Good-bye, Mr. Mike

Michael Jefferson, Jr.

The world lost a bright light on Easter Sunday. Mr. Michael Jefferson, Jr., was murdered. His light first shone in my world five years ago. He was the director of the before and after-care program at my son’s school. He smiled there for 21 years. He touched countless lives. He loved countless souls.

The community is speechless. This occurred months after a shooting at the mall two miles away. Friends and family and his charges and their families are murmuring how senseless and tragic this is. The discussion is centering around gun control and access to weapons. The discussion is swirling around the mentally ill, and how the shooter, a neighbor, was “just not quite right.”

I dare say anyone who kills a man in a townhouse at a dinner table isn’t quite right, whether or not he is afflicted with a mental illness or holds a gun. I will leave the political discussion of access to weapons and adequate provision of health care to others. I’ve already discussed how I believe the root of violence in this country rests in our failure to teach people to cope with negative feelings of anger, disappointment, frustration. 

I want to do my small part in keeping Mr. Mike from being only a statistic. I want the world to understand what happens when we snuff a light out prematurely. We are so far removed from the consequences of our behaviors as we’re connecting virtually, and for fun, we kill and destroy through animation.

Everyone remembers Mr. Mike as the kindest, gentlest giant with the widest, brightest smile. He never raised his voice and he was always fair and patient and kind. He was a saint–he treated all the children and their parents this way. I can’t even treat my own children or my own parents this way. You could feel this was more than a job to him. He loved those children. He respected those children. He knew those children. He was so important in my children’s lives, and in mine. Even after we left his care, we would say hello enthusiastically when we saw each other around town. We shared mutual friends and I was always excited to hear about him and send him our greetings.

The saddest part of all of this, for me, is knowing he likely suffered in his last moments as he knew his fate. As he knew he deserved better. As he knew there was nothing he could do about his destiny. He was shot multiple times. I will spare you the details, but from accounts from his friends and the police, he was apparently trying to get help as he walked out his front door where he collapsed.

I imagine the fear coursing through his veins as he realized what had happened, and how ludicrous this situation was. I imagine the piercing, shooting pain of a gun shot wound in his face and other parts of his body. I imagine him gasping for breath as his life decisions and relationships flash before him. I imagine him wondering what will happen to the father he cares for, to his sibling, to his girlfriend, to his friends. I wonder if he ever received a moment of peace or resignation before his final breath. I wonder if he fought death to the very last moment. My heart aches at the thought of his pain, his fear, his realization. My tears run for a life cut so short, for the lives he will never touch, for the holes in the lives he leaves behind.

If we all thought of these fears and pain that those dying inevitably go through, would it be so easy to resort to violence to solve problems and cope with negative feelings? If we imagined our child or parent or spouse slowly living through those moments of sheer terror and piercing pain–would it be so easy to lash out at others to right a wrong?

Good-bye, Mr. Mike. I’m so very, very sorry the world did not treat you as kindly and as graciously as you treated others. We love you so, and carry you in our hearts and lives. We know your light shines from above. The world mourns the loss of your light on this earth, and what a loss it is.

 

 

 

 

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Practice Does Not Make Perfect

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“Practice makes perfect,” La Chica says as I tell her we need to practice her math facts like her teacher suggests.

“No,” I tell her, “Practice is practice. There is no perfect.”

She wonders why she needs to practice then. Why am I always asking her to practice her drums, her math facts, her writing, her patience, her bike riding, using kind words, adjusting her attitude? She asks why we bother if we’re not trying to get to Perfect?

Because there is no perfect, honey. We have all been taught to chase that carrot–reach perfection. Practice makes perfect, adults smugly told us. Keep trying until you nail it. The sonata on the piano, the gymnastics floor routine, the graduation speech. We grow up chasing the illusion of perfection in every role. The ultimate host, the healthy yet delicious cook, the wise yogi, the CEO. We work out chasing Kelly Ripa’s arms, we work 80 hours chasing Partner at the firm, we spend too much at Whole Foods to raise the healthiest children since the rise of the agrarian period.

Who else is tired? I know I am. Let’s practice for the sake of practicing. For the process of knowing we’re resilient. For the experience of doing hard things. For gaining fun and joyful experiences. For being brave. For obtaining new skills because they’re interesting.

When we “fail” at what we’re practicing, we tend to beat ourselves up over it. It’s a natural reaction for so many of us, because we had been practicing! We should know better! But practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes improvement. Practice makes peace. We need to teach our kids this, because we need them to remember this when they’re adults. We need to remember this ourselves as adults.

A friend is having a difficult time with a lot of stressors, and feeling anxious about it all. She’s feeling like she’s pulled in so many directions, has so many obligations to fulfill, roles to play. And she doesn’t want to let anyone down. At the core of it, she doesn’t want people to think she’s not competent or good enough. She doesn’t want to be seen as a slacker or bad mother or thoughtless host or careless friend or unloving wife or distracted sister. She’s mired in not feeling Enough. The shame creeps in and paralyzes her.

Then she spirals deeper into shame when she compares herself to others, and feels that others’ problems are more serious–terminal illnesses, financial difficulties, housing issues. How dare she feel overwhelmed when so many others with “real” problems struggle through life?

Compare, compare, compare. Judgments, judgments, judgments. I talk with her about the need for self-talk, being kind to yourself, identifying the fears, tapping into your Enough, stopping the comparisons and judgments. She gets it intellectually. But she feels stuck in this stress of feeling like she’s not filling any of her roles adequately.

And here’s the thing. Conceptually, getting unstuck is actually very simple. Simple doesn’t mean easy–this can hurt a bit, but it’s not a complex or mysterious concept. Stop those automatic thoughts of feeling inadequate as they arise. Examine them for truth and reality. Change those thoughts. Do this again, and again, and again. Practice, practice, practice. Is it easy? No, not at first. But you will improve. It will get easier.

Because practice does not make you the perfect person who can cope fabulously with a job and family and social life and household and aging parents and bills, without breaking a sweat or being late. Practice lets you off the hook for sweating, for dropping balls, for being late, for saying no to people. Practice understands. Practice forgives. Practice says, “Thanks for showing up. Glad you made it. Thanks so much for trying. You are Enough.” Practice opens space for kindness and compassion. This is the space where peace lives.

Posted in Empowerment, Mindfulness, Parenting | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Love Wins

love wins

I may not have a lasting relationship to show for this, so you may not believe I am an authority on this when I say this, but I know Glennon Doyle Melton is right when she says Love Wins. Because each relationship that I’ve been in that I have allowed myself to love, I won. I still win. Having felt such joy and giving and kindness and respect while it lasted–I win! Being able to remember such joy and happiness, and know how it’s changed me–I still win!

I didn’t used to think this way. I used to think love ought to be tied to an outcome, to have the partner or something tangible to show for it. I used to think that love wins if it lasted. Failed Relationship=Not Winning. And when relationships ended, I would despair, get angry, get indignant. But I gave you love! I deserved more! I deserved better! Ah, but now I see deserving more and better has nothing to do with giving love, with being love. I see now that I win because I had the opportunity to feel such love, and to be love. I win because I was brave and chose to be vulnerable enough to give love. Giving unconditional love with no strings attached can be remarkably hard. Because you will get hurt. There will be times it is not reciprocated.

It took me a long time to realize this, and an even longer time to be comfortable accepting this risk. I am embarrassed to admit that I was one of those friends, years ago, that expected the same level of reciprocity from all my “real” friends. I believed my “true” friends would and should and must go to the ends of the earth for me, drop everything for me, as I would for them. And generally speaking, of course there is a place for loyalty and love. However, in real life, demanding this does not allow for other obligations and responsibilities in the other person’s lives. It doesn’t take into account good intentions and flaws and well, real life. Maintaining a conditional relationship like that is heavy and burdensome and unrealistic. It’s not compassionate. At some point, you will be disappointed. After all, life happens. He or she can still be a very good friend, a good person, and not meet all your expectations. If we truly cared for the person, we must offer unconditional love. Otherwise, we love the conditions, not the person.

I was explaining to the kids that we do kind and loving things, and we love people unconditionally, just because. We should not expect an outcome. I do not open doors for people expecting a pat on my back. I do not help our neighbors shovel their driveways for the expectation that they’ll bake pies for me. I do not do favors for friends for the expectation that they buy me drinks. I’d be grateful and happy for any of those responses, but I do not act out of love for those conditions or expectations.

Acting out of love makes the world a better place and connects us all and allows me to know myself more intimately. And it allows me to know you authentically. And I really like who I am, and who you are too then. Love totally wins.

The Boy is skeptical. He’d like to know why people bill us for services rendered. Wouldn’t it be kinder to offer one’s services for free? He wonders where you draw the line–so that you’re not taken advantage of by a friend by giving too much, or how to make a living but still being kind and giving and fair and loving. He doesn’t like that I don’t have concrete answers for him. The answer changes with each person and each circumstance as you honor your own boundaries. I think we each need to do what feels right and fair, and if you err on kindness and unconditional giving of yourself, everything will be alright.  Go above and beyond when you can. Start with an open and kind heart. Don’t let fear of pain or hurts dictate your behaviors or restrict your offerings in life. Be love. This kind of love is lasting love. It’s in me, so I win. Love wins.

Posted in Meditation, Mindfulness, Relationships | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Stay in Your Own Lane

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La Chica runs over to me to tattle on her brother. She has deemed his table manners to be atrocious and is so offended by them, she insists I take immediate action. The Boy mutters, “Stay in your own lane.”

To which she screams, “Stop saying that! I’m not even on swim team!”

I have to give the points to the Boy on this one. I’ve been teaching the kids to Stay In Your Own Lane. Swimming lessons are for later this season. It’s time for Life Lessons right now. I am always barking at the kids that, “Words have meaning. Choose and use them wisely.” They are so tired of hearing me say this. But I feel the need to drill this into them. We must learn to use our words effectively if we are to have a remote chance of having our needs met. We must learn to express ourselves–who we are, and what we want, and what we need. Otherwise, you’re not effective in your life and work. Otherwise, your needs aren’t met. And the results of both are frustration and sadness.

When I was little, we were told to “Mind your own business,” which is a similar intent. But not quite the same. I don’t want to teach my kids to mind their own business. I want to teach them to mind everyone, and to care for everyone. We should pay attention to who is struggling, who might need help, who is marginalized, who is ostracized. We shouldn’t ignore those who need help, because one day it will be me or you who needs help. I promise you, this is true.

We should also pay attention to those who are effective in their boundaries and honoring who they are. We should pay attention to people who embody grace and mercy and kindness. Because we want to learn from those people. What are they choosing to say? What are they choosing to do, or to decline doing? How–in what tone? In what instances are they reaching out? In what instances are they reaching in?

I don’t want my kids to mind their own business. I want them to pay close attention to each and every one of us: to learn from each other; to seek fairness and justice and kindness, and when its lacking, to fill that void.

I do want them to stay in their own lane though. I don’t want them to see what someone is doing, and compare him or herself to that. I don’t want them to look at someone else’s life and cast judgments. I don’t want them to look over and criticize someone. I want them to focus on doing his or her own personal best. I want them to follow their own paths down their own lanes, to focus on that. Do their personal best, and let others be. Even if his table manners preclude any future dinner invitations.

Posted in Meditation, Mindfulness, Parenting, Relationships | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Family That Bikes Together, Falls Together

bike lesson

I’ve done it again. I’ve done yet another thing I swore PK (Pre-Kids) that I would nevereverEVER do. I promise you, you will roll your eyes, and you will definitely lose respect for me if you ever had any in the first place.

Let me preface my confession with a pre-emptive defensive explanation. I’m a firm believer in doing things myself even if it’s not something I want to do. I am terrified of heights but climb onto my roof to clean the gutters. I’ve powerwashed lots of stuff. Put together raised garden beds. Conquered downed trees. Fixed retaining walls. I can show household problems who’s boss! Did I want to do these things? No, but I technically can, so I did, despite being a delicate soul. I hate outsourcing jobs if I can figure it out myself, as unpleasant as they may be. Plus I’m cheap.

Yet I’m outsourcing not only a job, but a rite of passage for my child. I’ve retained a hired gun to teach La Chica how to ride her bike. Yes, I’m well aware it’s like outsourcing potty training. I’ve tried teaching her. I really have. For years. I don’t want what should be a positive memory to turn into a battle of wills that leads to a trail of resentment. And at some point, she really needs to learn to ride her bike. Because I said so. And it’s because I said so that is precisely the problem.

We have a dynamic, she and I. She wants to be just like me, she tries to dress as “twinsies” and replicate my outfits and habits. But when it’s my idea to do something, she refuses. She needs to decide to do things on her own terms and timetable. In her quest to be just like me, she has no idea she already is. I do not like be told what to do. I run in pouring rain, snow, sleet, ice, below-zero temps, in the dark, in 100+degree temps, in every conceivable environment because I can. Because I refuse to let Mother Nature tell me what I can or cannot do. It’s my big F*ck You to her. I shout a lot of metaphorical F*ck You’s to the world at large, because I can. Is it mature? No. It’s also oftentimes neither effective nor helpful, but that’s for another post. It just is. So La Chica gives me her metaphorical F*ck You every chance she gets. She most certainly does not like being told what to do.

I understand also the need to actually parent a child. Provide guidance and parameters and rules and expectations. Those who know me would say I’m actually a pretty strict and conservative parent in most things. But here’s where I’m starting to experiment. I need her to understand her No means No. I need her to understand her feelings and beliefs need to be honored even if I don’t agree with them, even if others don’t agree with them. I need her to believe all of her thoughts and viewpoints are valid. She may not be right, and she may not get her way, but she needs to know that she’s heard.

Otherwise, she soaks in society’s messages of what is proper for a lady, what is beauty for a female, what milestones she should achieve to be deemed a success. Otherwise, she won’t learn that her No really means No, and she’ll be more apt to be pressured into doing things she doesn’t really want to. I want to support her innate ability to assert her self and her being and her needs to the world. The trick is teaching her to do this in appropriate and kind ways.

I don’t agree with her point of view most of the time. In fact, I don’t understand her most of the time. I don’t like her preferences and abhor many of her passions (princesses, make-up, more princesses, the color pink, Katy Perry). But these are the things that resonate with her, make her heart sing. So I need to honor these in ways that are appropriate for her, and acceptable to me.

So what does all this have to do with riding a bike, you ask? You’re wondering if I over-think things, aren’t you? Only when I’m not impulsive. Here’s the thing–she’s consistently refused to take my direction with learning to ride a bike. It doesn’t matter why–it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t trust me, if she’s just digging her heels in to be oppositional, it just doesn’t matter. What matters is she’s said no–she will have no part in learning how to ride a bike with me. So I have to honor that. Yet realistically, La Chica learning to ride a bike would make family bike rides so much more entertaining and mobile–forward movement is helpful with bike riding. So I have to figure out how to do this while honoring her decision. I knew I had to bring in a neutral third party to be the buffer. She is remarkable with teachers and other parents. And she was actually really excited for her lesson. Until it actually began.

But I tell you, it was a marvel to witness. I saw so much of myself in her. Every time she fell, she got back up, and she cried and screamed and kicked the bike. But she refused to give up. There was defiance in her posture, scrappiness in her picking the bike back up, fierceness in her face as she stared the teacher down. She has no idea we are indeed “twinsies.” We both love our metaphorical F*ck Yous.

The morning exhausted her. Being pissed off for 90 minutes takes something out of you. So I was surprised she let me take her out to practice some more in the afternoon. We talked about how she never gave up, and how in life we all fall down. We talked about how the important thing is how we get up. We talked about how we all get hurt, and that’s OK to live through that pain. We talked about how proud we are of ourselves when we are on the other side of the pain. We talked about how we do hard things. She got back on her bike, took some deep breaths, and said softly, “I’m scared. I can do this.” And off she went coasting down the hill.

She still can’t ride her bike yet. She’s still learning. And she’s still feisty: she said to me, “At least I didn’t get kicked out of class like you did when you fell off the motorcycle.” I may or may not have “helped” her down the hill then.

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Throwing Up My MEssiness–My Messy Beautiful

My MEssy BEautiful Carry On Warrior Glennon Doyle Melton

There are very few things I am good at. When I say “few,” I mean 5. I am a good baker. I am very good at yelling at my kids. I excel at injuring myself on a regular basis (traumatic brain injuries, staples in the head, motorcycle spills, and detached retinas to name a few). I’ve been told I’m frequently inappropriate even whilst sober, so I’m good at embarrassing myself and those around me.

My most useful talent though is that I’m a good writer. I can be poignant, I can be clever, I can be funny, I can even be modest. I finally pursued my passion of writing in 2011 after committing myself to a journey of living a life of loving kindness, compassion, authenticity and vulnerability. Of putting my shame and feelings of inadequacy down, of learning to be brave and scared simultaneously. Of doing hard things. Of tapping into the courage and strength that has always been deep inside me, but that I did not always honor. So I’ve shared my MEssy parts–my own naughty bits if you will, of body image issues, rape, parenting strugglesbroken hearts, longing, spirituality, health issues, divorce, and inadequacies among other MEssy things. I write to connect through vulnerability and authenticity. To show others we’re all in this together. To connect with each other, because connections require being vulnerable and authentic, and that has always been hard for me. So when this project came up, it resonated with me in so many ways and is in line with how I live my life and why I write. I knew I had to do this.

What is this project you ask? Glennon Doyle Melton’s book “Carry On, Warrior” is a way of living; celebrating our messy, beautiful lives instead of trying to clean up our lives and ourselves: “Parenthood and marriage and faith and friendship and healing and writing- they are all messy. And so we want to hear from you ABOUT THAT. We want your real story. Truthful and authentic and hopeful and encouraging, too. Stories that make us believe we’re in this together- that life is hard but good, and it is really possible to Carry On, Warrior.”

But I have now discovered I am also good at writing and vomiting simultaneously. I don’t think she wanted to hear ABOUT THAT. I have also discovered I am good at “writing” without generating a word when my brain freezes and I panic, and the only words I’m actually writing are “Help” and “Fuuuckk…” See, I choke when it matters. When it was my small, comfortable blog, I wrote when it felt right, and the words flowed easily and eloquently and smartly. But I’m choking now, when this matters, when you might read this. I am good at choking. Taking risks, apparently not so much. Story of my life. Humorous case in point:

A moment with my “boyfriend”–his name is Bradley Cooper, you may know him: When I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet him, I froze. He smiled kindly and said hi. I squealed. Out loud. He laughed at me, and since a one-sided conversation goes nowhere, he walked away. Choke.

So why is this My Messy Beautiful project such a big deal when I write every day? I’m afraid I’m not MEssy enough. I’m afraid I’m too MEssy. I’m afraid people will wonder why I think I’m good enough as a writer, good enough as a human being, to participate in this project. I’m afraid I’m not unique enough so people will wonder why I’m wasting their time reading this. I’m afraid my readers will wonder why I keep repeating myself and offer nothing new. I’m afraid this won’t resonate with anyone. I’m afraid no one will like it. I’m afraid of failing. I’m afraid the one thing I love to do, the one thing I think I’m good at, will be thrown back in my face in rejection. I’m afraid I’ll have understood the assignment all wrong. I am terrified of not being Enough in any and every way that matters in this very moment.

I want to be a MEssy, Beautiful Warrior. I am afraid I am not Beautiful in my MEssy. I’m afraid I’m just MEssy in a tilting of the head, cocking of the eyebrow, and walking away way. When it comes down to it, I’m afraid of not being seen, and of not being validated. I’m afraid of being dismissed and diminished. Because I wasn’t Enough.  Good Enough, Smart Enough, Witty Enough, Messy Enough, Beautiful Enough. Me Enough.

Today I don’t know how to share my story, all my mess in one short essay, despite having shared my story publicly for three years. Today I don’t know what to write about. I just know I really, really want to vomit. I keep writing though, I’m going to finish this. Even while I vomit. Even though I know this is not one of my better essays. I continue to practice being brave and scared and doing hard things. Because I know this to be true–I know once you know, you can’t un-know: And I know I am brave, even when I choke. I know I am just MEssy enough to be dangerous. I know the tears from not trying will taste so much more bitter than the tears of failure. I know the joy and peace that comes with being vulnerable and authentic, even when it hurts.

And I know I’m right when I fear I’m not unique. I know we’re all in this together. I can feel this truth when I write. If I can be brave and scared and do hard things, you can too. We all can. I know this to be true. I also know I am more apt to clean the toilets frequently when I’m prone to vomit often. These are my truths, and this is my story. And this is ME in my MEssy Beautiful.

Carry On Warrior Glennon Doyle Melton

 

Posted in Empowerment, Meditation, Mindfulness | Tagged , , | 36 Comments

Running and the Art of Living

running art of living

I started running for weight loss. I continued running for stress relief and meditation. It made me feel alive. Now, I run for life. I’ve come to realize running is life. Everything about running can be said about life. Here’s some of what I’ve learned about life through running:

Forward movement: La Chica, who is 7 years old, loves to run with me. No, let me rephrase that. She loves the concept of running with me. During the actual running part of our runs, she complains and moans and whines and screams and spits and shoves. She never gives up, but she hates every painful moment. I remind her to just keep going. No matter what, just don’t stop (mainly because the car is parked by the finish line and I need to get her home eventually). You can run/jog/shuffle as slow as you want to, as slow as you need to, but whatever you do, just don’t stop. Keep going. Forward movement. One step in front of the other, and you’ll succeed. You may not know what the course looks like or where you’re going, but just keep going and in the end you’ll be right where you’re supposed to be, at the finish line. Or beer tent.

Each mile is different: A trainer told me once that each mile is different. Some are easier than others, some stronger than others, some more painful than others, some slower than others. No mile is the same. I used to be so black and white, all or nothing. I viewed races or runs either as I completed them, or I didn’t. I ran a good time, or I sucked. Was it good or bad? Since hearing this new perspective, I’ve paid attention and become more mindful in my runs, and sure enough, each mile is different. The first few almost always suck for me–it takes about 3 miles for my body and mind to work out the kinks and aches and really warm into my runs. If I quit before 3 miles due to aches, I would never feel the joy and exhilaration of mile 4, or 7, or 9. I wouldn’t see the heron by the lake or have the pleasure of being attacked by angry geese. Some moments in life are harder and more painful than others. But we need to keep moving forward through the difficulty and pain to get to the joy and wonder in life. Don’t generalize one bad mile into being a bad run. Don’t generalize one crisis or failure or hurt into a bad life. Not every mile is difficult, not every moment is hard. Each step adds up to a mile. One mile at a time. Each moment adds up to a day. One day at a time.

Just breathe: And the mindfulness leads me to breathing. When I’m in a really horrible mile, where I’m just feeling weak or tired, or everything aches, all I want to do is stop and go home. The beauty is I make sure I’ve run far away enough from home that this is not a possibility. This is why I don’t do treadmills well–because I am home so I do indeed stop. So when I absolutely hate the current moment while I’m running, I remind myself that each mile is different, and this too shall pass. And while I’m waiting for it to pass, I breathe. I focus on my breath and my form and my body cutting through the air and space. I breathe my way through the pain and difficulties. When a moment in life is hard or painful, I remember (most of the time), to breathe. And it passes. It may come back again, but I breathe through that too, remembering how happiness and peace and joy are interspersed through life as well. And I remind myself I am grateful to be alive and able to feel the pain, because I know that means I’ll be able to feel the joy that comes later too.

Buddy system: As you can see, running gives me the space to be very introspective. I need and love a lot of time to myself. Running used to be a solitary sport for me not only for thinking, but because I felt very inadequate about my running. I felt I wasn’t fast enough or good enough to run with someone. I felt great embarrassment about my lack of suave and graceful running form and speed. One day, a friend asked if I was interested in running a race with him. I had always refused to run races because in my black and white thinking, I thought races were about winning–why would you call it a race if it was just about participating and not about trying to beat everyone else to the finish line? Call it a playdate or festival or happy hour then, or something! But I agreed to do it with great trepidation and fear, and a promise of Bloody Mary’s post-race. And it turned out to be a lot of fun. I now have a trusted running partner that I really enjoy running races with. He is always supportive and kind and encouraging. I feel safe with him, I trust him. I know he won’t judge me, and he accepts my pace for what it is. Through running, I’ve learned to be vulnerable and to open space to trust someone. I’ve learned doing my best and having fun is what connects us as humans, and that’s the best swag in life.

Posted in Empowerment, Meditation, Mindfulness, Running | Tagged , | 5 Comments