Hello lovely ones. I’m a little out of rhythm here, so a little grace is very much appreciated. I’m also trying to ponder these #SundaySpecial posts and am thinking they may serve better as an end of the month round up of the most interesting topics I find myself still circling around. I’ll keep considering, but in the mean time, here are quite a few articles about quite a few heavy topics. Dig in if you’re intrigued…
We have to teach our children (and ourselves) that caution is often a sign of courage. That often NO is as brave an answer as YES. Because the little girl who says no in the face of pressure to pierce her ears or jump off a cliff might become a bigger girl who says no in the face of pressure to bong a beer or bully a peer. Whether her answer is YES OR NO- give me a little girl who goes against the grain, who pleases her own internal voice before pleasing others. Give me that girl so I can call her BRAVE loudly and proudly in front of the whole world. Give me a girl who has the wisdom to listen to her OWN voice and the courage to SPEAK IT OUT LOUD. Even if it disappoints others. Especially then.
Reconciliation requires far more than hugs, small talk, and coffee dates. Being nice is well… nice, but it is not reconciliation. Reconciliation is what we do as we listen to hard truths from the marginalized among us. As our friends point out how troubling our words have been, how hurtful our actions have been, it’s our reaction that determines whether or not we are practicing reconciliation. Drinking in the words. Sitting in the pain. Committing to understanding. Committing to doing better. Desiring the hard truths because they lead to growth. These are the sign posts on the path of reconciliation. It’s spending time in each other’s spaces- physical space, head space, heart space. And it’s creating shared spaces where both can breathe freely.
I have always believed that any alternative to war must still address the very real problems at hand — just in a more effective way. To say that “war is not the answer” is not only a moral statement but also is a serious critique of what doesn’t work; wars often fail to solve the problems and ultimately make them worse. War has to answer to metrics, just as more peaceful alternatives do. The war in Iraq was a complete failure with enormous human and financial costs; ISIS is now one of the consequences.
Ebola spreads through contact with blood and other bodily fluids, and in Liberia, as in neighboring countries, women are usually the primary caregivers for the sick. They continue to be during the current epidemic — they stay in their homes and become infected by their children or husbands instead of seeking out doctors and nurses for their loved ones. Rarely are the roles reversed. ‘If a man is sick, the woman can easily bathe him but the man cannot do so,’ says Marpue Spear, the executive director of the Women’s NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL). ‘Traditionally, women will take care of the men as compared to them taking care of the women.’
By writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events, participants were significantly more likely to have fewer illnesses and be less affected by trauma. Participants ultimately spent less time in the hospital, enjoyed lower blood pressure and had better liver functionality than their counterparts.
So what caught your attention around the web this month? Feel free to leave a few words, links or funny photos in the comments!
I have previously written about a real phenomenon in the Pacific Northwest known as “The Seattle Freeze.” In short, there is a general consensus among non-natives that Seattleites are standoffish, cold, or distant. While this is likely a socially constructed appellation, I find that the term accurately describes my personal experience. While I have made fast friends with classmates and co-workers or fellow church congregants, I have yet to establish a community in my neighborhood populated with the kinds of friendly folk whom you might borrow a cup of sugar from in a pinch when your husband needs it to make his regionally famous America’s Test Kitchen Sugar Cookies. That is the kind of “freeze” the moniker suggests. That while you may meet people, and even develop some friendships, what is lacking is a warm and familiar friendliness that is common in other parts of the country.
Karl, for instance, is from Kansas and is used to tipping his proverbial hat at everyone he passes whether he is in a car or on the sidewalk. There isn’t a lot of hat-tipping in Seattle (likely because everyone is carrying umbrellas – just kidding – everyone knows that Seattleites don’t carry umbrellas – it’s a sure sign you’re a tourist if you pop open an umbrella). What is even more amusing, is that this town is divided into distinct neighborhoods all throughout the city. You don’t refer to where you live by street, but by neighborhood. For instance, I live in Green Lake, but my church is in Ballard and my school is in Belltown, while my office is in SoDo. Mind you, all of these neighborhoods fall within a 5-mile radius of my home. So, if ever there were a place to develop a sense of neighborhood community and friendly faces, it would be in one of the many kitschy neighborhoods of Seattle. And yet, because of the freeze, I have yet to experience this place as one where everybody knows my name.
However, I will attest to a recent experience here that I can’t say I’ve had anywhere else.
We live on a very busy arterial in my neck of the woods and backing out of our driveway is often treacherous during peak traffic hours. Thankfully, we have an alleyway. In the event we need to go somewhere around 5:00 PM, we can actually get on the road by exiting out the back. We also live very close to a large church. So, on Sundays, parking is next to impossible. Often, people have parked with their bumpers in the middle of our driveway. Or, neighbors have had a late night Saturday party and their blood alcohol volume prevented them from driving home, so they have parked in the back of our house. When we come out of our house at 11:00 AM on a Sunday to go to church, we find our car is wedged between stranger’s bumpers and crammed back alleys.
When we first moved in, we sort of shrugged our shoulders and successfully navigated our small sedan around the bumpers and badly parked cars. Now, however, with a minivan, this maneuvering becomes dangerous and virtually impossible. So, I have taken to leaving notes on the windshields of any cars coming dangerously close to boxing us in asking them to be mindful of their neighbors’ need to get in and out of their driveways and to leave enough room for us to do so.
Well, this past week, that happened and when we got home from church, there was a folded paper in our mailbox. And since the postman doesn’t work Sundays, I immediately predicted that it was a note from the owner of the poorly parked car responding to my message. I was correct. However, I could not have predicted that the response would have been counter-cultural and I was therefore pleasantly surprised to read:
I am beginning to imagine that while people may not be visiting with one another on front porches or having summertime block parties, perhaps that doesn’t mean that Seattleites are cold or distant. Maybe my neighbors are kind and considerate, but like many of us, just don’t know how to openly communicate those virtues verbally. “Emily” did a pretty good job, though – she even included some alliteration. For the win, neighbor. For the win!
As I have mentioned in recent posts, I am currently in a period of transition. Sandwiched in the middle of the good-byes to being a student for five years and the hellos to the professional life of a private practice therapist, I hover; squished between the grief of loss and the unknown of the future. Friends and family have bid me to relish this time of uncertainty for its absence of assignments and their deadlines, governing boards and their requirements. And yet, having operated at 100 mph for the last five years it is nearly impossible for me to downshift so abruptly to a 40 mph coasting speed or even to where I find myself most frequently these days, at a complete stop. So, I toil with days of no appointments, obligations, or responsibilities, wondering what to do, how to make use of my time, where to be needed and where to serve. Blessedly, the district court answered my call for duty and summoned me to be a juror.
I did not approach my civic responsibility with dread as I have often heard many citizens do when they hear they have to report for jury duty. I was actually excited to be invited to learn about a process I knew virtually nothing about. It felt meaningful to be asked to sort through contradictive material, while using discernment and analysis, in order to arrive at a decision that would have significant impact. I felt important entering the courthouse – on a mission to see justice served.
When I googled what to expect from a day of jury duty, I was warned that there would be a lot of sitting and waiting and was advised to come prepared with something to occupy my time. So, I packed lots of snacks, a water bottle, two books, my laptop, headphones and of course, my cell phone. For the first part of the day we waited in a large holding area while the courtroom was preparing for the jury selection process. My time spent there was productive. I listened to music, caught up on emails, ate, drank and was relatively merry. When we were called up to the courtroom to begin answering questions in regards to our fitness for being a responsible juror, all snacks, drinks and activities had to be put away. Additionally, we exchanged the comforts of office-type chairs with cushions for hard wooden pews that were probably a part of the original 1916 construction.
It was after sitting in those particular seats without snacks, drinks, books or anything else to keep my mind occupied where I began to curse, rather than bless the district court and their call for duty. Although the curious answers that came from 75 different jurors in response to questions like, “Do you have any memories, good or bad, in regards to encounters with law enforcement?,” were both fascinating and often amusing, my body was no longer placated by my mind’s optimism that this opportunity might be fun. My legs were restless, my bladder was full; my back was bowed and my shoulders were slumped over in what can only be the result of sitting still for half the day on a wooden pew. Growing up, I sat in long church services several times a week and learned to tolerate tedium; listening to ideas that were over my head or being bored with nothing but the back of a receipt from my mom’s wallet to doodle on. But at least the church pews I sat on had cushions.
By the end of the day, I was hurting and my body finally communicated a message that my mind needed to hear. Pain brought my previous lack of gratitude into sharp focus. I’ve been complaining about having too many empty days without direction or purpose or meaning. But were I to be chosen as a juror, I would have been in that kind of pain and discomfort daily for a month (the projected length of that trial). While I was grateful for a chance to learn how our justice system operates, the greater lesson was the call to practice gratitude for how I spend my days. This life transition phase I find myself currently in is not comfortable for me. It is unfamiliar and directionless and open-ended. Yet, I realize now, that this time is a gift that I have never had before, and imagine I won’t likely have again. For the first time in my life, I am not in school, or working full-time, or at home everyday with babies, or having to meet requirements put upon me by someone else. How in the world have I not responded to this particular time in my life with anything but gratitude?
I’m sure the reasons are myriad. But since I got excused from serving in the jury box for the month-long trial (it helps to be number 65 out of 75), I now have more than enough days to practice thanksgiving for multiple reasons – only one of which is never having to sit on a wooden pew ever, ever again.
I have been decidedly M-I-A from this blog for over a week now. It’s actually been one heck of a month, but this past week was a doozy (which is a real word believe it or not). Our oldest daughter, Faith was diagnosed with that respiratory virus that has the midwest region of the country freaked and ready to rush their kids to the hospital at the first sign of breathing troubles (which we almost did on more than one occasion this past week). Bailey, daughter #2, suffered a concussion during a soccer game over a month ago. After five days of feeling symptom-free (awakening the slight hope that she might return to the sport she loves dearly before the end of the season) she began to experience severe set backs making it impossible to attend school this past week. Krisalyn, daughter #3 (I know it’s hard to keep track of them all), was having milder symptoms of the respiratory virus as well. So other than working a couple of days this past week, the rest of my time was spent tending to the patients of our at home clinic. Oh…and I have a toddler. There’s that too.
The truth is that by the end of the week I was exhausted – both physically and emotionally SPENT. It was not pretty people. I was not a fun person to be around. If you were to ask my kids what the emotional climate was in our house come Thursday and certainly by Friday, they would tell you that the UGLY came out. That’s what we call it. The UGLY is when one of us gets snippy, short, antagonistic, upset for no apparent reason or becomes an all out angry bird. I don’t think I made it to all out angry bird level, but I was teetering for sure. The UGLY is really about not being connected to oneself and aware of what you’re needing or feeling in that moment (which can last for days upon days). It’s the bubbling over of too much unprocessed stuff. And my kids called me out on it like they always do. They are my greatest teachers.
I spent this weekend resting as I too came down with a strain of the virus. And in my rest, I tried to locate my mind, to uncover the trigger of the UGLY. At this point in my mind-full pursuit I’m keenly aware of how awful I am at coping with feeling powerless. Even more specifically, I hate feeling powerless when it comes to watching the people I love the most endure any level of pain. I began uncovering this truth about myself a few months ago actually when my sister delivered her third child. Her labor was as smooth as it could be. She arrived at the hospital after a couple of hours of consistent but mild contractions, managed the continuing contractions with an epidural and within maybe another hour or two at the most she labored her beautiful baby boy into the world. As my mom and I departed from my sister’s hospital room later that night, we both looked at each other and said, “That’s it?” After the trauma from my last birthing experience, I think we were both a bit stunned at the simplicity of it all while simultaneously feeling completely relieved. When I got into my own car to drive home, I allowed myself to grieve for a moment the question I often have looming in my soul, “Why does my own narrative always seem to gravitate toward the traumatic?” The very next thought in my head, which I took in as an answer, was this: “You have always begged me to spare those whom you love.”
It was so true. I immediately recalled the time my same sister fell out of our second story bedroom window and landed head first on the driveway when she was only five years old. She was airlifted to the hospital and spent the next few days in the ICU recovering from a skull fracture. My most vivid memory from the experience was praying that first evening as I attempted to fall asleep next to the very window she fell out of only a few short hours before. The prayer was more of a bargain, a plea, “God if you have to take someone, please take me. Don’t take my baby sister. Please God.”
Enduring a week with two sick kids and one with a mild traumatic brain injury is not the biggest nightmare imagineable. But it certainly wasn’t the best week I’ve had. Despite my efforts to feel empowered – loading our whole family up with super foods and vitamins, keeping a log of what medications and homeopathic remedies seemed helpful throughout Bailey’s daily battle of headaches, buying humidifiers and preparing countless cups of tea with honey – there was a truth I needed to make peace with. I had to make peace with my own limitations, my own humanness. Sometimes those limitations piss me off. No joke. When I bump up against them, I kind of get mad at God until I remember that I probably don’t really want superhuman powers and all the responsiblity that would actually come with omnipotence.
So today, on this mindful Monday, as I continue to make my way out of the UGLY, I am remembering that though I do not have the power to wave a magic wand over the hardships my loved ones are facing currently or will inevitably face down the road, I do have the power to make peace with my limitations. I have the power to stop reacting and to locate my mind again. I have the power to surrender to the possiblity that our limitations are actually for our good. And when I do all of that, I remember that what the people I love the most need is a mom, a sister, a wife, a friend who can be fully present to them in love.
For the past five years, I have only been responsible for dropping off the kids and picking them up from school about 10 percent of the time. One of the greatest blessings of our lives is that my husband works from home. So, all the times I was attending classes, or sleeping in from staying up doing homework until 2:00 AM because of said classes, Karl was available to get the kids ready for school and drop them off.
Now, he is the master of their morning routines. He knows exactly how they like their breakfast (Lucy likes the crust cut off her ultra-grain toast and Peter doesn’t like any liquid in his oats), what gets packed in their lunch and more importantly how it all fits in those tiny lunch bags, what time the school bell rings and what time to leave the house in order to make it there beforehand. I can humbly acknowledge this truth today because Karl is out of town and those AM duties have fallen to me. When I have to ask my 8 and 10 year old how to fit all those tupperwares in those tiny bags, I feel a certain amount of shame for being a mother who doesn’t know these things, but in the same breath I feel immense gratitude for a husband who has this corner of our world under control ninety percent of the time.
Somewhere during the ten percent of times I was in charge of the drop off, I discovered that what was important for Lucy early on was a means of transition from home to school.
Leaving the warmth and comfort and security of home when you are five years old is scary! A little one doesn’t know if they can trust that their needs will be met with kindness and consistency; if their teacher will be available to support and encourage them on any given day. So, in order to bridge the divide of preoccupation and fear, we needed to establish a leaving ritual.
From all the baby books I had read before even having children, I gleaned that routines and rituals are important for a child’s sense of safety. Doing the same thing over and over again gives children the sense that they can control their world by predicting it. While I took that advice too literally and didn’t allow enough depth and breath to our daily routines of naps and bedtimes, and wouldn’t recommend similar rigidity, I would, however resoundingly endorse the importance of rituals.
Fortunately, Lucy’s kindergarten teacher, Ms. Montes, must have also read the same parenting books as me because on the first day of class she provided us with the inspiration for a leaving ritual that has continued up until this very day. Lucy came home from school with her first K5 art and craft – a tracing of her hand cut out of construction paper with a kiss placed in its palm. I later learned that this was done after reading “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn.
The story, in brief, is that little Chester Raccoon doesn’t want to go to school. He wants to stay at home with his mom and play with his own friends, his own toys, and read his own books. Mrs. Raccoon explains to Chester that sometimes we have to do things that we don’t want to do that are strange and scary. But she goes on to tell him that she knows a very old secret that will make his time at school as warm and cozy as home. It’s called, “The Kissing Hand.” Mrs. Raccoon leaves a kiss on Chester’s palm and he closes his hand around it tight. And whenever he misses his mom or thinks of home, he opens his hand, places it on his cheek and magically feels her comfort and warmth.
After I saw Lucy’s craft, and read the story for myself, I committed to intentionally making this our leaving ritual. So, every day before Lucy lined up to go into class, I would put a kiss in her palm, she would make a fist and hold onto it really tightly. And since she is a very literal girl, she thought she might have to hold her hand around it that tightly all day long or it would blow away, so, she quickly learned to put it in her pocket in order to set her hands free for more arts and crafts. And in the event that she didn’t have pockets, she learned to trust that by pretending to put it in a pocket, she could pretend to take it out later in the day and put it to her cheek to feel as warm and cozy, as safe and secure as she does at home.
This morning, because we were running behind since I neither knew how to fit all those tupperwares into their tiny lunch bags, nor knew what time the school bell actually rang, I shuffled them off to line up for class a few minutes late and was preoccupied with getting them where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there. But even in the midst of harried rushing, Lucy wouldn’t leave without me placing a kiss in her hand.
She reminded me those rituals that we established over 5 years ago are meaningful. Those little repeated actions remind us of something…sometimes we either forget or don’t have time to acknowledge the verbal something (“Mommy loves you and is thinking of you and wants you to feel warm and comforted”), and just need the shorthand, the ritual, to give us the feeling of the thing we can’t quite remember but know we need it when we get it.