I’ll pray for you anyway

After visiting with Sister Margaret, I pray in the monastery’s beautiful chapel.

“I just got back from Walgreens where I bought boxes of band aids, Neosporin, and hydrocortisone cream.”

This was my response to Sister’s Margaret’s inquiry into the summer activities of my children.  I try to visit her Benedictine monastery once a month for spiritual direction.

“The kids are doing great,” I said.  “But Isaac came home last night all banged up from baseball. He had deep, bloody scratches down both knees and an infected sore on his toe.  I was horrified.  He hardly noticed.”

Sister Margaret smiled and laughed at this description of my 10-year-old boy.

“It’s so hard to see my baby’s body all beat up like that.” I continued.  “But before I put him in bed I made sure he was all clean.  I gave him a bath, slathered on the Neosporin and put bandages all down his knees and shins and around his toe.”

“It sounds like lectio.” Sister Margaret remarked, which made me smile.  She was right.  I “attended” to my son’s wounds just like a person of faith would “attend” to a sacred text through lectio divina—or sacred reading.

“You know,” Sister Margaret continued, “God attends to you in the same way.”  Her comment made me pause and contemplate God attending to my wounds, being horrified by my pain and seeking to speed the healing process through attentive love and care.

She shifted in her chair and leaned forward intently. “I want you to go back through your life and remember all the times you were attended to with love and kindness,” she said.  “We more often remember when we have been hurt or wounded.  But kindness and love abound.  Return to those places when you were shown love and kindness and in those places you will return to God.”

As I began to consider when I was attended to in love, I recalled what Sister Margaret said to me when I first sat down in the comfortable armchair across from hers. I had not been able to come see her for a few months because of my busy schedule so I apologized for missing.  Her response to my apology was, “That’s okay.  You can miss if you have to.  Whether you come or not, I’ll pray for you anyway.”

Love is always reaching for more

In his book, My Bright Abyss, Christian Wiman writes:

“In any true love—a mother’s for her child, a husband’s for his wife, a friend’s for a friend—there is an excess energy that always wants to be in motion. Moreover, it seems to move not simply from one person to another but through them, toward something else. This is why we can be so baffled and overwhelmed by such love: it wants to be more than it is; it cries out inside of us to make it more than it is. And what it is crying out for, finally, is its essence and origin: God.”

I don’t believe we, as humans, can get enough love. We certainly can’t offer each other enough of it, which is why we need God. I feel this need in my son when I lay down next to him in his twin bed after tucking him in for the night. We take each other in our arms and talk about the day and say things reserved for whispered conversations in the moonlight. He wants me to rub his back and sing to him “his song”—the simple tune I made up for him when he was a baby. I do as he asks and then move to pull away, feeling the call of my own bedtime ritual of time with my husband, a hot bath and a good book. But Isaac wants more. He always wants more. Even a child who is well-loved is insatiably hungry for more.

It is baffling and overwhelming, as Wiman states, to feel the way love is always reaching for more. As a mother who seeks to meet all her child’s needs, it is humbling as well. I turn to God, then, (if God is the essence and origin of love) as my only hope to ultimately and eternally satisfy.

 

A Virtual Placeholder

3368979605_70ec416e7f_oLast night I ransacked my recently cleaned home office in search of a poem I wrote two years ago about a sweet moment with my daughter. During a week when I am trying to write a sermon, a wedding homily and a first draft of my new essay, I thought it would be the perfect, easy blog post. I literally paged through ten notebooks full of writing (wow, I’ve written a lot in the last two years!) before I found the poem that turned out to be not as beautiful as the moment that inspired it. But I will still post it. I remember how the urge to write came to me after my then 4-year-old daughter gave me a hug and kiss goodbye before bouncing off to daycare. I wanted to put words to that sweet moment so I could remember how it felt when my daughter is grown.

Here’s what I wrote:

She leaned in for a delicate kiss,
her arms, wrapped around my neck,
as we said our morning goodbyes.
She’s longer now, at four years,
the pudge of her belly
not as pronounced.
But her eyes still round with
innocence—innocence I fiercely desire
to protect. Her laugh is wild
and stubborn. Her head strong.
I couldn’t love her more; my wild,
woman child, who will grow to be
I don’t know what—but surely amazing
in all her feminine glory.
Watch out world, my Ella Grace,
is a lioness in the making.

A few friends and a blog I have enjoyed following recently shut down their sites. Blogging isn’t for everyone and there are lots of different reasons to keep at it. I think what keeps me going is that Something to Say is mostly for myself—and if anyone else gets something from it, that is a wonderful bonus. I really love, though, how my blog is a virtual placeholder for my thoughts and memories. This poem, which I wanted to save, would have soon been tossed in the trash in a de-cluttering frenzy. Now that it is here on my blog, though, as well as other memories (like this post about my son putting on his sunblock) I can search for it, pull up this post and reread it anytime. Who knows, maybe even my children and my grandchildren will be searching through this blog someday. Scrapbooking was never my thing. This is. Thank you, WordPress.com, for the space.

 

[Feature Image: Kari Bluff]

Paying Attention

16526168288_a4fa676e2b_oI’ve been working my way through a new book during my morning writing time called, “The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World.”  This book by Brenda Miller (love her essays, which led me to this book) and Holly J. Hughes resonates with my intersecting interests of mindfulness meditation and writing.  I am also realizing that I am paying much better attention to life now that I have made my practice of writing a priority.

All this led me to rediscover this brief piece I wrote five years ago for my old blog.  It reminds me of the wonderful things my children teach me every day, as long as I am paying attention.

This afternoon over a lunch of hot dogs and mashed potatoes our 3-year-old son said, “Mommy, I’m putting on my sun block so I won’t get a sunburn.” “Mmm Hmm, that’s nice honey,” I responded paying more attention to my lunch than to what he was actually saying. Then he said it again. “Mommy, I’m putting on my sun block so I won’t get a sunburn.” This time I heard him because his insistent tone practically begged me to pay attention, to look his way. So I looked. He had smeared ketchup all over his face, legs, and neck – the part of him most likely to burn in the sun.

Paying attention really is important in life. If you don’t pay attention you might miss something terrible—like your son smearing ketchup all over himself. If you don’t pay attention you also might miss something wonderful—like your son smearing ketchup all over himself.

[Feature Image: Mike Mozart]

 

Writing to Discover

6281142155_e8a8afcddb_oIn an essay I am writing about my son I am discovering just how much I love my children. This feels odd to write because of course I already know that I love my children. But as I challenge myself to go deeper in this essay, to be more truthful, to choose words that resonate with emotions that I rarely bring to the surface, I am discovering the power of this art I have chosen (or perhaps has chosen me.)

Yesterday, I hit a raw vein of truth—namely, the fear I bury that something bad will happen to my children. I imagine all parents hold this fear and bury it deep. It’s not an emotion we can live with on the surface or else we’d never let our children out the door in the morning, let alone get on that big yellow school bus which is sure to be full of bullies. I climbed into my fear yesterday, though, as I sat at my desk with my notepad and pen and picked that fear raw to see what was living there. Why would I do this? Why subject myself to such torture? Well, I guess because I’m learning that emotions are not to be avoided. The feelings our hearts yield are signs pointing us towards truth waiting to be discovered—truth about who we are, how we are, and how we relate to the world. I learn so much when I honor my emotions enough to sit with them.

Out of the raw place of fear that I mined yesterday, the love I hold for my children overcame me like a wave grabbing and ripping me away from the safety of shore. It was a love that moved so far beyond the healthy lunches I pack every night and the grass-stained clothes I endlessly launder and the good night cuddles I linger over. It was a love that hurt—a love that physically gripped me—a love that clearly needed to be safely managed and stored back away so it wouldn’t devour and consume me. Good God, now I know what it means to call love a risk. Because to lose the source of this love—like many parents I know have—would be near impossible to survive.

Writing brought all this to the surface for me. I walked around for the rest of the day with my unsurfaced love jangling about like a bundle of unplugged chords. Then, my children came home from school and I was extra attentive. I stroked their little blond heads. I bathed them tenderly, relishing the chance to wash the day’s dirt and sweat and crumbs and routine chocolate smears off their growing-up-too-fast bodies. I kissed them and hugged them and clung to them before tucking them into their beds and thanking God that, for the moment, they were safe.

I don’t want to live in fear. Because that’s not really living. But I do want to live awakened, alive to the emotions that drive me and the truth that can be uncovered, or recovered, when I am willing to honor all that is inside. Writing is the path that takes me there. What path do you choose?

 

[Feature Image: Ramiro Ramirez]

 

The Practice of Doing Nothing: How I Stopped Fueling my Stress

5703593871_5fdd16c7d2_oI caught myself getting overwhelmed tonight. I’d been distracting myself from my stress all day long—running from meeting to meeting, answering emails, sending emails, moving from one uncompleted task on my desk to the next. When I finally got home and needed to focus on my children, though, I no longer had the energy to distract myself. So the stress I had successfully avoided all day slowly began to unravel itself and take over.

The power of emotion is extraordinary. I felt the stress coming, could clearly see the effect it was having on me, and yet still felt powerless to stop it. As it built I tried not to let it effect my time with my children—but it did. I was impatient, angry, short and instantly regretful. But what could I do in the face of an emotion that was tightening my chest and making my heart beat so wildly? How could I possibly stop this avalanche? I was losing the battle. I was coming undone.

Then, I remembered the advice of Andy Puddicombe, the meditation guru from Headspace, saying something about the problem of resisting emotion. I remembered him talking about how, if we were to stop resisting the emotion that is causing us stress, then we will stop fueling that emotion. I was having a hard time understanding this lesson of Andy’s until tonight. When my stress reached the verge of overwhelming, I decided to give Andy’s advice a try. I sat down on my meditation mat, mala beads in hand, and stopped resisting—I stopped fighting the emotion within me. I allowed it to simply be while I breathed in and out. Almost instantly, I felt my stress lose a lot of its energy. And I realized I had been fueling it all day with my active resistance. Also, when I sat with my stress (it honestly felt like I was honoring it, like I was giving this emotion its due) it parsed itself out…it revealed itself as more than just the generic term of “stress”…but more specifically as sadness, self-doubt, and the fear of failure.

Ten minutes later, I am writing a blog post and reaping the benefits of this extraordinary practice. I still feel stress, but I am not overwhelmed. I am not undone. And I am much more aware of the source of my stress—which will make it easier the next time it, inevitably, comes around.

 

[Feature Image: Izaias Buson]

Holding each Moment

10176739514_0aaa3f47d5_oI am growing accustomed to an annual end-of-the-summer episode of the blues. I am wallowing in this place now, grieving the passage of time. Mourning the loss of the summer’s long days when I read and write and giggle with my children. All this and the summer isn’t even over yet.

No stranger to anxiety and depression I create strategies to lift my spirit. I will manage my sleep patterns and avoid alcohol. I will schedule time each day for that which feeds me: meditation, writing. I will stop checking my email first thing in the morning. I will read more in the evenings and watch less stupid T.V. Just making this plan makes me feel better.

These steps to avoid a downward spiral feel healthy. It’s never good to get psychologically stuck. But part of me is wondering if my desire to avoid the darkness is a desire to avoid life itself.

Into my wondering a new book arrives; a book of poetry by a rabbi I recently met. In Waiting to Unfold, Rachel Barenblat has written a poem each week of her son’s first year of life. I got wrapped up in this book immediately. Barenblat’s writing is clear and honest, returning me poem by poem to the first year of my son’s life. I appreciate how she captures the beauty of her first moments as a mother. I appreciate more how she captures the pain, the exhaustion, the post-partum depression. Each week’s poem is new; a multidimensional, complicated mix of awe, joy, exhaustion, grief, amazement, mystery and change. Barenblat’s ability to convey the undulating highs and lows, emotional chaos, and heightened nature of new life makes for one great year of poetry.

Out of Barenblat’s dark moments poetry was birthed—poetry that spoke to, resonated with, and held deep meaning for this reader. So even though there are experiences of life that I am impatient to see pass—like this time, here, at the end of the summer—and experiences of life that I want to linger—like sneaking into my children’s bedrooms at night to risk waking them with too many kisses—all of life, all experience holds potential and promise. So perhaps I need to simply hold each moment, like a newborn baby holds bottle or breast, and drink deeply of all life offers.

 

 

[Feature Image: David Precious]

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Practice of Doing Nothing: Sitting with my Suffering (Part 2)

Fear 1On a bright summer morning, I dropped my 5-year-old daughter off at day camp placing her in the care of counselors who all appeared to be in high school. Looking at Ella’s counselors I remembered myself at their age, and the parents who entrusted their children to me. I didn’t take the same precautions with those children as I do now, with my own. I suspected the same was true of these teenagers. But I was too busy with Ella’s transfer–lunchbox (check), bathing suit and towel (check), water bottle (check), sunblock and bugspray (check)—to give my worry much attention. The camp counselors were busy too, loading my daughter up in a 15-passenger van. They were taking the kids on a trip to the lake.

Driving away from the drop-off, the image of my tiny, tow-headed daughter, climbing into the camp van stayed with me. Arriving at my office, unlocking the door, arranging my desk to tackle my long list of to-do’s, my mind kept returning to my daughter in the van.

Then, a premonition overcame me; a feeling, a knowing. My mind pictured the tragedy—a van overturned with my daughter’s body inside it.

The urge to go and get her—to chase down that van, find my daughter, pull her into my arms and keep her with me for the rest of the day—swelled. Fear flooded my nervous system and I broke into a sweat.

Am I crazy? Or is this a sign? Will I regret this forever if I don’t go and get her? How could this possibly be true? I was suffering terribly and almost succumbed. My car keys were in my hand when I remembered my practice.

So I took my suffering to the mat and sat with it. This was a tough one because the fear was like violence within me. It was beating me up inside, clubbing my heart, contracting my lungs, scorching me with its heat from the inside out. It was almost unbearable. But I sat with it and breathed. I leaned into my suffering instead of running away from it, or running immediately to resolve it. And, like my anger previously, I eventually felt the urgency of my fear dissipate. The oxygen calmed my nerves and restored my reason. I was still afraid, but not overwhelmed. And in this new state I realized that I had to let Ella go…and keep letting her go…because her life and mine could not be ruled by fear.

Our suffering has much to teach us, and yet we do everything possible to avoid it or get rid of it. I am becoming much more aware of my suffering now and my power to sit with it. This, in turn, has led me to become more aware of the suffering of others. The faces of humanity rise in my mind as I sit on my mat. I hold each in my heart, just as I hold my own fragile self. Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, believes that the world would be a more peaceful and compassionate place if we all practiced meditation. As I stop to imagine this—a world that could learn from its own suffering and not be ruled by fear—I give thanks for the profound gifts of a simple practice.