Tag Archives: joy

Joy. And how to use both faucets

A couple of months ago, my friend Misha asked me to write a guest post on J.O.Y.

So it’s been in the forefront of my mind, each day, since then.  Looking for it. Feeling it.

And since then, life has happened. Some little pleasures. Some little sadness’s. Some big delights and thrills. And some deep sorrows and heartache too. And, in between, all the beige when life is just ordinary.

I used to think that joy would pour into, or out of, me (not sure how that works) like British water taps (faucets).

ALL.  Or,  NONE.

Hot and scalding joy on the left.

Or FREEZING to the point of numbing whatever body part was unfortunate enough to be under the spout, from the negative emotions out of the tap on the right.

But in my life’s journey, joy isn’t usually that all-encompassing.  Like mixed taps in the rest of the world, I find joy usually blends in with whatever else is going on, across a whole range of my emotions.

 And although the Brits are probably right that separate taps are character building, I don’t find it particularly pleasant. And, I’d much rather my life, and its impact on others, lean towards the pleasant!

 When Misha asked me to write on joy, all sorts of examples jumped into my mind, immediately.  Most of them small, everyday delights. Much of mine felt through my senses, as though sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, are receptors of joy.  There’s a physical component, whether it’s savoring a glass of wine on a Friday afternoon on my patio, sensing the Divine as I watch the sun set in a cacophony of orange and red, making love on a lazy Saturday morning, catching sight of my kids sleeping peacefully in the twilight, or the rush of seeing my ‘sent’ folder ping with the deliverable I just completed. My senses help me realize when joy is happening.

I think joy can quickly turn from the warm glow of pleasure as you visit with a friend, to all-encompassing ecstasy, when that visit turns into laughing from so deep within, for so hard and so long, that someone ends up wetting themselves. And then you laugh even harder as your joy somehow expands even a little more (especially if it’s not you that did the wetting. That might have the opposite effect.) And finally there’s tears streaming down your cheeks and no room for much of any emotion, but blissful joy. (Of course the memory might have a touch of embarrassment too. For their sake.)

But, even when it’s a milestone JOY, like delivering your first speech as a Vice President, the emotions can be mixed. After all, we really are complicated creatures.  What if the technology failed on you?  Or your boss, or spouse, didn’t make it?  But, I venture a guess that your overarching feeling on that day, and the memories afterwards, are painted with big, wide, brush strokes of joy, with only smaller strokes of irritation or sadness.

The opposite extreme is true too.  I’ve sat with friends whose precious six-month-old has died. And with friends whose parents are gone, much, much, too soon. The sadness is almost unbearable. And the grief palpable. But, there is still a trace of joy. From sharing sweet memories. From silly pictures. From simply showing up–being together and helping to shoulder the pain.  From the shared love.

I guess what I’m saying is, there is room for joy in the mundane, to extreme pain.  Joy can be found each day. In the routine. In the grey.  Our job is to look for it. Acknowledge it.

But I also think that for both faucets to operate together, you have to allow it. No, even stronger, you have to WILL it.

For some unknown reason, which I find sad, we humans see the pain quite easily.  That faucets seems to always work well. All the time.

But, in the extreme moments of pain, I have to make a choice that the event doesn’t, and won’t, define me.  That I am more than the event of my suffering. Sometimes good days are hard to come by, and I have to look for the joy.

I am not the victim of abuse. I am not the spouse who was cheated on. I am not the mother of boy who was hit by a women who had been drinking, and forever changed the trajectory of his life. And the list could go on, of events that have happened in my past. Not one of which defines me. And honestly, none of which I carry with me.  I have chosen to turn on my joy-faucet.

The same is true in the everyday, where joy is not obvious. Where sometimes it is harder to remember to turn on the joy-faucet.  When I’m heads-down, lost in Excel-induced torture, and under the gun for a deadline, there is joy in my accomplishment and expertise.  Joy in the logic and organization of each formula I finally get right (believe me, I celebrate each one).  Or how about when it’s grey and rainy, with nothing but organizing and cleaning on the day’s agenda?  I find joy in the completed accomplishments as I check of my to-do list, but I also revel in my health and physical abilities while decimating spider-webs in those hard to reach places.  And then I celebrate the day is done with a glass of robust, red, wine. That tickles my tongue.

Happiness and joy are not inherently found in my job. No corporation or boss is going to give me joy. Even if it’s the company I founded.  Joy is found, or rather, made, by who I am. By my passions.  This  has been a new revelation for me. I thought this year of travel and experiences we’ve just completed would translate into THE job.  The dream job. The one that would help to change the world.

It hasn’t.

And I’ve had to re-evaluate why I work, and how to find joy in what I do. Because I’m not doing my dream job (and one day, hopefully soon, when I am that fortunate, it won’t bring me joy either). So, I look for joy in things that bring me fulfillment–like the joy I give others when I fix what was driving them crazy. When I create process where there was chaos. I find joy in the skills that I use. In the quality of my work. In the expertise I share. And of course, in seeing the paycheck hit my account.

Many of us intuitively look for, and experience, joy. For others, it is a learned experience. I think joy can be a favorite viewpoint, a way of life, a habit that becomes a discipline.

Because you know what, joy builds a foundation for me to be strong. For me to have hope. For me to dream big. For me to love well.

Here are some steps I follow, to awaken my life, and turn my joy-faucet on full-force:

  1. Know myself. Stick to it. Don’t let someone else’s behavior (or poor choice) make me feel inept or get lost in self-doubt.
  2. Make a conscious choice about what matters to me, things or experiences, without apologizing for it. And then spend my time and money there. And find others with the same values.
  3. Be honest. Life is hard. It’s not all rainbows. Admit how I’m feeling. Both positive and negative. Don’t live in denial. Personal and professional transformation happens when I look inside and ask the hard questions and face up to what I’m feeling.
  4. Be a friend. To myself. To my  Dreamboat. To my friends. Not just when there’s drama. When things are ‘normal’/beige/boring.  Have a conversation with someone who really knows me, when there is NOTHING to      catch up on. That’s when I get to the good stuff. When we have to share from the heart. Or sit in silence. Either way.  Be. Together.  Just show up.
  5. Be brave. Trust my heart. Change the atmosphere around me by stepping out. Bravery is contagious.
  6. Be vulnerable. (Read anything by Brene Brown on joy and vulnerability.)

So I challenge myself, and each of you, to turn on the joy-faucet and make it a habit, to infuse our lives’ paintings with joy. And therefore not make others’ interactions with us, an opportunity to build their character :-)

BE joyful!

 

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Filed under July 2014

I’m fine. Really.

For the last few weeks, my Peanut has been gagging with each bite.  For a week straight, he’s thrown up every, single, meal.

He’s almost five, so it is pretty gross (as compared to the sweet little spit up of newborns that actually smells kind-of-nice), but it’s quite an improvement from the screaming. Bloody. MURDER. That he was doing while we stayed with my parents over Christmas. For weeks on end. (Doesn’t that make you want to invite us over?!)

And, Dreamboat and I are getting pretty good at catching the vomit. So the cleanup is really minimal.

So, I left Dreamboat to pick up the older kiddo’s, and took the little guy to Whole Foods between a myriad of other “to-do’s” on my list. (I’m totally being honest here.  This day didn’t include a single guilty pleasure. Really. Not even a Starbucks stop. Or walking through Z Gallerie to be amazed by all the shiny, sparkly things.  Or browsing Target aisles to get some quiet. Just C.H.O.R.E.S.)

After a whole two minutes of being patient while Peanut drove the shopping cart into elaborate displays (no doubt also very expensive displays, as this was Whole Foods, or as some friends call it, “Whole Paycheck”), I forcefully stuck Peanut in the seat of the cart. For a moment I was grateful that he is small enough, barely, to fit there. Even if I have to make it work by bending his ankles in directions that look wholly unnatural. (He’s never mentioned it hurting. The fact that he doesn’t speak is irrelevant).  And we headed inside with my list of dairy-free, high calorie, foods, that he can eat to gain weight. Hopefully. And not throw up on me. Or the new carpet.

We found some Hemp Milk. And some more Z Bars. And pieces of dates small enough that he can chew. And, I let him sample every single thing he pointed at, without paying for them first. Which I NEVER would let my other kids do. Ever. (Don’t judge. He’s my third child. And they’ve worn me down.)

And, I got distracted, (but there’s no need to mention it was inevitable) and started salivating over the fresh salad bars (which were NOT on my list as I’ve not received a paycheck in over 18 months). Yep, four rows of organic, local, fresh, salad bars.

I started filling the cart.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a mama, just like me, with her daughter.

She was patient. She was encouraging. She was supportive. I could tell she was fierce. A warrior. In her own world.

I heard her speaking kind words to her daughter. For MORE than two minutes even.

But, she wasn’t making eye contact with the other shoppers.

And, without thinking, I spoke to her, “We had a walker just like that!”

Peanut walker

I had to say it twice.

Eventually, my words broke through her protective bubble. And she sort-of-smiled, unbelieving, up at me, “really?”

She asked, and waited, while her daughter, Grace, introduced herself. (I had to wait for the Mama to translate her daughter’s sweet, but mostly incoherent, sounds.)

She was beautiful.

And a year older than my Peanut. Helping her Mama pick out a nutritious salad. They asked about him, and I answered. Giving them his name and age. While he smiled.

And said nothing.

But, the Mama nodded. Understanding. Accepting.

Grace turned in her walker and looked at me. I congratulated her on being such a great helper.

She beamed. And waved goodbye, shaking her arm emphatically.

And Peanut and I moved on to the next aisle to continue our search for high-calorie, non-dairy, foods.

But then my eyes started leaking. Badly. And, I had to wait it out in the refrigerated section.  And I folded my body forward protectively, over Peanut, and let the tears fall. For a long time, unable to hide that there is a place deep inside. That is broken. Still.

Trying to pull myself together was like trying to sew up a seam that’s been ripped open. When the garment is two sizes too small. (FYI – That’s never happened to me.)

And, like Grace’s Mama avoided eye contact with me, I’m afraid I gave the same treatment to the cashier. Which of course fooled him into thinking I was fine.

I’m sorry I didn’t get Grace’s Mama’s name.

I’m sorry I didn’t give her mine.  It would have been good for me, and hopefully for her, to have a friend in the area. Someone who understands being a special needs family.

But the pain took me by surprise and overwhelmed me.

I guess there’s part of me that isn’t fine.

Just like all those other blogs, where women are grateful, and happy even, for their little ones, regardless of whether they can’t yet call their names.

I guess I’m still hurting. Or hurting again. Either way, it’s the same thing….

Having this little one, my child, is a gift.

But it’s a gift that hurts.

I can’t protect him.

And, he can’t protect me.

But, we can be vulnerable together, which brings great joy. And we can be grateful, for the beauty that fills our lives. Grateful for the amazing memories we share, and the love we infuse into each other’s lives.

You may not have seen the news last week about a car crashing into a daycare in Florida on Wednesday. But I can’t speak about it yet.

I watched the short news clip, taken from a helicopter circling above and was immediately reliving the overwhelming panic of that day, four years ago, when a car drove through Peanut’s daycare, forever changing our lives into ‘before’ and ‘after’ that day. And it somehow triggered the sorrow of each day since.

My heart is broken for the family of the little girl who died. For several of the twelve injured children who are still in critical care. For the day-care worker, suffering with pain, sorrow, and irrational guilt, for being unable to protect her sweet charges.

I can identify with what they are facing.  I can glimpse what they may continue to face for their lifetimes. After the hospitalizations are, hopefully, behind them. After the external healing has long since taken place, and their bodies are well. But the post-traumatic stress from overwhelming, prolonged fear, made worse by the news helicopters hovering above their heads.  And the daily therapies. And the walkers and communication devices. And developmental delays. That are here to stay.

I can say to these families that life will be hard. Brutal even.

But, life together will also be precious.

Each hug, each milestone accomplished will be celebrated that much more for all the months and years of work required to achieve it.

And as last Sunday was Easter, I’ve been thinking about Jesus. (Did you know that only 18% of the people in our world don’t believe in God? Most of the world’s religions do believe in God, and believe Jesus was either God or a Prophet.)

I’ve been thinking about how he gave up his life to carry love.

And that on Easter Sunday, if it was me (we can all thank God it wasn’t), I would have come back to KICK. Some. Ass.

He didn’t. He came back to love. Again.

So I can carry my heart, filled with pain and love, and ask God to rain down on me, please, to try and grow the love part.

And I read this morning that “The broken places heal first.” So, there’s that. And I’m holding to it.

 

Look Mom, no hands!

Look Mom, no hands!

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Filed under March 2013

Not so gracefully

Dreamboat says I’ve a tendency to be a martyr.

I’m not saying he’s right. (But, he may be right.)

I need to give a disclaimer here that this post is going to be shallow. Maybe even vapid. There’s no excuse. But, I took a vow of honesty, so here goes a spotlight into that part of my personality.

Getting older sucks.

I’ve watched my grandparents this week. (We’re gearing up for Grandpa’s 90th birthday party this weekend!) The amazing and beautiful legacy they have created will last for many, many, many, many generations to come. But, still, they’re old. And they know it. And it’s hard.

Peanut getting kisses from Gigi (his great-grandma).

Because people treat them differently.

People don’t automatically see the nearly 70 years they’ve been dedicated to each other. Or the businesses they’ve created. Or the children they’ve reared (and the hundreds of thousands of lives changed by those offspring and their spouses). Or the grandchildren who are continuing with their lives’ work, to impact those less fortunate. Or their brilliance. Or their kindness. Or their wisdom. Or even their inner-teenager-troublemaker-at-a-moment’s-notice.

People see them as old.

Grandma Janice, Grandpa Charlie, and me.

 

And I’m getting old. (See how I made this is about me?)

Before 40, I didn’t have a single grey hair. In the teeny bit of time since then, I’m stunned by the number of non-blond hairs (ok. Some should be DARK blond too. That’s all I’m admitting here.)  And the lines on my face. And that the skin on my neck is sagging. And that when I caught sight of my reflection in one of the very few full-length mirrors we’ve had during our travels, I thought I saw an old woman!

I have to tell you how much I looked forward to turning 40. I truly did. I felt like finally, I had achieved the proper age number to support my experience. That I would not be disqualified for executive roles for being too young. That my age was a badge of honor and long-awaited entrance to the ‘inner circle of the wise’.

That lasted 5 minutes. (Or two years, if you’re being literal.)

But as the international portion of our year of travel started to wind down, and I started to think about going back to work, the more I became aware of the downsides of getting older.

I’m no longer the ‘young hire’ with the fresh, new ideas. I’m no longer the cheap hire. I’m no longer at a place where I want, or am able, to try new things ‘just because’.

And that’s just the work-related issues.

It doesn’t matter that I feel (and sometimes act) twenty-two-years-old. I’ve just turned forty-three. And it’s caused me to take stock of where I am in life. To evaluate my contribution.

And I’ve come up lacking.

I understand why many of those I know are divorcing. Moving. Buying mansions and sports cars. Writing books (which I totally want to do).

I am getting a first-hand-look at the motivators behind a mid-life-crisis. I get it. I feel it.

I want my life to count. I want meaning and fulfillment in, and from, my relationships. I want my internal beauty to make an indelible impact. For me, it’s for those less fortunate, for the downtrodden. And I feel like I’ve not made a dent. There’s so. Much. More. To. Be. Done.

And, of course I’m being honest here, so I have to admit I want my external beauty to last, too.  I want the men who ogle to stop getting older (well, sort-of. At least stay in the thirty to fifty year-old-range. I draw the line when they’re young enough to be my offspring. Ewww.) But, why is it my eyelashes need to thin and break? (Who are the nasty little elves that yank them off my sleeping lids each night and give them to my Littles??) Are the sun spots really necessary? Does the skin under my arms have to loosen up and swing back and forth when I wave? Do the pores on my nose really need to be big enough to welcome the family dog into their crevices?

I feel like I could write the book “What to Expect When You’re Aging,” except no-one would buy it. No-one wants to know what the downhill slide really looks like. I don’t.

Getting older, and doing it gracefully, is hard.

By the way, what does “age gracefully” really mean? Every time Dreamboat objects to a (costly) spa treatment I would like, he says that to me. Does it mean, hush up, don’t mention what’s going on, and pretend not to notice? Does it mean stand proud and smile through the lines? Does it mean fall on every Botox-filled needed you can find?  Does it mean cover up the damage as best you can with lotions, spackling (some might call it make-up), push-up bras, and long sleeves?

I’ve no idea what ‘gracefully’ looks like for me, as I age.  So far, every day has a different answer. But, I see the ageism in our society. I watch people interact with my grandparents. I see HR folks’ reaction to my resume.

But, I am going to identify with my inner twenty-two-year-old, who convinces me, on a daily basis, to work at being healthy, inside and out. And I’m going to throw ‘mature’ caution to the wind. I will continue to dream. To achieve. To try new things. To look for learning and wisdom. To nurture existing, and build new, meaningful relationships. To (hopefully) one day, adopt more children. To try new bleaching solutions for my grey hair.

So, whether Dreamboat is right or wrong about me being a martyr, I don’t know (or won’t admit). But, in regards to getting older, I will not lie down and take it (unless it’s under an aesthetician’s lamp).

I will not be a martyr.

I want to change the world. Enlarged pores and all.

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Filed under August 2013

Today’s choice

I am moved to tears. Daily. By a blog. (Well, I was. BWIHIA – Back When I Had [regular] Internet Access.)

And Dreamboat finally asked me to stop reading it before I come to bed.

The family behind the blog continues to experience heartache that can be overwhelming, and I deeply identify with some of their circumstances. But, do you know what is emerging from their pain? Beauty. Because they, the writer of Chasing Rainbows and her family, choose to learn from every circumstance. Because they choose to overcome. To not just continue living. But, to thrive. To practice gratitude for the good things in their life.

I want to be like that. I want to focus on the silver lining. The joy that exists alongside the darkness and the despair.

I firmly believe that joy comes through gratitude. 

Just let that sink in…Without actively cultivating, or practicing, being thankful, we don’t have joy.

As a mom, it drives me crazy when my kids ask for something the second after they’ve just received a treat.  Can’t they be grateful for a little while?  Gratitude doesn’t seem to come naturally to them.

But, unfortunately, that sounds just like me. Maybe they got my ‘wanting’ genes.

Or, maybe it’s human nature.

I (and possibly, you) want and want and want something, like a house or a job (which is something I really-need-to-find-right-about-now-when-our-bank-account-has-been-depleted-from-this-year-of-travel), and the minute I achieve it, I start wanting something else. The minute I finally get the shoes I’ve lusted after, there’s another pair I must have. That’s true for me, even with groceries. Especially the fresh, organic kind.  I constantly have to remind myself to be grateful. To say thank you. To Dreamboat. To the kids. To friends. To colleagues.

And, of course, the more I speak out my gratitude, the more I become aware of how blessed I truly am. Which then, makes me grateful.  See the beautiful cycle?

We have a family rule, which I love. Before the kids can ask for something, they have to first thank us for three things. Isn’t that awesome? Even though I know they’re saying ‘thank you’ to get something else, it still has the desired effect of making them grateful, and reminding them of how much I do for them, and it makes me happy too. It’s a win-win.

“When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.” Think about it. (Quote from Dr. Brene Brown).

We get to choose our attitude. We can choose to live and be content in our circumstances. To open up to others and allow them to get close to us. To be vulnerable. To be present and find the gifts in our lives right now. To find joy.

I know this may sound trite to some of you who are hurting. Suffering. Grieving the loss of someone, or something. But we all face pain. Life can be hard (I would actually say, “Life IS hard”).

Just this week, two hours after finally arriving at our destination in Colorado, joyfully reunited with our two older kids, we sat down to eat with family. For what should have been a raucous reconnection.

But. Instead. Peanut reached out to poke/pet (interpretation dependent on whether you were the toddler or the dog) the family dog. And it bit him. In the face. One tooth went into the outer corner of his left eye. Five additional bite marks were so covered in blood, it was difficult to see how badly his face was hurt.

My darling Dreamboat, concerned about the blood dripping all over my shirt, was trying to stop the flow of blood down Peanut’s face. (Good thing Dreamboat wasn’t aware of how much I spent on that shirt, or he might still be standing in the kitchen, mopping up blood from Peanut’s face.) Within minutes, we decided to bundle him back into the car that we had just gratefully exited (after ten days of driving). We waved a hasty goodbye to the older Littles, and drove an hour to the nearest emergency room.

During the five-hour-visit, Peanut was treated, his eye examined, antibiotics administered, and one bite-mark was stitched up.

Dreamboat and I came crashing down from the adrenaline rush, me with uncontrollable shakes and he with an overwhelming desire to sleep; and had to explain, repeatedly, again (as we have to do as least once a day), that yes, Peanut is four years old, but he doesn’t speak. At three-and-a-half-months-old, he was hit by a car that drove through the wall of his daycare. And since then, he is developmentally delayed. That this dog bite doesn’t even register in Peanut’s Top Five Medical Emergencies. We interpreted his signs, answered their medical questions, and their curiosity, as they treated our frightened, hurting, little boy.

We finally left the hospital, drove an hour back up the mountain, and climbed in to bed just before 3:00am. To wake the next morning and learn, that the dog had been put down.

This sweet dog was well-loved. By all three of our children. By its family. By me.

Just recently it saved the lives of two family members from a pack of coyotes when they were lost, trapped, overnight. It had defended their car from thieves. Their house from intruders and bears (yes, this is Colorado, wild bears get hungry and daring, especially in the spring). But, it had started biting non-thieves, and children that frightened it (Peanut was the second child to be bitten, and its owners were deeply concerned about potential, future, episodes).

That night, through our tears, we raised our glasses and made a toast to the sweet, life-saving, Peanut-biting, dog.

You see, life IS hard.

We all have heartache. Sometimes it is fleeting. Sometimes in comes in the form of a little boy, and stays with me, for each day I am lucky enough to spend with him.

But, there is beauty, and deep joy in life as well. I am grateful to be reunited with my older kiddo’s. And that my Peanut’s eye is going to be fine. And that his little face is healing nicely. And I am grateful for each day I am lucky enough to spend with him.

I am grateful for the beauty and tranquility of these magnificent mountains, restoring my soul.

I am deeply grateful for friends with whom I can be vulnerable with my pain and fears, who bring me great joy.

Today, I am choosing joy. Tomorrow, I hope to choose joy as well.

Will you join me?

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Filed under August 2013

The root of all evil

For those of you that need a purpose for a post, you may want to skip this one.

I don’t have any answers. Just musings and thoughts.

About money.

Money is not a topic of polite conversation. One I shouldn’t broach. But it has been bubbling beneath the surface frequently over the last few months. And I’ve been listening, paying attention (which is not always the case with me). Having spent time in West Africa, then Paris, then Peru, I feel like I have some sort of ‘Cost-Of-Living Whiplash’.

Walking down the Champs-Elysées while we were in Paris, I was struck by the volumes of wealth, and the stark contrast to the trash-littered, dirt streets of Conakry. Both cities are home to two million people, give or take a few. The differences, resulting from money, are staggering, and affect every facet of their lives.

Unlike Mother Teresa, I’m no saint. (As if there was EVER any question.)

Unlike her, I’ve not taken a vow of poverty. I’ve got absolutely nothing against having and spending money. Lots of money. As I said in, “The important things in life“, I love pretty things. The more sparkly, the better.  Who I am inside, who I was made to be, feels refreshed and deeply pleased, and a little giddy, when I am surrounded by beauty. My soul is fed. I’m also deeply motivated by helping others be successful – to make money. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling.

But, likewise, I have nothing against having no money. Living without. Barely making ends meet. Knowing hunger. Suffering.

None of those scenarios have to do with a person’s value.

However, there were many times in my life I got that confused, and wasn’t comfortable letting people know how ‘poor’ I really was. The same goes for being known as ‘wealthy’. And I’m going to resist the urge to explain how rich or poor I was, although I’m dying to. Because, as I just said, it doesn’t matter.

And money being unrelated to our value is a really important lesson to internalize.

And it’s easy to judge people living in filth to have less value. Or at least, less intelligence. But, as the (brilliant) husband of my dear friend Susan pointed out, “Cleanliness is a luxury for those not focused on survival”.

It’s nothing to do with intelligence. Or value.

I have no greater value than the Mama I watched, as she put her little kiddo’s ‘to bed’ on a piece of cardboard on the side of the city street. (It’s been 7 months, but it still hurts to remember her.)

I know that we all, myself included, long for money to pay the bills and live in a manner we choose. And while money protects us from certain pains, it doesn’t protect us from others. It can’t buy time. It can’t mend a broken heart. Can’t remove hate, fear, or doubt. But, it can add vast complexities, fears, responsibilities, guilt, and a deep distrust of others. Especially after one more person asks for a donation. Or there’s an Op Ed about you, again, that’s not true. Or another family member asks for a favor and somehow ends up the twenty-ninth person on your taxes. (No exaggeration. I’ve a friend with that many family members on her taxes.) Or, a ‘friend’ drops your name at every opportunity, and has not ever even offered to pick up the tab when you go out together.

From what I’ve seen in the places we’ve stayed this year, money is no indicator of personal success.

And, money is no predictor of happiness.

And, success is NOT dependent on money.

The people of Conakry, with all their poverty (not the guy with a suitcase of cash and his own money handler/counter), have volumes to teach about true success.

And having spent this week in the jungles of the Amazon, I saw stark, raw, poverty, at every turn of the river.

And, joy.

These kids lived in a one room shack on stilts, but sill aroused envy from my 10 and 7 year olds. They have dream pets (a baby caiman and a sloth)! And not a single toy.

As my friend Dan said last week, after a run through Conakry, “Imagine you live in a country where it starts raining in May and doesn’t really stop until September. Your job is outside. You cook outside. You live outside. But, because of flooding, raw sewage and garbage flow through the streets. In most cities, a disaster would be declared and huge amounts of resources would be used to bring relief. But for West Africa, this is just life. As I was running, I saw people huddled under any shelter they could find. Chatting, and SMILING, even LAUGHING!

…Take a moment to realize that circumstances always change. They are like the wind. But our attitude can stay the same no matter what. I will always know that I really needed Africa and its lessons of contentment, more than they ever needed me and my medical training.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Isn’t that that true?

Hasn’t Dan grasped the meaning of true wealth?

I’m guessing he has true success – that he wakes up in the morning with his soul at peace. Just like the people he saw laughing in the midst of the sewage and the rain. Just like the countless people I saw along, what I perceived as the ‘filthy waters’ of the Amazon River, swimming and washing and bathing and laughing.

I think money is a fantastic tool, that when used wisely, can have a huge impact. For good. Even GREAT things. I also think that having lots of money comes with an equivalent amount of responsibility, to use it wisely.

I do believe that whoever loves money never has enough. And will never find the success Dan has.

I also believe that having huge amounts of skill and talent, come with the same responsibility to be used wisely. And this is where most of us aren’t as successful. We forget, or get lazy, or don’t put the same careful planning, into spending our talents. We ignore our obligation to use them wisely.

Even though most of us long to be part of something bigger, to use our skill to make an impact in the world, it’s usually easier to let life keep flowing forward, like the current of the Amazon River, with us floating on the surface. I know it would be easier for me. I have to work willfully, which is a nice way to say work really HARD, at directing my giftings in a way that both honors me and helps make our world a much more beautiful place.

When I find that balance, and use my skill and my money to be true to who I am, while making an impact in the lives of others, I have a sense of overwhelming satisfaction. And balance. It’s the same feeling as running, in the early morning, when the adrenaline finally kicks in, and the sun pokes through the Seattle clouds and shines right on me, warming my whole being.

So I have to disagree.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. It doesn’t have any value of its own.

It isn’t the path to success or happiness.

It doesn’t bring joy.

Yes, it can shield us from the hardships of poverty—it can ensure pristine cleanliness. And yes, it can be used as a tool to accomplish mighty things.

But, necessary to any great impact that money can have…

—Is the use of a compassionate heart, a good mind, and wise use of our skills.

———————————————————–

I’ve seen the bottom

And I’ve been on top

But mostly I’ve lived in between

And where do you go

When you get to the end of your dream?

~Jeff Munroe

 

And, don’t ever forget, someone else being rich, doesn’t make you poor!

24 Comments

Filed under June 2013

Four

Eight months into this magical year of travel, and I can breathe a sigh of relief and say unequivocally that it has already been filled with growth and learning for each one of the five of us.  Even, and maybe especially, for Peanut.

You can read some of his story here

We have proven his therapist’s fears were unfounded. HUGE gratitude fear didn’t win this one.

Many milestones have been joyfully celebrated along the way. Some were small (increased coordination and stability in his walking).  Some were big (flying calmly, without frightened screaming for the first hour). And some have been HUGE (calling me “mama”)!  I am so proud of the effort and hard work he expends daily, to challenge himself.

Loving his core work at the fair today!

This little man brings me immense joy. I’m so grateful that he’s tickled to cover my face with kisses, and wrap his arms around my neck for some heart-melting cuddles. Each day with him is truly a gift. (I was going to say each moment, but only in a big-picture kind of way would that be true. There are moments, especially when he’s screeching, frustrated by his inability to communicate something, for which I’m not as thankful).

But, there’s one milestone that I knew we’d face during our travels, which I’ve been anticipating and dreading. In equal parts.

It happened today.

My Peanut turned FOUR.

Angry Bird birthday breakfast

He’s no longer a toddler.

And, once again, but in a different and deeper way, I know the pain of loss. He’s not just “on his own schedule”.

Being ‘four’ makes his delays more glaringly apparent. More is expected of him, even by me. And, less allowances are made for him. And, it’s harder to watch a one-year-old begin to learn the things he cannot do. Hopefully, cannot yet do.

Today requires more ‘letting go’. Again. And it’s hard.

Dreamboat and I are realizing that sweet Peanut is going to get more challenging, and sometimes downright difficult, to take out in public, as his frustration levels increase. Last night’s dinner, supposed to be a real treat at a French bistro we found here in Lima, turned into frustration and gritted teeth, while Dreamboat and I took turns walking Peanut outside. We think he was overly hungry. Or maybe didn’t want to sit in a high chair. Or perhaps wanted sushi (I’m only partially kidding. He loves to eat sushi. But other than for sweet things, he’s never shown a preference before). And, he couldn’t tell us.

The good news, and what I’m counting on, is that the increased frustration means that Peanut will work harder on his communication. That he’ll learn to speak.

I don’t have all, or even many, of the answers for where this path will take us. And I’ve no idea what life will bring to the table in the future. But I do know that along the way, like today, I have to let go of my dreams. And grieve. And then let Peanut guide. And remind myself that in these four years together, our lives are already more beautiful than the plans and dreams that I had for us.

Sharing an oreo shake with Daddy. A perfect end to a perfect day.

30 Comments

Filed under May 2013

Poop, Plumbing, and Picchu

The past three weeks have been challenging. Difficult even…filled with illness. Lots of change, adjustment, and unknowns. An acquaintance reeling from the loss of her sweet son. Deep, heart-longing for friends. Facing, explaining, and answering my Littles’ questions about the suffering across our world this week. An overabundance of poop –literally. A hair-coloring experience that went comically wrong by not only darkening my roots, but also two inches of skin around my hairline and all the fingers on my left hand. Permanently. (The upside being it reinforced that I am my mother’s daughter. Once, her hair turned purple. Another time it was pink. Yet another, it disintegrated when touched. And those are just a few of the episodes I personally witnessed.) And then there’s the ongoing emotional roller-coaster of traveling, and homeschooling our three kids.

But, we’re five days into the apartment where we’re staying for two months, which means we’re unpacked. Finally. And I go to sleep and wake up, every day, to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore below. And I feel my soul being fed. And feel strong enough to speak the truth, AND see the humor, in the last couple of weeks. And, I got a massage today (that right there is enough to return my optimism to overflowing).

Massage bliss. And, there was music to keep Peanut entertained too.

Last night, as we walked home with our groceries, G-man, who is seven, started us all recounting the many places we’ve stayed so far, during this year’s adventure. It was so varied. And hilarious. Places like;

“The apartment in Malaga where we spent New Year’s Eve, but our clocks were off by an hour and we missed it.”

“The hotel room where the ants took over.”

“The Dar in Fez that came with a cook who made fresh smoothies every morning, and we would guess if it was fruit (yum) or veggies (yuck), by the colors.”

“The airport hotel where they wouldn’t let us stay in one room and we had to upgrade to a fancy suite.”

“The hostel where Miss O threw up all over.”

“The overnight train from Madrid to Paris, where the boys shared a berth and the girls shared a berth. And no-one slept.”

As we went through every country, and all the places we slept (or didn’t sleep, depending), my heart filled with gratitude and awe at the last six-and-a-half months! I am living my dream. Dreamboat is living his dream.

We’re actually doing it. Together.

And introducing our kids to the world. Expanding their world-view, empathy, flexibility, and countless other great traits.

And taking a much-needed break from the often overwhelming routine of three-year-old Peanut’s care and therapies.

I am acutely aware of how fortunate, how very blessed we are, especially in light of the heartache and suffering in Boston, Afghanistan, Texas, and Bangalore this week. But, there are no rose-colored glasses allowed when traveling. With three little kids. For a year. So, here’s what the last few weeks have really looked like.

When we landed in Lima, after a couple of long flights where all three children insisted they weren’t tired, it was just after midnight. The pre-arranged, pre-paid taxi wasn’t there. All three children fell asleep and/or cried over the next half hour while we, and all our luggage, lumbered, exhausted, around the airport until we found wi-fi, looked up our new address, obtained local currency, and negotiated a new taxi and fare. And loaded all ten pieces of luggage into the van for the last leg of the night.

Our first ten days in Lima were booked in a small apartment. Which didn’t have sheets for all the beds. That was not a joyous middle-of-the-night arrival. It smelled strongly of mold. And within an hour of waking a short while later, to the double cacophony of pigeon calls echoing around the bathroom walls from the open window, and a piercing car alarm going off right outside our bedroom, we had plugged up TWO bathrooms. This was our introduction to the cultural norm that plumbing here is not made to accommodate toilet paper. (That lesson stuck – pun intended. Even with the kids.)

I have to mention that in the five weeks we’ve now been here, it hasn’t rained. Not once. So, we started out spending our time glorying in the outdoors. That first week we even surfed a couple of times. Yep, you can just call me ‘Surfer Girl’ now. Until one night, we played in the park after dinner, and I was ‘IT’ for a game of tag with the two older kids. Not wanting to be outdone by my kids, I chased them around every palm and bench, AND jumped over flower beds. As I triumphantly caught them, telling myself how young and fit I must look to passersby, I felt an old, unfortunately very familiar, searing pain. I had wrenched my lower back and inflamed two bulging disks. By the following day my back was in excruciating spasms and I was bedridden.

Dreamboat and the kids managed groceries and meals on their own for a few days. And then, things took a definite, downward turn. I was still bed-ridden. And bored. Very bored. (And maybe beginning to feel sorry for myself). Our lease was up on the moldy flat, and someone else was moving in eminently. FOUR other apartments fell through THE morning we had to move out. Dreamboat, who really, really, does not like to pack, packed up all ten pieces of luggage, and some bags of groceries, and moved us all to a hotel. Of course I tried to be helpful by providing suggestions from my bed. You’ll have to ask him whether or not the input was indeed helpful and how pleased he was, or wasn’t, with my efforts. I got a little suspicious as to his state of mind, when I looked up from popping muscle relaxants and trying to hold back the pain-induced tears during the short taxi ride, to notice it was me, all the kids, and nine pieces of luggage. Dreamboat had graciously hopped in a second taxi, with the one bag that wouldn’t fit.

Upon arrival at the hotel, a very sweet porter, seeing my obvious discomfort (isn’t that was doctors always call pain?), practically lifted me from the car and carried me to the elevator. I was so grateful, I think I tipped him in Euro’s, Soles, and Dollars (the next day, after I was lucid enough to find my purse).

In the ten days since then, there have been three additional moves (one where we’re still fighting to get our deposit back after a shower door shattered on Miss O), and a trip (with only one piece of luggage), that included taxi’s, buses, trains, planes, and hiking, to Machu Picchu. And we’ll just say that the hostel we stayed at in Cusco (the starting point to visit Machu Picchu), didn’t have any ‘stars’ anywhere near its name. And that the stains of Peanut throwing up all over the floor just blended with the previous marks. Those of you who know me, will be shocked by the very fact that I stayed in a hostel, as my idea of roughing it is a five-star hotel with only a shower. All five of us got various illnesses there. Whatever bugs we caught, mixed with 11,200ft of elevation, didn’t bode well for this family, or for the small supply of toilet paper, and towels, that came with the room.

The morning of our Machu Picchu trip, Dreamboat woke me as planned at 5:30am. But, he greeted me with the unplanned,

“I can’t do it. There’s no way I can make it.”

Miss O was also unable to get out of bed (or get far from the bathroom).

The doctor we called to come write our permission slips, required by the train company to reschedule, found a heart murmur on Dreamboat.

A HEART murmur.

Although we debated whether the arrhythmia was a scam, we took the doctor’s offered car ride (Yes. You read that correctly. The Dr. was also our taxi service, for a small, additional fee). He took us to a local hospital where he arranged to have a cardiologist ready and waiting to give Dreamboat an echocardiogram.

The efficiency and affordability of quality medical care was pleasantly surprising. In just over an hour we had paid a relatively small sum of US Dollars in cash, for exams from both of the doctors, the prescriptions, formal medical board notes excusing us from travel, and a copy of the reassuring EKG.

The next morning, all of us were well enough to go. (The other four had no choice really. We WERE going to make it to Machu Picchu. It’s been my dream for a long, long time.)

It was magical.

The train and bus rides through the valleys were relaxing, fun, and provided first-row seats to the breathtaking views. Machu Picchu itself was surreal. The preservation of its history is incomparable. The engineering is astounding. The reality of it slowly sunk in over the following days.

Miss O was so amazed by the lack of safety measures, that she kept asking if they ever allowed rentals of the historic site, for birthday climbing parties.

For the first time ever, Peanut tried to climb a rock. He couldn’t. But it was so precious to see him trying, wanting to be like his older siblings. And thank goodness he wasn’t able to, as neither Dreamboat nor I needed one more reason to have a heart attack as we watched the two older kids run and jump with only inches between a safe landing, and a fall of thousands of feet.

We flew back to Lima the following day, with our hearts, and camera card, full to overflowing. The visit has been wonderful content for a home-schooling unit on history, geography, culture and art!

And now, we’ve rejoined our luggage at a lovely eighth floor apartment, overlooking the sea. My back is strong enough that I’ve resumed some workouts, modified to be no-impact, of course. But I feel more balanced, just putting some focus and effort back on my health. We’ve unpacked, filled the kitchen with fresh groceries, overloaded the drains (but not the toilets) with sand from a trip to the beach, and are working our way through lists of more things to see and do.

And, come to find out, while I was out of commission, Dreamboat had started looking for a job again. To perhaps put an early end to this year of adventure. But, he isn’t anymore. Whew.

 

17 Comments

Filed under April 2013