Flying up to meet the soon to be other half of my boy’s family. A gracious invitation to stay the night. Wonderings from both sides I am sure. Do we go to the back door or walk around to the front? Greet with handshake or hug? A warm reception as we step through the main entrance and are greeted by both future in laws and their friendly cats. Hugs flow out. Stories shared. Breaking of bread together. The reflecting and sharing of our children’s lives and family as they walk toward the day of parting from their first family and blending into their very own.
The possibility and desire has been in the air for weeks and actually since before they wed. But when the final choice is spoken, tears flow. We are heading northwest and settling close to her people. Though from the day he was born we have raised him to be a separate soul with a mind of his own, this parting will sting. Many a recent Sunday, we have set the table for six. Soon, we are back to four. Before many days pass, we will be two. Thoughts drift ahead to the seemingly distant place of one alone.
Traveling to the airport on a bus and our eyes meet. A few awkward smiles and then she spills it out. Did you hear about Paris? Yes, I reply. Desiring to share a burden, she speaks of staying up into the wee hours of the morning taking it all in. Somehow she knows that across the aisle from her on this day is a kindred mother’s heart. Then the words that reveal her particular terror surrounding the non stop broadcasts from abroad. The news is terrorizing, “especially when you have relatives in the military.” In response I could only ask, do you?. Yes, my son. This unconsidered angle of such fresh and recent news had not yet pricked my maternal heart. As the doors open and it is time to step out, that which slips out of my mouth falls a bit flat. I hope that your son will be ok. Violence all across our world ripples outward and inward. We are all connected.
With great love comes the terrifying vulnerability of sorrow and loss. Along with Juliet, I understand that “parting is such sweet sorrow.” Sorrow intensifies the sweet as we hope and dream of meeting again. Letting go beckons a grief that opens wide the heart to deeper joy. Echoes and shadows of partings from days gone by rise to the surface of my heart and mind. Partings instruct and shape the soul.
One of my favorite hymn refrains proclaims the beautiful words, “it is well with my soul”. Though often played at funerals, it seems that this posture is just as critical to the living as the dead. For me, it has taken time and intention to discover that which fills my soul.
As a younger person, most of my time and energy was consumed with being mom, keeping a household running and being an uber volunteer. In hindsight, it is easy to identify personal needs that were met in this volunteer role, but they had nothing to do with soul filling. Achievement desires, anxiety management, feelings of obligation and a desire to be important and make a difference were amongst the reasons that I poured so much of myself into these commitments.
And though some of the above goals were realized, my soul was not satisfied. I do not regret the time and energy spent there, because it was an important leg of a journey toward a more satisfying life. Learning what is life sucking rather than life giving is critical to begin the shift toward true peace and joy.
Last weekend I received a gift -the realization that after much hard work, I am well on my way to discovering that which fills my soul. It was at the end of a week away with part of our family. Time together was soul filling, to a point. After a little too much together time and the realization that the next two days would include times with four people in a small, intimate hotel room, I realized that I needed to figure out a way to recharge. As the rest of the family headed to a football game, I asked myself, “what can I do to fill my soul?”, for the next six hours.
It was a beautiful New England day, so I decided to jump onto the T and head somewhere that I had never been before. Cambridge, the home of Harvard University. First stop was a yoga studio where my body and spirit were renewed. Then a slow and thoughtful walk around a beautiful university campus followed by the discovery of a fun and delicious local eating place with a book in hand filled a few of these precious hours. Though the original thought was to take public transportation back to downtown Boston, the weather and something internal beckoned me to instead start walking the four miles back. I passed beautiful historical homes, an ethnic neighborhood, a financial district and crossed a beautiful bridge while gazing at a stunning cityscape. It was six hours well spent.
It has taken time and experimentation to discover the things that are truly life giving for me. A critical piece of this discovery required clearing away the things that had become burdensome and joy stealing. Some of the things that quench my heart thirst are writing, listening to authors tell their story, one on one time with my husband, the onbeing podcast, receiving communion, growing a few vegetables, reading, doing yoga, indie movies, meditation, walking and treading water with a friend. It is a gift to enjoy my own company as well as that of others.
Times of transition and passage often provide opportunities to explore and discover what it is that makes us soar. I imagine that when there is more time and space and less active parenting, a certain type of volunteering will be a part of my soul care. Those who face changes in job or career as well as one experiencing an empty nest are afforded new opportunities to discover what it is that gives life and contentment. It will look different for each of us.
Early this morning, I trekked to one of my least favorite bi-yearly events – dental check up. I have had the same dental hygienist for the twenty-four years that I have lived in this place. She has worked in this one office for over forty-seven years and has known no other lifestyle in her adult life. This was our last scheduled interaction as she is retiring at the end of the year. She became teary as we communicated around this topic and my words to her were, “I hope that you discover what you love to do outside of these walls”. Whatever walls you are contained within, I wish the same for you.
A note on my writing: I have had a few questions about how much I am writing these days. A lot more is the short answer. Currently, I am going back through old blogs, rewriting some, truly enjoying reading through and being reminded of my own journey, and considering putting many of them together in some book form. This may be a gift to myself and my children or something different. We shall see.
One friend asked me how I had accomplished making more time to write. As alluded to above, clearing out and making space to do this thing I love has been mindful and intentional. Changes in my husband’s schedule, the growing up of our daughters and getting rid of responsibilities that are not life giving have all been a part of making time and space for this.
The practical answer is that I put the hours that I desire to spend writing on my calendar. I treat it like a job. If I have something that I deem more important than writing on that day, I do my best to reschedule those hours another time during the week. When I am writing, I usually leave my cell phone in the house. It is currently a very part time job, but I am loving it.
I was sitting on my couch the other day and mindlessly watching photos of our family scroll through our computer screen. One of the signs that we encountered on our 2013 trip to China floated by. It reignited the desire to share these sometimes amusing, sometimes confusing, and occasionally head shaking Chinese to English translations. Chinglish is alive and well in China. I hope you enjoy.
It is interesting that when creating public signage, native English speakers are not consulted. The results are varied. Sometimes the main idea is clearly conveyed with just a bit of extra thought from the reader.
The most stomach dropping sign encountered on this trip was discovered in an airport inside the women’s bathroom. China certainly has no equivalent to the ADA, and political correctness is not of concern, at least not in the way an American would define it. It is a positive step that there are wheelchair accessible bathroom facilities, but…
Surely, this is in no way what the sign creator desired to communicate.
Most people I know do not consider going to the dentist a “merry” event, but I suppose that Merry could be someone’s name.
At times, it takes more than a brief moment to figure out the English messages in China. Some are confusing and left open to the reader’s interpretation.
Sometimes visuals attached to the words really help.
At times, gentle and warm feelings come when reading the signage.
Other times, the gist is conveyed, but words are out of context.
Most native English speakers would not consider this to be a yacht.
Many of the signs have to do with trash, spitting and bathrooms.The word trash would have sufficed, but the basic idea is well communicated.
I personally used this facility and though I don’t know the universe of comparison, I would disagree with this designation.
And this one seems to be a bit wordy. It seems that “put all of your different types of waste in the proper place” would have sufficed.
Though it is fun to emotionally react to these signs, they are a reminder that choosing words carefully is often important. As a writer and a human being, I am faced with the truth of this everyday. Hopefully as we move along our various paths, we will each remember that words do, in fact, matter.
A Sunday interaction. Concern and confusion about how the world has changed, the morals of the young people, the stubborn uncooperative ways of her very own body. So much shifting and switching at rapid speed.
“Well at least we don’t have anybody with a sex change”, in the family, that is. Dropped awkwardly right in the middle of the exchange. Where did that come from? The recent headlines? A secret fear? A worst case scenario?
Her squirming discomfort at the silence on the other end of the phone after expressions of dismay at the changing morals of the society. She certainly isn’t the first older person to feel such. “Which morals are you referring to?” I really didn’t know for sure. Not sure she exactly knew either.
Confession that she was working hard to accept the tattoos of someone who had entered her life. Someone who snuck into her world through the door of kinship. This tattoo bearer is loved by someone that she herself loves dearly. My unhelpful response that tattoos are mainstream now.
“But I don’t judge people”, she said. An earnest expression of desire to be such a grace bearing soul bubbled up from below the surface. Then an honest admission on the judgment issue. “but I haven’t really been tested yet.” What will she do when the test comes? What will each of us do?
You are not alone
Crossing paths in a quiet place, a peaceful alcove inviting those who are weary to soak in nature, God’s presence and the joy of watching children at play. A chance for parent to rest and breathe and remove self from the hustle and bustle of the everyday. Two Adirondack chairs side by side.
We have history, this mom and me. A meandering path that has crossed, run parallel and diverged over twenty plus years. We caught up, surface level at first, then quickly went a little deeper. We have shared experience and been in vulnerable and painful places together. Yet it took almost an hour before the current core fear and vulnerability trickled up to the surface. Hints were dropped and then connections made.
Tapes of abomination and wrath of God put in place early in life. Now crippling suspicion that my child, my beloved and precious one, may walk and live life in a place that was so condemned. Fear and terror strike at the heart’s core. What will this mean? Can I do something, anything, to change this story? Am I at fault? Will my child be rejected? Will I be cast out?
Tears welled up. Human to human, mother to mother, turning to face one another. Grasping hands, eye to eye, the words flowed out, “you are not alone.”
Stopping by on a mission, party in hours. Intimate, fun and eclectic shop full of wares with appeal to young and old. The aura slowed my pace. The clerk wanted to engage in talk. Clearly things were on her mind. There was space for interaction and the mission could idle for a time.
Suddenly, she poured out her heart. A broken relationship and the pain of a secret life kept from mom and dad. Fear of rejection and damnation by the childhood religious folks so interwoven in her family story. Working on a letter, a desperate plea for acceptance and love even when minds and hearts and souls would need to be changed.
Neither of us quite knew how we got to this vulnerable place, but my own heart whispered to treat this with tenderness and care. A response welled up from deep within. A place of kinship with a heart that wants to be known and loved. “Most mothers given time and space, will come to accept and love unconditionally their child.”
Sharing this story over cards with a son, a relationship where occasional dreams of a do-over touch this mother’s core. His response, “mothers should rule the world.” In many ways, we do. If we wear garments of grace, a compassionate and kind kingdom will come.
I got a lot of feedback on the last blog dealing with social media and life events. I loved hearing from peers as well as from a younger generation on this topic. With permission, two young friends agreed that I could share their perspectives. My personal goal isn’t to solve or come down on a side around this topic, but to be mindful of what and why I do things.
The guest writers are two people that I enjoy tremendously. First is Sarah Millsaps who is on a very short list of “best Wilson babysitters ever”. She shares a piece that she wrote as a college sophomore. It is good to know that there are such thoughtful young people in our world. I have read much of her writing over recent years, and I fully believe that she may be the next Wendell Berry.
The second is recently married and faithfully pursuing a doctorate degree in psychology. I met Emily Wynsma through one of our sons, and her passion is to work with adopted and foster children in helping them on their healing journey. We have discussed many topics over the years. We share common interest and passion and I am so very grateful to people like her who put so much talent, time and energy into understanding and walking alongside children from hard places.
As a teaser, two quotes from their writing and thoughts. I hope you enjoy.
“The constant flood of photos and videos recording events allows our society to build itself on a virtual reality, eliminating the irreplaceable worth of being present and it ultimately fosters unhealthy comparison”. Sarah
“A good rule of thumb: would I still do this if it wasn’t going to go on social media, and nobody knew about it ?” Emily
Social Media continues to be a popular topic of discussion as our society weighs the advantages and disadvantages of the technological developments. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites allow users to remain connected and in uninterrupted communication. The virtual realm of Facebook and Twitter have invaded physical realities as young adults adopt words like “hashtag,” “profpic,” “friended,” and abbreviations into everyday speech. The extreme accessibility to share and keep one’s followers up to date has created a perceived need to share every experience. A mindset has developed suggesting that one’s experience is not finished or legitimate until you take a picture of it and post it on your Instagram feed. While superficially this value seems to be harmless, the pattern is poisonous. Whether it is a proposal, a victorious finish line shot, or simply what you ate for dinner, sharing photography on social media disconnects us from the present moment. The constant focus to capture the moment obscures the true motive of experience. Our cameras and phones become physical barriers to present reality as the constant sharing mentality diminishes the quality of the moment. The constant flood of photos and videos recording events allows our society to build itself on a virtual reality, eliminating the irreplaceable worth of being present and it ultimately fosters unhealthy comparison.
The growing trend of creating “engagement videos” or hiding a photographer to capture the proposal exposes the increasing value in digitally sharing our experiences. The growing opportunity for documentation encourages our society to publicize intimacy. Traditionally an engagement is held precious because it is a moment shared by two people who are embarking on a shared life. The relationship and proposal ritual is special because it is exclusive. A growing trend in social media is to pay a professional photographer to capture the entire proposal so that the moment is not only eternalized but it also is able to be shared. Some couples have taken this to an extreme. One man designed a “music video proposal” in which he videoed an entire performance and posted it on YouTube. His intimate act of asking to spend the rest of his life with someone transformed into a showcase. By including the third party audience he devalues his relationship with his girlfriend.
The constant thought of “what to tweet next” or what angle to capture the sunrise encloses our experience into pixels and small digital frames. Most of the American population now walks around with a camera at all times. With the constant updates and live feeds I question what is the truer reality, the moment unfolding or the representational pictures? Are we going on a hike to live an experience or to show that we’ve done it? Personally, I have recognized that in certain situations I remember an event not by what I physically experienced with my own senses but by the Facebook album I looked through afterwards. My memory is handicapped by this but so is the photographer of the album. How limited was her time at the event if she was hidden behind a camera; was she focused on capturing the best shot or actually living the moment? When I think of how special it was that my friends surprised me on my birthday, I envision the still frame shots that are not even from my vantage point instead of the moving, breathing perspective I experienced.
I have been thinking on this since you posted it!
I have some thoughts.
So… I think the thing for me on this is WHY someone is making someone “a thing”. Is it out of obligation- because now it is lame or not allowed to “just ask” someone to be a bridesmaid, or to prom? Is it because they feel a need to prove their creativity, coolness, etc. on social media? Is it because they feel a sense of perfectionism, or whoever they are asking is going to be disappointed if it isn’t impressive or cooler than their friends’ ask/proposal/invite?
On the other hand:
Some of these things, I see as a really fun way to just add some magic and sparkle to things that could be mundane. Dying eggs green on St. Patrick’s Day makes an ordinary breakfast special and fun. I heart-attacked some friends’ who have little kids houses last year on Valentine’s Day- just taped up some paper hearts from the Dollar Tree on their front porches for them to find when they woke up.
I didn’t do particularly special asks for my wedding party, and most of the weddings I’ve been in they didn’t do anything particular to ask me. And that was totally fine. But one friend and her husband made us all little funny videos asking us in some way that was relevant to our friendship (in mine they were all, “Hey do you want to journal??!!!!!, and then they wrote in the journal “Will you be our bridesmaid?” and held it up to the camera :-)). I don’t think they did it because they thought they had to, I think they just had fun doing it.
My close friend Kim is the QUEEN of making something small into “a thing”, and she LOVES it. Her five year old is life threateningly allergic to so many things it is hard for them to leave the house, and so she and her husband fight super hard for joy and making memories inside their home when they can’t do them in the normal ways. They celebrate President’s Day, Valentine’s Day, first days of the seasons, birthdays to the max…. it is a way for her to enjoy motherhood and “make some magic” on hard days, and make sure that her kids remember fun and “special things” even when they can’t go out for ice cream, to the zoo, etc.
Her sister-in-law, inspired by her, wrote an awesome post about this view of “the Pinterest moms”: http://bethwoolsey.com/2014/08/about-those-pinterest-moms/
A lot of times a little bit of extra effort or five minutes of forethought can bring something from boring to feeling special, and make something just feel more fun, more happy, more exciting. If it’s stressful, then that would defeat the purpose! But if it doesn’t really make a difference in time or money or effort… why not make it just a little more memorable? For me a lot of times honestly it’s been an anti-depressant decision to throw a spring tea party (yup did that) or mail a snail mail card to someone in town (yup)- just a way to make a day more joyful, for me and hopefully someone else.
I think my personal feelings on it: the purpose of making something into “a thing”- should be for joy, and/or love (aka, if it makes the other person feel joy :-)). The goal should be to show that that person is worth your thinking beforehand, *****is worth you being intentional****. If it creates stress, grumpiness, exhaustion, resentment, then it obviously defeats the purpose. And when I find myself in that position, I should check my heart: ****Am I doing this because it will make that person feel like they are special to me, or because it will make this day feel more full of life and happier and not just like daily grind****? Or am I doing it because I want other people to notice that I rocked something or am impressive or really good at crafts/planning/forethought, or because I “have to” since everyone else does.
A good rule of thumb: would I still do this if it wasn’t going to go on social media, and nobody knew about it ?
So. There are my novel’s worth of thoughts! In summary: if making things a thing is out of joy, sense of magic and fun, and desire to make someone feel special, then I am all for them.
“…looks like I don’t know what is on my mind until I go to writing to you.” Burley Coulter in A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry
We all need a place and space to make sense of our lives and the world around us. Ideas, questions and musings sometimes trickle down and other times bombard my thoughts as I do my everyday work. During times of intentional quiet meditation, the most pressing matters float to the top of my heart and mind and either whisper or scream out to be attended to and heard. For me, the voices are quelled and a level of peace is attained when I put aside the urgent matters of the day and sit down to write.
This blog has been a place for me to reflect, begin to put words to deep feeling and experience and to be encouraged as I pursue a newfound passion. Thank you to each of you who has read, commented, challenged and encouraged me along this path. My life is certainly richer for my interactions within and without as a writer.
A part of my journey has been moving from a doing, accomplishing, often mask wearing human to a more being, contemplative, authentic person. This is a journey that I hope to travel the rest of the days of my life. One of my sons recently pointed out that with the passing of my 53rd birthday, “mom, you are now solidly in your 50’s and that is old.” To a twenty something, 53 is old. To me, I just shake my head and say, “how did I get here so quickly?” My beloved father in law lived out most of the last days of his life during his 53rd year. As a twenty something, I too thought he was “old” but wow, has my perspective changed. I wish for many more years, but we never really know.
Over the summer, I began to feel nudged to spend more of the hours of my week in pursuing this blossoming passion for writing. I picked up a few books on the topic – Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It now seems time to spend more energy doing writing than reading about it.
We have a small workshop behind our home that is full of tools, gardening supplies and seasonal paraphernalia that also includes a nice little desk area. When the realtor showed us this house, she said, “this would make a great writer’s retreat.” I have slowly begun clearing it off and making the little desk area “my space”. I think it is kind of fun and symbolic that I will be writing in this area with lots of tools hanging on the wall – after all, I am “in pursuit of a toolbox”.
Our girls have been back in school for a week, and we have gotten our youngest fairly settled into her first year of middle school. I have set and blocked off on my calendar “writing office hours” for each week. I won’t be able to pursue this passion full time since my other job of mom and chief of keeping the household together still demands much time and energy. With more support and hands on help from my husband, there is more space for me to at least pursue this part time.
I imagine that I will be working on a more comprehensive memoir type project, but I’ve learned that I never know where the writing will lead. I hope to pop into this blog to write on random topics that show up along the way, but it may be less or more frequently. We shall see.
Thank you to all of my readers who make this journey more interactive, accountable and purposeful. Wish me well as I enter a new season of life. I will do the same as you enter your own seasons and pursue your passions.
On the heels of my Best days post, this one idea from the Mothering and Daughtering book persistently whispers into my consciousness. One of the major tasks as mother or father is to mirror the soul of our children. The author, Sil Reynolds, expresses it in this way: “Mirroring your daughter [or son] is seeing her for who she is and reflecting back to her who you see, without judgment or agenda… [this] communicates, ‘I see you, and I deeply value who you are and who you are becoming’.”
I wasn’t sure I was ready to tackle this blog topic, but then a few days ago, I received a text from a dear friend that included these words: “”I’ve spent years trying to get over my sense that who I am is profoundly disappointing to my mom. What fun it is to read about a mom seeing her girls as individuals, and working to foster a deep relationship with them. Keep it up!!” This friend has a beautiful soul and it is hard for me to imagine who it is that her mother wishes that she had become.
What brand new parent holding a newborn baby does not have hopes and dreams of who this fragile miracle in their arms will grow up to be? And in the blink of an eye, this baby becomes a toddler who makes it known that they also have a will and desire of their very own, separate from that of the parent. This can be the beginning of a beautiful dance of reflection and guidance or a battle cry that can lead to civil war for years to come. It all depends upon the stance of the parent. I have participated in both.
A friend of mine who is a new grandma shared with me that the dad of her newly born grandson was frustrated with the inability to get the baby on a reasonable schedule. Much thought and energy went toward adding up the hours spent feeding, changing, and holding this little soul. At one point, he said, “the math is just not adding up.” We are all wise to learn and accept that children are not math equations but unique and individual souls from God that arrive with some traits that mesh with our own and some that will not.
Carl Jung once said, “The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parent.” I would add to this statement “or a parent’s burning desire for a repeat performance.” We don’t have to look past the local sports field to see the pain and agony caused by a parent attempting to live their own dream through one of their children. My greatest moments of heartbreak as mom have come when something that is dear to me has been rejected by one of my children.
I believe that the all too familiar adolescent cry of “you just don’t get me/understand me/understand” is a deep shout out to the parental heart to “please just see me for who I am and be delighted in who I am becoming even though, and especially when, I walk a path different from one that you, my parent, might choose”. Does this mean that we will not correct, teach, and pass along our values? No. But it does mean that we will be attuned and in tune with who our children are at their very core – their soul – and encourage them to become their truest selves.
For me, fear is almost always a part of the hurdle in the way of accepting my children just as they are at any given time. The writer of Ist John addresses fear in this way: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…” My children will walk paths and make decisions that displease or deeply concern me. The less I try to control that and the more that I can acknowledge the fear and make wide the space inside of me for love and grace, the more effectively I can be a mirror to them as they figure it all out. When the fear and attempts to control are at bay, there is much more room for joy and delight as we live life as family.