Tag Archives: mother

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

Fierce and Clueless – My Messy Beautiful

I’m fierce.

I know that. Maybe not Beyoncé’s “Sasha Fierce”. But, fierce nonetheless. That’s who I am inside. I feel like my world is big. BIG. I feel like the impact I’m called to have on the world is big. BIG. I feel summoned.

But to WHAT????

The doors just keep closing. I’ve read all those helpful sayings, or not so helpful in my case, about rejection simply being a way to push us in a new and better direction. Or that when a door closes, a window opens. I’m looking. I’m watching. Believe me, I am. But, no apparent window or new direction has surfaced. Yet. Just more rejections. And ‘thanks, but no thanks’ emails. And phone calls saying they’re sure I’ll do great wherever else I land.

The temptation is to lower my ideals, reduce my dreams, so there’s less gap between them and my reality.

This isn’t where I thought I’d be. After getting rid of all our ‘stuff’, quitting our jobs, and taking just over a year to travel and volunteer, I thought we’d land somehow different. Better. I thought this year of intentional discovery and challenge and growth would be like a magic-carpet-ride. Transporting us to a magical place in our lives.

And for a while, with three amazing, different, jobs, it almost did.

Where I could help change the world.

But it didn’t.

And, I’m still at a crossroads.

But you know what? If I hadn’t taken this time ‘off’, I’d live with regrets. Big ones. And that’s NOT. ACCEPTABLE. Not to me.

And I know that it took huge courage to step out and make this dream happen. To rid ourselves of the things that kept us busy and scheduled and focused on things that weren’t the most important to us. And to take the kids out of school, against the wishes of Peanut’s therapists. And to spend our savings. And to go. And to do. And to see. To really see.

Seeing the Eifel Tower. For the first time.

And I know that I bring all those learnings and the amazing experiences with me. I know that Dreamboat, myself, and our three kiddo’s are forever changed, in a multitude of ways, from this year.

In addition to our new skills of surfing and Spanish, and our love of Ceviche, we have taught the kids how to love those who were unloved. (Now that we’re back, I have to admit, I’ve regretted this a teensy bit. I’m just a tad nervous, but proud too, as I watch them befriend those who are lonely, and odd, and without friends.)

How to give generously of our time, skills, and resources.

We’ve all learned to be more flexible (some of us more so than others, but nonetheless, I, oops, I mean ‘we’ have improved…at least a bit).

How to focus on others, while not losing sight of who we are. (For me, this one is hard. Unfortunately, it’s still a daily lesson.)

To appreciate the beauty of things being unique and different. And to not be frightened by them. Or to judge.

So, I’m reminding myself of these and all the other gifts we’ve received from this year. (And of course the two gorgeous bags I had made in Marrakech. I’m pretty grateful for those as well.)

And I’m trying to drown out my fears with my gratitude.

I remind myself that I would chose this path again. And I’m taking to those lessons and insights into who I am.

And I’m refusing to lower my faith in myself.

As a wise friend of mine said to me this morning, “Being uncomfortable is OK. Necessary even, to move forward and grow.”

And, she’s right. Of course. (Thank goodness. ‘Cause I AM uncomfortable. That’s a very benign word for the angst that comes in waves. Big, scary waves.)

But, I’m choosing today. Again. Not. To. Lower. My. Dreams. To continue to find a way to make my reality reach the seemingly impossible. To see the invisible and hear the inaudible and then make those things a reality. (That last sentence is shamelessly stolen from Scott Aughtmon’s FB page this morning. I love it.)

And, I’m giving myself a not-so-little pep talk, to suck it up and keep looking. Keep trusting. Keep doing life, even though I’m afraid.

We can be fierce, AND afraid. Right?

——This post and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Filed under April 2014

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

Trailer Trash

I live in a trailer.

And most of the time I love it. Especially on the rare occasion when everything is put away and I can actually see and use the miniscule ‘dining’ table. (As long as I don’t put any weight on it, because the screws around the legs have lifted out of the thin flooring, and it’s about to fall over).

When our family arrived back in the US, we spent three weeks on the West Coast, visiting friends and family, and finally taking the kids on the long-awaited visit to Lego Land…the one thing that we had originally used as bribery, to get them to at-least-not-fight this year-long-adventure.

Then, in a stroke of luck (from Dreamboat’s perspective. My opinion wavers on this one.), an Keystone Outback Ultralight 230 RS (I had to ask Dreamboat to repeat that several times) was for sale in Michigan. (That’s 2,500 miles or 3,582 km from where we were in Seattle.) Dreamboat went and picked it up. Yep, he drove 5,000 miles to go there, hook up the trailer, and tow it back to meet us. So that we could head out again. But, for the first ten days, without Miss O and G-ster. After I safely (and tearfully) deposited them on their flight as unaccompanied minors, to go visit my parents, Dreamboat, Peanut and I, headed out on our last 3 months’ adventure. A US history tour, living in our trailer.

Early morning coffee al fresco

The beautifully described plan, as Dreamboat explained it to me, was to drive a few hours a day, find a lovely place to park (and have electricity, water, and wifi). Then we would hike, or take a bike ride to explore the spectacular scenery. And enjoy hours of job searching, reading, and quiet. I would have plenty of time for my workouts.

While we have seen countless awe-inspiring vistas, our desire to travel without a plan, hasn’t gone to plan. Most of the RV parks are full. Those that aren’t, don’t have hooks ups. And, then I wanted to see Banff. And it was ten-hours-out-of-the-way. Each way. And then, we decided to take up my aunt’s Facebook birthday message to Dreamboat, and go visit her. But, after another ten-hour-drive-to visit her in Kalispell, our emails, phone, and Facebook messages, didn’t connect. And so we left the next morning.

In reality, so far, we have finally stopped driving and set up the trailer after 8pm (the night we went to Banff, it wasn’t until 2:00am). Then, we get up early in the morning to see what the area has to offer, grab some breakfast, and race through packing up the trailer and tying everything down in order to hit the road by the 11am check-out. Then, we sit in the car, enjoying the views, but not able to enjoy internet access or exercise or even much phone access, for another nine to ten hours.

 

Banff!

We’ve been lucky enough to see a stunning array of wildlife. We’ve taken countless pictures of mountains and waterscapes so beautiful they don’t seem real, while still buckled in our seats. And, I’m more grateful than I can express, that Peanut has been a happy, delightful, traveler. And, without the older Littles, I’m able to spend a vast amount of time chatting with Dreamboat, or alone with my thoughts.

Wildlife crossing. Really.

While my thoughts swirl around my dreams and hopes and fears, my inner peace and direction have grown. I keep reminding myself of this inner calm I’ve reached, as I have watched the heat of the tranny (‘transmission’ for you car lingo neophytes) rise steadily into the danger zone. Then to finally hit the top of the pass and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing the engine will get a much needed break from puling the trailer uphill, only to start worrying about the breaks, as we head down miles and miles of steep grades, with runway truck ramps after every turn, and the acrid smell getting stronger and stronger.

Things took a definitely downward turn, for our transmission anyway. And our trailer is currently parked in some friends’ neighbor’s driveway, in Idaho. (Yep. You read that right. Right now I’m grateful for friends around the country. And grateful they’re really good neighbors.) Tomorrow we have an appointment, three hours away at the closest dealer, for the transmission.

Ironically, while this trip so far hasn’t gone according to plan, I’m much happier than I expected.

And, I’m embarrassed to say, that I spent a lot of time and energy complaining to my Seattle friends about it.

It’s true that this portion of our year of travel is my least favorite. There are countless reasons: I find the adventure of visiting other countries more exciting. I am clean/neat obsessed and living without space to put things away might make me require a strait-jacket at the end of two weeks, let alone three months. I dread all five of us being in such small quarters all day, every day. I have driven across the US before, so there’s not much novelty to this trip.  I am not the history-buff my Dreamboat is, and while I enjoy the occasional historical marker, I’d much rather get the Cliff notes version. I am deep-down, unapologetically a City Girl who will miss the activity and sparkle.

And, most importantly, after a few days with my amazing friends in Seattle, it is even more painful to say goodbye, again.

But, life is bitter sweet, right? There is joy to be found, deep joy even, while in the midst of things that are painful, or simply not fun. So, I am loving the time with my Dreamboat. Celebrating his joys. I am soaking in the quiet without my oldest Littles. I am sifting through my dreams and working through my fears. I am working on some long-overdue posts.

It’s three days until we’re supposed to meet Miss O and G-ster in Colorado. Fingers crossed we make it on time, without having to rebuild the transmission, or worse. But, if we don’t, they’re in great hands, and Peanut is getting unlimited time and attention from me and Dreamboat. And I am mostly loving living in a trailer.

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Filed under July 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!

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Filed under June 2013

Missing things

As the countdown has begun to leave our international destinations and head back to the US, for the driving-across-the-country/US-history portion of this amazing year, I catch myself making mental lists of things I miss about home. And lists of things I will miss when I leave here.  These are some of them, in no particular order.

What I miss about home:

  • Friends. (That includes you, family). When it comes to reducing stress, talking with friends produces better results than Valium, therapy, exercise, meditation, yoga, or a stiff drink. And I had it in spades. I was surrounded by amazing people (some from a physical distance, but at least they had good internet and phone service which I’ve had only sporadically this year). And I miss them more than anything. Dreamboat has been a trooper, but I’m sure he’s ready for me to start sharing my thoughts and dreams and fears and and hopes and menu and frustrations and laundry dread, and the list goes on, with several someones other than him. And, if I ask him, even one more time, what he’s thinking, this trip may be over. Today.
  • Plumbing that is made to handle toilet paper. I miss this one a lot. Every day.
  • Whole Foods and Trader Joes, and the easy availability of healthy foods. And that food packaging is printed in English. And that I had a car to drive to the stores and didn’t have to walk up to eight miles to get there. (I know this one sounds snarky, and it is. But, it’s also true.)
  • The lack of ear-piercing car alarms, constant honking, trucks rumbling, music blaring, combined into noise pollution that never stops. This week, I heard a car’s reverse beep (not enough for only the large-sized trucks to have them here in Lima), to the tune of J Lo’s “On the Floor.” Swear.  I love the energy of a big city, but now, I crave me some stillness and peace.
  • Matching glasses (stemware). A full set of silverware. Cloth napkins. Pretty, shiny, things.
  • Not living out of a suitcase. And with only the clothes, and the shoes (especially the limited shoes), that I can fit into one suitcase.
  • Time alone that doesn’t equate to all five of us at a Starbucks, with everyone having received orders to READ and BE QUIET, to give me some uninterrupted thinking. Or a nap. Either would be fine.
  • My kids’ teachers. God BLESS them.  There are times, ok – they’re fleeting (or maybe not), when I long for having to go in to the office, for some kid-free time.
  • People Magazine (which I know is full of trash, and now has great, new trash on people I’ve not heard about after being away for so long), and Marie Claire (which has amazing fashion which I can no longer afford since I’ve not worked in so long), and House Beautiful (which is just silly as I’ve not been in a house in almost nine months, and my house is rented through the end of the year, and, once again, I can’t hire one of those amazing designers to come add their creativity and beauty to my home). But, I miss each and every one of these publications nonetheless. And, at every airport and kiosk and bookstore and checkout counter, I look for them. Finally, in Spain, six MONTHS into this trip, I gave away the Marie Claire I had brought from home. It still pains me to think about not having it.
  • Going to the movies. If I’m being totally honest, which of course I am, we didn’t often go to movies before we left home. There were the rare girls-night-out, or movie dates with Dreamboat. But, it had been months since I’d been to a movie before we left, and it has been the ENTIRE nine months of our trip so far, since I’ve seen a new release. I don’t even know what I’ve missed. But here’s the secret, when I was trying not to get buried under the stress of life, sometimes, without telling anyone, I would go to a matinee and just escape to be entertained and laugh or cry or dig my nails into the arm rests.  I loved the escapism and perspective it brought. The reality of my life was always better than the movie I saw. (By the way, you’d be surprised who is watching movies at 2:00pm on a Monday.)

What I will miss when I’m home:

  • Time. Time with the kids. Time with Dreamboat. Time to workout. Time to volunteer. Time to explore and learn. Time for naps. Time to write. Time that is all mine to spend as I wish, unencumbered by school and sports schedules, commitments, or work. The beauty and joy, from life without the morning rush to get everyone fed and dressed and out the door on time.
  • Knowing I’m following my dreams. Knowing I’m making a difference, every day, in my life, and the lives of my kids, and the lives of those less fortunate.
  • Low cost of living!  Cheap housing. Cheap food. Cheap wine. Affordability ROCKS.
  • Sunshine all year long! As we intentionally followed the sun, except for a freak snowstorm, we got to skip winter. After living in Seattle for 6 years, this girl has been soaking up the happiness of daily vitamin D.
  • Always being just a little off-kilter from being in a foreign place. Being ‘new’ which has kept me aware, learning, on the edge. And, more sensitive to others who are new, and able to reach out and make them feel welcome.
  • The lack of Hallmark Holidays and the freedom from the production of having to decorate and celebrate for every. Single. One. As much as I love my kids’ schools and their teachers (and believe me, I love them a LOT), there will be many times (every single holiday), when I’ll wish to be back in Africa and free of the guilt-inducing celebrations that require planning, effort, midnight runs to the store for materials, and time-off-work to attend. If I were to have more children, they’d have to draw straws to see who gets to have mama attend their event.
  • The intentionality of teaching and modeling the character I want to nourish in my kids. The daily challenges and lessons we have faced ‘on the road’ which serve as reminders that success is waking up every morning with your soul at peace. Of teaching them that compassion takes energy and attention, but is not hard. So if they’re not being kind, they’re just being lazy. And selfish.
  • Seeing poverty every day. And the joy of those living in it. And being reminded everywhere I look, that happiness is a choice, not dependent on our circumstances.
  • Surfing. And the sound of the waves. And the view of the ocean (not the one in Conakry with all the floating trash and the rotting fish, but the pristine one in Spain).

What I will not miss, ever, is a Hammam. I like to think of myself as stubborn, and anything but a quitter. I’m game to try most anything once. But, I quit the local Hammam mid-experience. After I had talked a friend into joining me and we were both stripped down our underwear, and had made it through the two outer chambers and into the, what was supposed to be, ‘hot’ room, to find myself chilled, grossed out by the slime and smell and wishing I could hide from the big, naked lady approaching with a dark brown fatty substance that looked like axel grease, I turned and walked back to the locker rooms (wet room with hooks lining two walls and a bench I wouldn’t set Peanut’s poopy bottom on), unconcerned with any semblance of dignity, and got dressed while all the women, in various stages of undress, sat and ate and watched us. Nope. Anything resembling a Turkish Bath, and I’m heading the other way, while spraying Lysol over my shoulder. No matter what country I’m in.

This year has enriched my life in more ways than I can name. And, is cutting out chunks of my heart, to leave behind in each of the incredible places I’ve come to know and love.

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Filed under May 2013

No answers here

 

While driving through Guinea in a car with the Mercy Ships logo emblazoned on the sides, we were often stopped by police. Sometimes it was for medical advice. A couple of times it was to say thank you for helping a family member.

Usually, it was asking for money.

Twice, when riding with locals, the police weren’t very friendly. And could not be cajoled out of their demands. They took the car registration and drivers licenses of the people I was with. Until bribes were paid. My friends didn’t mind much. They were pleased to get their papers back without too much fuss or delay. The money was handed over happily, and the papers were returned with complete attitude adjustments that included a smile and respectful nod. (Wish it was that easy with my kids’ attitudes which frequently need adjustment.)

While the seeming injustice of this would have angered me in the past, I no longer see bribery as black and white. You see, I’ve learned some of the police are paid no salary. And all those I saw were on foot, without a squad car in sight. They pay for a uniform, and have some training to uphold the local law, but are expected to use their authority to make their living. My local friends knew this, and didn’t begrudge paying their part in the system to support the police officers, by giving them money to feed their families.

A western doctor friend of mine, carries cash with her each day, to pay the requested bribes she encounters.

There are some definite benefits to the system.  If you pay an officer, you can have the street outside your house closed at night, and heavily protected against possible vandals or intruders.  Or, for someone like me, who’s always in a hurry, I love that you can pay, a relatively small sum, to have the street of your choice changed to one-way, going the direction you prefer.  Of course that’s fun in theory (for me anyway), and while most of the time I found it hilarious in practice, it can be extremely dangerous. And the time I spent two hours completely immobilized in traffic as my one-way street ran head-on into three lanes of traffic coming at us from the opposite direction, it wasn’t so fun. And maybe not so smart either. But somebody was having a good time counting their money while cars, buses, semi-trucks, and motorcycles, inched their way out of that mess. Some did U-turns. Some, like the city bus, used their size, and the road shoulder, to just keep on coming, while we slowly got out of their way.

But, as we know, corruption isn’t always so harmless.

Guinea has a long history of allowing officials to loot its treasury. During the last years of ex-President Lansana Conte’s rule, employees of the treasury said they would regularly see the president’s convoy drive up to their building and leave with bags of cash.

Ok, I know that sounds fun.

But, so very wrong.

Guinea’s current president, Alpha Conde, with his zero tolerance for corruption, appointed Mrs. Boiro as Head of his Treasury. She launched an investigation into the recent loss of 13 million francs ($1.8 million) which went missing from the state coffers. While I was there, she was gunned down in her car, and killed, in what her colleagues describe as a brazen assassination aimed at silencing her.~ AP. Conakry, Guinea November 10, 2012.

Many locals feel that since Mrs. Boiro’s murder, Conakry is becoming more and more lawless. Some even wonder if Guinea might not be better off run by a strongman than a well-educated humanitarian–someone who is able to keep order with an iron fist.

I don’t know the answer to that. But even asking the question saddens me.

Realistically, I wonder what the motivation is for those in power in Guinea, and many countries like it, to usher in change, and progress. What would motivate them to share power and wealth downward? To get rid of the corruption? There is a level of society that lives above the law, that has huge wealth and power, and access to education, medical care, and luxuries that I can only dream of. Where is the benefit to them?

Corruption isn’t bad for those on the top and middle of the chain. It’s impossible for the man on the bottom of the chain. When the local dockworker earns $1/day, and has to bribe the dock security at the beginning AND end of each day, then it’s impossible for him to earn a living. To get ahead. It’s those at the bottom of the chain that feel helpless. Who wait for someone or something to deliver them.

While the situation in Guinea has no easy answers, I’m not without hope. When I first visited neighboring Ghana in 1991, driving across the border into the country was like crossing over into a barren and ruined land. But, now they are the success story of the region, with development and infrastructure, and stability.

So, I’m not giving up.

As Bono says, “If you want to turn the world right side up, it’s going to take your whole life.”

This is a journey, right?

At this season of reflections and resolutions, what are you committing your life to? Where is your journey taking you? Take a look at what your actions are saying.

Join me in committing to make choices that will help turn the world ‘right side up’. To help bring peace on earth and goodwill to all humankind.

Please.

*I must give credit to Susan Parker, for blatantly plagiarizing her account of Mrs. Boiro’s murder, and the inspiring verse I used in the close above. They’re taken from her column in this month’s Navigator on the Africa Mercy. See, corruption really is rampant. I’m going to have to start with some serious housekeeping in my own life.

 

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Filed under January 2013

My little man

My delicious, six-year-old G-Man is a cuddle-bug. When he forgets, (which I pray he continues to do. Frequently. For many years to come), that he’s too old for his mama’s goodnight kisses, or that he’s now matured beyond walking hand-in-hand with me, he will come find me on the couch in a quiet moment, curl up in my lap, and let me hold him. This tender, precious, boy of mine, had my heart heavy with concern when we broke the news about this year of travel.

You see G is a contented little boy. A homebody. Happy to stay home and play. Entertaining himself for hours with cars, Lego’s, dirt, or rocks. For him, a year of adventure didn’t sound like, well, an adventure. It sounded scary and foreign and far from home.

The idea of selling our house, saying goodbye to school and his friends, and leaving, was frightening to him. He struggled.

Dreamboat and I talked a lot about how to help him work through his fear. How to allow him time to come to terms with it, and to talk through what was going on in his heart. About how much he, of all the kiddo’s, needed this year to learn to think of others. To grow from the natural inward focus and selfishness of a young child, into an awareness of others’ needs. We also wanted G and his brother and sister to be aware of how great others’ needs can be. To not only see, but to open their hearts to people who truly have nothing. And to become people of compassion, whose hearts are shaped at this early age, to help others.

So, as we began selling and packing up our things, we asked G if he would separate his toys into those he wanted to keep and those he would bring to Guinea, to give to the kiddo patients in the ward. I was surprised and pleased at his generosity, and dramatic flair, as he happily piled up the majority of his toys to give away. But, being limited by airline weight restrictions, I changed my sermon to also include being generous with kids in the area who have very little and shop at second-hand stores (not sure that had the same affect; they’re some of our favorite stores). But, we set aside two bags of cars, animals, balls, superheroes, airplanes and other treasures, and we paired down his clothes so that the toys could fit into his allotted suitcase.

I’m pretty sure I questioned my grand idea, and cursed those heavy bags of toys a time or two during our travels.

Within hours of finally walking onboard our home for the next three months, we had deposited our luggage and headed downstairs to the hospital ward to meet some kids. We didn’t have far to look. And yes, we broke the rules, unknowingly that time, as ‘Befriend a Patient’ wasn’t supposed to start for a week. We tentatively went in and were enveloped by a ward full of orthopedic patients, some in pre-op, some recovering. The ward was full of friendly faces, all thrilled for the distraction from their nervousness and boredom. And parents and extended families grateful for new friends to play with their kids.

We continued to break the rules, this time not so unknowingly when I pulled out my phone camera. (I know. I know. My name is Heidi and I’m a rule-breaker. It’s been 30 minutes since my last infraction). I reasoned, very maturely I might add, that they did it first…the father of one of the little girls had started videoing and snapping pictures of us from the minute we arrived. The bravest of the little kids, a girl named Mariama, with bow legs and club feet, and a little boy named Mamu, who was developmentally delayed (and reminded me of my Peanut),  pushed and fought…to take pictures of themselves, and each other, on my phone. The rest of the room quietly took turns sidling up to G and patting his blond hair.

As we were preparing to go, I asked the charge nurse (I had already been reprimanded for the pictures, so thought it best) if we could give the kids some toys.  She said we couldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair. Unless of course we gave a toy to each of the children.  She had no idea what she was about to unleash.  Before she could change her mind, we ran back up to our cabin and hand-picked twenty-one toys to give away.

You should have seen the patients’ sweet faces.  I obviously wasn’t thinking when I took the earlier pictures, and consequently got busted, or I would have saved the rule-breaking for the best shots!  The only toys we’d previously seen in the wards were hand-made dolls of knotted yarn.  I doubt those kiddo’s had ever seen Lightning McQueen. But, they sure knew how to rev his engine and let him fly across the ward floor.

The following weekend, we went to visit and catch up with the same group of kids at Mercy Ships’ Hope Center — A ward at a local hospital, where patients stay to receive physical therapy and bandage changes, until well enough to return home. Added bonus, at the Hope Center, taking pictures is not against the rules.

When I recovered from Mariama launching herself at me before I made it through the door, I looked over to see G seated across from an albino man, with an obvious wound on his forehead (well, the wound was obvious to me. Not sure G noticed it, or cared).  They were deeply engrossed in a game of Connect Four. There was my sweet boy, not just observing others and their needs, but sitting with them, playing games, and becoming friends. Many of these patients had been outcasts, as a result of local beliefs that evil spirits caused their disabilities. But here they were, now physically transformed by free surgeries from Mercy Ships doctors. And G, with his open, untainted heart, and without a thought to the ‘propriety’ of touching this man, simply saw him as a willing participant in a game.

My heart swelled. And tears pricked my eyes. And I tried not to think about germs. And the flies landing on us. And what cholera-bearing-treats might be lurking in their nasty, flying bodies. I am after all, still a mother, who has to think of her boy’s heart, AND his health.

He spent most of the morning playing Connect Four, hollering for me to see when he was winning, and begging to play again each time his opponent won. We stayed and had lunch together.

Today, at dinner, G announced that when the year of travel is over, he doesn’t want to move home.

“Where do you want to live, Sweetie?” I asked.

“In Florida. Next to Disney World.  I’ve never been there. In my WHOLE life.”

I stifled a giggle, and took a long, slow breath. My boy is going to be just fine. Not only is he not scarred (so far), by the adventure, it sounds like he’s beginning to see the world as his potential home.  And, even if his current heart’s desire is met, and we move next to Disney World (which sounds more like a nightmare to me), his compassion and thoughtfulness are awakened. And growing.

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Filed under October 2012