The Road to 2020

It’s the last day of the year––and the last day of the decade–– and like many of you, I find myself staring back down the road at the past ten years. I started this decade as a single mom of two tween girls, and pregnant with my son. I was broke, in so very many ways other than just financial. I lived in a tiny, 600-square-foot apartment, not far from my home now, but it feels like a lifetime ago. I was still searching for the truth of life in others back then, still looking beyond myself for what I needed. I was still plugged into the world of cable TV, materialism, the standard American diet, and what other people thought of me. It had no idea how to find more. I was surviving. That’s the best way I could put it. 

What I ate, who I chose to listen to, and who I spent my time with. What I found valuable, who I admired, and how I treated others. All of it wasmy very best back then. That isn’t an excuse––it’s merely a part of my story. I had so much to learn. Looking back over the chasm created this past 10 years gives so much perspective as to how I’ve changed. 

Growth rarely comes easily, and it’s been a rough decade. It was wonderful, too. I met my husband and we bought a big, beautiful house and poverty stopped being my reality. My mom’s health deteriorated and she died. My two oldest daughters went to college and have families of their own now. My two youngest children were born and are thriving. These past 10 years have been the fullest of my life. So much gained and lost that I often feel like an entirely different person. And yet, I’m not. The person who I was in 2010 is still in here, she has merely changed shape and substance based on the winds of change. I am not someone new. I have merely changed my focus to redirect my growth. 

When I look back at who I was then, I know that I was doing the best I could for my own level of consciousness. I was still asleep to so much about the world and us humans who think we know so much. But liars will always think everyone lies. Cheaters are going to think everyone is sleeping with their husbands, and thieves will always blame the one standing closest for stealing what they themselves misplaced. We all see the world through our own lens, created by the people who raised us and influence us, the life we’ve made for ourselves and the way we choose to walk through it. Maybe in another decade we’ll be lucky enough to look back and see our own growth. Or maybe we’ll still be standing in the ashes of what was, yelling “poor, little old me” in hopes someone feels sorry for us. Maybe if life is shitty enough, someone actually will take pity, for whatever that is worth. As for me, I’d rather live here and now.

Yet we live in difficult and divisive times that everyone wants to escape from here and now. We are at war with each other and ourselves and no one seems to know how to fix any of it. We’ve tried everything from yoga to juice cleanses to the keto diet in hopes of fixing the seemingly unfixable. It seems to me that most don’t even want to look behind the curtain to see what exactly needs to be fixed. We’d rather take a pill and get back to the bar. Or the internet. Or whatever vice we’ve chosen. We all have our own demons. It’s just a matter of how visible they are, or how socially acceptable, but we all have them.

Everyone one of us feels the sting and tasted the bitterness of this division and we all deal with it our own ways. We’ve all lost friends because of “politics,” which is really just saying what direction our own moral compasses and values are directed. We’ve all lost loved ones to death, disagreements, rumors or truths. Not a one of us has walked out of this decade unscathed, though we all like to think of our own pain as so special. But we are all victims of life, because loss itself is part of the human condition. We will all rise and fall. We will all get broken. We all have to get up each day and go on anyway.

Hopefully some of us will find a way to heal ourselves. Maybe some of us will even find ways to heal others at the same time. It remains to be seen what this mammal called human beings will end up doing with our big brains, our opposable thumbs, and all our technology and power.

Will we save the planet, or doom it? Will we use all the knowledge at our fingertips to evolve, or will we perish like all the other endangered species? Do we even realize we’re endangered?

We can use our gifts for good or for evil. It’s up to us–– as a race, as a society, and as individuals. 

The path is ours, whichever one we choose to take. We can look toward the future and see hope and possibility, or we can claim it will always be this way and use it as an excuse to eat and drink our lives away in a haze. We can use our energy to make a better world for the humans we’ve created, or we can cry over all we lost over while binging on the same recipes that continue to pass heart disease through the generations. 

We are one little set of finger prints, so we can’t change everything, but it does start with us. No one ever really wants to hear that and I’m sure I’ll get nasty messages in my inbox from people thinking I’m talking directly to them.They’ll scream that their high blood pressure is genetic, that they are doing all they can and I have no right to talk this way, and they’ll give excuses why they cheated on their wife for over a decade while demanding I tell them who blabbed.

 The truth is, this message is for all of you and none of you. It’s for whoever feels the call to listen and hear. 

The other truth is that I no longer have the energy to deal with all the drama. What you do to change the world––or don’t do––in the grand scale or your own path, that’s your business. Your excuses and reasoning will be your cross to bear and you will carry that weight. I have my own past and truths to walk through the world with. 

There came a tipping point in my life where I looked around and saw that it was no longer about me­­–– it’s about the whole. Maybe it was when my granddaughter was born and I saw how the seeds we plant in this life cast out further and further, and how our hands and our lives touch all of it. It doesn’t start with us and it won’t end with us, either. We are but links in the chain, mere visitors here, but this journey is ours to create while we last. We can waste it on rumors and bullshit, or we can go out and make it the best damn life we can. 

If I’m going to make the world a better place for the generations that come after, I can’t stop to address every yipping complaint. I can no longer care about what people think of me. I can only concentrate on my own truths, and what I’m doing to assure that this amazing, sparkling, painful, beautiful life we live as humans continues for my children, my granddaughter and her children. That is doesn’t stop with us.That we leave this place better than we found it. And I don’t think that’s about money, or how big or fancy our home is, or what college we go to. Or what kind of status our job brings.

I think it’s about how much we loved, and how much of that love was unconditional ––a word we throw around as easily as we cast off those who say something we didn’t want to hear. I think it’s about how we walk the one and only path we have, how we treated those we loved, and what we leave them when we pass.

Who will I be remembered as? What lessons, joys, sorrows, and truths will be left behind in my wake? Did I leave a big fat mess of lies and secrets to be unraveled like an unkempt skein of yarn, or did I live my life out loud so that only the lessons of my path are laid out like a Sunday dress, pressed and ready to be picked up and used? Did I love enough? Do they know it? Did I do all I could? 

I would love to say we all have time. But this decade has shown far too much loss for any of us to believe that the clock isn’t ticking.

For me, it’s time to close the door on what is left behind. It’s time to give it all we’ve got for the generations that come behind us, to clean up the mess in the here and now, starting with ourselves. 

I Love You But…

I love you but…

I love you anyway…
I love you even though you…
I love you in spite of…

This, for a long time, was my support network of love. A lot of my people anyway.

They didn’t mean me any harm. They really did love me. At least, in the way that they are able to love. But, they made it a point to constantly point out what I had done wrong, what kind of person that made me, and how I should feel lucky that they would still love me after all that.

My transgressions have varied, from having children out of wedlock numerous times to having a small intimate wedding for 25 people instead of a big all-inclusive family wedding for over 300. For no longer labeling myself as a Christian. For being a single mother living in poverty. For posting about politics too much and daring to correct anyone. And through all of this, there was always the inevitable pointing out how it was all was my own fault.

For a long time, the vast majority of my people made it very clear that I was only lovable if…

That I was still okay, but clearly I was lucky they had chosen to stick around. And of course, that I could learn from them.

And they were careful not to give me too much praise or credit, because I was damaged, after all. And because of this, it was very unlikely that I may be right about anything because of how badly I had screwed up my life.

But they loved me anyway and I should be thankful for that.

And for a long time, I believed all that. I bought into it because it was what I was taught and what I had learned. It was built into who I was.

 
Ultimately, I decided that the whole “good enough” thing is bullshit. And that what other people think of me is their business.

 
But that I get to make my own definition.

 

And I stopped going out of my way for people who only love me if..

For people who make qualifiers on who I get to be and what makes me good enough.

I didn’t throw anyone out of my life or even block them.

It would be a clearer description to say that I merely let them go. A process I have been learning and relearning my whole life.

I would be lying to you if I said that parts of this process weren’t absolutely heartbreaking.

But what I have gained is people who love me no matter what.

I realized that there are people who will truly be there for me, instead of just saying they will. People who will show up no matter how busy they get. They will go out of their way to make sure that I know I matter. They will care when they don’t have to and love me at my best and my worst.

They love me no matter what.

People who love me so much that they give me the benefit of the doubt rather than automatically assuming I am wrong, or cruel, or damaged.

People who are there for the good days and the bad days and the worst days and the everything in-between days. The people who always remember to invite you and never stop making you feel welcome.

And the thing is, when I stopped taking up so much time trying to please and be what everyone thought I should be, I made a lot of space in my life for figuring out who I am. And when your main group of people do a mass exodus on you, it gives you lots of time to find out who you are.

And as the people dropped from my life, as I was no longer apologizing to them for who I was, I made space for the people who don’t feel I should apologize for being myself. And found that they actually just love me for me. As simple as that.

I could’ve stayed where I was my whole life. It was safe and familiar, even if I had to hide myself in order to be good enough. I had to tone myself down to be acceptable. I could’ve kept being lucky that they still loved me.

But I define my worth, and when I decided that I was enough as I am, the people who love me as such appeared. Truly, just like that.

I have a much larger circle of friends now. My network of people who love me and are here for me has multiplied tremendously. But only after I decided that I was good enough to be loved no matter what.

How about you? Would your people still love you no matter what? Or do you have to pretend and be quiet for them to love you?

Check Your Jesus

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I do not label myself as a Christian, despite being raised in a very actively Christian family and home and schools. But I do, every day, try to live the message of Jesus. The words written in red. I have always loved the words written in red.

Christians, by definition,  walk the walk of Christ. They stand up for what’s right (because he died on the cross for them, according to their very own Christian justification). Christians use their voice, because Jesus never said Be Kind or Be Quiet. He stood on the mound and he preached truth. And love. Jesus was a love guy.

Saying the words, “I am a Christian,” does not make you a Christian.

Not any more than dressing up like a lion on Halloween makes you a lion.

Jesus was willing to die a terrible death to save everyone. He walked the walk AND talked the talk. And all the while, he never talked shit about the fat people and the prostitutes, and he never told the poor and the weary and the needy and the women and the minorities to shut up and sit down. He told us to stand up for those who need it. He told us to call out the bullies and come together. He told us to love one another. He did not turn away or ignore, or waver. He used his voice. And he was brave.

It’s all in the Bible. Jesus’s words are written in red. If you are a Christian, you know these words. These words are burned into the heart of those who truly embody Christ.

So I’m going to ask you all what you think Jesus would do today? Not the Jesus that your “news” seems to know so intimately. Not the Jesus that gets used as a bat to hit with, or a promise to get your way. I’m referring to the Jesus you were taught as a child. The one who taught us to love one another. The guy with the words written in red.

What would HE say today?

Because I think He’d be the guy standing up and shouting from the hilltops for everyone to hear : “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” And I am confident in this because you can find those words, written in red.

In what could be described as irony, most of the Christians that I know are very attached to the idea of a white Jesus. But given the fact that His birth and story take place in the middle east, it’s logical to assume that Jesus was actually of middle-eastern descent.

Which means, should Jesus come back (aka Christ’s “second coming,”) it wouldn’t be a stretch that He would return as say, a little Syrian boy. But we can’t let Him in, under the pretense that we are protecting, like Jesus.

So, on that note, what side are YOU on? Are you the one who was cheering to let Jesus in at the gate? Or were you the one who sat quiet in your house eating another bag of Taco Bell and donuts and tuning out with mindless television? Because “politics” is just too depressing. Jesus is watching, either way. Or so I’m told.

I believe that Jesus would look at America right now, with it’s mega-churches and mega-homeless vets and say, “I call bullshit. None of you are reading my words. Few of you remind me of me. Stop using my name for your hate. Check your Jesus!”

When it comes to hate, Jesus is never the reason.

And so I ask…

What walk are you walking today? I don’t mean calling yourself a Christian and I don’t mean going to church. I mean, what are you doing in your daily life that reminds you of Jesus? When, and how, do you remind yourself of Jesus? Because it is only then that you are acting with a Christian heart.

Mr. Watts

 

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This is Watts. He’s our big orange tomcat. Can you tell he thinks he owns the place?

We adopted him from my cousin’s farm a few years ago. He was tiny and hungry and needed a home. He came to us startlingly protective of his food, and sort of fierce, yet willing to cuddle up in my sweatshirt and nap. He got really sick when he was still a tiny guy and we had to get him IV antibiotics. We were all so worried that you’d have thought he was a real baby. He is the least friendly cat I’ve ever owned, but even with his “dark side” as we call it, we all love him so much.

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Even as a tiny kitten, he has always been a commanding force. My niece Riley started calling him Mr. Watts when he was just a couple months old, and it fit so much that we still call him Mr. Watts. Which is funny because we don’t really stand on ceremony around here and the only people we give titles to are teachers. And cats, apparently.

Watts will gently headbump Steve, or try to clean my face if he’s in the mood. But most times, he accept a handful of pets from Steve or me before he gets frisky and starts to warn us to knock it off. He doesn’t hurt us, but I wouldn’t really test him. He puts his teeth on our hand without hurting us, just enough to tell us to back the hell off. He’ll come hang out with us on the porch or in the living room, but he insists on having his own chair and would never sit with us or beside us.

That said, Watts is the animal who would protect us from some evil force should we need it. I have no doubt that if something bad occurred, Watts would go down swinging as the one who tried to save us all. He will occasionally be cuddly and want our affection, but the majority of the time, he merely tolerates our affection.

When I took him to the vet the last time, he kind of freaked out and wouldn’t let anyone touch him. Not even me. They gave him something to calm him down and sent us home with a borrowed pet crate, for the protection of all of us. So, he’s kind of a wild card.

You can see why we might worry about bringing, say, a little kitten, into in the house.

Only here’s the thing about my tough guy Watts. He loves babies.

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All babies of all kinds. He loves the kids in some way that makes him seem like a completely different cat. His patience with them far exceeds what any other cat I’ve had would accept. He is happy to be cuddled with and kissed and dragged around. He works diligently to sneak into their rooms at night so he can sleep with them. He is mellow and sweet. He is a lover.


Every day, I watch my big beast of a cat play with our tiny kitten, Eleven. She wraps her paws around his neck and bites. In return, he cleans her. She wrestles him and bites him and he allows it. He plays back so gently that she doesn’t need to cry out. He wouldn’t hurt her. It warms my heart, this love. This sweet gentle love coming from my tough guy.

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It makes me think we all have this. These gifts hiding just on the other side of our dark side. That even a rough and tumble tomcat has a gentle side. A kryptonite that turns him to putty.

We all have something that make us crumble and turn to love.

A Year Without My Mom

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I’ve been thinking back about my mom. It’s been almost a year since she died, and the weather and the start of Christmas and Thanksgiving and all of it reminds me of her. And how even though I saw it all coming, it still managed to shake me so completely that she was gone.

The thing about looking back is that it’s really only helpful briefly. We have a tendency to give our pasts (both the good and bad parts) a lot of weight and importance. And it’s good to reflect, to learn from our past, to give it space and respect and reverence or whatever it deserves. The problem starts when we set up shop and start to live there. This seems especially common with the death of loved ones.

We wrap ourselves up in the memories of those we lost, like some warm cozy blanket. And for a moment it is all warm and cozy, but only until we remember that the past is all wrapped up into one. The jagged, pointy, barbed-wire part of our past is still in there too. And still hurts.

But we reason that at least the hurt reminds us of the one we lost, and so we stay wrapped up in our cozy-spiky blanket of the past, not realizing that there is a whole world we’re missing  that is going on RIGHT NOW but that we’ll never see or find this from our blanket.

It’s hard not to do this. Grief is a process, just like life is a process. But I don’t want to lie around in that blanket anymore. Mom wouldn’t want me to either.

There is this stupid app called Timehop. Have you heard of it? I shouldn’t call it stupid because I actually really like it. It’s always felt harmless, fun and sweet, and I thought it would bring nothing but good memories to enrich my life. It’s like the Facebook Memories thing, only Timehop did it first, so I’ve had it running on my phone for years. I see cool old photos and blog posts and where I was at and how far I’ve come. But then the damn thing updated and changed the settings and thus started to include old text messages that live on my phone. From my mom, cause that’s who I texted mostly. Messages from my mom. That’s what Timehop, and technology in general, started sending me.

At first, this was maybe August or September when it changed, the messages were welcome. She bought pumpkin cream cheese for Steve and a coloring book for Brice and a hat for Lincoln. The message were sweet because they were ours,  just setting up rides for her or visits, conveying our days and lives. Lots of “I love you’s”. So many “I love you’s”.

So I let the messages stay. But I knew what was coming. I knew she was going to fall on October 11th  and break her pelvis and that I would find a message that she needed help. I knew that it was coming but I didn’t shut the messages off.

Because, how could I? My mom’s last words to me every morning when I woke up. Like a gift, but with barbed wire inside waiting to show up.

Because now, looking back to a year ago this week, the messages are just really, really sad. Just heartbreaking. And this icy morning and the cold and everything suddenly feels so much like that time. Only she’s been gone almost a year and I don’t want it to feel so close anymore. I don’t want to remember the, “Dropped buzzer and can’t breathe. Call nurse for help?” anymore. I don’t want to keep reliving her death, but it’s hard not to. Even without the messages, it would be hard not to.

My calendar for this weekend said “No matter how hard the past, you can begin again.” I love the Buddhist proverbs for their simplicity. Not easy, but simple, nonetheless.

I will always miss my mom. This I know now. This will be a truth for the remainder of my days. Our parents bring us to life and then show us our own mortality in their passing. The show us the way.

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But I don’t always have to think about the bad parts though. I don’t actually have to think about that at all. I choose it, just as I choose to think of happy memories. Or to try to focus my thoughts on my current moments or some happy thoughts of the future. It’s up to me. I don’t have to let my thoughts run wild like a toddler.

So here’s what I did today instead:

I wrote to all of you about it. Because it’s the keeping it all in that gives our sad and heart-achy thoughts their power.

Then I changed the  settings for the Timehop app on my phone so that I don’t get old messages anymore. I don’t want it to keep bringing it back, and though I didn’t invite it, I was letting it in.

Then I made salt dough handprints with the boys. Because my mom did that with me, and it seemed a much nicer way to remember her.

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The Mom at Chuck E Cheese

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We went to Chuck E Cheese for a birthday party yesterday. This sort of breaks one of my big rules in life – going to Chuck E Cheese at all – but we were invited to a cousin’s birthday party and it seems like a good idea to have the boys grow up with family. I grew up this way, and Steve did, but as we’ve gotten older, our families have scattered and we often “do our own thing,” like so many families these days. We’re all so busy, right?

I used to call Chuck E Cheese the worst place on earth. But I’m older now and I have new definitions of the worst place on earth. Watching my mom die in a sad old nursing home and spending any time at Children’s hospital pretty much made me realize that Chuck E Cheese is a breeze. So, we went.

The boys ate pizza and cake and watched the little show they put on with the big furry robots, which Lincoln loved at a distance and hated close up. Incidentally, this reassured me that he is smart. Then the boys ran wild with the games and the coins and the tickets, having fun with all of the noise and the chaos and being allowed to act accordingly. Hence why I hate it. Because I’m a control freak, you know? Plus, I’m also a germaphobe and there are a million kids there eating and playing all at once with their snotty little noses and I’m pretty sure we could start the Bubonic plague again out of one of those places without trying hard at all.

On this note, I used the bathroom there, which also kind of breaks my rule but it was necessary. A young mother came into the bathroom as I was washing my hands. She was holding a big chubby baby of maybe 6 months old. The mom kind of peeked around as if there might be somewhere to put the baby and then went looking for a stall. I realized she was just going to do her thing with her baby in her arms.

Go ahead, freak out about the gross factor here but let me tell you that every mom has had this moment. Where you just have to pee or whatever and the baby is with you so you make the most of it. I almost didn’t ask her if she needed my help, but then I did, because I’ve been practicing using my instinct and not my crazy questioning mind.

So I said “Do you want help?” over the sound of the hand dryer. But she didn’t speak English. She cocked her head and raised one hand as if to say she didn’t understand, and kind of like why was I talking to her when she had to use the bathroom.

So I said, “Help?” and I held my arms out to her in a gesture to take the baby. And her face fell in relief and she rushed over and handed me her most prized possession. Her most prized person and her most precious anything. The one she made from her body but needed two minutes away from to take care of herself. She handed me her baby and I took her.

Big, dark, dark brown eyes and big dark lashes and the sweetest little head full of dark hair. So very different than my light-skinned, fair-haired babies, yet she had the same lazy, chubby baby body of my 3rd baby. And that amazing baby smell that every baby on the planet has. She warmed my heart from the second she hit my hands.

I thought briefly that she might cry when her mom left her sight but she didn’t. She let me hold her and looked at me like I was new but not scary. I said, “Well hello, little friend,” and she looked at me for a few moments and then laid her little head on my shoulder. I leaned my cheek into her dark hair and I was so thankful. Just bursting from top to bottom with thankful. Because this baby felt safe with me. And thankful for being a mama and knowing how to make a baby feel safe. And thankful I could help this mom, who didn’t know me but knew that I was offering help and not more problems. Just… Thankful.

It was a little moment. A blink. A fraction of the day and speck of sand in the grand scheme of my life. But it meant something to me. To know that there is trust out there. To know that there are mothers willing to take each other’s hands for help. To know that we have a connection that goes deeper than language or words. Some magic that speaks merely between the beats of a mother’s heart.

How to Change the World

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My husband and I spend a lot of time talking about changing the world. We talk about what we can change, and it often feels like we can’t do nearly enough.

There seem to be so many problems these days. I peek out of the window of my blessed, wonderful little life and I see a lot of trauma and drama and sickness and sadness and hatred out there. We pay to stream it into our homes 24 hours a day in 3D Technicolor, in the interest of being entertained and informed. We practically bathe in it.

But for being so connected and up-to-date, we are more closed-off and critical than ever. I see far too many examples of how we are downright terrible (to just plain not very nice) to one another these days. At least all the people outside our little circles and families. Those who aren’t our people.

We have forgotten that we are all the same people. We are all human beings. If we seem different, it’s merely because we’ve been raised in different ways and lived different lives. We’re still all part of the same race: the human race. We have forgotten that we still belong to one another.

Did you just roll your eyes at that? It’s because you’ve forgotten.

Maybe we do remember and we want to help,  but what can we do? When we’re too tired to shower and the kids’ lunches still aren’t made and it’s all just hard enough already? It feels like we can’t possibly do enough.

But I don’t think we change the world by huge sweeping gestures. Maybe sometimes, but I think that’s the rare exception, like a winning lottery ticket. I think most of the time the world is changed by small and honest little acts of kindness.

It would be easy to get caught up in our feelings and spread political memes like peanut butter all over the social networks and say we’re doing our part. And it is important to speak our truths. But is that doing anything? Saying is not the same as doing.

So what can you do, today, to change the world?

Hold open a door. Tell someone, with every fiber of your being, that you hope they have a nice day. See what happens when you say it like you mean it.

Catch someone’s eye for a moment and tell them you know what it’s like, whether “it” is dropping the contents of your purse on the floor at Kwik Trip or a toddler meltdown in Aisle 4. (Aisle 4 is always the cookies or candy. Aka, the meltdown aisle.)

If we spent even 5 minutes a day doing or saying something nice for others, we can make a huge difference in the world. Why? Why would that 5 minutes mean anything? Because people have a tendency to follow the good stuff. Meaning, that shit spreads. They pass it on. They pay it forward.

Go out and share some of your unique goodness today. Say something nice to a stranger. Do something nice for a neighbor or friend or someone you can think of who needs it. Do something just for the doing (as opposed to the telling or the wanting something back.) Just go put something nice out there, like a gift on the steps of the universe.

This is how we change the world. (It is also how we change ourselves, if you are interested in such things.)