblings once again. I'd had enough. I made a declaration that behavior needed to improve or else. 

As frustration spilled over into the silence that followed, I realized things needed to change. I needed to change. 

Or else? Or else, what? Any "punishment" I could give my kids would end up punishing me more. And then the words of Psalm 51:10 wafted through my mind...
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. 

I realized quickly that if I wanted attitudes to change, I needed to change mine first. I needed a clean heart with which to carry on my day. I needed empathy and compassion, rather than frustration and self-righteousness. I needed to meet each child where they were - and where they were was in a place of too little sleep.

Too little sleep produces unique symptoms in each child. One reacts in anger and a need for isolation; one in the compulsion to control and manage everyone and everything; another in pushing everyone's buttons; and the list goes on.

So I left one child in the Fellowship Hall to have some alone time to regain his composure and adjust his attitude while the rest of us went to worship. I listened to the kids' needs and did my best to meet them. I cuddled and snuggled. The kids explored sensory bags and wrote on church bulletins. We sang. We prayed. Everyone's attitudes improved, especially mine - how could it not when the Psalm of the day was Psalm 51?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Twenty-nine: Arrow

Your children are not your children.They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.They come through you but not from you,And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.You may give them your love but not your thoughts.For they have their own thoughts.You may house their bodies but not their souls,For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;For even as he loves the arrow that flies,so He loves also the bow that is stable.~ Kahlil Gibran
I read this at a Women's Circle in celebration of womanhood. During the circle, we honored and celebrated my almost-13-year old daughter's transition from girl to woman. A couple Summers ago, she was part of a Red Tent Woman's Circle at a friend's house and loved it, so I thought I'd gift her with a Red Tent of her own, to honor her new status as woman. 

In our house, coming of age is big. It's important. And it deserves recognition. 

We gathered, women and girls, in a room adorned in red. We shared our maternal lineage and what we find fulfilling about being a woman, along with some words of wisdom. before bestowing small gifts upon the newest woman among us. We ate nourishing foods. And chocolate cake.  A very talented woman adorned those who wished with beautiful artwork done in henna. We talked, laughed, shared, and enjoyed the sacred atmosphere of a gathering of women.

What I loved most about this gathering was the thoughtfulness and meaningfulness of the gifts, the sharing of experiences, and that Haley now knows she has a group of caring, strong, inspiring women to call upon should she ever need to talk, to ask questions, or to seek sanctuary should she need it. 

As Haley’s Mama, I hope to always be the bow, the stable place where she can rest. And I look forward to seeing the path she, as arrow, will take in life.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Twenty-eight: Explore

“Kids are naturally curious about the world around them. Everything is fascinating and holds their attention as they explore their new surroundings. Adults however, have grown up hearing the word ‘no’, ‘don't do that,’ and ‘quit daydreaming so often, they create their own little world, a world with lots of limitations. What then do most adults teach to their children? ‘No’, ‘don't do that,’ and ‘quit daydreaming.’ So, what can you learn from a child today…?”   ~James A. Murphy
I'm about to head out the door with two of my children to explore the Children's Museum. Most people consider this a wonderful learning experience for the children. I consider this an amazing opportunity to learn from my children.

You see, I've forgotten most of what I intrinsically knew as a child about exploring. I need them to teach me, once again, to be fascinated with things I would tend to consider mundane or miss altogether; to explore things in the same way I encourage them to explore.

I love exploring with my children. They have rarely been told no or don't when it comes to exploring the world around them. They have often been told yes! please! do! go! 

We tell our children DON'T...
...pick mushrooms until and unless they've been properly identified as safe
... get so far ahead of us that we can't see or hear you / you can't see or hear us
... get too close to the edge, which means about twenty or thirty feet from the edge, because your mother has a fear of heights, not for herself, but for her children, and you don't want her having a panic attack at the top of the mountain ... do distract her with something first and go with Daddy
... touch things that clearly say do not touch or climb on things that say do not climb

We tell our children DO...
... stop and examine things - look from all angles
... touch, see, feel, listen
... take the path less traveled, or make your own
... look up! down! near! far! 
... ask questions of parents, docents, curators, experts, friends, siblings (but don't expect everyone or anyone to have all the answers!)
... discover answers on your own
... explore and learn about what you enjoy for days or weeks or months or a lifetime afterwards
... keep in mind where you are and what the "rules" are - some places require quiet, other places celebrate children being children
... encourage your parents, siblings, and friends to come and see
... share what you've learned
and so many other things.

I wonder what I'm going to learn today...


Friday, March 20, 2015

Twenty-seven: Teach

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate then they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." - Nelson Mandela

In my family, we seldom use the word hate to describe something, and never to describe someone. Hate is a very powerful word and a formidable emotion. Hate can ruin your life.

In my family, we often use the word love to describe something, and almost always to describe someone. Love is a very powerful word and a compelling emotion. Love can save your life.

Be careful with your words and emotions. Be careful what you teach your children, through words and through actions.

Teach love, not hate.
Teach peace, not hate.
Teach kindness, not hate.
Teach acceptance, not hate.
Teach forgiveness, not hate.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Twenty-six: Joy

“There were thousands and thousands of forms of joy in the world, but that all were essentially one and the same, namely, the joy of being able to love.”   - Michael Ende, The Neverending Story

I thought I knew what joy was.

I really thought I knew what joy was. Then I fell in love. 

It was then I thought I knew joy. 

Then I got pregnant.

This must be the joy of all joys, I assumed. 

Holding my child in my arms for the first time, I knew - I just knew- that this was the ultimate joy. What joy is greater than bringing a child into the world? What brings more joy than a baby's smile? 

I thought I knew what love was.

I really thought I knew what love was. Then I fell in love. 

It was then I thought I knew love. 

Then I got pregnant.

This must be the love of all loves, I assumed. 

Holding my child in my arms for the first time, I knew - I just knew- that this was the ultimate love. What love is greater than one's love for their child? 

And then it happened. It was during Easter Vigil worship seven years ago. I held my newly born baby girl in my arms and took in the moment. Water was poured over her head and the Pastor's words echoed in my heart:

"...called by the Holy Spirit, trusting in the grace and love of God..." 

"Sustain Alia with the gift of your Holy Spirit; the spirit of wisdom and understanding; the spirit of counsel and might...the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever."

It was then that my heart felt the impact of what my brain had been trying to wrap itself around forever - the complete joy of God's grace, God's love, God's presence...for this little life ... for myself ... for us all.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Twenty-five: Laughter

You grow up the day you have the first real laugh at yourself.  ~Ethel Barrymore

Laughter is my favorite companion, my best weapon, and a true lifesaver. 

I've been using laughter my entire life to disarm people, especially my Mom. As hard as she tried, she found it difficult to remain angry at a child who was making her laugh. I use the same ninja laughing techniques on my children when they're doing their best to be angry, much to their chagrin. 

Laughter has gotten me out of lots of tight spots. It has saved my life more than once. Laughter finds its way into the cracks of depression and overpowers the darkness with its bright light. It brings people together, initiates and renews friendships, creates bonds.

But laughter can be brutal as well. Caustic laughter directed at someone's perceived deficit can wound one's soul.  It eats away at the one laughing perhaps just as much as the one made to feel less than in some way.

As children we find it easier to laugh at others than we do to laugh at ourselves. Missteps and differences produce embarrassment and self-consciousness. We strive to belong. 

At some point in each of our lives, we've had a really good laugh at ourselves. Perhaps it is when we stop taking ourselves so seriously that we are able to more fully accept our brokenness and our humanity - to develop a more mature sense of self. Admitting, accepting, and finding the humor in our faults helps us to embrace our true selves and, hopefully, be more accepting of others' imperfections.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Twenty-four: Potential

“Just when you think it can't get any worse, it can. And just when you think it can't get any better, it can.”  ~Nicholas Sparks, "At First Sight"

Each day holds great potential: potential to get worse, or potential to get better. Often the direction of my day depends on my attitude. 

I started out yesterday with a bad attitude. I was up much too early. I had to navigate icy roads and horrible traffic to get my daughter to her 8:00AM camp physical / seven year check-up. The trip took fifty minutes instead of the usual twenty-five. I was exhausted before we even left the house due to waking up countless times throughout the night in pain. 

My ever-cheerful and very talkative seven year old did nothing to improve my mood, as cheerfulness is excruciating to this grumpy non-morning person. To add to the mess that was my mood, I was trying to act like a nice and pleasant Mama, and nothing annoys me more than fake happy.

Sitting in the parking lot that was the highway, I didn't think things could get any worse. And then my leg started spasming. My left leg burned with pain as muscles spasmed for no apparent reason. In my husband's car instead of my twelve-passenger van, there wasn't much room to stretch and try to work out the spasm. It was then I realized that I'd only brought my cane with me - not my crutches or my wheelchair. If my leg didn't improve by the time we arrived, I wasn't sure how or if I would be able to walk. A string of expletives made its way through my mind, but luckily not out of my mouth, as I mentally cursed the day. I became certain that the doctor visit would go badly as well, if we ever made it there, and once there, if I could walk - and the rest of the day after that. I just wanted to go back to bed and try again tomorrow. 

Still at a standstill, my mind raced with questions for the doctor about my concerns regarding Alia's incredible flexibility. Worry about the possibility of something being wrong combined with worry about getting to her appointment on time. My already foul mood was getting worse, if that was even possible.

Thank God my leg situation let up soon after the traffic started moving. We even arrived with five minutes to spare. And then something amazing happened. Or perhaps I should say someone amazing happened.

Dr. Cliff O'Callahan walked into the exam room, greeted Alia, and began asking her questions. In response, she relayed how she was feeling, issues she's been having with her foot and other joints, what she does for exercise, what she eats and drinks, and how she keeps herself safe when she's riding bikes and such.  He then turned to me to ask about her schooling, any concerns I might have, and such while he did her exam. Knowing her love of anatomy, he named the organs he was checking as he checked them. He asked for a demonstration of her extreme flexibility and examined her joints. 

Dr. O'Callahan's wonderful, respectful, genuinely kind treatment of my daughter and myself changed my day. His care for his patients is evident in the way he approaches them and connects with them. His patience and calmness created an atmosphere of peace contagious to my gloomy being. 

The news was good - she's incredibly flexible, but nothing medically concerning. She's a healthy child. Healthy. What a magical word - music to my ears! 

The drive home was full of loud music and singing. And the day just got better from there. I organized homeschool co-op classes. I chatted with a friend online. I snuggled with children. I enjoyed Confirmation class with my not-yet-13-year-old (she says almost, I say not yet).

Whether it's just normal bad day blues, ill health, or horrific news, life often throws us challenges. What's important is that we have faith that we can get through whatever comes our way - even when worse becomes worst. If we look at life with eyes that see the potential for things to get better - and hope that better becomes wonderful and wonderful becomes unimaginably magnificent - worse becomes a little easier to bear. 

Life is good, my friends. Even when I'm in a bad mood. 


Monday, March 16, 2015

Twenty-three: Prayer

I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or do that, but now I pray that He will guide me to do whatever I'm supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I pray for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things. ~Mother Theresa (with thanks to Hannah Myjak for posting this on facebook!)

There is a young woman whom I have come to greatly admire. Her giving spirit and big heart are evident from the moment you meet her. Her passion for life, for helping others, and for following her dreams not only inspires me to do more and be more, but implores me to. Hannah is an amazing artist, a wonderful teacher, a compassionate caregiver, and just an all-around amazing teenager. I find myself inspired by her daily, as she posts on facebook amazing quotes that echo her heart (such as the Mother Theresa quote above) along with artwork, snippets of amusing and heartwarming conversations, and some pretty deep thoughts for a person her age. She doesn't just see things that are wrong and hope someone comes along to make them right, she does what she can to right them herself through theater, art, photography, fundraising, using her many other talents and gifts, and by simply going out and doing, whether in her own home, her community, or in Africa. Her light shines brightly in this world, and by its very nature inspires others' lights to shine. 

Hannah posted the above quote several days ago and I have carried it in my heart ever since. Prayer changes us - we change things, has been like a mantra the past few days. I seem to be praying a little differently: for guidance and acceptance rather than outcome; for the ability to help things change, rather than simply a prayer for change. 

Thank you, Hannah, for being an inspiration. And for posting some amazing words just when I needed them! 

Photo by Zachary Steyer (student of Hannah Myjak)