Admitting Defeat

Things seem so complicated sometimes.  So many plans and responsibilities.  So many reveries and dreams and memories.  So much behind and so much ahead.

Sometimes it gets to be too much for me.  My brain reaches capacity and it sort of shuts off.  I guess that’s probably not a good thing.

But sometimes it feels really good.

In times like these, I seek out the lovely things in life.

I like warm blankets and tea.  I like yarn, and I like to make things for people I care about. I like talking to friends and trusting people.

That’s always a hard one for me.  I don’t find it easy to trust, and trusting too much causes most of my problems.  But when things get to be too much, I get too sick of trying to figure out who to trust, trying to figure out the rules of the game, trying to maneuver in a social world that sometimes just seems too savvy for my skills.

I just want to sit down, lay it all out, and live in kindness.

I used to love the word, beautiful.  I loved the grandeur of it.  I loved the passion it invoked.  I loved its spark.

But these days, I find myself seeking out loveliness rather than beauty.  To me, what is lovely is just as true and honest and pure as that which is beautiful.  But it’s also simple and peaceful and unassuming.  Loveliness doesn’t seek; it doesn’t boast; it doesn’t shine.  Rather, it resides.

When my world gets dark and cloudy, all I really want are the lovely things.  And to seek them out, I just have to stop trying to function in a world that all too often doesn’t make sense.  I can shrink things.  I can narrow my focus.  I can stop trying to fit in a world I don’t fit into.

I can just lay it out and lay it down and admit defeat.

I’m not big enough for this world.  I’m not smart enough or savvy enough or jaded enough.  I’m simply me.  And all I want is to breathe.

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Messes

I’ve never been good at cleaning up without making a bigger mess first.

Case in point.  This is my living room right now.

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Yesterday we decided it was time to take down the Christmas decorations.  In order to do this, I decided I needed to first finish cleaning out our playroom closet which I’m happy to announce is was one of the last organizational disasters left in our home.

Our closet is now clean.

The rest of the playroom, however, is a nightmare.

I’ve always believed that the best way to clean everything up is to drag it and dump it all out.  Make a big old pile and sort through, item by item.  It’s time consuming.  I would argue that it wastes time; after all, I’m dumping out stuff that was already pretty much organized.

But in the end I know that it’s all clean and perfect and perfectly clean.

The problem is that I do that with life too.  I go along with everything being fine.  I feel happy and content, and then I will notice an area that could be cleaned up a little bit.  I peek in to take a look, and five minutes later, all of my internal cubbies and baskets and bins have been emptied out into a great big pile in the middle of my psyche.

It’s as messy as it sounds.

So I sit there, feeling my pile, and I wonder how I’m going to get it put back to where it all belongs.  Sometimes it’s easy.  I take it step by step.  I rebuild my life.

Othertimes, however, the mound feels awfully high, and I can’t see the top.  I don’t know how to dig in and every time I try pieces come tumbling down on me, making it hard to catch a breath.

So I scream out in prayer, “how?” “why?” “what if?”  And I scream and I scream and I scream.  I still haven’t really learned yet that when we scream, we’re so deafened by our own noise that we can’t hear any answers.

And so I sit here with a heavy heart and a cluttered mind, and I look at my kids.

They make me laugh sometimes.  I tell them to eat their spinach, and they get mad at me.  They think they win if they can get away with not eating it.  They don’t know its purpose.  They mope when they have to go to bed.  They cry at punishments.  They simply don’t understand the why of it all.  And so it feels unfair.

And inside, I sometimes have to laugh.  If only they would trust me.  If only they would believe that very small parts of this world do make sense, and if they allow me to guide them, I will walk them straight into those small, tiny, sensical pockets.  After all, there are a few instances where I know what I’m talking about.  Where I know better.

But they don’t trust me.  Not in that way.  They have their wills, as do we all, and they do their darnedest to try to express them.

And if I look at that and I take the lesson that is handed to me on a platter, I would learn that it’s the same way with me.  I don’t understand it all.  I don’t understand the whys or the hows or the how comes.  I don’t know how I get into my messes or how to get myself out.  I don’t know why I have to experience them.  I simply don’t know.

And if only I would trust rather than scream out in consternation, perhaps my answers would come a little bit more easily.  At the very least I would avoid the pain of screaming until my bloody lungs hurt.

But I’m a slow learner.  I probably always will be.  Let’s pretend it’s part of my charm.

All I know is that when I’m at my quietest, there are two things that I know to be true.

Sometimes we have to learn to let it be.

And it matters who we take on our journey.

God bless, my friends.  Don’t make the same mistakes I do.

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In Search of Gentleness

I look outside onto the ice covered streets.  I can almost feel the harsh air brushing my cheeks.  I feel my feet slip in the snow, and I seek out gentleness.

I turn on the news and I see hatred and violence.  I hear all the yelling and pick up on almost zero listening.  I see the effects of a broken world screaming forth from my screen, and I long for gentleness.

And I look inside, and I feel the bruises, and I see the tentative scabs barely holding on.  I feel the world rushing at me and sense very little within myself to ward it off, and my soul absolutely craves gentleness.

I always approached the world head on.  I would leap with abandon, run in with eyes closed, insist on being a part of the fire.

I fought and I protected and I refused to cower in fear.

And now all I want is a cup of chamomile tea, soft lighting, a warm blanket, and some yarn.

I close my eyes, and I dream of soft landings, of open arms, of quiet words.  I dream of listening and receiving and banishing the need to the heard.

I can’t create peace, and so instead, I seek gentleness.

Every year, I choose a word to guide me.  A mantra of sorts.  Something to direct me when I feel directionless.

And for 2016, I choose gentleness.  Both toward myself and toward the world.  Because when we don’t know exactly where to turn, gentleness usually won’t guide us astray.

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The Beauty and Bravery of Vulnerability

I’ve had people tell me that I am brave before.

The theory is that because I take my pain and write about it and send it out into the world in the hopes that it will help another, I possess this trait that is called courage.

To that, my friends, I must laugh.

Because I am not brave.  Not at all.

Because the thing of it is that sharing truth can be hard.  Right at this very moment, you might be reading this and thinking all sorts of unflattering things about me.  You might be tearing me to pieces.  But I don’t know that, and I will never know…  Well, not unless you are one to post cruel comments to bloggers.  Then I might get an idea.

But in all earnestness, this is not bravery.  Because pretty words can hide pain.  They can hide fear.  They take the darkness in us and dress it up and pretend that it is a gift rather than what it really is… our brokenness.

When I sit down and open up my computer, I get to pretend that my pain is pretty.  And I get to try to convince you of it too.  And since writing isn’t particularly difficult for me, I can sometimes achieve this.

In reality, the brave ones are all the other ones out there.  The ones who take their pain, in all its broken, unsightly glory, and hand it over to another person.  Those who take out their heart, put it on a ruddy old plate, and set it in front of another.  Another who can see in their eyes.  Another whose reactions they can gauge.  Another whose opinion could crush.

We live in a world that is so ridiculously messed up that we believe that the strong ones are the ones with courage.  That the people who take on the world themselves are the victors.  We believe that self-sufficiency is a sign of success.

I remember reading the story of Genesis as a child.  What I remember is that as soon as they took a bite of the apple, they saw their nakedness and were ashamed.

And that right there says it all.  The first sign of our fall and our brokenness as a people is that we became ashamed of ourselves as we are.  We insisted on hiding.  We separated our true natures from not only God but from each other.

And we can’t ultimately fix that.  We can’t create a world where we walk around without our shields.  It’s not a safe enough world for that, and even if it were, we aren’t whole enough for that.

But we can try to open ourselves to the close ones, to the inner circle.  We can try to put down our armor of smiles and happy nods and closed mouths.  We can take a moment and remember that the single most courageous thing anyone can do in this world is let another see them for who they truly are.  For even the briefest of moments.

I’m not brave.  I’m not courageous.  I’d say I’m the farthest from it.

Because I can’t even say the word vulnerable out loud.  I cringe as I write it.

But really, that’s where beauty is.  That’s where truth is.  And that’s where holiness is.

I’m not brave enough to go there yet.

But there are those of you out there who are, and there are those of you out there who are doing your very best to get there.

And I applaud you.  And I commend you.  And I look up to you.

You are an inspiration to us all.

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Our Scars Don’t Define Us

I have a scar on my chin.  When I was very small, I was jumping on the living couch, and I fell into our wooden coffee table.  My top teeth went through my bottom lip the wrong way, and the scar I have is the reminder of the stitches that patched me back together.

It took my husband two years to notice the scar.  It’s hidden, and it’s light.  Kids notice it almost immediately, but I would venture to say that most adults don’t know that I have it.

It’s just sitting there, inconspicuously reminding me not to jump on couches.  I don’t think I have jumped on a single couch ever since.

I think we all have physical scars somewhere on our bodies – reminders of broken limbs or bad falls, car crashes, or child births.  They remind us of where we have been.  But for the most part, I don’t think we let them define who we are.

After all, it would be silly to say I have a scar with a face attached.  It’s the other way around.  I have a face that happens to have a scar.  And if anything, it gives it character.  It tells me of where I have been, the roads I have traveled, and the tables I have taken dents out of.

But possibly even more widespread than physical scars are emotional scars.  The remnants of relationships endured, mistakes made, opinions suffered through.

Our emotional scars are often the result of encounters with other people rather than foreign objects.  These scars often remind us of the battles we have fought.  Ones we have won, ones we have lost.

And more than anything, they often tell us of other’s estimations of our worth.  They tell us of how others deemed they could treat us.  They remind us of another’s opinion of us.  How they felt they could use us or abuse us or toss us away with the trash.

The problem with emotional scars is that we all too often let them define us.

We let the harsh words of a critical person define us.

We let the hatred of groups determine our worth.

We let the disrespect tell us who we are.

The problem with this, obviously, is that we are giving our self and our self worth to those who least deserve it.  We are giving ourselves to the most dangerous among us.  Years or even decades after severing ties, we still feel the pull towards those who want to bring us down, who want to tell us we are less than, who want to take away our worth.

But I am here to tell us all that we are worth more than that.  We are not the sum of all the negative opinions others have formed of us.  We are more than a one-dimensional object that others may want to make us out to be.

We are full and round and complex.  We are wonderful and terrible.  We are strengths and weaknesses.  We are mistakes and victories.

Our scars live with us.  But they don’t necessarily have to haunt us.  We can use them as reminders of where we have been and who we have been and how very much we have overcome.

Our scars make us human, and as such, they make us beautiful.

Just be careful not to listen to them too closely.

When the urge comes on, close your eyes, imagine light.  Imagine all the love that you pour out into the world.  Imagine all the love that flows back to you, even when you cannot feel it.

Embrace your complexity.  Embrace your heartbreaks.  But embrace them as part of your whole.

And then open your eyes and then go into the world and spread your pain and your beauty around.  Use it to fuel your compassion and your empathy.  Use it to help others in need, to pull others up, to make the world a less dangerous place.

Without scars, we can’t grow.  But if we stay stuck in them, we can never move forward.

We are a sum of it all, and when we learn to embrace it all, the pain can dissipate and compassion can win.

We don’t get through life without some scars.  The trick is to love ourselves and the world through them.

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My Prayers

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Every morning around 3:30 am, my husband wakes up to begin his day.  He walks to a bus stop, and then he takes that bus a mile to the train.  He rides the train for a little over an hour, and from there, he hops on a shuttle for another hour until he arrives at the front door of the hospital he works at.

That’s a lot of miles he covers every day.

But besides the miles, he covers a lot more.

Tonight was my daughter’s Christmas show at school.  I sat in the pew, watching she and her friends sing their little hearts out.  My heart was so overcome with joy and happiness and peace.

These children that she was standing with are so kind.  They are growing in families that respect their innocence and work to protect it.  They are being taught compassion and justice and charity and respect.  They are being taught to pray and to love.  They are being taught to look outwards into the world and to seek out ways to make a difference in it.

But as I sat there watching them, I couldn’t help but think of the children left behind in the neighborhood my husband commutes home from every evening.  They too can come from good families and many are taught to pray and to love.  But they are living in a world that does not respect their innocence.  Or their safety.  Or their very right to grow up in a world where their life is valued.

It’s hard for me.  Every time I feel blessed, I also grieve for the mamas who wish the same for their little girls but who can’t provide it because of circumstance, whatever that may be.

So tonight I am going to go to bed praying prayers of gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon me and my family.  And I’m going to pray in petition for all those mamas who want the same for their children but who find it just out of reach.  And I’ll pray that we find a way to bridge the gap, so that those who have more can lift out a hand to those who have less.

And we can all live in a world where we understand that the innocence of our children is the key to peace in our world.

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Doing Sometime Right

 

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One of my favorite children’s books is The Kissing Hand.  It’s about a little raccoon that has to go to school, and he is upset because he will miss his mom.  To make him feel less alone, the mother raccoon kisses his hand and then closes his fingers around it.  She tells him that when he feels lonely, he can open up his kiss and feel her love.

Of course I practically dissolved when I read this.  Magoo loved the idea, so in the mornings, she gives me her hand to kiss, and then she kisses mine.  Sometimes it’s almost comical as she is trying to get out of the car with her coat and hat and bag, and she’ll practically slap me in the face on her way out.

It’s a cute tradition, but I never knew if it really meant anything to her.

And then we were talking the other morning.  Her sisters and I had missed morning Mass for a few days in a row, and she was saying how she gets lonely when she doesn’t see us walking up to Communion as she sits with her class.

But then she went on.  She told me that on those days, she takes her hand and puts it on her heart so that she can feel my kiss in her heart even when I’m not there.

I don’t remember what I said, but I think there was blubbering involved.

I love these little people with every ounce of my being.  But sometimes when I see that love heading back to me, I get confused.  I start to wonder how I possibly deserve it.

I lose my patience constantly.  Sometimes I zone out with a book or with some knitting.  Sometimes I get burned out.  Sometimes I get cranky.

And yet through it all, they simply want me there.

Parenting is incredibly demanding, and to me, that’s part of what makes it so rewarding.  It’s not a sprint.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  It’s not something you can give up on… ever.

It requires all of us every day year in and year out.  For seven and a half years, Magoo has been with me.  There has not been a single day in those 7.5 years when I have not seen her for at least a little bit.  That’s a lot of me to have around.

And while I might fail frequently, I know I do some things right as well.  And miraculously, it seems as if those things I do right mean a whole lot more to her than the things I do wrong.

To her and to her sisters, I represent security and constancy and comfort and love.

And really, is there any greater gift than being chosen to be that for another human being?

Motherhood teaches us the gift of sacrifice, but it also teaches that for every ounce we give away, we get a pound in return.

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The World You Inherit

To the Children,

As a child, I remember seeing the “Special Report” bulletins show up on my television screen accompanied by their serious sounding music.  My heart would pound a bit as I waited to see what was happening in the world that would disrupt my television show.

Most I’m sure turned out to be pretty inconsequential, at least to my small world.  But I do remember a few that scared me — usually they would involve airplanes, sometimes crashes, sometimes attacks.

As a result, I always had this idea in the back of my mind that airplanes were dangerous.  I felt solace in the idea that as long as I was on the ground, I would be okay.

These days everything we watch is streamed, so I have more control over which of these Special Reports you see.  And for that I am grateful.

In your cartoon worlds, there is good and bad, and the good always wins out in the end, and the bad… well, it’s not really that bad to begin with.

But when we flip the channel to the real world, things become more cloudy.  The bad is worse than your minds could comprehend, and sometimes it wins.

And while I feared airplanes as a child, there is a whole lot more to face in your world.  It’s hard to find a safe corner here.  It can’t be found in offices or government buildings.  It can’t be found in high schools or in grade schools.  It can’t be found in restaurants, and it can’t be found in churches.

You don’t have any place to go where you can think, surely no one will go here.  Those illusions are gone.

And that’s what I was thinking about as I sent you to your rooms to read while I watched a few minutes of the news.  I was thinking about the light in your eyes and this cold, dark world that wants to turn it into fear.

And it’s not fair.  It’s not fair that you are inheriting a world so much more dangerous than the one I grew up in.  It’s not fair that in addition to tornado drills, you also have to practice lock down drills, and it’s not fair that one of these days you will start to understand what those lock down drills are for.  It’s not fair that you will understand way too early that some people want to kill others solely to destroy what is good and what is innocent.

But the world never promised you fair.

And so as the years progress, and you start to understand what has started to seem like a biweekly occurrence of guns mixing with innocent life, I hope that you are able to rise above where I am.  I hope you are able to embrace love and light and hope.  Feel the fear.  It’s only natural that it is there at times such as these.  But then pack it away and rise above.

Because regardless of the motive or the perpetrator, the real cause of such events is evil.  And the way to defeat evil is to reside in good.

The best hope we have resides in the hearts of those who refuse to fall into the darkness.

You all are our hope.

I just wish we had better to offer you.

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Home

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I love Thanksgiving.  It gives us a year to look back on with gratitude, but it also allows us to look forward into the upcoming season of hope and joy.

So when I picked Magoo up from school yesterday, I was particularly excited.  Not only did I get my kids home with me for four days straight, but I have so very much to be thankful for this year.

As we drove over the river on the way home, I looked over and saw the “Peace of Earth” sign that they display on the bridge every year.  Accompanying the sign were remnants of snow and ice and my memories from a few years back.

It was this time of year when everything changed… for the better.

I was reminded of our life before we moved into this house.  Before, when we lived in a deteriorating neighborhood in a house I wasn’t comfortable in, and we were desperately trying to sell our home to move out and move on.

The last couple of years in that house left an indelible mark on me.  They taught me that things can get really rough.  They taught me what it feels like to have a house but not a home.  They taught me how empty so many things can feel if you have no place that can act as a respite.

But in all that was lacking, I learned what it really means to be blessed.  I learned that as I was a chicken holed up in a  hotel room with my girls because a big evil mouse was in my bedroom at home that all I truly needed could be contained in one small room.

And this morning, I find myself sitting in my living room listening to Christmas music while my kids strew toys everywhere and leap across the floor and across my vision to the sound of the music.

Sometimes life still gets overwhelming.  But thanks to those years when things weren’t so great, I can see the beauty in the chaos now.  I can look past the toys and the clothes, and I can see the love and the peace that this house holds.  I find joy in decorating for holidays and in making beds and in preparing meals because I know that these are the things that make this house a home, and I feel so grateful to be able to give my children the peace that comes from a nest that nurtures.

So this holiday season, say a prayer of thanksgiving for all you have that allows you to make a home for your loved ones.  And then say a prayer for all those without.  This is their season of hardship and trial, and the very least we can do is use our prayers to accompany them on their journey towards hope and peace.

God bless and Happy Thanksgiving.

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Post Surgery Recovery — For Mom

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So I have been freakishly calm lately.  Calm enough that I know it’s disfunction because calm is just not synonymous with my nature.

I’ve been scheduling 752 appointments for my girls with ENTs and speech pathologists.  I’ve been trying to learn everything I can to figure out the best path for each of them.  I’m thoroughly ignorant on the issues before us, and so becoming a lay expert has been an uphill and thoroughly exhausting battle.

But through it all, I’ve talked calmly about it and have been, as I said, freakishly calm.

I also haven’t been writing.  And I think the two might be related.  See, if I sat down to write, all of those feelings that I have been hiding from would have come out.  They say writing is like opening a wound and then bleeding out over the page.  I think somewhere deep inside I knew if I let that wound out, it would never close.

But I didn’t know that.  I thought I just had nothing to say.  I thought I was taking it all in stride.  I thought the slightly obsessive control over the things I could control was just me evolving.

And then Magoo had her surgery today, and she came out perfectly fine on the other side.  And now I feel like I’m losing it.

I remember when she had surgery as an infant.  It was just a very brief procedure to have her tear duct unclogged.  It was horrible.  Having the nurse take her away screaming and then bringing her back a few minutes later with her eyes open but unconscious and screaming was traumatic for us all.  It’s less traumatic with a seven year old… I thought.

Before the procedure, she sat on the bed and crocheted with her new Care Bear from Grandma and Grandpa.  She laughed at the nurses’ and doctors’ jokes.  She had no questions.  We had already gone over the procedure a few times, so she knew what to expect.  She only looked slightly like she was going to cry as they wheeled her back.

While she was gone, I knitted.  Fiercely.  I wasn’t worried, I told myself.  I just needed to keep busy.  The two Xanax I took would surely do the job.

And then finally it was over and they wheeled her back, and all I wanted to do was crawl into the bed and lay with her.  I wanted to stroke her hair and cry.  I didn’t.

Then we came home, and I just wanted to sit next to her and cuddle her and never leave go.  That’s what we did this evening.  I could barely talk because I would choke up every time.  She was just happy stroking her new Care Bear because the fur really is exceptionally soft.

And now she is in bed.

She said she wanted to sleep with me.  I told her to please crawl into bed with me tonight if she wakes up.  I don’t think she will.  She likes her space.  But secretly I hope to have her by my side tonight.

And now that she is asleep and safe and peaceful, I am sitting down here shaking and I can’t stop the tears from threatening my eyes.

They are telling me the truth – that it wasn’t a freakish calm I was experiencing.  It was a fear so deep that I couldn’t face it.  It wasn’t calm – it was a complete shut down.

I tried my best not to think about her surgery yesterday.  When I did, all that popped into my head was what life would be like without her.  How I couldn’t handle it.  How I couldn’t go on.  How as her mom she needs me, but how as her mom, I need her so much more.

I know it was a routine procedure.  I know every day countless numbers of kids have it done.  But it’s not my kid every day.  It’s not my little Magoo.  It’s not the baby who brought so much light into our lives that it was blinding.

Ever since the day she was born, I thought she was too perfect for this world.  It’s a mother’s delusion, I know.  I didn’t understand how something so perfect could come from me, and as such, I’ve always had this fear in the back of my head that it would all be taken away.  Days like today intensify that fear.

It’s over now, and she is safe and has mostly recovered.  Now I just need a few days to nurse my own wounds.

Being a mom is hard.  There are no bandaids to cover our scars.

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