Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Book I Cannot Write

I spoke last week at a fundraiser for an organization that serves adults with developmental disabilities. Adults like my two sons who live in one of the organization’s group homes and work at one of their sheltered work sites. I spoke about trying so hard for so many years to find a cure for my autistic son...and failing. I spoke about becoming a foster parent to James’s classmate Dan when Dan’s parents died and there was no foster family qualified to take him because of his autism. I spoke about being a single mother with two autistic teenagers, knowing that like Dan’s parents, I, too, would be gone one day, and how terrified I was about what would happen to them.

I spoke about sleeping easier these days knowing that they have a good life in the care of an organization that provides more than I ever could by myself. They work and go out with friends and do everything that anyone else does, with the help of caring and trained staff. I see them most every week, unless they are too busy and ask me not to come. I see that they are thriving.

I spoke about hope. I hope I have done the best I can. I hope that Dan’s mother looks down from heaven and believes that I have honored my promise to her to care for her son.

It was a speech of joy and triumph, and immense gratitude. And yet when I spoke, my throat choked up and my eyes filled with tears. My voice quivered as I told my story. The sadness is never very far away.

I write about James and Dan sometimes, little snippets of the story that began 23 years ago and will continue all my life, and theirs. People tell me I should write a book, that it would help other parents. Perhaps it would. I don’t know. But it is a book I cannot write.

I’ve learned that denying my feelings over the years, being afraid of the enormity and intensity of them, not only deadened the pain, but also deadened the joy. The first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is suffering. Our natural instinct is to avoid suffering, to run from it, to escape from it. But we can’t. The four noble truths do not offer a way out, but rather a way through. When my pain eventually broke through, when I got too soul sick to fight it anymore, I discovered that the released pain brought with it into the light the exquisite joy of life, here for us in unlimited abundance, always.

I’ve made my peace with sorrow. It doesn’t go away, but it isn’t scary anymore. I recognize it as the key to unlocking compassion. And compassion is the key to sweet, sweet happiness.

I can’t write the book I’m asked to write, about raising my sons. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because writing little pieces of the story here and there, as I do, does not ask me to leave the present to revisit those dark and deadened times for the extended periods which a book would require. Perhaps it is a story that has already been told, in ways more meaningful and eloquent than my writing skills permit. Perhaps the time for my writing that story is simply not yet. Or perhaps the time has passed. I guess I’ll find out. So be it.

Related posts Mad/Sad/Glad Game, Game Change

Friday, October 29, 2010

T-Shirt Wisdom


I am going to make that my note to self today. And I’m going to make it an awesome day by trying an exercise I read about in Rolling Around Heaven by Jessica Maxwell. I’m going to say thank you for everything today. For one day I am going to be grateful for everything, without judgment, without hesitation.

So this is how my day has started out. I’m thankful that–
I woke up this morning
my brain knows where I am
I have a cozy bed to wake up in
the dog who shares my cozy bed no longer has fleas
I can breathe
I have eyes that can look out the window at the first faint light
I have ears that can hear the construction noise across the street
the construction workers waited until I was awake to start work today
my legs worked when I got out of bed
my house has heat that comes on magically in the morning when I turn it up
I have indoor plumbing
I have hot water for a shower
my robe is clean and smells good
I have my favorite cereal for breakfast
I have teeth to eat it with
I have clothes to wear
my house has electricity
I have a computer
my computer works
(I guess I have to be grateful that my computer is slow as molasses, but I momentarily hesitated on that one)
it’s Friday

That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

Now I’m going to go be grateful for my toothbrush and toothpaste, and then I’m going to be grateful for my car which will take me to my job I’m grateful for.

I hope you have an awesome day today full of gratitude.

Related posts: I'm Grateful for That, 1000 Gifts

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Child Will Lead Them

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness since I realized that I rarely write about it (The F Word). Forgiveness seems like such a good idea. It is certainly a central idea in the Bible. And in A Course in Miracles. And in psychology. And in 12 step programs. It is central to Amish culture (From the Ashes).

People read thousands of books about it, spend years in therapy to be able to give it or receive it, beg for it, pray for it, marvel at it, long for it, fear it. Most everyone agrees that forgiveness is a good thing. I say most everyone because I read an article by someone who was not very keen on forgiveness. He thought that some people should not be forgiven. For example, he would withhold forgiveness from someone who expresses no remorse. Or someone who is a repeat offender. Or who does something so horrible that forgiveness is out of the question.

However, in reading his rationale, I believe that he confuses forgiveness with reconciliation, or self-protection, or trivialization – all focused on the wrongdoer. But forgiveness isn’t about the forgiven; it’s about the forgiver. Withholding forgiveness separates us, which inevitably results in fear, which in turn is often masked as judgment. It is, in another paraphrase of the familiar wisdom, like drinking rat poison hoping the rat will die.

Well, goshdarnit, if withholding forgiveness is so toxic, and forgiving is so beneficial, why is it so hard to do? Hmm, now that I think about it, it seems that children have a much easier time of it. Have you ever apologized to a child? “Sorry, honey, I forgot,” or “I should not have said that,” or “I’ll make it up to you.” How quickly did the child respond with forgiveness? The younger the child, it seems the more quickly he forgives. I’ve watched kids playing together when one child does something mean, then after a moment (which may or may not include an apology), the play goes right on, while the wrong that I would have nursed a grudge over for months is apparently shrugged off.

So what do children know about forgiveness that we’ve forgotten?

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling all together, and a little child will lead them. –Isaiah 11:6

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Walking Through Illusion

You might have noticed that I have a picture of a dragonfly in the About Me box. I like this image because the dragonfly symbolizes seeing through illusion to find our true vision. Dragonflies can see things from different angles by refracting light, showing that life is not always what it appears to be.

The title of Betsy Otter Thompson’s book, Walking Through Illusion, encourages us to examine what we see, to look from different angles, and to move through illusion into truth. So many barriers, perhaps all the barriers, to finding our happy place are illusions. Where do they come from? From stories we believe from our culture, from our families, from ourselves. Stories we accept as truth, because perhaps we fear the truth (Our Deepest Fear).

So maybe we can learn something from those little iridescent fairies flying around in the summer.

May we all walk through illusion to find our happy place and abide there in deepest joy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gratitude Board

I have two kids still living at home. They both go to college and also work, so we are rarely all at home at the same time. I have one of those little dry erase boards on the refrigerator so that we can leave messages for each other – where we are going to be, phone messages, etc. But much of the time, the board sits empty. So yesterday I wrote at the top of the board “I’m grateful for ...” and began a list. By evening, a couple of new entries were added, and today, a few more.

Here is what it currently says:

I’m grateful for–
1. Sunshine
2. Doughnuts
3. Music
4. Clean towels
5. Being healthy

When we run out of room, we can just erase and start over. I like the idea that as we pass the refrigerator, we can communicate with each other about what we are grateful for.

I’m going to need a second board now for messages!

P.S. I would love to take credit for this idea, but I read about it recently on Ann Voskamp’s blog.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The F Word

No, not that F word. The other F word. Forgiveness. In reviewing my posts recently, I was very surprised to see that I have rarely written about forgiveness, at least as the primary focus of a post. I find that avoidance, well, significant. If we avoid the places that scare us, and if the places that scare us are the very places we need to go in order to grow our spirit and deepen our faith, then it looks like forgiveness might be a place where I need to spend some time. I’m already uncomfortable just thinking about it.

From my review, it looks like I have written about forgiveness mostly in relation to not judging and compassion. That makes sense. If we can refrain from judging and open our hearts with compassion, forgiveness often occurs almost as a by product. It’s easy. We hardly need to think about it. We’re off the hook.

Or not. Sometimes we come face to face with forgiveness in all its raw demand, and powerful promise. I was reminded recently of the story of Ruby Bridges, who was escorted by federal marshals to her first grade class. Ruby was the only black student sent to integrate an all white school in New Orleans in 1960. People saw her mouth moving as she walked, so tiny inside the circle of towering marshals, through the raging crowd screaming every vile thing you can imagine at her. Later, when asked what she was saying, she said that she was praying, praying that she would be strong and not afraid, and praying for God to forgive the people in the crowd because they didn’t know what they were doing. Ruby was six years old.

How many petty things have I held a grudge about long past the expiration date? Perhaps holding an image of little Ruby in my mind will help me let go. Instead of forgiving those who have wronged me, perhaps I should ask for forgiveness for holding onto my righteous arrogance.

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. –Mark Twain

Related post From the Ashes

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fun in Surprising Places

I was stopped at an intersection today where I noticed lots of playbills stapled to a utility pole. Up above all the papers, higher than anyone could reach without a ladder, was a hand painted sign nailed to the pole. The sign said

See you soon
Space Cowboy

Now what do you think that meant? Was it a message from an alien visitor to the earthbound cowgirl he left behind? Or perhaps it was a message to a superhero from a hopeful, admiring fan.

I have no idea what it was, but my curiosity is delighted by the mysterious whimsy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Person of Yes

A certain political party, it doesn’t matter which one (this isn’t a political commentary), is sometimes called the party of no. I get that. I often catch myself being the person of no. “Hey, do you want to come with us to...” No. “Mom, is it all right if I...” No. “We need someone to...” No.

I don’t want to be the person of no. So I’ve been thinking about people who say yes.

One Sunday morning, a guest preacher was scheduled to speak in our church. The worship service started and there was no guest preacher. Time for the sermon and there was no guest preacher. We all waited. One of the associate pastors stood up. The guest speaker’s sermon was titled Using What You’ve Got. So the associate pastor used what he had. He talked about living in hope when we don’t know the future. I wish I remembered all the words he said. I don’t. But I remember watching him and thinking, This is what faith looks like. He didn’t talk about faith. He showed us faith. He used what he had and said yes.

My two sons live in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. Staff people help them with various things – cooking, money, transportation, and so forth. One staff person in particular goes above and beyond. My son James loves to go to the zoo. She not only took him to the zoo, but she made it a creative outing. She videotaped him talking about the animals. It was like a show on Animal Planet. James lectured, sang, and danced his way through the zoo. I got the DVD of his show for Mother’s Day. I treasure it because it is James at his best – happy, being a ham, showing off what he knows about what he loves. The staff person made this possible. She used what she had and said yes. And, come to think of it, so did James.

If I so admire these folks who use what they’ve got to say yes, why do I so often say no? Sometimes, I don’t want to be bothered. Sometimes, I’m afraid that if I use what I’ve got, it won’t be enough. So many reasons. But when I listen to the inner calling, when I trust that if I just step up and offer my willingness, everything will be all right, I sometimes find that miracles happen.

I don’t want to be the person of no. I want to be the person of yes. Do you know someone who is a person of yes? Maybe you are a person of yes!

For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be ... yes. –Dag Hammarskjold

Monday, October 11, 2010

Finding Love

Okay, we’re all suckers for sweet animal stories with cute pictures. Here is your awww moment for the day.

Noah the pigeon and the bunnies

Browsing elsewhere on the website I found this wisdom – “Love is found where love is given.” I think the people who run this ranch must find love every day. Certainly Noah the pigeon does!

He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge. –Psalms 91:4

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Angels Watching Over Me

I was driving yesterday to a women’s retreat with a friend in the passenger seat and my daughter in the back seat. As I approached a busy intersection with a green light and traffic flowing, I was chatting with my friend but somehow saw in my peripheral vision a car coming towards the intersection from the left. The car did not appear to be slowing down. Without even thinking I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could. I didn’t even have time to say anything. The car zoomed by inches in front of my bumper and slammed full speed into the front end of the black SUV moving past me on my right, pushing it across two lanes into a van coming the other way.

In that calm way we have when our brains have not had time to process what is happening, I pulled over and got out to see if anyone was hurt while my friend dialed 911. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries. The driver who caused the accident by running the red light looked blankly at me. “I wasn’t paying attention,” she said softly.

Soon we continued on our way. It didn’t take long before my brain, fueled by adrenaline, began to catch up and play what if. A few seconds. A failure to see or to react. Not having anti-lock brakes. The other car would have crashed into the driver’s door. My door. Instead of going to the retreat for a relaxing weekend in old growth forest by the riverside, ....

Now I’m back home and reflecting on all the cliche things we think about after a close call like that. I’m going to hug my kids, treasure every moment, not sweat the small stuff, stop to smell the roses. You know the list. But beyond the reordering of priorities, I keep coming back to the inner conviction that I was being protected. I would like to tell you that I have superhuman vision and awareness, and faster than light reflexes, but of course I don’t. Something happened at that intersection that I just can’t explain.

Call me crazy, but I felt the presence of my mom, not a common experience in all the years since she died. In fact, not an experience I’ve had even once. Just an effort to make sense of a random occurrence? Sure, that’s possible. Furthermore, why would I warrant some divine assistance when the other drivers didn’t? Were their guardian angels on a coffee break? I’m certainly no more deserving than anyone else, and less deserving than most.

Maybe an accident just wasn’t in my spiritual lesson plan yesterday. Maybe my lesson was about remembering and reconnecting. Thanks, Mom.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Our Deepest Fear

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson. The first part in quotation marks is from A Course in Miracles.

Once, when a group of American psychologists met with the Dalai Lama, he asked them about difficulties encountered by Western students of Buddhism. They told him that self-hatred was one of the strongest challenges. He did not even know what that meant. Apparently, the concept is unknown in Tibet.

Powerful beyond measure. I feel chills up my spine when I read that. Yes, it is terrifying. And exciting. Deliciously exciting.

If you want to sing out
Sing out.
And if you want to be free
Be free.
‘Cause there’s a million things to be.
You know that there are.

–Cat Stevens

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Heart Hospitality

I like welcome mats. When you walk up to someone’s door, the mat tells you something about the people who live there. Is it a functional mat or a fancy one? Perhaps it has a sports logo or birds or flowers on it, or a funny message from the dog or cat. It might say “No one is a stranger here,” or “Come back with a warrant.”

Hospitality. So many stories and customs. We’ve heard about families who always had an extra seat at the table for someone stopping by, or extra food handed out the back door to the hungry. We’ve heard about the legendary hospitality of the Bedouins. And Southern hospitality. And the story of the loaves and fishes in the Bible.

And of course my daughter, who used to stand on the front porch when she was little and call down to people passing by – “Hello! Where are you going? Where do you live? Do you have any kids? What’s your name?” – until I could race outside and scoop her up.

What about our heart hospitality? Is there room at the table for one more? Do we turn away strangers? Jesus said that when we feed the hungry, give clothes to the needy, visit the sick or imprisoned, or welcome a stranger, when we do it to the least, we do it to him. Notice, he didn’t say it’s “like” doing it to him. We do it “to him.”

A Course in Miracles teaches that when we separate ourselves from others not only through actions, but even by our thoughts, then we separate ourselves from God. Thoughts of anger, unforgiveness, criticism, envy, fear, block our ability to see the divine in everyone.

We have busy lives and good reason to exercise caution for our safety, but in our hearts, can we put the welcome mat out? Can we greet each person with Namaste (I honor that place in you where, if you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us)?

I just went to my front door and looked at the welcome mat. It is dirty and faded and frayed. I’m going to toss it in the trash and go buy a new one.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. –Hebrews 13:2

Related post That Man Might Be Jesus

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Make Someone's Day!

During a meeting yesterday, the woman I was sitting next to turned to me and said, out of the blue, “You have the nicest smile. I bet everyone tells you that.”

Well, no, no one tells me that. My mom probably told me that when I was little; I don’t remember. But when this woman told me that, I ... well, I’m embarrassed to admit how pleased I was. I basked in that compliment all day. I smiled at myself in the rear view mirror at traffic lights. I smiled at my children. I smiled at strangers. I just smiled for no reason.

That simple compliment made my day. I woke up this morning still thinking about it. How easy it is to brighten someone’s day with a few kind words. Today, I am going to look for opportunities to pay her kindness forward. What fun!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

From Victim to Victor

I once watched a nervous young lawyer make his case in an appellate courtroom before a panel of three judges. The lawyer clearly had the superior legal position and the judges kept interrupting him to assure him that they understood his argument. What they really meant was, “It’s almost lunchtime and we’re hungry. You’ve already won, so just stop.” But the lawyer was inexperienced and did not get the hints. So when he inadvertently made a misstep, the now grumpy judges pounced. They began to challenge him until he painted himself into a corner. Finally, one judge took pity and said, “Counselor, don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Words. Our words are powerful and send out energy that calls back to us matching energy. Like an echo. A tragic example are the horrific deaths of Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, who were killed in Alaska while studying bears. An audio recorder that was left running revealed that one morning a bear attacked Timothy and killed him as Amie screamed and continued screaming even after the bear left. Soon after, the bear returned and killed her, too.

Experts speculated that Amie’s high pitched squeals were eerily like predator calls, devices used by hunters to lure predators out into the open. The predator calls mimic the sounds of an injured animal.

Of course, no one knows for sure whether she actually called the bear back to her, but we do know that our voice is an awesome gift, to be used for good or ill. We are all familiar with the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy. While we might not be calling man-eating predators out of the shadows, we sometimes use our words, intentionally or carelessly, to send out harmful energy, which will then be reflected back to us.

You might immediately think about manipulative lies or malicious gossip or angry attacks. But what about veiled criticism or insensitive remarks? We don’t always hear ourselves or realize how our words sound to others. Sometimes my daughter will just blurt out whatever pops into her head, including things that hurt. When I react, she defends herself with, “But that’s not what I meant,” or, “I wasn’t thinking.” Too late.

We are even less likely to recognize the harm in voicing negative thoughts about ourselves, especially if we see the comments as funny or self-deprecating. There was a thankfully short-lived teen response to a mistake – “Oh, I’m stupid.” When any of my kids would flippantly say this, I would cringe. We call the energy to us that we project.

False modesty is just that – false. Bruce Lee was once asked if he was really “that good.” He replied, “If I say yes, you will think I am arrogant. But if I say no, you will know I’m lying.”

Okay, but what about the times when we really do feel stupid, or incompetent, ineffective, unattractive, unsuccessful, unlovable, or unloving? We all have thoughts like that sometimes. But we don’t have to give those thoughts power by voicing them. On the contrary, we can voice the opposite. We can speak the thoughts that will express and therefore attract what we want for ourselves. A famous AA saying is “fake it till you make it.” When I suggested this in a workshop, someone objected to the concept, saying that it wasn’t authentic or honest. Pema Chodron says that’s true only if we are deceiving ourselves. On the other hand, even “though we know exactly what we feel, we make the aspirations in order to move beyond what now seems possible.” Thus, we free ourselves from limiting and separating thoughts, whether directed at ourselves or at others.

We can choose to be a victim or a victor. We can speak our greatest destiny.