Must Be Nice

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If I hear someone say this one more time in response to another person’s good news, good fortune, or good luck, I will seriously throat punch. My patience is starting to wear thin like WOAH for such a selfish lack of sharing in another person’s happiness.

Guess what? There’s enough happiness and goodness to go around. And we each come by it through different means at different times, usually without knowing the whole of someone’s back story. I wouldn’t want to get there the same way you did, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to get there the same way I did.

At some point this year, I started to understand when I’m feeling jealous, envious, or as if there ISN’T enough goodness and happiness to go around–or when I’m feeling scarcity for some reason– it’s time to move back to the mindset of abundance. Of gratitude. To spread love. To generously compliment. To be EXTRA gracious. Not in the form of insincere flattery, but to truly share in happiness WITH people– instead of competing for it– which really doesn’t work or make sense, anyway.

So please. For the love. When good things are happening for the people around us, can we all agree to stop saying, “Must be nice” and try one of these instead?

  • I’m so happy for you

  • You deserve this

  • This has been a long time coming

  • I hope you enjoy every second

  • I feel so grateful to share this with you

Or how about this?

Must be nice to have such good things happening in your life…and I wish you many, many more.”

The end.

 

 

Making Space for Love

FullSizeRender (2)Today’s blog is a re-post from earlier this year, in honor of the baby who inspired it. She’s 13 today. A gorgeously fresh 13.  She was a baby I wasn’t sure I was ready for after so much loss. Baby Number 3. And then when she finally got here, I am overheard on the video–my voice hoarse and strained from labor–in total disbelief: “It’s a GIRL? A GIRL??” What? All along I had thought her to be a boy. I sort of thought I wanted a boy. But instead, she turned out to be everything I didn’t know I wanted. My joy baby. She is all the best parts of me, only better. Her wit, her style, her humor, her sarcasm. She makes me laugh hard, every single day. I can’t believe she’s 13 today, but it’s hard to be sad because she just keeps becoming more magical…right before my eyes.

And as I’m typing this, said child literally just came in my room, looked at herself in the mirror, declared, “I am a mini you.” Smiled, and walked out. I should be so lucky.

Happy Birthday, Smush. Thanks for making life so fun.


I should’ve been resting, but everyone knows a hospital is no place for rest. My brand new pink tiny bundle of joy lay tightly swaddled beside me in the clear acrylic nursery crib. And even though I most certainly did feel all of the sweet and tender feelings a new mom is supposed to, there was something else roiling inside I wasn’t expecting:

Fear.

Fear of not having enough love for 3 kids.

Fear of there not being enough of me to go around.

Fear of my two older kids being cheated out of getting their needs met.

Fear of just not enough.

And that was it. Between the exhaustion and post-pregnancy hormones, the tears started falling and wouldn’t stop. I lie there in the dark with my hours-old baby girl and sobbed, knowing sleep wouldn’t come until I understood how it was all going to work.

And in the middle of the night, in my WAY overly emotional state, I remember thinking I had discovered the keys to the kingdom: We’re created with an infinite capacity to love. And when new people — babies we birth and babies we adopt, step-children and new family members, new friends and lovers and neighbors and co-workers, fellow travelers who were previous strangers — somehow make their way into our lives,

Our hearts expand and we make space for more love.

That’s it.

There’s no competition.

It’s not a tight squeeze or an ill fit or a just barely made it.

There’s no shortage or rationing.

We’re all in.

There’s room for everybody.

Our hearts expand and love makes space.

How small-minded and silly to think maybe my heart wouldn’t be big enough and strong enough and soft enough to love all three of my babies at once; To think there was a limit to my heart’s capacity.

But to be honest, I didn’t just think this way about babies.  I thought this about the rest of my love life, too. At one time or another, we’ve all experienced a love that made us feel as though this were it– we never would or could feel love like this again. And maybe we didn’t want to. (Widowed and divorced over here…remember?)

But wouldn’t that be so sad? To think love was so limited and exclusive? (A year ago, I would’ve said no. That’s not sad. That’s awesome. Love can go fly a kite or play in traffic.) Yet I realize everyday now that over the course of a lifetime filled with hundreds and thousands of people and experiences on our journey’s way, our hearts expand and love makes space. We have the ability to love an infinite number of people with infinite types of love. We never run out. The well never runs dry. Somehow, there is an indeclinable source.

I know, I know, I know. This from the same girl who, a year ago, wasn’t sure she still believed in love. This from the same girl who, last Valentine’s Day, declared herself her OWN Valentine. But as life (and love) would have it, this past year the people around me, both old and new, poured more love into my life than I ever would’ve imagined. And in spite of my weathered and worn out rose-colored glasses and snarky commentaries on love, my heart expanded and love made space.

And so Happy Valentine’s Day to you. I hope you can look back on this past year of your life too, and see just how much love is all around you–just how much space there is for love. And the good news is, there’s still room for more.

You Gotta Fight For Your Rights

Woman suffrage. Mrs. Swing, picketing White House, 1917

You guys. One of my girls brought home THE most awesome thing from school today and I’m stealing it. And NOT because I didn’t have any content for this week. I just didn’t have any content I could actually publish. Because. You know. Some weeks are messier than others and it would just not be appropriate to press the Publish button. Woah Nellie.

But THIS! This fits perfectly into a messy week. It’s the Personal Bill of Rights and I totally wish I knew who the author was so that I could give them a big ol’ hug and kiss and double high fives and secret hand shakes and do-si-do with them and whatever else you do when you wanna celebrate. Because this rocks. I’m hanging it on my fridge and in my kids’ rooms and giving copies to a few friends. I’ve lived far too long with some blurry and loose boundaries, People-Pleasing Behavior Syndrome (because that’s a thing) and not always understanding what is reasonable to expect for myself or others. I’m guessing we could all use a reminder from time to time about what it genuinely means to be real people with real feelings and needs; Reminders about what is healthy and right and should be expected in healthy relationships. This list is that.

Personal Bill of Rights

1. I have the right to ask for what I want.

2. I have the right to say no to requests or demands I cannot meet.

3. I have the right to express all of my feelings, positive or negative.

4. I have the right to change my mind.

5. I have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.

6. I have the right to follow my own values and standards.

7. I have the right to say no to anything when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe, or it      violates my values.

8. I have the right to determine my own priorities.

9. I have the right not to be responsible for others’ behaviors, actions, feelings, or problems.

10. I have the right to expect honesty from others.

11. I have the right to be angry at someone I love.

12. I have the right to be uniquely myself.

13. I have the right to feel scared and say, “I’m afraid.”

14. I have the right to say, “I don’t know.”

15. I have the right not to give excuses or reasons for my behavior.

16. I have the right to make decisions based on my feelings.

17. I have the right to my own needs for personal space and time.

18. I have the right to be playful and frivolous.

19. I have the right to be healthier than those around me.

20. I have the right to be in a non-abusive environment.

21. I have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people.

22. I have the right to change and grow.

23. I have the right to have my needs and wants respected by others.

24. I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

25. I have the right to be happy.

~Anonymous

Amen. And Amen. Thank you, Anonymous. You are wise and brilliant and insightful and you have done it again. XOXO

It’s Thursday. And This is What I’m Reading: Take This Bread

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“Conversion isn’t, after all, a moment: It’s a process, and it keeps happening, with cycles of acceptance and resistance, epiphany and doubt.”


Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, by Sara Miles 

Raised an atheist, Sara Miles is a left-wing lesbian who traveled the world as a journalist, covering world revolutions. Early one morning, on what felt like a whim, she wandered into St. George’s Episcopalian Church in San Francisco, participated in their “Open Communion” service, and as she received the sacraments, had an outrageous life-altering encounter with Jesus– a Jesus she had thus far scorned and rejected. What happened in the years that followed left me equal parts fascinated, convicted and inspired.

“As I struggled with bread and wine and belief over the following year at St. Gregory’s, it stayed hard. I began to understand why so many people chose to be “born-again” and follow strict rules that would tell them what to do, once and for all. It was tempting to rely on a formula– “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior,” for example– that became itself a form of idolatry and kept you from experiencing God in your flesh, in the complicated flesh of others. It was tempting to proclaim yourself “saved” and go back to sleep. The faith I was finding was jagged and more difficult… It was about action…My first, questioning year at church ended with a question whose urgency would propel me into work I’d never imagined: Now that you’ve taken the bread, what are you going to do?”

Miles had an answer to that. She went on a mission to start and run a weekly food pantry serving the poor and gritty community surrounding the church. Through it, she continually comes face to face with the best and worst of people, within the church walls and outside of them; daily wrestling with what it means to love, to serve, to co-exist and to know God.

“I was going to keep giving food away. What I glimpsed in the projects was the last thing I’d expected growing up: that because God was about feeding and being fed, religion could be a way not to separate people but to unite them…The sharing of food was an actual sacrament, one that resonated beyond the church and its regulations, and into a real experience of the divine. I wanted more.”

Page after page, chapter after chapter, as I read of her hunger to know God and her hunger to serve people, I slunk lower and lower into my seat. This woman. A few years ago, before my own faith shift, I would not have been able to read this book and see this woman for the inspiration and role model that she is to me now. I am embarrassed to say I would’ve judged her. I would’ve said no. Not her. Her lifestyle. Her history. (As if mine is so exemplary) The totally unorthodox and untraditional way she lives in every sense, relative to my White, suburban cage. Ouch. And now. I like her. More than I like myself. She’s going and doing. And I admire that.


“So many of the arguments between left- and right-wing Christians, fundamentalists and Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, seemed to hinge on the idea that their own sect had the correct practice, “the secret code,” that would save the followers and make God reward them. That was idolatry, as I saw it: magical thinking, pagan religion. I didn’t think God needed humans to practice religion at all: God didn’t need to be appeased by sacrifices or offerings or perfectly memorized quotations from the Bible spoken in the right order. God was not manageable.”

The idea that God is not manageable, not to be tamed; That perhaps there is no exact science to faith and belief… Well, I think I sighed audibly after reading that. I think the relief I have felt at discovering this was…is…palpable.

As I turned the last page of Take This Bread~

This is what I thought:

If you’re doing more judging than loving–

If you’re doing more talking than walking–

If you’re not somehow doing SOMETHING that makes a generous, soulful contribution into other people’s lives–

No one really gives a shit what you think about pre-destination and election. About post-trib or pre-trib. About free will. And quite frankly, I don’t think God does either.

“You have been greatly loved,” said a piece of the Gospel that had stuck with me. Go and do likewise. That seemed pretty damn clear. My only sense of “mission” now was to show others that they, too, could feed and touch and heal and love, without fear.”

Love people and do something about it. Period.

This is what I felt:

A little overwhelmed and embarrassed– a little silly– by how white, suburban, Evangelically, I have viewed God. I mean, really. There is a whole world out there whose experience with God is just as valid and real and authentic. I felt guilty and kinda dumb for thinking that the way I previously believed and lived was somehow better than Sara Miles and everything she represents.

This is what I’ll do:

Ok. The last few years have been rough. And I needed a break– from church, from service, from community, in many ways and on many levels. But as I move ahead in this new season of my life, this book has inspired me to find church again, to engage in community again, to be of service again.

“What happened once I started distributing communion was the truly disturbing, dreadful realization about Christianity: You can’t be a Christian by yourself.”

“Unity is a gospel imperative when we recognize that it opens us to change, to conversion: when we realize how our life with Christ is somehow bound up with our willingness to abide with those we think are sinful, and those we think are stupid.”

I want to give back. I want to get involved again. I want to take up a cause. Be a part of social justice in some way. And this time, with my eyes and heart fully open and aware that the cost of relationships– of community– is part of the rent we pay for living here. And it’s worth it.

 “Christianity wasn’t an argument I could win, or even resolve. It wasn’t a thesis. It was a mystery that I was finally willing to swallow. I was loved by a big love. In the midst of suffering, of hunger, even of death. Alleluia. What was, finally, so hard about accepting that?”

Read this book. Even if you don’t connect with Christianity- or any faith at all, for that matter. Sara Miles has written a challenging and engaging story that has continued to help me redefine what I want my journey here on this earth, as a human being, to look like. I am loved by a big love. What’s so hard about that?

The Art of Offense and Apologies

Photo on 2014-08-11 at 15.45 #3The years before I got divorced, the year I got divorced and the year following my divorce, as you can seriously only imagine, have been rich with offense and apology. Constantly. Continuously. Exhaustingly so. And not just with the obvious principal players, but with lots of people in my tribe. And on the real, possibly more offense than apology. 

But isn’t this about how it goes for everyone? Relationships. Gah. Seriously. I love ’em and hate ’em all at the same time. There are a few people in my life that frustrate the hell out of me and I want to throw them off a cliff and then run to the bottom to catch them. Because I love them. But for whatever reason, we can’t seem to get an easy vibe going. Which means miscommunication. Misunderstood feelings. Unmet expectations. And Mexican stand-offs. (Sorry to the Mexicans. Sorry. It’s just an expression, yes?)

And so the offense/apology circle is a pitted and well-traveled path. But there are bits and pieces to it that get sort of muddy at times. And so this is what I’d like to offer:

The person who has done the offending

REGARDLESS OF INTENTION

Does not get to judge whether or not the offended person should be offended


 You should probably reread that. It might take a second or third look

{Feel free to sub out the word “offended” for whatever flies your kite: insulted, hurt, degraded, humiliated. We run an equal opportunity shit show here}

 And before anyone gets crazy, I’m strictly referring to one-on-one personal relationships here; Not to social media/political correctness/Merry Christmas and rainbow-flag-waving type of “offenses”. Those are a totally different type of headache. Like a migraine. 

The thing is this– If I’ve hurt you, whether or not I intended to, if I value our relationship and am seeking to live at peace with others as much as possible, then I need to apologize. Period. You get to feel what you feel and I don’t get to decide if it’s valid or not. Because truthfully, the thickness of our skin is as varied as the colors of it. Totally. Completely. Different. 

And how I see it

Is not necessarily how it is

It’s only how I see it

We, each one of us, are masterful lawyers at defending our own feelings and intentions, but incredibly tough judges when it comes to measuring someone else’s.

SorrySaying you’re sorry doesn’t have to mean you were wrong; Saying you’re sorry means that you want to take tender care of another person’s heart and feelings. Being an attentive, mindful caretaker is an important part of growing healthy, soulful, connected relationships.

And so if we can learn to live with this as a core value– to cause as little harm to others as possible– and apologize quickly and easily if and when we do cause hurt or harm, no matter how right we think we are, it will change the atmosphere we live in. And changing the atmosphere changes the world. And at the end of the day, I want to be a world-changer more than I want to be right. Do it with me?

Grace & One-Way Love

grace-circus-letters-web-940x400I had a difficult conversation with someone this morning. Not difficult as in confrontational; Difficult as in emotionally raw. Vulnerable. Tender…Difficult. This person was needing and asking me to extend a measure of grace and without hesitation, although perhaps (and then again, maybe not) against all reason, or odds or…I don’t quite know…history? I freely gave it. I didn’t have to think twice. They did not specifically ask for grace– but that was the tone of our conversation. And I did not specifically say, “Here is grace. Please have it.” That is not usually how grace is exchanged. But there is a moment when one person has a need or weakness and another person simultaneously has the terrifying power to so easily and unnecessarily hurt or cause suffering…and chooses not to. And it is so soothing and tenuous and frightening. And I am not acting as a self-proclaimed Grace-Giver here– spouting off about it would be the antithesis to graceful. I almost feel as though I am observing it objectively– because let’s be honest and clear– I do not always give grace. And I do not always give grace freely. In our base humanity, there are times each one of us gives “grace” with many many spoken or unspoken conditions attached. And this is not grace at all.

And so all day long I have ruminated about the nature of grace. About what it means. What it feels like to give grace and receive grace. About unmerited favor. Undeserving mercy. And it has kept the tears close to the surface. There is something achingly beautiful and fragile and fervent about the nature of grace that is undoing me today.

6cc889098349daf806f65245c9d0af4fAnd perhaps that is why this morning’s conversation is affecting the landscape of my heart so deeply today. Because life is hard. And grace makes hard things easier.

What, exactly, do I mean by grace?

“Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable…. The cliché definition of grace is “unconditional love.” It is a true cliché, for it is a good description of the thing. Let’s go a little further, though. Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold…. Grace is one-way love.” – Paul Zahl, as quoted in William Tullian’s book, One -Way Love.

And so may we–more often these days–find ourselves on both ends of such love and grace. Because in the end, we are all just walking each other home. (Ram Dass)

 

5 Things (it’s okay) to Tell a Struggling Friend

images-17When people we care about are struggling, it can be so hard knowing the right thing to say or do. And even though pain, grief and loss are such a universal part of the human experience, for some reason we suddenly feel so awkward on how to handle it. There are lots of WRONG things to say and you can find those here or here. But to be honest, the worst thing to say is NOTHING. To ignore it altogether. To pretend it didn’t happen or that you don’t know about it. That. is. the. worst. For the love. Don’t be that person– use one of these instead:

1.  I‘m so sorry you’re going through this.”

“I’m so sorry you have to walk through this.”

“I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

“I’m so sad for you.”

Any variation of “I’m sorry” is a good place to start. C’mon. You can say that. It’s not that hard. This is the universal sympathy phrase for a reason. It’s easy to get out of your mouth. You should use it. And please don’t ever qualify this with a “But…” As in, “But I don’t agree with your divorce.” (That must be so hard for you. Because I lose sleep at night over whether or not you agree with my situation.” Smile. I’m kidding. Obviously.) “But you deserve it.” or “But I told you so.” No. Stop. Don’t do it.

2. “That must be so hard.”

“That must be awful.”

“That would be so hurtful.”

Validation is a gift. People who are struggling often keep apologizing for all of their emotions when it’s probably all very normal. In the midst of chaos and pain, it’s a wonderful thing to be told, “It’s okay that you feel this way.” When you tell someone, “That sounds horrible”, it’s not a sudden revelation to them. They already KNOW it’s horrible. But what you’re really saying is, “I see what you’re going through and I can see why it’s so hard.” Do this.

Important side story~

When I lost my first husband, everyone thought it would be helpful if I attended some sort of support group. Except there weren’t any support groups for 26 year-old widows. (What I really needed was a support group for 26 year-olds who had to attend a support group) Ultimately I ended up attending a group filled with– wait for it– people over 65. I was mortified. It only continued to point out the rarity and devastatingly “bad luck” of my situation. Except for one unforgettable moment that night. Everyone had to tell their story; Who they had lost and why they were there. As I listened to tale after tale of people who had been married for 50 years, people who had to discontinue life support and feeding tubes, people who had needed Hospice, it was my turn. And as I told of my husband being killed in a car accident and leaving behind myself and our two small children, the elderly gentlemen sitting next to me grabbed my hand, looked in my eyes, and said, “You must be in hell.” I wept with relief.

Finally. Finally someone was acknowledging exactly what it felt like. How bad it was. How hard it was. Naming it for me. To finally NOT hear that God must have needed another angel (more than my kids needed their dad??) To NOT hear that I was so young– I would surely find someone else (as if the true problem was the vacancy and filling of the position of husband and father). To NOT hear that everything happens for a reason (because there is no reason thorough enough that would justify this loss). Finally. Validation of the hell I could not escape. I never went back to that support group. But I also never forgot the words of that man. It was a healing moment in my grief.

3. “I may not completely understand, but I can sit here and listen.”

Most struggling or grieving people have a need to talk. And talk. And talk. If not right away, eventually. External processing is a powerful way of understanding and sorting out the jumbled mess of emotions locked up inside. No one is looking for you to have any answers or come up with solutions. And really, don’t. All you need to do is sit and listen. And then get used to responding with simple phrases such as, “That’s awful.” or “That sounds so hard.” Or even, “Mmmmm.” There are very few requirements to be a good listener– a little bit of time, a compassionate heart, and gentleness. Lots of gentleness.

4.  “What would be helpful right now?”…And then offer something specific. Or just do it.

Most of the time, people will add, “Is there anything I can do?” And in the middle of grief, it can be very hard to answer. Ideally, if YOU can think of something thoughtful and helpful (as long as it doesn’t cross any major boundaries), just do it. Or offer something specific that requires a yes or no response. “Can I drop off dinner on Tuesday night?”, “Can I do all the driving for baseball this week?” If none of that seems right, stop by for 5 minutes with a coffee, muffins, beer, a new purse, shoes, anything with a bow on it…Wait. Sorry. That’s maybe only what I would like. But. You get the point.

Another important side note~

Sometimes when my girls are struggling or sad, I say to them, “What would make you feel taken care of right now?” The answer can be as simple as a cup of hot chocolate, a nap, snuggle time with me or a quick date somewhere. I especially like that this teaches them to recognize what they’re feeling and then ask for what they need. And it teaches me, too. I think women, especially, are bad at this. Or maybe it’s just me. I’m bad at this. But my girls won’t be. They will know how to ask for what they need.

5. “You are not alone.”

Grief and loss. Pain and struggle. It’s all very isolating. The rest of the world is moving on while yours has stopped. It’s a very lonely place to be. Depending on your relationship,  it’s such a relief to hear someone say, “You’re not alone. I’m with you in this. Text me or call me 24/7.” And then, even if you have to set a reminder in your phone, YOU text THEM every few days with some love and encouragement. A friend and I stumbled upon a little code– when one of us is feeling really low, or thinking about the other one, and we don’t really want to talk or don’t really know what to say, we will text  ” …” And it just means “I have no words. I’m here. I’m with you.”

And believe it or not, it helps. Easy. Small. Simple. Gentle. Kind. You can do it.

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